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14 Pottery Glaze Types: How they Work and When to Use them

Have you ever seen a piece of pottery that had you in awe? Glazes are what project this feeling, as they bring color and design aspects to your pottery pieces.

Applying glaze is vital to most pottery pieces, as it helps bring them to life. And there is a long list of pottery glaze types available to you. So, knowing what they can do and when to use them is helpful.

Keep reading to learn about some beautiful glaze types you may want to add to your collection!

Artist brushing pottery glaze onto a vase.  Pottery glaze types

Pottery Glaze Types Based on Firing Temperatures

1. Low-Fire Glazes

You may have an idea as to what low-fire glaze is due to its name. Low-fire means this pottery glaze type gets fired or baked at lower temperatures.

But a lower temperature doesn’t mean the kiln isn’t hot! The glaze will need to get heated up to around 2,000ºF in the kiln.

A low-fire glaze often has a more vibrant look and uses much less kiln energy than mid and high-fire glazes. Low-fire glazes are the most popular type of glaze out there due to this.

It offers a hard shell but is the weakest in terms of durability. This is because low-fire glazes don’t completely vitrify or fuse in the kiln.

When to Use

You can use low-fire glazes for any project as long as you’re also using low-fire clay. It’s typically best to match the clay and glaze temperatures. Without doing this, you may see pottery breakage, glaze cracking, and color changes in the kiln.

A low-fire glaze would be best if you want bright, vivid colors. They’re a good option for beginner potters and school projects, as they’re easy to apply and versatile. Use this type of glaze if you have intricate details, as the colors don’t run into each other that much.

2. Mid-Fire Glazes

mid-fire glaze typically requires temperatures around 2,200ºF in the kiln. It’s like the middle ground between low and high-fire glazes.

The colors tend to be a little more muted than low-fire glazes, but they’re still beautiful. And your color choices might be slightly limited, as you’ll usually find mostly Earthy colors.

This pottery glaze type also tends to be a little more runny, so the colors may bleed into each other a little.

When to Use

Use mid-fire glaze with mid-fire clay, such as porcelain or stoneware. You’ll get the best results with these two types of clay.

Using this glaze with pottery that serves a purpose is usually best, as it creates a durable shell. Think along the lines of mugs, vases, plates, and other items.

3. High-Fire Glazes

A high-fire glaze is best if you’re looking for durability and a fully waterproof aspect. These pottery glaze types need temperatures around 2,300ºF and work similarly to mid-fire glazes.

However, your color options are more limited with this glaze type. You’ll mostly find dark colors available. And the colors will often bleed, which leads to a muted and more blended look.

High-fire glazes get completely vitrified in the kiln due to the extreme temperatures. This makes it one of the most durable glaze coatings.

When to Use

High-fire glazes are typically okay for both mid-fire and high-fire clays. Similar to mid-fire glazes, porcelain and stoneware are the most common types of clay for them.

A high-fire glaze is perfect for cups, plates, and other pottery pieces that need to be strong and waterproof. Use it for less intricate designs due to the color bleeding.

Pottery Glaze Types Based on Opacity and Gloss

4. Clear/Translucent Glazes

clear glaze is exactly what it sounds like! It’s a glaze that lacks any pigments. While this might sound strange, it’s a popular pottery glaze type.

It simply works as a clear coat on top of your other glaze colors or plain clay. Sometimes, you might want a pigment-free pottery piece that displays the clay’s natural color.

Another variation of a clear glaze is a translucent glaze. This brings a small amount of color while allowing you to see through it.

When to Use

Clear glazes can act as a durable waterproofing agent. They can also improve the vibrance of your colorful glazes slightly. But their primary purposes are to protect your pottery piece from harm and to give it a glossy appearance. And translucent glazes are perfect for giving your pottery a colorful tint.

5. Glossy Glazes

glossy glaze is a pottery glaze type that reflects tons of light. In return, you’ll notice a beautiful, shiny look when your pottery emerges from the kiln. You’ll also notice a smooth feel when you touch it.

A slippery surface like this can help repel water, and nothing will stick to it. Silica is the primary ingredient that causes this look and feel, as it turns shiny when it melts and hardens.

When to Use

You can use a glossy glaze anytime you want a shiny piece of pottery. Glossy glazes are often used for functional pottery pieces like bowls and mugs. This type of glaze keeps things like food and drinks from sticking. It’s also rather scratch-resistant.

6. Matte Glazes

If you choose matte glazes, you’ll notice less of a sheen. This is because the silica ratio is often different. Chemical compound differences like this affect the melting and cooling of a glaze.

In return, a matte glaze won’t reflect light as well as a glossy glaze. Instead, it scatters the light around all over the place. The result is a duller and less shiny look and feel.

When to Use

Matte glazes are an excellent choice if you’re not a fan of extremely shiny pottery pieces. They’re good pottery glaze types for hiding and blocking pesky fingerprints. Using these in tandem with glossy glazes can create some beautiful contrast.

7. Satin Glazes

satin glaze is the middle ground between glossy and matte glazes. These pottery glaze types have a slight shine to them. And again, the sheen has to do with a difference in chemical compounds. Satin glazes provide a generally smooth-to-the-touch feel with a muted shine.

When to Use

Satin glazes are the way to go if you want a slight sheen. It offers some scratch resistance due to the small amount of gloss it does have.

Using satin glazes will also slightly reduce the amount of light reflected, creating less of a glare. It’s the perfect combination of shiny and matte.

8. Opaque Glazes

An opaque glaze is a pottery glaze type you cannot see through. Light is completely blocked out, creating a solid-pigmented look.

Opacifiers get added to the translucent glaze formula to do this. The result after firing is a stunning and saturated solid color.

When to Use

Opaque glazes are excellent for intricate details like outlines or writing. They create a bold and eye-catching look, which is what you want for these kinds of things. It provides more visual weight to your pottery design.

Pottery Glaze Types Based on Decorative Finish

9. Luster Glazes

luster glaze is an overglaze that provides a sparkly or metallic-looking finish. You apply it after applying and firing your other glazes. It requires an added firing step due to this.

Luster glazes come in a variety of metallic colors, with gold being one of the most popular options. Real gold is often inside these pottery glaze types, which causes their bright and shiny look.

When to Use

Luster glazes are a stunning option for accents. Or you can apply it to your entire design for a gorgeous sparkle. Just be sure to apply it after the initial glazing and firing.

10. Crystalline Glazes

The look of crystals like amethyst can be truly stunning. And luckily, you can create this same look on your pottery with a crystalline glaze!

This pottery glaze type uses a mixture of a few different compounds, including zinc and silica. When these two specific compounds mix in the heat of the kiln, they create surface crystals. And the result is spots of color explosions, which give your pottery an eye-catching look.

When to Use

Crystalline glazes are excellent options for plain pottery. Maybe you didn’t carve any designs or apply relief pieces to your piece. So, using this glaze is the perfect way to dress up your pottery. It’s best for decorative pieces.

11. Crackle Glazes

Sometimes, purposeful cracking can make a beautiful texture on your pottery piece. Crackle glazes are the best way to do this without damaging your pottery.

The crackling effect that happens from this pottery glaze type is due to thermal expansion. No matter what type of pottery you make, there will always be some shrinkage as the clay bakes.

In the case of crackle glazes, they actually shrink more than the clay body. So, in return, the glaze cracks to release that extra tension. And the result is stunning.

When to Use

Crackle glazes are best used on decorative pieces rather than functional ones. This is because the cracks decrease the pottery’s durability. The grooves from the cracks can also trap debris and bacteria, which you don’t want to ingest.

Pottery Glaze Types Based on Materials

12. Ash Glazes

An ash glaze is essentially a pottery glaze type with burnt ash additives. This ash could be from wood or straw. And the result of using this glaze would be a beautiful multi-tonal look. The ashes act as pigments.

While true ash glazes are typically homemade or generally hard to find, there are ash-looking options out there. These glazes mimic the look of the original ancient ash glazes.

There’s also the option of trying to make your own authentic ash glaze at home. The process can be challenging, as getting the measurements correct is hard. However, if you want to try it out, you can use ash, water, and clay.

When to Use

You’ll typically only use this type of glaze on decorative pieces. Artists are usually the primary users of this glaze due to its decorative look. It’s a great option if you want Earthy tones and a more natural, organic look.

13. Raw Material Glazes

Some pottery glaze types use raw materials such as feldspar particles, limestone, and other minerals. The purpose of these ingredients is to improve durability and provide that glass-like look that many love.

They essentially act as stabilizers and help lower the melting point of your glaze. You’ll mostly find these materials in porcelain and stoneware glazes.

When to Use

Due to their popularity of stoneware and porcelain, you should use these glazes with stoneware and porcelain clay. You’ll typically only find these materials in those types of glazes.

14. Salt Glazes

A salt glaze is more of a glazing method than a specific pottery glaze type. It involves painting your glaze onto the pottery and firing it in the kiln.

When the temperature of the kiln is at its highest, you’ll throw plain salt into it.

You can also try painting a layer of salt onto your pottery after applying glaze. The salt will eventually react with the glaze, which creates a textured, citrus fruit peel-like shell on your pottery.

The result is usually beautiful, with varying bumps and multi-toned colors all around your pottery piece. But keep in mind that results can vary with salt glazing. It won’t always be perfect.

When to Use

Salt glazing is an excellent idea if you’re looking to spruce up your pottery’s texture. It’s best used with high-fire glazes and high-fire clays, as these produce the best results. This type of glaze, or glazing method, is typically used on stoneware.

A Note on Metal-Based Glazes

There are lead and tin-based glazes out there. They’re mostly used to display rich colors, and it’s an additive that aids in the melting process.

However, the United States doesn’t usually sell them due to possible toxicity. Metal-based glazes can be harmful to your health if misused or used on functional pottery pieces like dinnerware. These glazes aren’t abundantly available.

Wrapping Up Pottery Glaze Types

Entering the world of pottery is a fun experience that requires a lot of learning, along with trial and error. Understanding the different pottery glaze types and how to use them can take a while.

But, with this guide and some practice, you’ll be on your way to making beautiful glazed pottery in no time!

Do you need some ideas now that you know what pottery glazes are available? Check out our post on pottery glaze techniques for some fun inspiration!