Slip (ceramics)

Phenician plate with red slip, now wearing away, 7th century BC, excavated in Mogador island, Essaouira.
Chinese porcelain sugar bowl with combed, slip-marbled decoration, c. 1795
Miletus ware showing a red body covered by white slip, end of 14th-early 15th century, Turkey.

A slip is a liquid mixture or slurry of clay and/or other materials suspended in water. It has many uses in the production of pottery, and other ceramics ware.[1]

In pottery the two most important uses of slip are: firstly, to create the basic shape by slipcasting with moulds, and secondly, to decorate the pottery, which is discussed below.

Engobe, from the French word for slip, is in English an American term for materials similar to a slip, though the definition seems variable. Some American sources say it is synonymous with slip, and use it in preference to "slip",[2] while others draw distinctions,[3] mainly in terms of engobe using materials other than clay. On one definition engobe, as compared to slip, has somewhat lower clay content, higher proportion of flux, and added filler, and in some cases a colorant.[4] It is mostly used in relation to contemporary pottery, but sometimes for slip in historical contexts.

Slip decoration

Slipware is pottery decorated by slip placed onto a wet or leather-hard clay body surface by dipping, painting or splashing. Often only pottery where the slip creates patterns or images will be described as slipware, as opposed to the many types where a plain slip is applied to the whole body, for example most fine wares in Ancient Roman pottery, such as African red slip ware (note: "slip ware" not "slipware"). Decorative slips may be a different colour than the underlying clay body or offer other decorative qualities. Selectively applying layers of colored slips can create the effect of a painted ceramic, such as in the black-figure or red-figure pottery styles of Ancient Greek pottery. Slip decoration is an ancient technique in Chinese pottery also, used to cover whole vessels over 4,000 years ago.[5]

Principal techniques include slip-painting, where the slip is treated like paint and used to create a design with brushes or other implements, and slip-trailing, where the slip, usually rather thick, is dripped onto the body.

Chinese pottery also used techniques where patterns, images or calligraphy were created as part-dried slip was cut away to reveal a lower layer of slip or the main clay body in a contrasting colour. The latter of these is called the "cut-glaze" technique.[6]

Slipware may be carved or burnished to change the surface appearance of the ware. Specialized slip recipes may be applied to biscuit ware and then refired.

Other uses in pottery

A slip may be made for various other purposes in the production and decoration of ceramics. Slip can be used:

An additive with deflocculant properties, such as sodium silicate, can be added to the slip to disperse the raw material particles. This allows a higher solids content to be used, or allows a fluid slip to be produced with the a minimum of water so that drying shrinkage is minimised, which is important during slipcasting.[8] Usually the mixing of slip is undertaken in a blunger[9] although it can be done using other types of mixers or even by hand.


  1. Dictionary Of Ceramics. Arthur Dodd & David Murfin. 3rd edition. The Institute Of Minerals. 1994.
  2. Peterson, Susan and Jan, Working with Clay, 2002, Laurence King Publishing, ISBN 1856693171, 9781856693172, google books
  3. Hopper, robin, Making Marks: Discovering the Ceramic Surface, 2004, Krause Publications Craft, ISBN 0873495047, 9780873495042, google books
  4. Duncan Shearer
  5. Vainker, 17, 22-23
  6. Vainker, 116-117
  7. Dictionary Of Ceramics. Arthur Dodd & David Murfin. 3rd edition. The Institute Of Minerals. 1994.
  8. Industrial Ceramics. F.Singer, S.S.Singer. Chapman & Hall. 1971.
  9. Ceramic Whitewares - History, Technology And Applications. Rexford Newcomb, Jr. Pitman Publishing, 1947.
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