Color is an important facet of the beauty of pottery. Rather than using paint, stains are used once the piece has been shaped and gone through its first firing. These stains are specially made to be used on fired pottery. They deliver an even color and are spread with a paintbrush. The artist applies them as if they were painting a picture on a canvas. There is a full spectrum of these colors available for those who want to decorate their clay pieces by hand.
While many clay pieces start out as gray or red, color can be added to the clay itself. This is done when the artist has a specific color for the base of the piece and only wants to add finishing touches. It is also the method used when a large set of pieces will be made and must match. Sets of dishes are often made by coloring the clay before it is shaped and fired for the first time. This saves time and labor later in the process. Larger dish manufacturing companies have used this method for years.
Once a piece has been fired, a design or pattern is generally added. It is not cost effective to stain each piece by hand if a large set is being made. Large dish manufacturers use glass decals or ceramic decals to add decoration to sets. It ensures all the pieces in the set will have the same pattern or design without variance. It is also a cost saving method. An intricate design may also be placed on a piece by using decals. Complex pieces of artwork are not easy to apply by hand and the decals are more accurate. They will be a part of the finished piece and do not detract from its beauty.
Once a piece has been stained, it is covered with glaze and sent for the final firing. The glaze can also be part of the color added to a piece. A clay wash can be added in spots to change the color of a piece. The glaze can have a matte or glassy look. The glazing is part of the finished piece and affects how the colors appear in the reflected light. They are an integral part of decorating pottery.