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What is the Difference Between Porcelain and Ceramic? All You Need to Know About 9 Confusing Ceramic Terms

PUBLISHED: Aug-28-2019

Are you able to tell the difference between porcelain and ceramic, between earthenware and stoneware, or bettween fine china and bone china?

There's a good chance that you are already using different types of dinnerware in your horns. This can be anything from your favorite coffee mug or the plates you eat your meals on. Have you ever wondered how the dishes on your sink are classified?

The process of making ceramic pieces

What is Ceramic?

Ceramic Definition:

Ceramic is a broad term that is used to describe objects that are made using clay and other additives, after which they're shaped, glazed and hardened by firing. Clay here is an excellent material for making dinnerware because it's natural, soft, and malleable. However, dried clay products break easily in water. This is why they are often heated at high temperatures to make them harder and stronger.

The hardness and quality of the final ceramic product are determined by the water content, type of clay used, duration of firing, firing temperature, and the type of additives used. The most common examples of additives mixed with clay include water, silicon dioxide, and aluminum oxide. A manufacturer can also decide to add metals such as metal oxide and potassium oxide to the clay mixture to give the end product the type of character he or she wants. However, these two metals are readily available in some types of clay.

Note that different types of ceramic products can be made by merely adjusting these variables 一 water content, amount of clay used, duration of firing, firing temperature, etc.

Ths most common types of ceramic products today are porcelain, earthenware, and stoneware.

How Ceramic Pieces are made?

The process of making ceramic pieces starts with mixing clay with various additives according to the manufacturer's specifications. This can be done using a machine or by hand. After that, the mixture is shaped as desired and fired. Every ceramic piece is placed in a kiln and fired at temperatures over 1000AF. It is this exposure to high temperatures that causes the clay to change into a strong and durable end product.

However, some clay types remain porous even after firing. This causes ceramic pieces to absorb moisture from the meals served on them. To prevent this problem, manufacturers often glaze their ceramic products before or during firing to seal their surfaces and make them nonabsorbent.

When ceramic pieces are exposed to higher temperatures for longer hours, the clay can become vitrified either fully or partially. Vitrification means firing clay until it reaches its melting point. Vitrification process helps to strengthen clay considerably, giving it similar properties to glass. Apart from the strength, this process also makes the clay less porous. Fully vitrified ceramic pieces do not need to be glazed because of they're already nonporous.

Ceramic pieces are usually tested according to ASTM international standards to determine how porous they are. The process involves dipping them in boiling water for a couple of minutes. After that, they*re removed and soaked in cold water for some hours. The cold water has to be at room temperature. Testers use the differences between the wet and dry weights of the ceramic pieces to find out the amount of water they^ve absorbed. This, in turn, helps them to determine the porosity and classification (porcelain, earthenware, or stoneware) of every piece.


What is Pottery?

Pottery Definition:

Pottery is the process of making different objects such as pots and dishes with clay and firing them at high temperatures to make them hard and durable. Pottery and ceramic are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing because they both go through the process of mixing ingredients, shaping, and firing. However, pottery is a form of ceramic that uses only clay and water to make different products. Ceramic, on the other hand, uses additional materials like glazes and additives to make the resultant product more functional, sophisticated, and durable.


What is Porcelain made of?

To make porcelain, refined, white clay is combined with small amounts of feldspar, granite, glass, quartz, and silica and mixed with water until the resultant clay mixture is incorporated correctly. The mixture is then fired at temperatures over 230OAF. This higher temperature not only makes the resultant dinnerware nonporous and very strong but also allows the bodies of the porcelain pieces to be fragile and more carefully constructed. This enables the parts to have a more translucent appearance, thereby allowing manufacturers to incorporate intricate fine details into the design of the pieces.

A clear coat of glaze is always applied on the surfaces if porcelain pieces before firing to allow their white color to become more prominent. If you have been keen enough, you may have noticed that porcelain products have very smooth surfaces. This is mainly due to the vitrification process they go through during firing. Most porcelain products are oven-, microwave- and dishwasher-safe unless it's indicated otherwise by the manufacturer.


What is Earthenware?

Earthenware Definition:

Earthenware is a type of ceramic that uses the least refined clay to make different products. It's the simplest and earliest form of ceramic artistry. Earthenware pieces are fired at temperatures of between 1830AF and 1980AF. Because of this low temperature, the resultant products have a rustic look and feel and are often thick, heavy, and more fragile compared to other ceramic products. A common type of earthenware ceramic is a terracotta pot. Terracotta pots break easily, so if you have one, handle it with care.

Earthenware pieces are very porous too. This means that they absorb liquid from the foods served on them. To solve this problem, manufacturers glaze earthenware pieces before firing them in a kiln to make their surfaces watertight and more suitable for a variety of uses. If your earthenware product isn't glazed, don't leave it submerged in water in your sink for a long period.

Terracotta Warriors

What is Stoneware?

Stoneware Definition:

Stoneware is another type of ceramic dinnerware that's made using unrefined clay. The clay is heated at a temperature of 2185AF until ifs vitrified. This higher temperature ensures that the end product is less porous, reliable, and durable. If you want to upgrade your earthenware but cannot afford porcelain pieces, then stoneware is a better option for you. This is because they provide a right balance between price, durability, weight, and porosity. They're also stronger, more durable, less porous than earthenware.

The vitrification process that stoneware pieces go through during firing makes them non-porous and waterproof. Therefore, any glazing done on them is only for decorative purposes. Before glazing is done, these pieces are usually decorated with color variations and patterns that resemble those of natural stone.


What does Stoneware look and feel like?

Stoneware pieces have an earthy and rustic appearance, which make them suitable for homes with rustic styles, or casual restaurants. They're also thicker, denser and more opaque compared to porcelain. This is due to the thicker and course materials used in making them.

Note that stoneware pieces can be made lighter and thinner. However, they must be glazed to prevent them from absorbing water. Ironstone is a good example of stoneware that's more refined and thinner. Ifs opaque and durable like the traditional stoneware while mimicking the look of porcelain. To make it looks much better, ironstone is always painted or glazed.

stoneware pieces

What is Bone China?

Bone China Definition:

Bone China is a type of porcelain that made using bone ash as its primary ingredient. The amount of bone used in the mixture directly impacts the quality of the end product. Because of this, different countries have different national bone ash content they recommend for making high-quality bone china. For instance, the recommended content in the United States is 25%, 30% in the UK and 36% in China.

Including bone ash in the mixture is very important because of ifs what gives the finished product its unique milky white appearance. This important ingredient also makes the ceramic less brittle, thereby improving its durability.

The making of bone china happens in two stages. First, bone ash is combined with refined clay, fine silica sand, and feldspar minerals, and fired at temperatures of 2200AF. This first firing process is known as biscuit firing. At this stage, the end product will shrink to a certain level, while approximately 20% of the pieces will break. The end products have a less smooth surface and a whiter appearance than normal china bone products.

The second firing, which is referred to as glaze firing, is usually done after the pieces have been glazed. It's done at a slightly lower temperature of 1150SD. The pieces that go through this second firing successfully without breaking are what becomes the final products. Bone china pieces with complicated design patterns may undergo up to 3 firing stages before they're finally ready for use.

Mechanical strength. They may also appear very delicate, but in reality, they are one of the strongest ceramic pieces in the market. They also have a sophisticated look like that of porcelain. Because of this, bone china products are commonly used in fine dining occasions. But, they can also be used casually at home.

bone china

Important Features of Bone China:

1. Milky White Appearance
Bone china products are usually lighter in color compared to other ceramic products. They're very popular nowadays thanks to their milky white appearance.

2. 0% Cadmium and Lead Content
These ceramic products are also among the safest dinnerware in the market. This is because they don't contain any cadmium or lead that's very harmful to your health.

3. Transparency
Bone china is semi-transparent. If you hold any product made from this material in the dark and switch on your torchlight, you'll see that light goes through the body of the product very easily.

4. Ease of Cleaning
Bone china products are a favorite of many home and restaurant owners because they're straightforward to clean too. The two-time firing process they go through makes their surfaces very smooth and easy to wash.

5. Hardness
Bone china dinnerware can be found in high end dining facilities such as academic institutions, casinos, resorts, restaurants, and hotels because of their refined looks and a high degree of hardness.


When you go shopping for bone china products, you'll most likely hear the word new bone china. But is it the same is bone china?


What Is New Bone China?
If s a concept that was started by businessmen to bring more attention to porcelain so they can sell it at a higher price. New bone china is simply a type of porcelain with similar physical features as bone china. However, in reality, they're very different as you'll see below.


Bone China vs New Bone China

1. Composition of Raw Material
Bone china is made using bone ash as the primary ingredient, while new bone china doesn't contain any bone ash. Instead, it's made with calcium oxide and mineralizer.

2. Pries
As you would expect, the price of new bone china is much lower than that of bone china to attract unsuspecting customers.

3. Firing
New bone china goes through one firing process, while bone china goes through two firing processes.

4. Whiteness
Though the color and texture of new bone china products appear white and soft from a distance, if you look closely and carefully, you'll realize that bone china is whiter and softer. Bone china is also lighter and more transparent than new bone china.

Ifs therefore very important to be careful when shopping so that you7e not persuaded into buying the wrong product. Between bone china and new bone china, the better option for you is bone china. The latter isn't recommended because of if is fake.


Other Comparisons:

1. Ceramic Vs Porcelain

So, what"s the difference between porcelain and ceramic? For starters, ceramic and porcelain both undergo a one-time firing process. However, their firing temperatures are very different. Ceramic is fired at temperatures of 1000AF while porcelain is fired at over 230OAF.

Another difference is in the clay composition of ceramic and porcelain. Kaolin (refined, white clay) is included in the making of porcelain, while ceramic doesn't contain kaolin. Because of this, porcelain is stronger and more durable than ceramic. In terms of transparency, porcelain is translucent while ceramic is opaque. Overall, porcelain is a better choice than ceramic if you have to choose one of them.


2. Porcelain Vs Bone China

How is porcelain different from bone china? First, making porcelain requires only one-time firing, while making bone china is a two-time firing process. Porcelain is fired at over 230OAF, while bone china is fired at 220OAF. Both materials are very strong, durable, and nonporous due to their higher firing temperature.

Both of them also share an elegant appearance, which makes them suitable for fine dining. However, bone china is often regarded as high-grade porcelain because of its higher quality and more refined looks. Because of this, it has a higher price than porcelain.

The colors of the two items are also slightly different. Porcelain pieces have a white color, while bone china pieces have a milky white color. Lastly, bone china pieces have a smoother surface, less weight, and higher transparency than porcelain.

Both porcelain and bone china are great options to choose from. However, if you're searching for better appearance, safety, and quality, then bone china is your best bet.


3. Earthenware Vs Stoneware

What's the difference between earthenware and stoneware? Both items go through one-time firing. However, earthenware is fired at temperatures of between 1830AF and 1980AF, while stoneware is fired at 2185AF. Because of the differences in firing temperature, stoneware pieces are usually stronger, more durable, and less porous than earthenware.

Earthenware products also have to undergo glazing to seal their surfaces and make them watertight. Stoneware pieces, on the other hand, are already nonporous because of the vitrification process they go through during firing. Therefore, any glazing done on them is only to give them a glossy finish. The best option to consider between these two products is stoneware.



As you can see above, there are different types of dinnerware products in the market to choose from when shopping for a new one. Take your time to understand the differences between porcelain, ceramic, pottery, earthenware, stoneware, and bone china, including their features, pros, and cons. Your final decision should be based on your taste and budget.

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