Best Paint for Clay Pots

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6 Best Paints for Clay PotsWhether you are crafting pottery or just want to dress up your terra cotta planters, the first question you need to ask is what is the best paint to use. We once wondered the same thing and did quite a bit of research on the subject.

To save you the time and trouble that we went through, this article will explain what paints work best on pots, the pros and cons of various paints, and answer a few frequently asked questions that often come up.

Best Paint for Clay Pots

Once you begin working with clay, you will realize that it covers a wide variety of different mediums. Just a few of the different crafts that fall under the category include

  • Earthenware
  • Stoneware
  • Ceramics
  • Porcelain
  • Resin Clay
  • Polymer Clay
  • Air-Dry Clay

This makes it impossible to pick any single type of paint that is best for clay pots. Because of this, we will explore a wide variety of different paints that can be used on clay pots of different types.

1. Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paints aren’t only the most commonly used paints for clay pots, they are most popular among all crafters. There are many reasons for this.

  • They are inexpensive
  • Simple to use
  • Easily blendable
  • Fast drying
  • Acrylic paints are very durable
  • Most are non-toxic

You can find Acrylic paints in most craft and artist supply stores as well as online. Even many big box stores keep them in stock. They come in a dizzying array of colors, and small tubes will only run you between a dollar and ten dollars. Large tubes can often be found in the five to ten dollar range.

Two more strong points of using acrylic paint on clay pots are that they are very versatile and quick drying. Many times a pot will be ready for a second coat within minutes of being painted. At most, they will generally be dry in a matter of hours. This makes it possible to complete pieces at a much faster pace than most other paints.

acrylic paints color mixing

You can also easily blend acrylic paints to create custom colors, and their fast-drying action makes them ideal for creating fade effects, shading, and fine details. While them being mostly are non-toxic, making them suitable for pots that may cause them to come in contact with food or drinks.

Special Acrylic Paints

As wonderful as acrylic paints are for painting clay pots, you should be aware that some are less suitable than others. As stated, most acrylics are non-toxic. However, there are some that contain heavy metals or cadmium. These paints should not be used where they can come in contact with food items, by children, or women who are or may become pregnant. Heavy metals have been tied to many congenital disabilities and chronic illnesses.

oil-based acrylics paints and brushYou may also want to avoid two other types of acrylic paints. Most acrylics are water-based, but there are some oil-based acrylics on the market. As a general rule, these are not non-toxic and should not be used where food and drinks may contact them.

The other special category of acrylic paints is heavy-bodied acrylics. These are mostly oil-based and much thicker than standard acrylics. They can be more difficult to work with on clay pots unless you are very proficient with a ballet knife and dry much slower than regular acrylic paints. These paints should only be used after carefully reading the labeling.

View on Blick

Overall, acrylic paints can be used on almost any type of clay pot at any stage after its forming has been completed. Acrylic paints can be baked or left to air-dry. Baking usually improves the bond between the paint and the pot.

Bake at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 20 minutes.

If you are new to decorating clay pots, acrylics are a great place to start. They can are ideal for:

  • Bisque Ceramics
  • Non-fired clay
  • Any clay pot that has already been fired

Best of all, as long as you use non-toxic, water-based acrylic paints, the entire family, including kids, can join in the fun.

2. Acrylic Paint Markers

If you are unfamiliar with acrylic paint markers, you have been missing out. They are much like the magic markers that most of us have been using since childhood but filled with water-based acrylic paint. They have a wider nip than pens but are usually slightly smaller than, say, a Sharpie.

set of paint marker colors

Acrylic paint markers are great for creating mandalas, adding splashes of color, and rough design details. Because the nip is slightly large, they are not great for adding fine details. If, however, you have a large area to fill in, they can come in very handy.

While their color is just as vibrant as regular acrylic paints, the paint itself is much thinner. This allows it to soak into porous clays like terra cotta much easier and dry faster. If you are not comfortable using paintbrushes, then they are ideal for you.

Like every other type of paint on our list, there is a number of companies that make these paint markers, so making a blanket statement as to their food safety standing is impossible. New products appear on the market every day. Always read the labeling on an acrylic paint marker before using it on a surface that may contact food items, or you allow children to work with them.

Some acrylic paint markers can be used for the pre-glaze decorating of ceramics and pottery, but it is best to consult the company of the pens you buy as to whether they will stand up to firing.

Like regular acrylic paints, acrylic paint pens are ideal for:

  • Bisque Ceramics
  • Air-Dry Clay
  • Polymer Clay
  • Any clay pot that has already been fired

3. Ceramic Paints

Ceramic paints are generally reserved for pottery and only pottery. They are a bit more pricy than Acrylics but deliver a stronger, longer-lasting finish. Sometimes referred to as coatings, they are as easy to use as acrylics and just as blendable. However, they dry slower if you are in a rush.

A few of the advantages that ceramic paints offer for painting clay pots include.

  • They are thicker than other paints on our list and give better one-coat coverage.
  • Ceramic paints provide a smoother, less tacky finish.
  • They provide a very level finish and can be used to hide minor flaws in pots and other clay artwork.
  • Ceramic-based paints are more resistant to cracking and stains.
  • They can be coated with a sealant, but it is not required for them to reach their maximum durability.
  • The finish lasts much longer than other types of paint and is more wear-resistant.
  • Most, but not all, are food safe once dry.

Like most things, though, ceramic paints do have a few drawbacks. Here are a few negatives that you should note when painting clay pots with ceramic paints.

  • Ceramic paints cost more than other paints on our list.
  • In many areas, without a large artist population, they can be very difficult to find locally.
  • Many do contain lead and other toxic substances.

smooth glossy ceramic potCeramics are best used on Bisque, terra cotta, earthenware, and other porous clay pots. They come in both air-dry and baked-on paints. The baked types generally provide a longer-lasting and smoother finish. It must be remembered that not all ceramic paints are non-toxic, but many are. Be sure to read their labels carefully before applying them to any pot you will be eating or drinking from.

4. Spray Paint

Spray paints are an easy way to paint clay pots. They are especially handy for getting a smooth finish over large areas.

You can find cans of spray paint no matter where you are in the country. Just about all big box stores, hardware stores, and craft centers keep a large stock. You can often even find them in convenience stores and some pharmacies.

There is no end to the different colors they come in, and even metal finishes like chrome and brushed steel are often available. Best of all, with a little practice, it is quite easy to achieve professional-looking results even when you are a novice. With cans often available for less than a dollar practicing and perfecting your technique is very reasonably priced.

The majority of spray paints are synthetic and waterproof. However, with the dozens of different brands on the market, it is always advisable to read the packaging to make sure.

Many spray paints can be used as an underglaze on clay pots, and most can be sprayed on top of pre-glazed clay pots. They all can be used on air-dry, polymer, resin, and fired but unglazed pottery.

Getting Professional Results When Spray Painting Clay Pots

cleaning pottery using cloth

Here are a few handy tips to get you off on the right foot.

  1. Be sure your clay pot is completely dry and clean before you begin painting it.
  2. You should smooth the surface of the clay as much as possible using Emory cloth, fine sandpaper, and steel wool.
  3. Use paper and masking tape to cover any areas you don’t want to be painted. Wonderful designs can be created using stencils at this stage. Be sure to remove the masking materials before the paint is completely dry to avoid feathered edges.
  4. If your particular paint requires a primer coat, apply it now. You should be sure the primer is completely dry before proceeding.
  5. Spray paint your clay pot and allow it to dry.
  6. If you are applying multiple coats of paint or using different layers to create designs, return to step 3 and begin again.
  7. Once all layers of paint have been applied and properly dried, you are finished.

Pro Tips and Cautions:

  • Spray paint doesn’t come out at full flow when you first mash the button. It is best if you begin by spraying just outside of your pot and then move across it with a quick sweeping motion.
  • You will most often get better results applying several light coats than one heavy coat. If you spray your pot too heavily, runs can develop that will mar the finish.
  • Wear a mask and glasses when spray painting, and pay attention to how the air is flowing around you. Most spray paints are considered non-toxic, but if you get them on your face, they can be difficult to remove. If you breathe them in or get them in your eyes, they can lead to permanent damage.

painting clay sculpture with paint spray

Spray paints are one of the easiest and most economical ways you can paint clay pots. Depending on the particular paint they can be used on food-bearing surfaces and are bakeable. There one drawback is that they are not as long-wearing as some other types of paint you can use on clay pots.

To help extend their service life, we recommend sealing them under a coat of clear acrylic or polyurethane.

View on Blick

5. No-Bake Paint Pens

No-bake paint pens have been making a splash in the crating world and are a great way to paint clay pots. You use them much like magic markers.

pottery artist having fun painting clay pieceThe upside to n-bake-pens is that they are simple and intuitive to use. You can create wonderful freehand designs in seconds, and small details are also quick and easy to add. The downside is that they don’t stand up to being used much.

If you are going to use no-bake paint pens to decorate clay pots, you should reserve them for pieces that won’t be handled. Another option is to add a topcoat sealant like polyurethane or acrylic to protect your artwork.

6. Glaze

Glazes are the oldest and still the best way to paint and preserve clay pots. The majority of glazes are made up of mineral compounds mixed with powdered clay and sometimes a Fixodent or other materials to create effects.

The big negative with glazes is that they can only be used with fireable clays. You cannot use them on air-dry, polymer, or other clays that can’t stand up to the heat of a kiln.

The plus side is that other than those containing metals; they are almost universally food-safe. They also have the advantage of being permanent and won’t wear off.

vase clay dipped in glaze

Quick Summary

Don’t have time to read the entire article here is a quick summary of the six best paint choices for painting clay pots.

1. Best overall: Acrylic paints- Acrylics are fast-drying, go on easy and provide excellent coverage and good durability. You can find them in almost any art or craft supply store and they are relatively cheap.

2. Easiest to create details: Acrylic paint markers- These markers or pens offer the durability and fast drying of acrylic paint in an easy-to-use pen form. They are great for creating freehand patterns.

scribbled colored marker pens in paper

3. Longest lasting finish: Ceramic paints- Ceramic paints provide the longest lasting and most durable option for painting clay pots without firing. They can be difficult to find in some areas but are readily available online.

4. Best for easy coverage: Spaypaints- If you are wanting to create a smooth, solid, uniform coating spray paints are hard to beat. With a little practice, you can easily get professional results. You can also use masking techniques to create patterns.

5. Best for freehand drawing: No-Bake Paint Pens- These are much like acrylic paint markers but have the advantage of coming with even smaller nips. This makes it possible to create stunning hand-drawn artwork on your clay pots.

artist using pen to draw on clay piece

6. Most durable: Glazes- Without a doubt, the most durable coating you can put on a clay pot is by glazing it. These are not true paints and require firing in a kiln to fully harden. If you are wanting to create heirloom-quality works though, they can’t be beaten.


What kind of primer do you use on clay pots?

The best primer coat you can use on clay pots depends on the type of paint you will decorate them with. Most paint manufacturers have a recommended primer list on their packaging.

Unless you are going for a special effect, we almost always recommend using a white primer. This makes any color stand out and is the easiest way to get adequate coverage in the least number of coats.

Do you need special paint for clay pots?

You do not need special paint for clay pots. There are a number of readably available paints like acrylics and spray paints on the market that work well for painting clay pots.