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Ceramic Decorating: Collectible Decorators Generate Sales in a Tight Market

September 1, 2001
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The collectible market remains important to many glass and ceramic decorators even though overall economic conditions have increased competitive pressures. The collector plate market had long been a staple for decorators until a slump in consumer demand, which predated the current economic slowdown by several years, forced many decorators to change their focus to maintain steady operations. However, opportunities still exist in the collectible market for decorators that produce figurines, hollowware and plates that combine a popular theme concept with an outstanding art motif.

Consumer loyalty is important to decorators who understand that collectors are eager to acquire complete sets of work in a particular series or by a specific artist. Quality and concept are critical before such loyalty is earned. Emotional appeal remains the primary motivator for collectible buyers, with themes including dragons and medieval mythology, children, animals, sports, nature, country and home scenes, and Christmas remaining popular with consumers. Licensed characters and figures also remain popular in the collectible market, with well-known cartoon figures attracting consumer attention.

Decal Printers Adapt to Shifting Market

The use of transfer technology is critical to the collectible market. While many decal suppliers have shifted their primary focus from this segment due to fierce competition, others are specifically targeting this market with an emphasis on fine quality decal printing.

Most collectible decorators work with decal printers to produce multiple-color images that are generally applied to ware using water-slide techniques. The decals are printed using ceramic colors on decal paper that will separate from the decal when soaked in water. The decals are applied by hand, and water and air bubbles are pressed from under the decal, which is then allowed to dry before it is fired. When fired, the ceramic colors in the decal bond with the piece to form a permanent decoration. Given that many collector plates are produced as limited edition pieces, the use of automated heat-release transfer technology is generally impractical in the collectible plate market.

Collectible decorators can easily take advantage of the entire ceramic color spectrum, as figurines and collector plates are exempt from U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) heavy-metal leaching standards if the ware is produced only for the collectible market. As a result, collectible plates often feature a wide range of bright colors that are not used as often for tableware. (Collectible plate decorators must, however, apply standard warnings on the back of plates that state that such ware is not for food usage.)

Collectible Plates

Collectible plate decorators are increasingly moving beyond standard round plates and producing three-dimensional, mural type, square, oval, triangular and rectangular plates. In addition, more collectible plate decorators are working with smaller plates and emphasizing new border treatments. Trends in the tableware market often cross over to the collectible market, with platinum accents increasingly used to enhance ware.

Figurines

Many figurines and similar items are sold in a high-end price range where design appeal is critical. Given the range of designs that can be reproduced and applied with transfer technology on a wide variety of substrates and then enhanced with hand applications of color and precious metal, figurine decorators face few technical limitations when developing new designs.

Water-slide transfer applications are used in the figurine market because of the non-standard substrate shapes that are decorated. Decals that are die-cut to specific sizes and unique shapes are often used on figurines to produce intricate designs, while skilled decorators apply ceramic color accents by hand to embellish a piece. Decal suppliers can maximize the number of decals printed per sheet by fitting many unique shapes on the same sheet of transfer paper.

Collectible Tableware

The line between collectibles and tableware can blur when consumers develop long-term attachments to specific patterns. The Homer Laughlin Co.’s Fiestaware pattern, first produced in 1936, is one of the most collected patterns in the world. Other companies such as L.E. Smith Glass, founded in 1907, have relaunched classic hand-painted patterns that appeal to consumers both for tableware use and for display.

The use of mixed mediums, vintage designs and unique themes has provided collectible decorators with a number of ways to make custom collectibles that appeal to current consumer tastes. While it is not certain whether the current economy will support increased sales in this market, decorators continue to improve on the quality and concepts of their designs.

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