Translucent porcelain enables the passage of light through the wall of the item. Bone china is translucent. However it is so vitreous that pieces cannot support their own weight during firing, this requires bisque firing in setters to hold the shape at high temperature followed by glazing at low temperatures. In recent years the availability of white burning plasticizers has made it possible to maximize feldspar content in even potter's porcelains, resulting in very translucent ware (in the past the added feldspar meant less room for clay in the recipe, and therefore less plasticity).
The translucency of Polar Ice porcelain
This is Plainsman Polar Ice. Fired at cone 6 (2200F) with a transparent glaze on the inside and G2934Y yellow silky matte on the outside. This yellow glaze showcases the translucency better than any other we have seen.
Translucent Porcelain Lithophane by Stephanie Osser
Made using porcelain fired to cone 11+. This demonstrates translucency.
Now that is a translucent porcelain!
These are two cone 6 transparent glazed porcelain mugs with a light bulb inside. On the left is the porcelainous Plainsman M370 (Laguna B-Mix 6 would have similar opacity). Right is a zero-porosity New Zealand kaolin based porcelain called Polar Ice (from Plainsmanclays.com also)! The secret to making a plastic porcelain this white and translucent is not just the NZ kaolin, but the use of a very expensive plasticizer, VeeGum T, to enable maximizing the feldspar to get the fired maturity.
What are the two key causes of firing warpage in porcelain?
Here is an example of how a profile having no inherent strength can warp during firing (the one on the left is just bisque fired, the one on the right is fired beyond zero porosity to achieve translucency). Two key factors contribute to this failure: This porcelain is highly vitreous. This shape is vulnerable to warping. If the lip were flared out, for example, it would have much more strength to stay round. If the porcelain was less vitreous it would warp less. Of the two factors, which contributes more to the warping for this specific piece? The shape.
Reduction and oxidation porcelains
Left: Cone 10R (reduction) Plainsman P700 porcelain (made using Grolleg and G200 Feldspar). Right: Plainsman Cone 6 Plainsman Polar Ice porcelain (made using New Zealand kaolin and Nepheline Syenite). Both are zero porosity. The Polar Ice is very translucent, the P700 much less. The blue coloration of the P700 is mostly a product of the suspended micro-bubbles in the feldspar clear glaze (G1947U). The cone 6 glaze is fritted and much more transparent, but it could be stained to match the blue. These are high quality combinations of glaze and body.
You will not believe the secret of translucency at cone 6
Three cone 6 mugs. All have zero porosity. Why is the middle one so translucent? Three reasons. 1. It has 10% more feldspar than the one on the left and reaches zero porosity already at cone 5. 2. It employs New Zealand china clay while the one on the left contains high-TiO2 #6 Tile kaolin. But this is also true for the one on the right. The third difference is the key. 3. The center one contains 4% Veegum T plasticizer (while the other two use standard bentonite). This is surprising when I tell you one more thing: The mug on the right also contains 3% Ferro Frit 3110. That means that the frit does not have near the fluxing power of the VeeGum!
Polar Ice casting translucency
A bowl cast from Polar Ice porcelain and fired to cone 6. I has a thinner wall than the thrown pieces made from Polar Ice throwing, yet it is much less translucent. This appears to be because the VeeGum is much less.
Translucency of Polar Ice compared to another porcelain at cone 6
On the top you can see the color difference. The other porcelain is made from a low TiO2 mix of typical North American kaolins, feldspars and bentonites. Bottom with a light inside: Polar ice on the left is far more translucent. Yet it is not overly mature, it resists fired warping remarkably well. And it is also more plastic (which seems impossible). There is a secret to the translucency that goes beyond the fact that it employs New Zealand kaolin and the percentage of feldspar it has. But I cannot tell you. But if you read this site carefully you will discover it in the most unlikely place!
A Lithophane exploits porcleain translucency to reveal its design
Top: A thin porcelain tile with etched design. Bottom: The same tile with a back light. By Stephanie Osser.
Reduction Polar Ice vs. Oxidation Polar Ice
Polar Ice (Plainsman Clays) has been fired to cone 10R (left). This is beyond the recommended cone 6 range, but it worked well in this instance. The result is even more translucency and a translucency of a different character: blue! This looks much more like real blue polar ice.
Want to make a cone 10R super translucent porcelain? Think again.
On the right is a porcelain used in China, renowned for its whiteness and translucency. On the left is a body made from Grolleg kaolin, this is commonly used by potters. They were fired in reduction. The tiny iron specks that potters do not even notice are enemy number for the blue-white porcelain like this. Although they might be small the reduction atmosphere makes them blossom out in full glory to ruin the piece. These specks come as contaminants in the materials (especially the silica) and they are easily picked up during fabrication. For very white bodies like this, it is incredibly difficult to prevent the specks. For a perfectly white flawless result, the entire factory must be dedicated to this one body; they use wet processing, magnets, filter pressing, stainless steel equipment and impeccable procedures.
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