Monday, July 27, 2015

Some Technology Resources for Potters

On Sunday, July 26, 2015, we had the first Social and Learning Gathering for Potters from the Western Pennsylvania area.  With over forty in attendance, I talked about some of the technology resources that I currently use in my work.  The rest of the time was devoted to an opportunity for potters to share food and drink, conversation, and a tour of TechShop Pittsburgh, which is located in the Bakery Square area of Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood.

TechShop is a 20,000 square foot membership facility that contains many technology resources and machines.

           1.     A TechShop membership provides access to many machines that can be useful to creative types.   Costs are on the website for daily, monthly, or yearly memberships.   

            2.  One tool that I have in my studio (not at TechShop) is a color ceramic laser printer.   Almost anything that is in a cmyk color format in Photoshop can be printed on a sheet of decal paper, then laminated with a thin, clear glaze, applied and fired to 1600 degrees F to fuse to an already fired ceramic surface.  

Enduring Images is the official reseller of Michael Zimmer’s patented color ceramic decal process that I use.  Excellent people to do business with.  There are other people selling a similar system who are using this patented process without permission or compensation.  I have chosen not to buy from them.

3.  To learn the software necessary to use the TechShop tools, I use an online resource called  This is an online educational system that contains thousands of lessons on a wide variety of subjects.  

I mainly use it to learn how to use the software I utilize in my work:  Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Astute Graphics plugins, Adobe Premier Pro video editing software, Corel Draw, Corel Painter, AutoDesk programs such as AutoCad, Inventor, and Fusion 360, and other software programs.  Cost is $25/month for unlimited usage and goes month to month.


The color ceramic laser decal process enables you to prepare photos and other images in Adobe Photoshop, which then go from Photoshop to the Ricoh printer.  The images are printed onto special decal paper up to 8 ½” x 11” in size.  The decal sheet is then laminated to a cover sheet, which has a thin layer of clear glaze. 

The decals are then applied to a fired ceramic surface and fired to 1600 degrees F.  The images are fired onto the ceramic piece and are as resistant to scratching or cleaning as the underlying ceramic glaze.  The can be used outdoors and are frost-proof if the underlying clay and glaze is frost-proof.

Ricoh color laser printer model 430 DN - 37 pages per minute and 1200 x 1200 dot per inch.

I also have several HP model 1020 printers that can be used to print sepia tone images on decal paper.  This process relies on the red iron oxide that is in the printer cartridge for the color and relies on application to a ceramic surface that begins a slight melt when re-fired.  The image is then permanent. 

It takes some experimentation to match the decal, glaze and firing temperature.  Other black and white laser printers will also work if the toner contains a high percentage of red iron oxide.  Decal paper is available through a variety of sources.

Computer - iMac 27 – 27” screen with 16 gigabytes of RAM.  Switched from PC to Mac some time ago and don’t regret it.

Wacom Cintiq – The Cintiq is a graphics tablet that enables you to put the image from your computer screen to the pressure sensitive tablet that allows you to use a stylus to draw or paint directly on the screen image.  I use a Cintiq model of this tablet.

A TechShop membership provides access to many machines that can be useful to creative types.  Specifically some of the ones that I use are:

1.     Flow WaterJet cutter – water is forced through a small nozzle at 60,000 psi supplemented with garnet granules for abrasion.  This machine is capable of following a vector image to precisely cut through 6” of steel or through ceramic tile without breaking the tile.  I use this machine to cut complex shapes out of porcelain tile and to cut wood or metal for extruder dies.

2.     Laser cutter – using a beam of light, this machine is capable of cutting paper, wood, or plastic and for etching designs into glass or glaze.  I use it in many ways but primarily to cut glazed decal sheets into precise images.  It can also be used to etch photographs into wood or plastic or for making stamps to impress designs into wet clay.

3.     Vacuuming forming machine – softened 1/8” ABS plastic is formed around a 2 ½” wooden form designed and cut to be an interlocking, tessellating shape.  After vacuum forming, the wooden shape is removed and the top1/4” of the plastic is cut evenly.  The edges are then sharpened with a Dremel grinding tool.  The result is a cookie cutter die for making tiles from slabs of wet clay.

4.     ShopBot – CNC wood cutter.  TechShop Pittsburgh has the Standard and the Buddy.  Standard table is 48” x 96” whereas the Buddy is 24” x 32”.  The Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) router carves and machines two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects from wood, plastic, or light metals.  

I use the ShopBot to cut extruder dies and also some three-dimensional shapes for molding.  I have also used it for making tessellating tile shapes but have found that the WaterJet cutter works better for me.

ShopBot Alpha 4 x 8 ft. bed.

ShopBot Buddy 24" x 32" work area.

5.     There are many other tools at TechShop that are not computer controlled that I have found useful with my work.  The Edwards Iron Worker is highly versatile and powerful tool that shears steel plate (up to 5/8" thick), punches holes (up to 1-1/6" diameter in 5/8" thick steel), notches, and shears angle iron (up to 1/4" x 4" x 4") and round stock.  One specific use is to cut and notch angle iron to use as bridges to hold the internal die in place for those extruder dies that are hollow.  After forming I use the sand blaster to prepare the surface and then powder-coat the metal to prevent rusting.  A list of tools at TechShop Pittsburgh is found at:

Edwards Iron Worker

Powder Coating Large Oven - approximately a 5 foot cube setting area.  There is also a smaller oven in the powder coating room.


Adobe Photoshop   For me, it all started two years ago with Photoshop, which was a necessary tool to know to use with my color ceramic decal printer.  Photoshop is an immensely complex piece of software with a large learning curve to learn to use well.  To learn to use it, I started with a subscription to, which enabled me to watch the instructional videos over and over until they finally sunk into my brain. 

Photoshop Plug-ins  - Plug-ins are pieces of software that build upon the core program (Photoshop in this case) to provide features either not available in Photoshop or that work better than the ones in Photoshop.

I use three products from Alien Skin:  Exposure, Snap Art, and BlowUp.  As plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop, they extend what is possible for manipulating photographic images.  I use BlowUp to enlarge images without losing detail, Exposure to bring warmth to a photo, and SnapArt to manipulate photographs into a more painterly-type image.  After modification, I print these images on the color laser decal printer.

AlienSkin BlowUp

AlienSkin Exposure - after (left) and before (right).

AlienSkin Snap Art - SnapArt filter applied to photo.

Adobe Illustrator  An image created in Photoshop, when enlarged, will show the individual dots or bits that make up a line.  This is used more as a visualization system, but an image created in Illustrator uses mathematical points that can be enlarged infinitely and will still remain intact.  These lines are called vectors, which can be individual dots, lines, curves, and shapes. 

Using a vector based drawing program like Illustrator is used to define an image so a machine can use it.  Like Photoshop, Illustrator has many features that require an active effort to learn to control.  Again, the lessons in are very useful to aid learning.

Illustrator Plug-ins.

1.  Artlandia provides plug-ins for Adobe Illustrator.  I use Symmetry Works, which is a pattern generator.  There are exactly 17 types of symmetry that can be employed to create surface patterns and Symmetry  Works has an algorithm for each one.

SymmetryWorks - pattern generator.

2.  Astute Graphics provides a number of Illustrator  plug-ins that are very useful.  I utilize all of these plug-ins for image creation.  The description of all of these tools is too lengthy for this article, but I will summarize those that are useful as an examples.

MirrorMe from Astute Graphics allows me to select one or many axes (up to 72) that will reflect what you are drawing on one side of the axis to the other side.  For example, if I were drawing an object that was symmetrical, I would only have to draw one side and the software would automatically draw the other at the same time.  By adding axes, you can generate complex patterns quickly.


Other plug-ins from Astute Graphics that I use:

1.     ColliderScribe provides a simple toolset enabling you to position shapes accurately, placing any object precisely next to another when it touches. Easily and quickly arrange shapes in formations and patterns in just a click.  Fill single or multiple shapes with selected objects, packing the items for a great result. The live features include uniformity, size rotation, multiplication and release/expand.


Image by Carlos Garro

2.     DynamicSketch.  Specifically designed to improve your vector design workflow, this dynamic sketch tool means you can draw more naturally, intuitively and quickly in vector.

3.     InkQuest.  Provides a streamlined workflow where the operator can remain within Illustrator to instantly identify and correct print issues. Easy to understand information and feedback on critical aspects of print readiness for your artwork files means you can control printing costs.

4.     InkScribe allows for a much easier and smoother way to draw precisely that Illustrator tools. You can save time and concentrate on the creative process rather than learning all those key presses of Illustrator.

InkScribe is a powerful drawing tool.

5.     Phantasm.  Color controls in Illustrator that allow one to have Photoshop effects but in Illustrator.


6.     Rasterino gives you previously unobtainable control directly in your document saving you hours in your common tasks.  You can crop. trim, or edit with precision controls.

Rasterino controls.

Image by Carlos Garro

7.     Stylism.  Stylism offers a very user-friendly interface for using Illustrator's native features;  Drop Shadow, Feather, Inner Glow, Outer Glow,Transform, Free Distort, Offset Path and Gaussian Blur live effects. The advantage is that you can see the effects live.


8.     VectorScribe.  Drawing plug-ins for Illustrator:  Smart Remove Brush Tool, Extend path tool, Dynamic Shapes, Dynamic Corners, PathScribe Tool, Dynamic Measure Tool, and Protractor Tool.

9.     WidthScribe Tool. This allows you to enhance your vector work by varying multiple stroke widths with complete control and ease. Apply the Width Stamp to underlying artwork and create unique, distinctive results in a click.

WidthScribe varying stroke tool.

10. SubScribe Plug-in.  Subscribe allows you to straighten your artwork quickly and perfectly in seconds. Take the guess-work out of drawing circles and arcs exactly as you want them.

Corel Painter 2015 

Painter is a software painting program of great power with as many features as Photoshop or Illustrator.  With Painter and a drawing tablet you can create paintings that come very close to the actual process but with great flexibility. 

You can choose from an expansive collection of brushes and tools that push the envelope on digital art. You can customize brushes exactly how you want them, control pressure-sensitivity, and mix and experiment with media and methods in ways that simply aren’t possible anywhere else. 

Painter allows you to easily transfer files to the Photoshop format and then use within Photoshop.  Since my ceramic color laser decal printer receives files from Photoshop, I can print paintings made in Painter as decals and then fire onto a ceramic surface.

Painter 2015

Painter 2015

Painted by Skip Allen in Painter 2015

VCarve - VCarve Pro and VCarve Desktop provide a powerful but intuitive software solution for cutting parts on a CNC Router. There are tools for 2D design and calculation of 2D and 2.5D toolpaths and along with the ability to import and toolpath a single 3D model (STL, OBJ etc.).  This software is used to design work to be created on the ShopBot machines for carving and routing.  I do not own this software but access it through TechShop’s computers.

FlowMaster WaterJet Cutting Software - This software is necessary for use with the Flow WaterJet Cutter and consists of two software modules:  FlowPath and FlowCut.  FlowPath is used to instruct the machine to cut material that you have designed, usually using a different, vector-based drawing program.  With FlowPath you select the cutting path of the WaterJet cutting head and also the rate of speed and other controls.  This modules are on TechShop’s computers.

Examples of Work

WaterJet Cut Porcelain Soldier for Veterans Project

Face tessellation created in Adobe Illustrator and cut on WaterJet cutter

Face tessellations assembled.

Created in Painter 2015

Tile designs created in Illustrator with SymmetryWorks 
plug-in.  Files then saved as .eps files and opened in Photoshop for printing on decal printer.  They are sized to fit on standard tile sizes of 4" x 4", 4.25 x 4.25", 6" x 6", or 8" x 8".  Custom sizes can also be done.

Andy Anderson's Horses.  Scanned ink drawing into Photoshop.  Image imported into Illustrator and manipulated with Symmetry Works.  Imported back into Photoshop for decal printing.

 Stream reflection photo image.  Printed as ceramic decal.

Egyptian Woman.

Photograph of butterfly on red flower on tile.

MT watercolor on tile.

More to come.


  1. Very helpful. Thanks for compiling this list. I’ll be bookmarking this page.

  2. Thanks, Lori. I will be adding more images soon so check back.