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How is hand painted Delft Blue made?

The origin and core of Royal Delft is hand-painting high-quality Delft Blue ceramics. Decorating begins with applying the contours with charcoal, after which the pottery painters apply the details freehand with special brushes made of sable and squirrel hair. The paint is water-based and the color nuances are created by mixing the paint more or less with water. The Delft Blue decor is painted with a dye mixture that largely consists of cobalt oxide according to a centuries-old recipe. Due to chemical reactions during the baking process, the painted pattern changes color from black to the iconic blue.

The hand painted technique

Stage 01 – The raw materials

The production of Delft pottery starts with the composition of the clay. The clay consists of approximately 10 raw materials, including clay, porcelain clay (also called kaolin), quartz, feldspar and chalk. These raw materials are mixed according to certain recipes and ground extremely finely with water in the ball mills until a liquid clay paste is created.

Stage 02 – The casting

The clay paste is poured into plaster molds, which have the internal shape of the piece to be cast. The porous mold sucks water from the clay mass and a firm skin is formed against the plaster wall, which increases in thickness the longer the porridge remains in the mould. When this skin is thick enough after some time, the rest of the porridge is poured out of the mold.

Stage 03 – sponging

The suction effect of the plaster mold continues until the clay skin of the mold comes off. At that moment the mold can be opened, releasing the object. The existing casting seams are then manually touched up and sponged nice and smooth. A precise job that determines the final shape of the vase.

Stage 04 – spraying & firing

The vase receives a special layer of diluted clay called ‘engobe’. The product is then placed in the oven for the first time and fired to a temperature of 1100°C. After 24 hours, the product, now called ‘biscuit’, is removed from the oven.

Stage 05 – decorating

The pottery painters hand-paint the traditional Royal Delft decorations on the vase. They do this with special brushes and a black cobalt oxide-based paint. The painter can achieve endless shades of color by using more or less water in the paint. You become a master painter at Royal Delft after an internal training course of approximately eight years. After this time, painters can think, design and paint according to the DNA of Royal Delft.

Stage 06 – glazing & firing

The decorated vase is now sprayed with glaze. The glaze gives the painting a white opaque layer. The vase then goes into the oven for 24 hours. During the second firing at 1200°C, the glaze melts into a transparent layer and the color of the decorations changes from black to blue. The chemical and physical reactions between sherd, engobe, paint and glaze determine the typical Delft Blue color.

Stage 07 – Quality above all

The final step of the production process is quality control. Every product is inspected from top to bottom to determine whether it can be sold as a Premium Royal Delft product, the hallmark of quality. A real Royal Delft product can be recognized by the signature on the bottom: the initials JT, the apothecary bottle and the word ‘Delft’.

Volgende stap

Tulip vase 5 spout | Photo: Frieda Mellema | Uniquole

Royal Delft Bowl | Photo: Frieda Mellema | Uniquole

Royal Delft pieces are painted in black, the fire turns blue in the kiln

Transfer technique

In addition to the hand-painted ‘The Original Blue’, there are a number of unique Royal Delft collections, such as ‘Blueware’ and ‘Peacock Symphony’, which are made with a screen print. In these products, the decoration is applied using the transfer technique, which originated in England in the 18th century. Back then, an engraved copper plate was printed on tissue paper with wet ink and then the tissue paper was printed again on a ceramic surface. Finally, the ceramic was fired at a low temperature and the decoration appeared on the product. Nowadays, tissue paper is no longer used, but screen printing.

Step 01 – the design

When using the screen printing technique, the hand of the Royal Delft master painter is also in the design, which is put on paper with the same black paint with a brush. After a final design has been made, it is sent to the printer. The printer digitally scans the design and then makes a so-called screen print.

Step 02 – making the transfer

The design is divided into four different layers for the four different colors of blue. This is then printed on films made of plastic, and the films are exposed on a screen printing frame. This creates the design of the film on the screen printing frame. This is done four times for the different colors of blue, after which another carrier goes over it. This carrier ensures that the entire design is held together.

Step 03 – applying the decoration & firing

The transfer is applied to the glazed product after which it fuses with the glaze layer during the second firing process.