Fact Check: Transfer Print or Hand Painted?
inJanuary 30, 2008 - 12:09pm
A common error made by individuals new to handling decorated porcelain is mistaking transfer printing for hand painting. A transfer print can fool the untrained eye, mistaking it for hand painting. Mistakes occur because the lovely portrait or floral image under examination is either well made or because the bottom of the piece is stamped, 'Hand Painted' when it is not, or when it is only partially hand painted.
Why is it important to have the ability to differentiate between a transfer print and hand painted ware? Two reasons: collectors want accurate representation, and hand painted porcelain generally, goes for a higher price than transfer print porcelain. You would not want to mistake a hand painted porcelain piece painted by a gifted artist for a mass-produced transfer print, which affects the asking price (too low and a loss) and online search results enticing collectors to visit your website only to find what you offer is ‘not’ what they want.
Long time collectors and dealers of decorated porcelain know there are methods for distinguishing one type of decorative application from another. Dealers and collectors use common sense tips for identification purposes to prevent their appreciation for the beauty of a piece from influencing their objectivity.
If the decoration is a transfer print, the pattern will be very regular. Compare the same aspect of the same pattern on two different pieces of the same type and style dinnerware set and you will discover they are identical. This is because the transfer print on both plates is the same exact pattern. Irregularities occur in transfer printed designs due to improper application of the print resulting in buckled or wrinkled paper and imperfectly joined seams. Most often, this is noticeable on border decorations, which are commonly applied by apprentices or inexperienced workers.
On close inspection of a transfer decoration, you will find stippling, or a pattern of raised dots, rather than brush strokes and cross-hatching – a painting technique used to create tonal effects on hand painted porcelain. An obvious outline, with no irregularities around the elements of a design indicates the use of both hand painting and transfer prints, a mixed technique used to achieve the desired decorative result. Keep in mind designs rendered using a mix of techniques is evidence the piece is less valuable than an all over hand painted only piece of decorative porcelain. A semi-skilled worker that applies glaze over a transfer print by simply ‘coloring’ within the design lines is economically cheaper because the skill required to do so is less than that required of an artisan painting a detailed design.
Some porcelain items have transfer prints applied over the glaze and can be felt, however, this type of application is not as durable as transfer prints applied under the glaze and is used less often.
A decorative element applied under the glaze on porcelain is an underglaze. The artisan or factory employee applies paint or a transfer print to the surface of greenware (unfired porcelain or clay) or bisque fired (previously fired porcelain or clay) followed by a layer of glaze – usually transparent. Glazes fired over decorative elements are visible when viewed from a side angle and appear to ‘float’ over the decorative element. Decorative elements fuse with the porcelain during firing. The mixed technique using paint and a transfer print are generally under the glaze. Do not judge an element as consisting of only a transfer print when applied under the glaze without careful examination.
It is never a good idea to take a decorated porcelain piece at face value or to make hasty assumptions about it based on what you think you see with the unaided eye. Use the tips above to correctly identify the type of decoration used on your porcelain wares to avoid mistakes in identification, which leads to misrepresentation and a disappointed customer.