Justin's Work

My Process

My pots are intended for use. Each piece is handmade. I use an electric potter’s wheel that is set upon a stand that I built so that I can throw standing up. I have found that throwing while standing has been more relaxing and healthy for me. 

After each piece is created it is fired, unglazed, for a first firing.  Generally, each piece is then dipped in liquid glaze and fired for a second firing.  After the glaze firing each piece is decorated using a variety of ceramic decals. I find these decals from a multitude of sources, and some are custom designed and printed in house. Some of them I design myself and have printed by custom print shops, some I purchase from commercial manufacturers, others I acquire thru eBay or from friends.

These decals are cut apart, re-assembled, and applied using a water-slide technique. I find decals wherever I can. I have sourced decals from China, Australia, Denmark, South Africa, Great Britain, and the United States. During this stage I might also hand paint some pieces with Gold, Silver, or Platinum luster or China paints. Usually I layer decals and fire pieces for a 3rd, 4th, or 5th firing, or more, to achieve a layered, collage effect.

Many times, I will fire my ceramic pieces in a wood fired or gas fired kiln. I will apply custom decals to the unglazed pottery before loading into the kiln, thus achieving a unique, layered approach to my pieces with atmospheric, natural ash glazed surfaces.

All of my pottery is meant to be used. The pieces that contain hand painted metallic lusters or luster decals are entirely safe to use but cannot be put into a microwave. I recommend hand washing or occasional dishwasher cleaning, but not frequent dishwasher use with my pieces.

It is my hope that each piece of pottery I produce will bring you complete satisfaction. If it does not, please return it to me and exchange it for a piece that you will be happy with.

Frequently Asked Questions about Justin's Decal Process

Q: I printed my decal, and soaked it, and can’t get it to stick to the side of my piece. It even seems to be disintegrating in the water. What did I do wrong?

A: You probably forgot to pull off the protective sheet of tissue paper before you printed. Pull it off and throw it away and remember that you are not the first person, or even the second, to ask me this question!

Q: The decal rubs off after I have fired it. Why?

A: You didn’t fire hot enough. Put it back in the kiln and try going a bit hotter.

Q: The decal is washed out, or disappeared after I fired it. Why?

A: You fired too hot. Try going a bit cooler next time…OR…You used the wrong printer. Is it an HP? Does it only print black ink? Is it a LASER printer? 

Q: What is a good temperature for firing laser toner decals?

A: If they are applied to glazed earthenware, try firing to cone 09 with the decals. If it doesn’t work, see the questions above. If they are applied to glazed stoneware or porcelain, try firing to cone 04 with the decals. If it doesn’t work, see the questions above. See my publications page for articles/resources that contain more step by step information.

Q: How do you get black with a laser toner decal?

A: I don’t. You probably saw pictures of my work in process, before the decal was fired on. Laser toner decals only fire to sepia (iron spectrum) colors.

Q: How do you get all the bright colors with a laser toner decal?

A: I don’t. See above.

Q: But your pieces have color decals? How do you do that?

A: I use color ceramic decals, fired to a totally different temperature, sourced from a different source, and NOT printed with a laser printer. 

Q: I looked at the HP website for the MSDS sheet about my toner cartridge. Iron oxide is not listed as an ingredient, but you said it was?

A: Iron isn’t always listed verbatim. Sometimes its ferric or ferrous or some other word beginning with Fe, which happens to be the symbol for iron on the periodic table of elements.

Q: I have heard that decals wear off, especially if you put them in the dishwasher. Is this true?

A: Decals may eventually wear off after repeated, regular dishwasher use. I recommend only periodic trips through the dishwasher. Decals are incredibly durable when fired on properly, but even then, ongoing repeated abrasive cleaning can damage the surface of a decal decorated pot.

Decal Resources

Please visit my publications page for information that has been published about my work with ceramic decals and other studio practices. This is the most comprehensive listing of information that I have prepared about these processes. Listed below is more reference information that I have found helpful over the years. 

Printer Models/Inks that produce ceramic quality decals:

YOU MUST USE A LASER PRINTER.  Not an inkjet printer.

  • HP Laserjet Pro M130fw — a newer model printer that I have tested
  • HP LaserJet M1212nf MFP — This is the printer I currently use
  • HP LaserJet 1022 — This is a printer I have used in the past
  • HP laserjet 4L
  • HP laserjet 5L
  • HP P1005 laserjet
  • HP P1006 laserjet

    Printers that accept HP LaserJet print cartridge 12A, 85A, 17A

    Here is the HP site for MSDS sheets. You want cartridges that have at least 30% Iron in the toner.

    Ceramic Only Color Decal Printer Resources:

    Color, Luster, and Commercial Decal Distributors: 

    Firing Temperature Suggestions: 

    In my experience most iron toner transfer decals fire permanently onto pre-glazed ware at cone 04 when firing onto glazes that mature at cone 6 and higher.

    Most glazes that mature at cone 04 will accept laser decals fired to cone 06 - cone 010.

    Most commercial decals, china paints and lusters fire to maturity between cone 015 and 017.

    Testing is important! Variations in kilns, humidity, glazes, clay bodies, and application techniques can create unforseen results. Test, Test, Test. Remember that overfiring or underfiring decals can also create interesting effects.

    Designing Laser Decals:

    Line drawings at high resolution (300 dpi) in black and white with high contrast work best. Great sources for images are clipart files, sharpie marker drawings, and google image searches.


    Sometimes regular water can leave a silhouette mark around decals. In this case, buy distilled water from the store to use in applying the decals.

    I have discovered that with certain glazes/clay bodies will dunt/crack after being fired several times. I’m still figuring out what causes this, and how to avoid it. However, some things that have worked include slowing the firing process down when doing the decal firing, doing a slower cooling process, reformulating glazes. I haven’t found any fantastic resources for this, but this is definitely something to be careful of.

    Clean your work space BEFORE adding decals. Muddy water, dirty surfaces, and clay sponges are bad for decals.

    Good Books and Videos:

    Low Fire Soda -- By Justin Rothshank!

    Digital Decals for the Ceramic Artist — By Michaelann Tostanoski

    Graphic Clay — By Jason Bige Burnett

    Ceramic Arts Daily has a comprehensive DVD library featuring numerous image transfer artists including: Jason Bige Burnett, Forrest Lesch-Middleton, Meredith Host, Erin Furimsky, Paul Andrew Wandless, and others.

    Image Transfer on Clay – By Paul Andrew Wandless

    Ceramics and Print – By Paul Scott

    Ceramic Transfer Printing — By Kevin Petrie

    Good Websites: