Transfering a design on a bisque fired cup

Our products are illustrated by hand, but we have some tools which help us make consistent designs. The main issue we had was reproducing the drawings across multiple bisque-fired cups or plates. Even the simplest drawings change when you draw them multiple times. Trying to prevent a goofy cat on a cup becoming an arrogant one, we remembered a technique from our time in elementary school.

We used to copy our drawings by using homemade tracing paper which duplicated the design when we drew, or traced over it. So we tried that on our cups. We thought about using store bought tracing paper (aka carbon paper or indigo paper), but once we tried the DIY approach, we saw no purpose in buying special tracing paper. We used (and still use) items that are easy to obtain – soft lead pencil and a sheet of baking paper. We draw the design on a piece of baking paper (office paper works too, we like baking paper as it is a bit transparent) turn it over and shade it with several layers of graphite until it is evenly shiny. You should use soft lead pencils, like 4B and above.

This simple piece of baking paper is the original design for any illustration that we reproduce. We place it carefully on the cup, holding it with one hand while tracing it with pencil (or similar tool) in the other. You need to use a dull soft pencil, ballpoint pen or any similar tool that is not too damaging for the paper on a hard surface. We use a generic ball tool for modelling with thickly wrapped masking tape around it, which helps with handling. You don’t need to press really hard, as soft graphite sticks to the ceramic surface quite easily. You should actually be quite gentle, as thin paper will inevitably be damaged after some time and will need replacing.

The transferred image is very light, but visible enough for continuing with other techniques. We even wipe the transfer gently with wet sponge before continuing, to remove excess graphite. However, this method works best on smooth surfaces of bright colors. The transfer can otherwise be really hard to see and the paper also gets damaged real quick. Because of that, we usually lightly sand the cup with water resistant sanding paper (grit 320 or above). Neatly prepared surface helps with illustrating and protects the transfer paper. Wet sanding paper is a must, because it keeps the dust to a minimum level. If you only have normal sanding paper, don’t worry. You can also use it with water and it won’t get damaged with such a light sanding.