What is the difference between pottery and porcelain?

What is the difference between pottery and porcelain?

In the world of ceramics, pottery and porcelain are often used interchangeably, leading to confusion among many people. However, these terms actually refer to two distinct types of ceramic materials with their own unique characteristics and production processes. Understanding the differences between pottery and porcelain can help you appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship behind each of these ceramics.

Pottery is a broad term that encompasses various clay-based creations. It is made by shaping clay into a desired form and then firing it in a kiln at high temperatures. Pottery is known for its rustic charm and earthy appeal. It can be either unglazed or glazed, with glazing providing added durability and a glossy finish. Common types of pottery include earthenware, stoneware, and terracotta, each having its own distinct properties and uses.

In contrast, porcelain is a type of ceramic that is highly prized for its delicate beauty and translucent appearance. It is made from a specific type of clay known as kaolin, which is fired at extremely high temperatures. Porcelain is known for its strength and durability, as well as its ability to hold intricate and detailed designs. It is often used for making fine china, dinnerware, and decorative objects.

Understanding the differences between pottery and porcelain can help you appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship behind each of these ceramics.

While both pottery and porcelain are forms of ceramics, they have distinct characteristics that set them apart. Pottery tends to have a more rustic and organic feel, while porcelain exudes elegance and refinement. The firing temperatures and clay compositions for these two ceramics also differ significantly, resulting in variations in their visual qualities and physical properties. Whether you’re a collector or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of ceramics, understanding the distinctions between pottery and porcelain can deepen your appreciation for these ancient art forms.

What is Pottery?

Pottery refers to the process of creating objects, typically vessels or containers, using clay that is shaped and then fired at high temperatures. The word “pottery” can also refer to the finished products themselves, which are often functional and decorative.

Clay is the primary material used in pottery, and it is sourced from various locations around the world. The clay is first prepared by removing impurities and adding water to make it more malleable. Once the clay has been prepared, it can be shaped into various forms using a variety of techniques, such as hand-building or throwing on a potter’s wheel.

After the clay has been shaped, it is left to dry until it reaches a leather-hard state. At this point, any additional decorative elements can be added, such as carving or applying glazes. Glazes are a type of liquid glass that are applied to the pottery surface and provide both visual appeal and protection.

Once the pottery is completely dry and has been decorated, it is fired in a kiln to high temperatures, typically around 1200 to 1400 degrees Celsius. This firing process transforms the clay into a durable and long-lasting material, making it suitable for everyday use.

Pottery can be categorized into different types based on its intended use and the techniques used to create it. Some examples include earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. These different types of pottery have distinct characteristics in terms of their appearance, hardness, and the temperatures at which they are fired.

Pottery has a long history and has been created by various cultures around the world for thousands of years. It has served a wide range of purposes, from practical uses such as storage and cooking vessels, to more artistic and decorative forms.

Types of Pottery

Types of Pottery

There are various types of pottery, each with its own unique characteristics and production methods:

  • Earthenware: This type of pottery is made from clay that is fired at relatively low temperatures. It is porous and often glazed to make it waterproof. Earthenware pottery is known for its rustic and traditional appearance.
  • Stoneware: Stoneware pottery is fired at a higher temperature than earthenware, resulting in a denser and more durable product. It is usually finished with a glaze that gives it a smooth and glossy surface. Stoneware pottery is commonly used for everyday tableware.
  • Porcelain: Porcelain is a type of pottery that is made from a specific type of clay that has a high percentage of kaolin. It is fired at very high temperatures, resulting in a vitrified and translucent product. Porcelain is known for its elegance and delicate appearance.
  • Raku: Raku pottery is a Japanese technique that involves removing the pottery from the kiln while it is still hot and placing it in a container filled with combustible materials, such as sawdust or straw. This process creates unique and unpredictable patterns on the pottery’s surface.
  • Majolica: Majolica pottery is characterized by its colorful and intricate hand-painted designs. It originated in Italy in the 14th century and is typically made from earthenware. Majolica pottery is often used for decorative purposes.

Each type of pottery has its own appeal and is used for a variety of purposes, ranging from functional to decorative. Whether you prefer the rustic charm of earthenware or the delicate beauty of porcelain, there is a type of pottery to suit every taste and style.

Differences in Clay

Differences in Clay

One of the main differences between pottery and porcelain lies in the type of clay used to create each material. Pottery is typically made from earthenware clay, which has a lower firing temperature and is more porous. Porcelain, on the other hand, is made from a type of clay called kaolin, which has a higher firing temperature and is non-porous.

Earthenware clay is derived from sedimentary rocks and contains more impurities, such as iron and other minerals, which give pottery its characteristic colors and textures. It is easier to work with and is often used to create handmade pottery and decorative items.

Kaolin clay, on the other hand, is a pure and refined clay that is often referred to as China clay. It is named after the region in China where it was first discovered. Because of its purity and low iron content, kaolin clay can be fired at high temperatures, typically around 1200-1400 degrees Celsius, resulting in a dense and glass-like material that is translucent when thin.

Due to the difference in clay composition, pottery tends to have a more rustic and earthy appearance, while porcelain has a more refined and delicate look. Pottery is also more likely to absorb liquids, while porcelain is resistant to staining and is often used for tableware.

Differences in Clay
Pottery Porcelain
Made from earthenware clay Made from kaolin clay
Lower firing temperature Higher firing temperature
More porous Non-porous
Rustic and earthy appearance Refined and delicate look
Can absorb liquids Resistant to staining

Traditional Pottery Techniques

Traditional pottery techniques have been passed down through generations and are still used today to create beautiful and unique pieces of pottery. These techniques require skilled craftsmen who have a deep understanding of the materials and processes involved.

Handbuilding: Handbuilding is a traditional pottery technique that involves shaping clay by hand, without the use of a potter’s wheel. It is a versatile and intuitive method that allows the potter to create various forms and textures. The clay is typically rolled into coils, pressed into slabs, or shaped with the hands to create the desired shape.

Coiling: Coiling is a technique where long coils of clay are stacked on top of each other and blended together to form the walls of a vessel. This method has been used for centuries and is particularly suited for creating large, rounded shapes like pots or vases.

Slab Building: Slab building involves rolling out even sheets of clay and cutting them into shapes that can be assembled into vessels. The slabs are often scored and joined together using slip (a liquid clay) or other adhesives. This technique allows for precise and angular forms, and is often used to create functional pottery like plates and bowls.

Throwing: Throwing is a technique that involves shaping clay on a potter’s wheel. The pottery wheel spins while the potter uses their hands and tools to shape the clay into various forms, such as bowls, cups, and vases. This technique requires a great deal of skill and practice to master.

Decorating: Traditional pottery techniques also involve various methods of decorating the clay surface. This can include carving, stamping, painting, and glazing. Decorative techniques are often influenced by cultural and regional traditions, and can result in intricate and unique designs.

Firing: Firing is the process of heating the pottery to a high temperature to harden the clay and create a permanent form. Traditional pottery techniques involve different types of firing, such as pit firing, wood firing, or kiln firing. Each method produces unique results and affects the final appearance of the pottery.

Conclusion: Traditional pottery techniques offer a rich and diverse range of methods for creating pottery. Each technique requires skill, patience, and a deep understanding of the materials and processes involved. The end result is a beautiful piece of pottery that reflects the craftsmanship and artistry of its maker.


Handbuilding is a method of creating pottery or porcelain vessels by using only the hands and simple tools, rather than a potter’s wheel. This technique allows for a wide range of shapes and forms to be created, as well as intricate detailing and texture.

There are three main techniques used in handbuilding:

  1. Pinch Pot: In this technique, a ball of clay is shaped and then pinched and pushed with the fingers to create the desired form. It is a simple and intuitive method, often used by beginners.
  2. Coiling: Coiling involves rolling out long, snake-like coils of clay and then stacking and joining them together to build up the walls of the vessel. This technique allows for more control and precision in shaping.
  3. Slab Building: Slab building involves rolling out flat sheets of clay and then cutting and joining them together to create the desired shape. This technique is often used to create larger, more complex forms.

Handbuilding offers a greater level of artistic expression and experimentation compared to wheel throwing, as it allows for a more hands-on and tactile approach to creating pottery or porcelain. It also allows for more unique and individualized designs, as each piece is shaped and formed by the artist’s hands.

Some advantages of handbuilding include:

  • Ability to create larger and more complex forms that may be challenging on a potter’s wheel
  • Ability to incorporate texture, sculptural elements, and intricate details
  • Opportunity for more artistic freedom and creativity
  • Accessible to beginners and those without access to a potter’s wheel

While handbuilding requires more time and patience compared to using a potter’s wheel, it offers a unique and rewarding experience for pottery and porcelain artists. It allows for a deeper connection to the clay and a greater sense of craftsmanship in the final piece.

The Process of Making Pottery

Making pottery involves several steps and requires a combination of creativity, skill, and craftsmanship. Here is an overview of the process:

  1. Design and planning: The first step in making pottery is to come up with a design or plan. This can include deciding on the shape, size, and style of the piece.
  2. Preparing the clay: Clay is the primary material used in pottery. The clay needs to be prepared by removing impurities and getting it to the right consistency.
  3. Forming the pottery: The clay is then shaped into the desired form using various techniques such as hand building, wheel throwing, or mold casting.
  4. Drying: Once the pottery is formed, it needs to be dried slowly to remove any excess moisture. This prevents cracking or warping during firing.
  5. Bisque firing: The dried pottery is fired in a kiln at a low temperature. This process, known as bisque firing, strengthens the piece and prepares it for glazing.
  6. Glazing: Glazing is the process of applying a layer of liquid glass or ceramic material to the surface of the pottery. It adds color, texture, and a protective coating.
  7. Final firing: After glazing, the pottery is fired in a kiln at a high temperature. This final firing melts the glaze and transforms the clay into a hardened, durable material.
  8. Finishing touches: Once the pottery has cooled, any final touches such as sanding, polishing, or adding decorative elements can be done.
  9. Quality control: Before the pottery is ready for use or sale, it undergoes a quality control process to ensure that it meets the desired standards of craftsmanship and aesthetics.

The process of making pottery is a labor-intensive and time-consuming craft. It requires patience, attention to detail, and a deep understanding of the properties of clay and glazes. From the initial design to the final finishing touches, each step contributes to the unique character and beauty of the finished piece.


Throwing is the process of shaping pottery or porcelain on a potter’s wheel. It is a technique that requires skill and practice to master. During throwing, the potter uses their hands to shape the clay into various forms such as bowls, plates, vases, or cups.

The potter’s wheel is a flat surface that spins on an axis. The potter starts by wedging the clay, a process that involves removing air bubbles and ensuring the clay is pliable and even. The wedged clay is then centered on the wheel, with the potter using their hands and fingers to shape it.

Coiling and pinching are other techniques that can be used to shape pottery or porcelain, but throwing on a wheel is often preferred for its efficiency and ability to create symmetrical forms.

Throwing allows for greater control and precision in shaping the clay compared to other techniques. The potter can use various tools, such as sponges or ribs, to refine the shape and texture of the piece. The speed at which the wheel spins can also affect the outcome, with slower speeds allowing for more intricate details and faster speeds enabling the creation of larger forms.

Once the desired shape is achieved, the potter will use a wire or cutting tool to remove the pot from the wheel. The formed piece is then left to dry before it undergoes additional processes such as trimming, glazing, and firing.

Throwing is a fundamental skill in the creation of both pottery and porcelain. Mastering the art of throwing requires a combination of technique, creativity, and experience.

What is Porcelain?

Porcelain is a type of ceramic material that is characterized by its white and translucent appearance. It is made from a mix of different clay minerals, primarily kaolin, along with other raw materials such as feldspar and quartz. Porcelain is fired at high temperatures, typically between 1,200 and 1,400 degrees Celsius, which causes the clay to vitrify and become dense and durable.

One of the key characteristics of porcelain is its non-porous nature, which means that it does not absorb liquids. This makes porcelain highly resistant to staining and impervious to water, making it an ideal material for tableware, such as plates, cups, and bowls. Porcelain is also commonly used for decorative objects, figurines, and even electrical insulators due to its insulating properties.

Porcelain has a long history that dates back many centuries, originating in ancient China. It was highly sought after and prized for its delicate beauty and fine craftsmanship. Porcelain production techniques eventually spread to other parts of the world, such as Europe, where it became known as “white gold” due to its high value.

Advantages of Porcelain Disadvantages of Porcelain
  • Highly durable and long-lasting
  • Non-porous and resistant to stains
  • Resistant to scratching
  • Heat-resistant
  • Can be made into very thin and delicate pieces
  • Can be expensive compared to other ceramics
  • May chip or break if dropped
  • Requires careful handling and storage
  • Can be difficult to repair if damaged

In summary, porcelain is a type of ceramic material that is known for its white and translucent appearance, as well as its durability and resistance to staining. It has been used for centuries for practical and decorative purposes and continues to be highly valued in the modern world.

Differences Between Pottery and Porcelain


  • Pottery refers to ceramic objects that are made from clay and then fired at a high temperature.
  • It is typically thicker and heavier compared to porcelain.
  • Due to its porous nature, pottery may need to be glazed or sealed to make it waterproof.
  • Pottery can come in various colors and finishes.
  • It is generally more affordable compared to porcelain.


  • Porcelain is a type of ceramic that is made from a specific type of clay known as kaolin.
  • It is fired at an even higher temperature than pottery, resulting in a more delicate and translucent appearance.
  • Porcelain is known for its strength and durability.
  • It has a non-porous surface, which means it does not require glazing to be waterproof.
  • Porcelain is often white or lightly colored, with a smooth and glossy finish.

Overall, the key differences between pottery and porcelain lie in their composition, firing temperature, strength, and appearance. While pottery is often thicker, heavier, and more affordable, porcelain is known for its delicate and translucent nature, as well as its strength and durability.

Physical Characteristics

Pottery and porcelain can be distinguished by their physical characteristics. These include:

  • Texture: Pottery typically has a more rough and grainy texture, while porcelain has a smooth and glass-like texture.
  • Translucency: Porcelain is more translucent than pottery. When held up to the light, porcelain will allow more light to pass through.
  • Color: Pottery often has earthy and natural colors, while porcelain can have a wider range of colors, including white.
  • Weight: Porcelain is typically lighter in weight compared to pottery.
  • Sound: When tapped, pottery produces a dull sound, while porcelain produces a clear and high-pitched sound.

In addition to these characteristics, the firing temperature of pottery and porcelain also differs. Pottery is fired at lower temperatures, usually around 1000 to 1300 degrees Celsius, while porcelain is fired at higher temperatures, typically around 1200 to 1400 degrees Celsius.


What is the difference between pottery and porcelain?

Pottery and porcelain are two types of ceramic materials, but they differ in their composition and properties. Pottery is made from clay mixed with other materials, while porcelain is made from a specific type of clay called kaolin. Porcelain is also fired at a higher temperature, which makes it more durable and less porous than pottery.

Can you give examples of pottery and porcelain?

Examples of pottery include earthenware, stoneware, and terracotta. On the other hand, examples of porcelain include china, bone china, and hard-paste porcelain.

Which one is more expensive, pottery or porcelain?

Porcelain is generally more expensive than pottery. This is because porcelain requires a more intricate production process and the use of high-quality materials, such as kaolin. Additionally, porcelain is often associated with luxury and fine craftsmanship, which can drive up the price.

Can you paint pottery and porcelain?

Yes, both pottery and porcelain can be painted. However, the techniques and materials used may vary. For pottery, paints and glazes are often used to add color and decoration. Porcelain, on the other hand, can be painted with ceramic pigments or even with gold or silver leaf for more elaborate designs.

Is pottery or porcelain more fragile?

Generally, pottery is considered to be more fragile than porcelain. Pottery is usually thicker and less dense, which makes it more susceptible to cracking and chipping. Porcelain, on the other hand, is fired at a higher temperature, which results in a stronger and more durable material.

Can pottery and porcelain both be used for everyday tableware?

Yes, both pottery and porcelain can be used for everyday tableware. However, porcelain is often favored for formal occasions and fine dining due to its elegant appearance and durability. Pottery, on the other hand, is often used for more casual and rustic settings.

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