Ceramics and pottery are often used interchangeably, but the two are a bit different in definition. Clay is the main supply used to make both pottery and ceramics, so it’s understandable that the two terms are used interchangeably.
So, what’s the difference between pottery and ceramics? Pottery refers to all things that are made from clay and then fired at a high temperature. Ceramics can usually be categorized as a type of pottery, however not all types of ceramics include clay as a component.
In this article, we’ll explore the difference between ceramics and other types of pottery and when it is suitable to call something ceramic or pottery.
What Is Pottery?
The American Society for Testing and Materials defines pottery as all types of ceramic goods, except for structural, refractory, and technical products. Pottery is made from clay and then fired at a high temperature, at which point it becomes ceramics.
When the term ‘pottery’ is used on a day-to-day basis, there’s also an added layer of understanding to it, as pottery is also understood as ceramic ‘pots’ – containers like mugs, bowls, plates, and vases that are made from clay.
When we investigate further, it turns out that the words “pot” and “pottery” both came from the Old English ‘potian,’ which literally means “to push.”
This refers to the way the potter throws the clay on the wheel and forms it into various shapes, and it also explains why ‘pottery’ can be understood as both the product and the process of making it.
Nowadays, modern ceramics can be categorized into two types: commercial and studio. The former is made by factories, while the latter is made by individual artisans in small batches.
To see the process from beginning to end, here’s an awesome tutorial from Florian Gadsby on YouTube explaining how to make a stoneware pottery bowl.
What Are Ceramics?
The word “ceramics” originates from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language, and literally translates as “to burn.” It refers to the kiln-firing process where non-metal materials such as clay become hardened when it is burned under high heat.
If you have worked with clay, you will know that it is soft, easy to form, and can easily dissolve when it meets water. However, when the clay is fired under high heat (up to 1500°F), it can become hardened and waterproof. At this point, it will be called ceramic.
Because of this, ceramics and pottery are often confused as one and the same thing. Indeed, ceramics qualify as a type of pottery because of the kiln-firing process. However, with the advent of modern technology, the term ceramics can also refer to other materials such as glass and advanced ceramics.
Clay is the most common ceramic material but there are also other types of ceramics and glazes. Industrial ceramics, such as zirconium oxide and silica carbide, are also commonly used for making various types of products with similar characteristics to ceramics.
To see the process of making and firing ceramic pottery, here’s a great tutorial from Lolita Olympia on YouTube.
Similarities Between Ceramics And Other Types Of Pottery
Ceramics and other types of pottery share a lot of similar advantages, which is why the two terms are often used interchangeably.
First of all, both pottery and ceramics usually have very high melting points, from 4000-5500°F, which means they are very heat-resistant. This is why they’re often used to make tiles, bricks, and cookware.
Speaking of cookware, ceramics and other types of pottery are popular options for your kitchen items because they are food-safe and waterproof. Thanks to their heat-resistant ability, they are also dishwasher safe as well.
Ceramics and other types of pottery are also highly durable — some materials can last hundreds or even thousands of years (which is why museums are filled with them).
Keep in mind that depending on the base component, ceramics can be substantially more durable and stronger than other types of pottery which are made from clay and are more prone to breaking.
This is because the atoms that make up these materials are strongly bonded together at their crystal interfaces (where atoms meet). They also have a low level of porosity, so they don’t absorb liquids over time like metals do — which means they won’t rust or corrode like metal.
Another important property of ceramics and other types of pottery is their low electrical conductivity — they don’t conduct electricity well at all! This property makes them useful as insulators in electrical circuits because it prevents currents from flowing through them easily.
Additionally, ceramics and other types of pottery are also attractive because they are chemical-resistant, which means they don’t react with any other chemical. This characteristic, coupled with the materials’ strength and durability, makes them great options for tiles and flooring.
Differences Between Ceramics And Other Types Of Pottery
Having learned about ceramics and other types of pottery, you can understand why they are often confused as always being the same. However, there are also distinct differences.
Pottery only refers to items that are made from clay and have been kiln-fired to increase their strength and durability.
While ceramics commonly refer to items that are made from clay, which makes them a type of pottery, they are also made from non-metal materials that change their surface permanently when exposed to heat. This includes clay but also glass, brick, silicon, and carbide.
Glaze, which is a paint-like liquid that is usually employed when decorating pottery, is actually a type of glass-ceramic. The glaze is usually applied to pottery after the first firing to add colors and decorative touches to the pottery, and the pottery is fired one more time to become ceramic.
As such, ceramics is a type of pottery, but there are also other kinds of ceramics like silicone ceramics or carbide ceramics, depending on what they’re made of.
Clay is the main component used in pottery, as it is used to form many different items. They are then heated to high temperatures in a pit or kiln. This process results in various permanent changes, such as increased strength and rigidity.
Ceramics can be made from clay, but advanced ceramics are not based on clay. Instead, they are made from various compounds. They are commonly used in a wide variety of applications, such as aerospace, automotive, and medical.
Both pottery and ceramics are popular in the home, as they make wonderful pots, vases, plates, and bowls.
However, since some ceramics can be more durable than clay pottery, they can be used in more demanding applications, such as tiles, bricks, and even artificial teeth and bones. You can also find ceramic insulators in your TV, ceramics converters in your car, etc.
Some of the materials commonly used in industrial ceramics, such as silica carbide and zirconium oxide, are also commonly used in aerospace and medical applications. These compounds are known to be able to endure extremely hot temperatures,.
Types Of Pottery
All pottery is made from clay, but depending on the type of clay and the firing temperature, the resulting pottery will look a bit different.
Let’s take a look at the three main types of pottery: earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain.
Earthenware is made from white clay and formed by firing at low temperatures (1800-2100°F). The resulting product is characterized by its porosity and texture, which is then glazed and fired a second time to create the finished product.
One of the most important features of earthenware is that when it is glazed, the glaze adheres to the surface of the clay. This is because of the earthenware’s porous and textured surface, and some of this texture will remain after the glaze is fired.
Clay comes from the earth, and the white clay that makes up earthenware is usually dug up around river beds that are rich in minerals but also impurities.
Among the minerals found in earthenware clay are feldspar and quartz, which are commonly referred to as rock-forming minerals. These two minerals are responsible for the vibrant red and orange colors of terra-cotta colored earthenware.
Because of the impurities and minerals that make up earthenware clay, it usually melts at a lower temperature and is, therefore, less durable and heat-resistant than other types of pottery.
Stoneware is made by firing clay at a high temperature (1800°F) and then glazed at around 2200°F until it resembles the appearance of glass. This process is also known as vitrification.
Thanks to this process, stoneware is much stronger and denser than earthenware. Because of its non-porous surface, the glaze applied to the stoneware is able to create a mixed layer with the clay, which adds depth to the piece.
Stoneware clay refers to a whole host of different types of clay, but the common characteristic is that when fired at a high temperature, the resulting pottery often has a hard and non-porous surface.
Stoneware clay can be made from a variety of raw materials. It can also be made by combining various minerals and clay. The resulting product is referred to as a clay body. Depending on its application, the composition of the clay body can be a bit different.
Unlike other types of pottery, such as stoneware and earthenware, porcelain is made from refined clay and is fired at a higher temperature, around 2200-2600°F.
The result is a beautiful translucent white ceramic known as porcelain. The refined clay used to make porcelain is a mix of various minerals such as glass, quartz, and feldspar. These materials are then ground up and mixed with water until they become pliable and easy to form.
After the first bisque firing, the product is glazed and then fired again to achieve a glossy, shiny appearance. You’ll know the resulting product as fine china, which you can find in a lot of high-end stores.
There’s a variation of porcelain called bone china. Bone china is made from combining cattle bone ash, silica sand, ash, and feldspar. It’s then fired in the same manner as porcelain to create stronger china than porcelain.
Unlike other types of pottery, porcelain is made from refined clay and is fired at a higher temperature. This produces a hard and non-porous surface, which allows it to have a translucent, glass-like appearance thanks to the completed vitrification process.
Porcelain clay is usually made from a soft, white, and rich clay called kaolin, which gets its name from the mineral kaolinite.
Kaolin is also known as primary clay since it doesn’t have any impurities as earthenware clay does. This gives the resulting china its vibrant and glossy appearance.
Types Of Ceramics
Ceramics is usually categorized a type of pottery, but there are so many other types of ceramics that come from other materials besides clay.
From kitchen pantries to factories and even aerospace engineering, ceramics are widely used in so many industries. Let’s take a look at some common types of ceramics that you may have seen.
One of the most common types of ceramic is tile, which is made from a combination of various elements such as clay, silica, and minerals. It’s usually fired at a lower temperature than porcelain, around 1650°F.
Because ceramic tiles are fired at a lower temperature, they are more prone to breaking and cracking than porcelain. Also, due to the composition of the clays used to make ceramic tile, it is more prone to water damage.
Porcelain tiles are also available, but they are less popular due to their expensive price tag. However, porcelain tiles are known for being more durable and more water-resistant. They also have a more luxurious appearance compared to ceramic tiles.
Ceramic glass is not to be confused with regular glass. The basic components of glass-ceramics are similar, including lithium, aluminum oxide, and sand. However, a special nucleating agent is also added to the mix so that the result has characteristics similar to ceramics.
Glass ceramics enjoy a lot of the ideal characteristics often associated with both glass and ceramics. It can withstand drastic temperature changes without warping or cracking, it is strong and non-porous, and it has an elegant appearance that is often seen in luxury cookware.
A wide range of products are made from glass ceramics, such as ceramics for cooking equipment, insulation, telescopic mirrors, and engineering components.
The main body of brick is made up of natural clay minerals, such as kaolin and shale. Some of the additives used in the process include manganese, barium, and other compounds. These additives help improve the chemical resistance of the bricks.
After firing in a kiln, bricks are suitable for various building materials such as walls and fireplaces.
Silicon carbide is a popular material used in advanced ceramics, thanks to many of its superior qualities. High-performance silicon carbide ceramics are known to have thermal shock resistance, high strength, and low thermal expansion.
Due to its properties, silicon carbide has been widely used in various industrial fields, such as automotive, chemical, environmental protection, and space technology. It is an ideal structural material for various applications.
Besides silicon, there are also various other types of carbide ceramics that are often used in demanding industrial applications. These are titanium carbide ceramics and tungsten carbide ceramics, both known for their durability and heat and abrasion resistance.
Potter Vs. Ceramic Artist
Having learned about the difference between pottery and ceramics, you may wonder whether you can be referred to as a ‘potter’ or ‘ceramic artist.’
There are so many different terms for an artist who works with clay. A potter is usually a craftsman who works with various types of clay, while a ceramic artist is someone who usually works specifically with ceramic materials.
Depending on the scale of production, there are also production potters, who create mass-produced batches of pottery, and studio potters, who create individual pieces of pottery.