What Can I Use Instead Of Glaze For Clay?

Clay glaze is a type of glass coating applied to bisqueware clay that is then fired at high temperatures in a kiln. Glaze serves several purposes – it makes the clay items nonporous and water resistant, gives the surface a glossy finish, and allows for creative color effects. However, there are reasons some ceramic artists may want to use glaze alternatives. Glazing can add extra time, supplies, and equipment costs to the clay process. The chemicals in some glazes also contain toxins, which some artists prefer to avoid. Additionally, the look and feel of an unglazed natural clay finish may be desirable for certain pieces. Exploring substitute options can open up more versatility in clay designs.

Unfired Finishes

One option to substitute for glaze on clay is to use an unfired finish. These are products and techniques that are applied to raw clay before it goes into the kiln. Unfired finishes provide color, protection, and texture without needing to be fired at high temperatures. Some popular unfired finish options include:

Wax – Beeswax, paraffin wax, and candle wax can be brushed or rubbed onto raw clay to add sheen and protection. The clay piece should be handled carefully when wax is applied to avoid fingerprints and smudges. Wax will repel water and can be buffed to a nice shine.

Mineral oil – Soaking clay in mineral oil will create a smooth, durable finish. The oil penetrates the surface and hardens the clay. Clays high in grog may be too porous for mineral oil. Allow the clay to dry fully before rubbing the surface with a cloth to remove excess oil.

Polymer varnish – Water-based acrylic polymer varnishes are made for unfinished clay. They provide a clear, glossy coating and are food-safe options. Apply multiple thin coats with a brush and allow drying fully between coats.

Natural and Household Products

Many common household items can be used to give clay surfaces unique finishes without the need for a traditional ceramic glaze. Plant-based products like aloe vera gel, coconut oil, olive oil, and vegetable oils can create beautiful natural looking finishes when applied to cured clay.

Aloe vera gel is a popular choice for finishing air-dry and polymer clays. Simply apply the gel directly from the plant or bottle onto cured clay and allow it to fully absorb. This creates a smooth satin finish that enhances the natural colors and patterns of the clay. Aloe gel finishes bring out warm earthy tones and give projects a soothing organic look.

Plant-based cooking oils like olive oil, coconut oil, and vegetable oils can also be used. Apply a thin coat of oil to cured clay pieces and rub it in well. As the oil penetrates the clay it gives a natural luster and sheen. Vegetable oils like sunflower, safflower, and linseed oil provide a light glossy coating. Olive oil and coconut oil give more of a satiny finish. The oils bring out the rich colors of the clay.

Cold Porcelain

Cold porcelain is an air-dry dough alternative to traditional porcelain that can be shaped, molded, and painted just like ceramic clay. It is made from cornstarch, glue, and other ingredients that create a lightweight modeling material. Cold porcelain is an excellent option for finishing and decorating air-dry clay projects.

To use cold porcelain as a glaze alternative, simply knead and roll out the dough to the desired thickness. Apply it to the surface of dry unfired clay pieces using water or artists’ glue to adhere it. Use silicone molds or hand molding techniques to add decorative shapes, textures, and designs. Cold porcelain can be sanded, carved, stamped, or textured once dry. It will harden to a porcelain-like finish that takes acrylic paints and other colorants beautifully. The dough dries naturally in air overtime to a lightweight, durable finish.

Cold porcelain is beloved by crafters and clay artists for its versatility. It can achieve the smooth polished look of true porcelain without the need for firing. Cold porcelain opens up many options for adding decorative elements, patterns, textures, and colors to unfired air-dry clay. Experiment with using it to create beautiful finishes, accents, and decorative effects on clay crafts and sculptures.

Resin and Epoxy

Resin and epoxy are popular clear finishes that can be brushed or poured onto unfired clay pieces. Resins like polyurethane, polyester, and epoxy provide a glossy, glass-like coating that is durable and waterproof. They are often used in jewelry-making and other small decorative objects.

Some pros of using resin or epoxy finishes on unfired clay:

  • Provides a shiny, glossy finish
  • Seals and protects the clay surface
  • Can achieve a smooth, glass-like appearance
  • Durable and waterproof
  • Enhances color and visual depth

Some cons to consider:

  • More expensive than other options
  • Requires proper safety gear like gloves and respirator
  • Can be tricky to apply without drips, bubbles or brush strokes
  • Takes time to fully cure before handling
  • Not food-safe for dishes or surfaces
  • Can yellow or crack over time

Overall, resin and epoxy offer a beautiful glossy finish for decorative unfired clay pieces. But the materials, fumes and curing process require safety precautions. For functional clay items, an epoxy coating may not hold up as well with repeated use and washing.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is a popular and readily available alternative to glazes for finishing clay surfaces. Acrylics can be thinned with water to create effects ranging from transparent stained glazes to opaque colored finishes. They dry quickly and bond well to cured clay.

To use acrylics as a glaze, thin the paint with water until it reaches the desired transparency. Multiple layers can be built up for more intense color effects. Let each layer dry fully before adding another. Acrylic glazes work best on raw cured clay rather than greenware, as the paint may peel off greenware during firing.

Acrylic paints are available in every color imaginable, making them extremely versatile. Metallic acrylics are great for achieving a striking shimmery look. Interference acrylics shift color depending on the viewing angle. Even fluorescent acrylics can be used for dramatic effects. Let your creativity run wild with the broad acrylic palette!

Air-Dry Clay

Air-dry clay is a great alternative to traditional glazes for finishing ceramic pieces. It is made from clay that has been formulated to air-dry at room temperature. Air-dry clay comes in a variety of colors and can be painted once dry for additional color and effects.

Using air-dry clay is an easy way to add color, texture, and design elements to greenware, bisqueware, or fully-fired pieces. Simply knead the clay until soft and pliable, then apply it to the surface of the piece using your desired techniques. The clay will slowly harden as it dries without needing to be fired.

Air-dry clay can be applied thinly like a glaze to fully cover the piece. It can also be sculpted into decorative 3D textures, shapes, and accents. Let your creativity run wild with intricate patterns, molded textures, or attaching clay embellishments. The finished result can have the beauty of glazes without needing a kiln.

Air-dry clay is water-soluble when wet and can be easily cleaned up with water during the application process. It also sands and carves well when dry for finishing the surface texture. When sealing properly, pieces made with air-dry clay can be just as durable as fired clay. It’s a very accessible and user-friendly clay finishing option.

Texture and Color

Texturing clay and staining it with color are other popular finish options that allow you to achieve beautiful effects without glazing. Here are some ways to texture and add color to unfired clay:

– Add layers of colored slips. A slip is a thin mixture of clay and water that can be brushed or poured onto the surface. Try layering contrasting colors to create patterns as the layers overlap.

– Use stamps, sponges, rollers, or other tools to imprint textures. Things like lace, burlap, leaves, seashells etc. can create lovely impressions.

– Scratch or score the surface with sharp tools like skewers or knives to get linear textures.

– Press molds onto the soft clay to get three-dimensional textures like bricks, woodgrain, scales etc.

– Sculpt textures like ruffles, wrinkles, ripples into sections of the clay.

– Rub stains, inks, paints or metallic powders like mica powder into the raw clay for color. They’ll soak in and color the surface.

– Sprinkle or dip the item into dry pigments for color effects. The pigments will adhere to the surface.

– Attach pieces of colored clay for decorative accents.

Wax Resist

Wax resist is a fun and simple technique to add artistic patterns and textures to clay. It involves applying wax to areas of the clay before painting over the surface with acrylic paints. The wax acts as a resist, blocking the paint from adhering to those parts of the clay. When the wax is removed after painting, it reveals the underlying clay color in the wax pattern. This creates a striking two-tone or multi-color effect.

To use wax resist:

  • Apply wax to the raw unfired clay in your desired pattern using a wax crayon, candle, or melted wax. Allow it to fully dry.
  • Paint over the entire clay surface with acrylic paint. Allow to dry fully.
  • Remove the wax by rubbing it off, leaving the wax-coated areas their original clay color.
  • optionally apply multiple layers of wax and paint to create more intricate patterns and designs.

Wax resist allows for many creative options with color palettes and artistic designs. It can be used to adorn clay jewelry, sculptures, dishes, vases, and more. The technique adds beautiful one-of-a-kind patterns and textures, without requiring any special materials besides basic wax and paint.


There are many viable options to use as an alternative to glaze for finishing clay projects. Natural products like beeswax and linseed oil, as well as household items like acrylic paint, can create beautiful finishes. Cold porcelain, resin, epoxy, and air-dry clay mimic the smooth surface and glossy effects of glaze. Wax resist techniques allow you to selectively color the clay. When choosing a clay finish, consider the desired look, durability, food safety, complexity of application, and cost. Test different products on scrap pieces of clay to ensure compatibility and desired results. With some creativity, clay artists can achieve stunning looks without using traditional ceramic glazes.

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