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What is the Difference Between Ceramics and Pottery?

Many people would class pottery and ceramics as one and the same, however there is difference between pottery and ceramics which we will explore in this article.

In daily discussion, people tend to be interchangeable in their use of the word pottery and the use of the word ceramic.

Perhaps the key definition is that pottery is a form of ceramics, but ceramics covers a much wider spectrum. Firstly, we need to learn the difference between pottery and ceramics.

clay pot making process


What are ceramics?

A simple definition of ceramics are materials that are permanently changed when heated. Clay is a good example of a ceramic material - items made out of clay, once fired, are turned into a ceramic, and they cannot be returned to their original state.

There are, of course, other ceramic materials, such as glaze, which when heated are permanently changed in their state.


What is pottery?

Pottery is a type of ceramic, solely made from clays. A piece of pottery is usually something that is made as a functional piece. Pottery is essentially a limited form of ceramics. Pottery is clay that is formed into earthenware or stoneware. Pottery can be glazed and can be in the form of jars, bowls, a pot or any number of practical clay objects.


What is the difference in the production of pottery and ceramics?

Pottery is usually made by hand or on a potter's wheel. It is clay, formed into a shape and then heated at a high temperature to harden. Ceramics can also be made from clay, but can also be made of other materials such as silica, glazes and other non metal substances. Ceramics are also heated to high temperatures, usually in an industrial setting.

As mentioned earlier, ceramics can be made of a number of different elements, whereas pottery is solely made from clay, so the production process of pottery is very linear and unvaried. In fact, pottery making has remained essentially the same for thousands of years, with the firing of products remaining traditional right throughout the 20th century and beyond, normally involving a kiln.

Ceramists (those who work with ceramic materials) have developed the use of ceramics through history, which means the materials can be applied to a number of different, more modern inventions. There are also different methods of firing ceramics, dependent on the material and the end use.

man working with ceramic tiles


What is the difference in the use of pottery and ceramics?

Pottery is made into a number of forms, mainly in the use of practical food or drink containers or related activities. Pottery is hardened and normally glazed to ensure it is non porous. Ceramics on the other hand are used in a range of different areas including knives, armor, glass and even car engines. Ceramics can also be used for tiles and are often made using machines rather than by hand.

Alongside practical/industrial uses, fine china figurines or art based clay products can be classed as ceramics. Figures made from porcelain or artistic fine bone china, falls outside of the remit of pottery and is therefore classed as a ceramic. Many artists in this field are classed as ceramic artists, as the end product is not based around a 'pot' as in the word 'pottery'.


What is the difference in texture between pottery and ceramics?

Pottery often has a generally rough finish compared to ceramics. It has a handmade quality, whereas ceramics are often made for precision engineering and so tend to have a smoother finish and surface.

Ceramics in their broadest sense can also be seen as durable, particularly if used for engineering purposes, whereas pottery is not always durable and can be broken easily if dropped or smashed.

toilet pots


What is the difference between pottery and ceramics techniques?

One of the main differences in ceramics and pottery is the techniques used. In ceramics, one can use a variety of fascinating techniques. For example ceramic artists often use coiling, a method that requires the artist to roll clay into long, serpent-like strands and layer them to construct a piece. Another commonly used technique is slab construction, which involves the creation of flat clay sheets and their subsequent combination to form intricate shapes. The most recognized and perhaps iconic ceramic technique is wheel throwing, where clay is shaped and molded on a revolving wheel. In addition to these primary techniques, ceramics offers a plethora of decorative methods. Artists may opt to paint, glaze, carve or incise their pieces, each adding a unique touch to the final product.

While pottery shares some techniques with ceramics, like wheel throwing and coiling, the emphasis is predominantly on functionality rather than artistic expression. The finishing stage in pottery often involves burnishing or applying a slip - a special blend of clay and water - which renders a silky, polished finish to the piece. Although pottery embraces ornamentation, the decorations are usually more restrained compared to ceramics. This understated decor underscores the practical nature of the piece, rather than simply serving as an embellishment. So, in pottery, every curve, every groove has a purpose, subtly marrying aesthetics and utility.


In summary - what is the difference between pottery and ceramics?

Technically, pottery is a form of ceramics, but ceramics covers a much broader spectrum. Pottery is very much dedicated to the making of one specific ceramic type and using one specific ceramic material, namely pots and clay.

They are intrinsically similar in the way they are processed - all ceramics are materials which change irreversibly when heated, but the use of ceramics goes far beyond pots, bowls, dishes or plates.

Although ceramics in their general sense can be processed in a factory setting, there are also elements of ceramic production which require just as much skill as pottery production. Ceramic or artistic figures or glass figures require immense skill and precision but do not require a potter's wheel or traditional pottery techniques used by potters.

Others would describe figurines and such as pottery, but the general consensus is that pottery is solely focused on the production of pots or similar vessels. Pottery is classed as functional, whereas ceramics in their broadest term can be both functional and artistic.