Forget Glazing! 15 Other Innovative Ways to Add Color to Clay

A few weeks ago, I was desperately looking for solutions to get some color onto my students’ clay projects without using glaze. Don’t get me wrong, glaze is pretty cool. However, it can be expensive, and it comes coupled with the workload of running the kiln a few more times. I knew there had to be other solutions out there. Through research and experimentation, I’ve gathered some alternative solutions that not only save money but look cool, too.

Check out some of the samples and solutions below to get your bisqueware looking fabulous!

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1. Tempera Paint
You really can’t go wrong by simply using the most affordable paint around to get that touch of color on clay. Give it a gloss by putting a coat of Mod Podge on top.
2. Watercolors
The simple 8-color palette will do the trick, and your students will love how it dries instantly.
3. Tempera Cakes
If you haven’t jumped on the tempera cake bandwagon, now would be the time. Tempera cakes come in an abundance of vibrant colors.
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4. Oil Pastels and Watered-Down Tempera
Nothing says “art teacher” like a good ol’ watercolor resist. So, let your kids color with oil pastels on their clay pieces and then give their masterpieces a wash of watered down, black tempera. If the tempera covers the oil pastel completely, you can give the pieces a quick rinse under the faucet.
5. Wet Tissue Paper
Try letting students layer colored tissue paper on top of their projects and then soak the tissue with a spray bottle. This creates a tie-dye effect! Try using coffee filters colored with markers in place of the colored tissue for a similar effect.
6. Chalkola Markers
Did you see the sign created using Chalkola Markers in last month’s article on rules and consequences? Turns out, they work extremely well on clay too. Best of all, they are vibrant and provide a lot of control.
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7. Metallic Paint
Bring a little richness to your clay by painting with metallics. Metallic paint looks especially great on textured clay pieces.
8. Liquid Watercolors
The fully concentrated colors look wonderful on clay, and they dry quickly!
9. Watered-Down Liquid Watercolors
Don’t want to give up your fully concentrated liquid watercolor so fast? No problem. Water them down for a pastel look.
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10. Glitter Paint
If you love glitter why not add it to clay? (Glitter Mod-Podge is pretty fantastic too!)
11. Spray Paint
If you’re working with older students and feeling adventurous, head to a well-ventilated area to create some cool effects with spray paint. Stencils add even more fun. Don’t forget to check out these safety tips!
12. Puffy Paint
Why not add more texture and dimension to your clay? Students will go crazy for this fun material.
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13. Rub ‘n Buff
This cheap purchase gives clay a truly shiny look. Give it a try!
14. Shaving Cream and Paint
What could be more fun than combining shaving cream and paint? Dispense some foaming shaving cream onto the table then add liquid watercolors. Swirl the colors with a toothpick and set your clay on top. Pick your clay back up and wipe the remaining shaving cream off. Your students will be amazed by the marbleized effect!
15. Markers
Sure, they might seem pretty basic, but if they’re all you have, they are a solid option. Or, try markers on coffee filters like number 5 suggests. Permanent markers work too!
If you’ve been holding off on clay because you don’t have a budget for glaze, give some of these ideas a try. If you already use glaze in your room, these ideas can provide some variety. Maybe you will even come up with a few of your own ideas!

What is your favorite way to add color to clay?

Do you have any other techniques to share? Sound off in the comments. (Pictures are welcome!)


Jennifer is an middle school art teacher in Kansas who is passionate about creating an organized, well-managed environment where students feel comfortable to learn and explore.


  • Deva Watson

    What kind of clay are being used on these examples?

  • Laya Ballesteros

    I use Crayola air dry clay and have been looking for solutions to give the clay projects and extra lift! I have started mod podging them first then watercoloring on top. That seems to work pretty well and it adds for a nice coat over their names so they don’t disappear. Is this rub and buff stuff non-toxic? I have never used it before and looks like it will give the shine that I am looking for.

    • As far as the Rub n’ Buff these were some of the warnings:

      Primary Routes of Entry: If skin irritation occurs, wash hands with soap and water. Apply skin cream.
      Eyes: Rinse eyes thoroughly with water for 15 minutes. If irritation persists contact physician.
      Ingestion: If ingested contact physician immediately.
      Effects and Symptoms of Acute Exposure: Eye irritation. Skin Irritation. If swallowed may damage the liver or kidneys. (Euro. Gold, Pewter, Span. Copper)

      Proper ventilation is encouraged as well.

      So it might not be great for younger students who like to put things in their mouth. :) Check out the packaging at the store and/or online and see what works best for your classroom!

  • JoAnne North

    Don’t forget about Acrylics!

    • Absolutely! I just know that Acrylics can be more expensive. I think they are a great solution though!

  • Mr. Post

    I would glaze EVERYTHING if I had fewer students. But I just don’t have the time in the year to do that so I have the kids paint some things with tempera paint. Then I dip their work into a bucket with glaze tongs that contains 1 quart of this Sax medium and 1 gallon of tap water. The kids call it shiny stuff. It leaves a pearlescent coating on top of their painted clay.

    • How long average does it take to dry?

      • Mr. Post

        About half an hour.

        • I see mugs in the background of your photo. Those are traditionally glazed, correct? You can NOT drink out of a cup that is glazed in this alternative method you mentioned above. Or, am I wrong? Seems like this technique is only for decorative applications, it’s not food safe.

          • Mr. Post

            The mugs are glazed. The shiny stuff is only used on sculptures that the kids make. Any functional pots they make are glazed.

    • Genius! I knew we would get some great tips from you!!

      • Mr. Post

        Here’s a pic of the setup I use to dip the kids’ sculptures.

  • Vicky Siegel

    I agree- I would glaze everything, too, if I could! One of the best parts of being an art teacher is opening the kiln to check out the glaze firing! :) Great article!

  • Cathy McElroy

    Thanks for all the awesome ideas! I wish I had more test pieces and TIME to try out all these techniques! Will DEFINITELY use for K-2! 3-5 will try glazing. Lots of kiln wash in my future.
    I have stilts too. Does anyone use wax resist with kids or just wipe the bottoms? Any advice for first time kid glaze firing welcome!


    Watercolor is gorgeous on white bisque ware.

  • Susan S.

    My fellow teacher showed me how to use acrylic paint followed by a layer of Jonnson’s Paste wax, that is then buffed to a soft sheen.

  • Whitney Mansell

    Question: When you used Modge Podge on your pottery were they Air Dry or Fired??? Also, did you fire the clay then add color with the different objects? Great ideas, thank you

  • Kobii

    We tried watercolour and the pigment has started to come off just after a few hours is there anyways to keep the pigment on the clay?

  • Yippee Gypsy

    Acrylic wood stains work nicely. I love shoe polish on clay. You can apply it with a toothbrush, then buff off areas for lighter shades. Let it dry and you get a soft, leathery looking sheen. It is smelly and a mess to clean up though

  • Paula McClain

    I have used oil pastels on bisque ware – and it works great! We painted with watercolor on top of the oil pastels to fill in the white spots :).

  • Luis Abbott

    do they work after firing

  • Michelle HansenDaberkow

    Crayon with lots of pressure, then watered down black India ink dip.