Steve Hoskins and David Huson have been awarded follow-on-funding from the AHRC for the 12 month project Combining Digital Print Technologies with 18th Century Underglaze Ceramic Printing to Retain an Industrial Heritage Process in collaboration with Burleigh Pottery.
This project builds upon previous research Hoskins undertook in 2000, also funded by the AHRC: Reappraising the creative potential of underglaze ceramic transfer printing in the light of new technology
Underglaze tissue ceramic transfer printing was first developed in the mid 18th Century and involved the use of engraved or etched metal plates, from which the tissue was printed with a cobalt blue or manganese ceramic ink (an oxide with a printing vehicle) the famous ‘Willow Pattern’ being perhaps the best known example. Underglaze tissue has a very distinctive, subtle quality, due to the oxide blending with the glaze. It is an integral part of English ceramic history, which cannot be replicated by any other means. The process lost favour because it was slow and required skilled artisans to apply the transfers. This 18th Century process continued to be used in the UK ceramics industry up until the 1980s.
However from the 1950s it began to be replaced, first by lithography, then by screen-printing. Screen-print remains the most common printed decorative technique for complex shapes, supplemented by Pad printing for hollow ware. Screenprinting is cheaper, quicker, multi-coloured and photographic imagery can be printed. However because it is on-glaze (on the glaze itself) it will wear and fade in a dishwasher and has none of the subtleties and delicate qualities of underglaze. Underglaze is far more permanent because it is being literally under the glaze. Pad printing (both onglaze and underglaze) is very quick and produces a very similar result to screenprint, however it can only be used on flat and gentle concave surfaces. Technological change is never an even process and a few companies continued to hold onto the original tissue process, Spode alongside Burgess and Leigh (Burleigh) were the last tissue printers to continue the
process into the 21st Century.