A special class of stains that enable bright and difficult-to-achieve colors in ceramic glazes. They are a recent development in glaze technology. Many companies that hesitated to use these stains in the past now use them in their biggest selling products.
A glaze incompatible with chrome-tin stains (but great with inclusion stains)
Left: a cone 6 matte glaze (G2934 with no colorant). Middle: 5% Mason 6006 chrome-tin red stain added. Right: 5% Mason 6021 encapsulated red stain added. Why is there absolutely no color in the center glaze? This host recipe does not have the needed chemistry to develop the #6006 chrome-tin color (it lacks sufficient CaO and has alot of MgO). Yet this same matte glaze intensifies the #6021 encapsulated stain at only 5% (using 20% or more encapsulated stain is to develop the color is not unusual).
Want bright orange on your ware?
Orange is a very difficult color in ceramics. Inclusion stains are the only reliable method and universally used in industry. But you could ignore that and try a bunch of recipes online, buying exotic materials to complete each one. Maybe one will be orange enough, but will it craze or run or blister or leach or cutlery mark or crawl? Or you could put an orange stain into a transparent glaze you already know works on your clay. Or, how about trying a premixed orange at low fire? Ware can be amazingly functional and there are so many other bright colours available.
Pushing the limits of an encapsulated stain
Mason 6021 encapsulated stain in Plainsman M370 transparent fired at cone 6 on M370 (with second layer of two other colors). Notice the bubbling. This stain is rated to 2300F, it appears that even cone 6 is pushing its limits.
Transparent inner glaze over an encapsulated stained engobe
Encapsulated stains can reach their limits in a glaze host at cone six and begin to dissolve and decompose. That is an obvious problem on a food surface. But in a less fluid underglaze they can survive longer. The bright orange color on the left was likely done this way. The transparent over glaze is isolating it from any contact with food or drink. However people are more wary of the risk of glazes leaching heavy metals and having bright colours on food surfaces may not send the right message.
Encapsulated stains are firing with a mass of bubbles and pinholes
This is happening on five different stains at 8% concentrations. The body: A fritted porcelain. Temperature: Cone 03. The glaze: 85% frit. The solution? Documentation for inclusion frits notes that adding 2-3% zircon can brighten the color. Although this does not seem intuitive, we added 2% anyway and refired another sample. You can see the dramatic difference on that tile below. The color is brighter because the micro-bubble clouds that were diffusing it are gone! Of course, it is apparent that the percentage of stain also needs to be increased to get more intense color. What happened to the bubbles? It could be that the particles of zircon that float, unmelted in the glaze melt, act as seed-points for bubble agglomeration and the bigger bubbles then break the surface and it heals behind them. But where do the bubbles come from? I do not know.
The amount of encapsulated stain needed for intense color
This is about 1/2 gallon of glaze with 150 grams of yellow stain ready to mix in. That stain retails for about $30 so its cost alone is about $60 for each gallon (in 2017).
A bubbling glaze having an encapsulated stain fixed. How?
These two pieces are fired at cone 6. The base transparent glaze is the same (G2926B Plainsman transparent). The amount of encapsulated red stain is the same (11% Mason 6021 Dark Red). But two things are different. Number 1: 2% zircon has been added to the upper glaze. The stain manufacturers recommend this, saying that it makes for brighter color. However that is not what we see here. What we do see is the particles of unmelting zircon are acting as seed and collection points for the bubbles (the larger ones produced are escaping). Number 2: The firing schedule. The top one has been fired to approach cone 6 and 100F/hr, held for five minutes at 2200F (cone 6 as verified in our kiln by cones), dropped quickly to 2100F and held for 30 minutes.
G2931K Transparent cone 03 with 15% inclusion stains
On Zero3 porcelain. Between 10 and 15% stain with 2-3% zircon added (to prevent bubbling). The firing schedule approached cone 03 (1950F) at 100F/hr for the final 100 degrees, held for 5 minutes, dropped to 1800 and held for 30 minutes.
The varying power of different encapsulated stains
These mugs are fired at cone 03. The outside glazes are G2931K transparent with added stain plus 3% Zircopax. The left one contains 10% Mason 6021 red. The right one has 15% Cerdec 297497 red stain. The latter is an older product, obviously not as potent. Encapsulated stains are a revolution in ceramics but test the ones available. You could save money and get better color at the same time.
Red stain in matte and glossy bases. Which looks best?
The silky matte. 11% Mason 6021 encapsulated stain has been added to each. The one on the left is G2926B glossy base (it also has 2% zircopax as a fining agent for the micro-bubbles). But in the matte base on the right, G2934Y, no zircopax is necessary. It produces a stunning surface using this and other stains (including orange, yellow, black, purple), very pleasant to touch.
The magic of zircon in de-bubbling a glaze with stain addition
The cone 03 porcelain cup on the left has 10% Cerdec encapsulated stain 239416 in the G2931K clear base. The surface is orange-peeled because the glass is full of micro-bubbles that developed during the firing. Notice that the insides of the cups are crystal-clear, no bubbles. So here they are a direct product of the presence of the stain. The glaze on the right has even more stain, 15%. But it also has a 3% addition of zircon. Suppliers of encapsulated stains recommend a zircon addition, but are often unclear about why. Here is the reason, it is a "fining agent".
More stain is not necessarily brighter in color
These are cone 03 porcelains with G2931K clear glaze base plus Mason 6021 encapsulated stain (which is very expensive). The one on the left has 15% stain added. The one on the right is slightly less dense red but has only 10% stain plus 2% zircon (zircopax). Notice the zircon has smoothed the surface also, this is a known benefit of using it with encapsulated stains. The 2% addition is not enough to opacify, the color remains deep and translucent. But the surface is still not completely smooth and glassy as is the base transparent glaze on its own. This can be improved using a drop-and-hold firing schedule.
An incredible silky matte surface supports wild colors at cone 6 oxidation
This is the G2934Y matte base recipe with only 8% Cerdec Orange encapsulated stain. G2934Y employs a frit-source for the MgO (as opposed to G2934 which sources the MgO from dolomite). The orange color is brighter on the mug on the left because the porcelain is whiter, Plainsman Polar Ice (the other one is #6 Tile Kaolin based, P300). If this was a glossy glaze the required percentage of stain would be higher. Other colors, like yellow, are equally vibrant. But not all, testing is needed.
When using stains, customize the percentage, host glaze and firing schedule
These are G2926B clear glazes with stains added and fired at cone 6. The one on the left has 11% Mason 6021 encapsulated red. It is pebbling the surface (even with 2% zircon), it may be at the upper end of its firing range. Possible solutions are faster firing up and down to give the stain less chance to decompose. A lower percentage might help, that would impart a bit of variation where it is thicker and thinner (like the purple one) to add visual interest. A different host glaze, perhaps one with less boron might work better. The purple one has 10% Mason 6304, it is not affecting the glossy glaze surface. But the percentage needs to be higher to prevent the wash-out of color where it is applied thinner.
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