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StoneI imagine you’ve seen these before. I am not particularly fond of porcelain for several reasons I’ll elaborate on later. We experimented with porcelain for some time before moving forward with the development of our high resolution etching on stainless and titanium. We actually got porcelain to adhere extremely well to titanium in the lab.

As you may know porcelain has been around for centuries. It has been in use in China for over 4,000 years. The Chinese probably made the first true porcelain during the Tang dynasty (618-907). Transfer printing revolutionized the porcelain industry in 1756. Recent advances in printing technology now enable us to print decals from desk top printers using what they call porcelain inks.

The Porcelain Enamel Institute does a lot of research on porcelain. Following are two excerpts from their Web site.


Like glass, porcelain enamel will fracture when abused. It is difficult to predict the impact resistance of a specific porcelain enamel since it depends as much or more on the design of the part as on the properties of the porcelain enamel.


Example on stoneThe weatherability of porcelain enamel is usually measured by the degree to which the coating retains its original gloss and color. In general, acid resistant porcelain enamels have better weather resistance than those that are non-acid resistant. Thus, those porcelain enamels to be exposed to weathering should be specified to have no less than a Class A acid resistance rating.

Glossy, acid resistant porcelain enamels have shown no appreciable change in appearance after 15 years exposure. However, similar exposure may substantially change the appearance of some matte and non-acid resistant porcelain enamels. Some types of highly pigmented red and yellow porcelain enamels may show some fading after several years of weathering.”

Several cemetery managers mentioned to me that they noticed some of the porcelain tributes fading. This may be due in part to the chemistry now used in the inks developed for the transfers. Also EPA regulations have come into play. Cobalt and cadmium, used as pigments, are considered neurotoxins that can damage the liver and kidneys. Some of the strong inorganic oxides that gave original porcelain its permanence now are becoming off limits because of disposal regulations or air contamination during use. Old porcelain didn’t fade. Apparently the newer items do.

Personally, I feel a full color image, essentially a color photograph, is tacky when mounted to a fine stone or bronze memorial. In addition, porcelain does break. The photo below shows chips in the tribute made by rocks or other flying debris. If you dropped a brick on a porcelain tribute manufactured using a thin gauge substrate and a brick on a Diamond Memory™ there would be different consequences. The porcelain would be severely compromised. The Diamond Memory™ may end up with a small dent.

The other thing you must be careful about when purchasing a porcelain tribute is the metal on which the porcelain is fired. Some dealers use high carbon steel. If the porcelain gets chipped the steel underneath will begin to rust. That rust can continue unabated under the porcelain on the back side of the metal until all that’s left is a porcelain shell - like an egg. I’ve heard that some manufacturers use stainless as a base metal. If you buy one of these tributes, make sure what type of metal and its gauge is being used. We use .060 316L stainless.

To keep them from chipping you can purchase a separate cover arrangement, like a little door. I think that defeats the intention. Not many people are going to open the door to look at the photo.

The other area of concern is the mounting. Some porcelain tributes come with an epoxy tape. The tribute is simply stuck to the stone. In some cases cemeteries don’t use the tape and affix the tribute with epoxy paste. Either way it's a surface mount, which in time, due to expansion and contraction coefficients, and potential microbial attack and UV degradation along the edges, will lose adhesion and fall off. Who is going to put it back on? This is not as much of a problem if the tribute is mounted horizontally on a flush bronze or stone memorial. Attachment methodology is something to consider when thinking far into the future.

Ding in porcelain tribute
Chipped by rocks thrown by lawnmower.


The techniques used to produce porcelain items these days must be taken into consideration. Many porcelain dealers offer memorial tributes, heirloom plates and jewelry. These are very nice and make a great addition to the home. When we talk about extreme longevity, breakage and other circumstances must be taken into consideration. Are the images reproduced using transfer decals? If decals are used, are they considered no fire or low fire. Following is some points to consider.

"ART 186 – Intro To Ceramics
Glendale Community College, 1500 North Verdugo Road, Glendale, California 91208

Steps in the ceramic process

(Section relating to low temperature ceramic decals)


Sometimes, potters choose to do additional firings to achiever color and surface effects not possible in the glaze firing. These effects include lusters, china paints and decals. These overglaze techniques are fired at extremely low temperature (1300 degrees F.) and because of that, brighter colors and lusters are possible than can be achieved at 2350 degrees F. These are, loosely speaking, very low fire glazes that are melted atop the previously fired high temperature glaze. At this low temperature, the underlying glaze does not even melt, instead the luster, china paint, or decal melt onto the glaze and fuse, semi-permanently. This is the major disadvantage of this technique. The overglazes are not as permanent as high temperature glazes. Abrasion will erode this coating, and eventually, the overglaze will be gone or muted by time. Still, unusual and exotic effects are possible, and for this reason, potters are interested in this area. Some techniques, like china painting, often involve multiple overglaze firings, layering one color on top of another as complicated designs emerge."

Due to advances in recent technology, photographic, high resolution images on porcelain and ceramic pieces are probably produced using transfer decals. Some transfer decals are no fire. They are transferred and oven baked at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Their durability is limited based on usage. Then you have the low fire decals which are kiln fired at 1,300 to 1,540 degrees Fahrenheit. If these pieces are kept inside and not broken or exposed to severe abrasion or extreme UV, they should last indefinitely. I would not recommend no fire decal transfers for outdoor use.

January 20, 2013: We are working on a ceramic on metal option using low fire ceramic decals that may possess extreme durability in outdoor environments. Stay tuned for updates.

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