The Spirits of Experiment, Design and Science vs. the Spirits of Economy, Waste and Risk

Glass paint vs. ceramic paint

Someone might wonder:

Ceramic paints are cheaper than stained glass paints. They also come in many different colours.

So is it possible to paint stained glass with ceramic paints, rather than the proprietary ones?”

This is such a useful question because it has an interesting range of answers.

Money and Value

If we were asked this question by someone who had never designed or painted stained glass before, we would immediately start a conversation about money and value.

Are stained glass paints expensive in themselves, or, rather, are they expensive when used wastefully or lazily?

For example, it would be wasteful to prepare a teaspoonful of paint at a time rather than a good-sized lump; and it would be lazy if someone couldn’t be bothered to learn best practice because it would interfere with their self-expression.

When you’re painting stained glass – if the resultant window is beautiful and well-made – what are a few pounds or dollars that you spend on best glass paint?

Surely they are a trifle – not worth worrying about:

When a window can last a hundred years or more, and be seen by many thousands of people whose emotions will all be wonderfully affected by the play of colour and light, then this small amount of money is not an issue.

Required by the Design

With another kind of person, we might immediately strike up a conversation about design.

Our own position is that we design first, and then we figure out how to paint it second.

True, this has often caused us months of experimentation and heartache.

But – and this is important for us, although we understand completely it may be less important or even unimportant for other people – we have continued to create a wide range of stained glass windows, whose only unity is maybe formed by the attention we put into their indivdual designs.

That is, we don’t have a house style.

So for us, the question therefore is: what kind of design might only be realized with the use of specifically ceramic paints?

Maybe one day we’ll prepare such a design, but we haven’t done so yet.


Another series of points are mildly scientific.

“I put up with a lot more than a silly old piece of pottery!”

First there the different firing temperatures e.g. whether ceramic paint will fuse with glass at the lower temperature that glass requires.

Second there is the compatability that such fusion (if successful) still requires in order for firing stress to be removed as the glass cools down and anneals: would ceramic paint in fact leave hidden stress that will risk the future of the glass?

Third there are the different conditions to which stained glass windows and ceramic objects are respectively subjected and which their painted surfaces must respectively withstand e.g. weather, daily handling etc.: is ceramic paint proved to be fit for such events as windows regularly experience?

In other words, the use of ceramic paint is now largely a question of someone’s attitude to risk (because stained glass studios just don’t have the resources to test such questions for themselves).

Range of Colours

As for the different colours possessed by ceramic pigment, it is needlessly competitive to insist on a count.

Suffice it to say that there is also a wide range of inter-mixable colours possessed by stained glass paint.

But when, outside of restoration, do you absolutely need them?

Remember also that, within stained glass, it is frequently the glass which owns the colour. Thus it is the paint’s function is to stop or mute the transmitted light.

This is completely unlike the function of the paint which adorns the surface of ceramic objects, where it is the paint’s function to bounce back a specific colour to the onlooker’s eyes.

How many colours do you really need in your stained glass paint? Is the variety of ceramic colour merely a distraction at best, a complete irrelevance at worst?

Paint vs. Silver Stain

Neither glass paint nor ceramic pigment behave anything like silver stain of course.

This is because silver stain changes the molecular structure of the glass, causing it to filtrate yellow light instead of white.

Silver stain is a joy to use. Yet it can also be a challenge.

Stained glass silver stain

The delightful mysteries of silver stain

See this green man: all the painting in the first firing, all the staining in the second firing.

Yes, we could have done it all (painting and staining) in just one firing – and that is another point we shall discuss with you.

That’s all coming soon in a special publication.


Thus, a really useful question, the nuances of whose different answers are a joy to consider.

Both stained glass paint and ceramic pigment require firing in order to be incorporated with the top surface of glass and pottery respectively. And indeed some of their ingredients are shared.

But maybe this presents the outer limit of their agreement.

So, by all means experiment for yourself, yet always bear the previous points in mind.

And what, we wonder, have you experimented with?

Some of that must remain secret – for legal reasons.

The rest, we’re glad to share with you throughout this website.

As always, please share your insights and experiences with other visitors here.

10 thoughts on “The Spirits of Experiment, Design and Science vs. the Spirits of Economy, Waste and Risk

  1. If it were possible to combine the ceramic colours with the stained glass paints, and maybe also with water-colour and even oil paints, then perhaps it would then be possible to create a rainbow effect with a magnificent variety of tone.

    My kind regards,

    • Maybe, Muhammad – certainly a matter for rigourous testing.

      For us, and perhaps also for you, it is always necessary to begin with a design (which in its own turn has its origins in many hundreds of different ideas), and then find the means to express this design in (for us) stained glass (as opposed to sculpture, for example, because we are not sculptors).

      So, if we were to create a design which demanded a rainbow effect, then we would certainly explore every avenue until we had found the necessary techniques.

  2. Hi Stephen and Muhammad!

    In the school in Mexico we used ceramic pigments and mixed them with a frit whose number is #3419. This frit has the effect of making the ceramic pigments behave very much like glass pigments e.g. in terms of their coefficient of expansion.

    In this way, the ceramic colors can be worked without problem, but the colors will change – depending on whether we see the glass with reflected or transmited light. I always make this very clear to the client. If the client wants to have painting on opaque glass and the view is with reflected light, then the glass is only serving as a canvas, and you might as well paint with oil, or acrylic or whatever medium you want.

    But if you are going to see it with transmited light, the color only blocks the light – even the white behaves as grey in such conditions.

    Regarding the use of oil: all paintings use pigment and a medium to bind the color. In oil painting on canvas, it is linseed oil. In glass is the pigments and the frit which, when heated, bind the color.

    I assume that if you use some earth pigment of oil, and mix it with glass frit, then you can use oil. But I don’t know about the concentration of pigment, because the oil pigments have fillers like calcite to reduce the cost.

    All the best,

  3. I agree with you about the rejecting ‘saving money’ approach. Trying to do brilliant stuff at the highest level always requires the best tools and materials – there’s no question about that. And they aren’t ‘expensive’ at all when you think about the pain and frustration of struggling with cheap, inadequate gear.

    On the technical question of ceramic vs. glass paint, the handbook ‘Glass and Print’ by Kevin Petrie (A&C Black, London) 2006, has a body of helpful advice about chemical compatibility, firing profiles and techniques for ceramic and glass paints.

    Granted, brush-painting and screen-printing aren’t always seen as being artistically compatible techniques, but the chemistry remains the same.

    For screen-printing approaches, the cheaper ceramic paints are attractive for allowing generous quantities to be mixed, but I wouldn’t bet they’d behave as well on a brush as would top-grade glass paints mixed according to the recipes given by W&B.

    On the other hand, there could be questions about how well glass paints would perform for screen-printing or decal-printing applications, quite apart from the frightening cost of mixing up big quantities.

  4. Many thanks for these very useful comments. It’s great that people take the time and have the confidence to share experience and knowledge with one another like this.

    People can find a link to Kevin Petrie’s book in the ‘Useful Books’ box up above and on the right. It’s worth a read.

  5. Pretty much all been said above. But in regard to Muhammad’s remark about rainbows..

    My solution when I needed to do this was to build the rainbow with glass frit in the various shades. This done using something akin to Tibetan sand painting technique. Laborious and care needed re compatibility of frits but the result looks good in both transmitted and reflected light – which is not always so.

    Necessary of course to do the rainbow before any stained glass work as you will fusing (or sintering depending upon effect wanted) at temperatures above stain temps.

  6. Dear Stephen,

    I have been experimenting with Reusche’s Blendable Bending enamels and am having a problem. Every time I fire the piece I get blisters or bubbles – ugly stuff.

    Since I mainly do fusing I usually paint on Bullseye COE 90 clear 3m glass. I don’t know if this is important.

    I’ve tried using various mediums. I’ve also tried painting lighter, thicker, with less medium, with more medium. I’ve ground it off, repainted and fired it again and still have problems … I’m firing at the recommended temperature – 1300 ° F temp.

    I don’t think my kiln is firing higher then it is saying, so I’m at a loss as to what I should do next.

    Is there something I could apply to the glass prior to painting?

    And yes the glass is always clean before I paint!

    Mavro Coggins

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