Pottery vs. Ceramics | What's the Difference?

In the world of crafts and fine art, the terms "pottery" and "ceramics" are often used interchangeably. But, what’s the difference between pottery and ceramics? Today, we’ll look at what separates these two terms, their main uses, and even the different types of clay used. Are you ready? Let’s get started! 

What's the Difference Between Ceramics and Pottery?

The main difference between pottery and ceramics is simply that pottery is solely made from clay while ceramics can be made from other inorganic, non-metallic materials. Pottery refers specifically to objects that are made from clay and then fired at a high temperature in a kiln. On the other hand, ceramics technically encompass a broad category of objects made from non-metallic, inorganic materials that are permanently changed through firing at high temperatures. 

While clay pieces of pottery are classified as ceramics, ceramic materials such as porcelain, stoneware, and earthenware can have a wide range of applications, ranging from industrial components to artistic works.

 From a maker's perspective, working with ceramics is categorized as bisque painting (paint your own pottery), or working with lower temperature firing clay from Cone 04-06 to Cone 8 (1890F - 2150F.)  The status of makers of the past have become less critical in todays world, but the differences still remain as determining factors in purchasing clay and kilns for beginning kiln buyers.

What’s the Difference in How Ceramics and Pottery are Used?

ceramic vases

Pottery is typically used for functional use, such as containing food or drink or being used to hold things like pots for plants. Because of their unique qualities and versatility, ceramics have a wide range of uses in a variety of industries. They can be utilized for both functional and non-functional applications, making them valuable materials in a variety of industries.

For example, advanced ceramic materials such as silicon carbide and silicon nitride, are utilized in the aerospace industry to manufacture high-temperature components in gas turbine engines, heat shields, and thermal protection systems for spacecraft and re-entry capsules.

Because these components must tolerate high temperatures and stress, ceramics are a good choice due to their excellent thermal and mechanical qualities. Some advanced ceramics materials are highly flexible and have strong insulating qualities, such as alumina (aluminum oxide) and zirconia and are utilized as insulators in electronic components such as capacitors, resistors, and integrated circuits. 

Examples of ceramics used in art and sculpture include functional and decorative pottery, vases, bowls, and plates. Ceramic techniques and glazing methods are used by artists to create unique and expressive pieces. These examples show how ceramics may be used in a variety of industries, highlighting their importance in modern technology, everyday living, and artistic expression. 

What's the Difference in How Ceramics and Pottery are Produced? 

Pottery is produced by firing the clay or any ceramic material with a heat source, typically with an electric or gas kiln in a prescribed temperature range until the clay is hardened. On the other hand, ceramics can be produced by firing a range of materials. This makes ceramics more applicable while pottery is limited in its use.

The temperature ranges employed in the firing of clay pieces are known as High-Fire Pottery, which ranges from 2,300°F to 2,700°F or Cone 10 (1,260°C to 1,480°C) this is used for non-porous, vitreous stoneware and porcelain, Mid-Range Pottery which ranges from 2,100°F to 2,300°F or Cone 6 -8 (1,150°C to 1,260°C) and is used for some semi-porous earthenware and stoneware, and Low-Fire Pottery which ranges from 1,700°F to 2,100°F or Cone 04- 6 (900°C to 1,150°C) which is used for more porous earthenware and terracotta. 

The firing range used is determined by the type of ceramic clay/material the maker chooses to create their pieces. This makes choosing a versatile kiln very important for a new kiln buyer so that the maker can have a variety of creative experiences!

evenheat ceramic kiln

What’s the Difference in Texture Between Pottery & Ceramics

Because pottery is made from clay, it tends to have a coarser finish. The texture is rougher around the surface whereas ceramics tend to have a smoother build thanks to the variety in materials. 

Furthermore, ceramics can also be made for engineering purposes, so it’s more durable and can withstand drops or falls. 

The Three Types of Ceramic Clays Used in Pottery

There are three types of clays used in pottery: earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. All three of these materials have their own firing range, feel, and use. Below, we’ll go more in-depth on each type of clay and how to use it. 


Earthenware is a low-fire clay fired between 1832-2102F degrees Cone 04-06. This creates a hard, brittle, slightly porous material that cannot hold water. To make earthenware less porous and food-safe it must be glazed and then refired in the kiln. Earthenware clay contains quartz, feldspar, and iron oxide, giving it an orange-ish tint. Terracotta is an example of an earthenware clay. Flower pots, some dishware, and many types of Central and South American tile and pottery items are made from earthenware clay.


Stoneware clay is fired at a higher temperature than earthenware but lower temperature than porcelain clay. It is fired between 2100-2300 degrees Fahrenheit or Cone 08-09. Its unique qualities come from a blend of kaolin, ball clay, and other minerals. 

Stoneware clay is strong and durable and becomes vitrified and non-porous after firing which, in turn, makes it less brittle. 

However, wet natural stoneware clay is gray or beige after firing, it can turn brown or buff, depending on the clay composition and firing temperature. Stoneware does require glazing due to its natural strength and non-porous nature, although it easily accepts most glazes well.

Stoneware clay is valued by potters and ceramic artists due to its resilience, adaptability, and aesthetic appeal, making it ideal for both practical and artistic products. It is also used for dinnerware, mugs, plates, and baking dishes.

Finally, because stoneware clay can preserve complex details and glaze colors, it’s useful for ornamental and artistic pieces.


Porcelain is the natural clay fired at the highest level. It is fired at extremely high temperatures ranging from 2300-2400°F Cone 10. As a result, the material is exceptionally hard, glossy, and frequently white and translucent in appearance. It is comprised of granite and feldspar combined with fine white clay, kaolinite (a primary clay), and water. 

The high-firing temperature causes vitrification, which is the process by which clay particles fuse together to form a solid, glass-like surface. Despite its delicate appearance, porcelain is very sturdy and resilient after firing. Porcelain clay can be more difficult to work with than other types of clay because of its fine nature and inclination to deform during drying and firing. As a result training and experience are required to become a master. Porcelain is compatible with a wide range of glazes, allowing artists to generate a variety of surfaces.

The material is also widely prized for its use in the production of exquisite and sophisticated dinnerware such as teacups, saucers, plates, and decorative vases.  The oldest kinds of porcelain were developed in China circa 1600 BC. This association popularized the phrase 'fine china', or bone china when the porcelain was found to have had pulverized animal bone added to the clay for extra durability. 

How is Pottery Made?

There are various steps in the making of pottery, and the two main methods that potters employ to form the clay are hand-building and wheel-throwing. To produce ceramic objects that are both functional and aesthetically beautiful, both techniques demand careful attention to detail. The significance of the shaping, drying, and firing phases cannot be underestimated because each stage affects how the pottery turns out in the end. Let's look at the procedure:

Wedging Clay

Clay preparation is the first step in making a piece of pottery. Potters begin with a block of unfired clay and wedge it to eliminate any air bubbles and guarantee uniform consistency.

Hand Building Technique 

Using their hands and simple tools, potters mold the clay into the shapes they want using this versatile and age-old method. There are numerous hand-building techniques, including coiling, pinch pots, and slab building:

  • Pinch Pots: Potters pinch and form tiny clay balls into pots or bowls with their fingertips.
  • Coiling: To create the walls of a vessel, potters roll out and stack long, thin ropes of clay.
  • Slab Construction: To create boxes, tiles, and other flat-surfaced items, potters roll out flat sheets of clay.

Wheel Throwing

Potters utilize a pottery wheel to form the clay while using this more carefully controlled technique. The potter uses their hands as well as various shaping implements to create forms while the wheel is turning. Centering the clay on the wheel is the first step in the wheel-throwing process. To guarantee uniform spinning, the potter applies uniform pressure and skillfully arranges the clay. Clay is centered and molded by the potter to create bowls, cups, vases, and more. The form can be improved and surface features can be created using additional tools.

Before proceeding to the firing stage, the sculpted clay/ceramic items must first undergo the drying stage. To avoid warping and breaking during firing, proper and thorough drying is essential. Depending on the size and thickness of the item, the drying process can take a few days to a few weeks. To limit the drying speed, potters can utilize drying techniques such as covering the pottery with plastic to slow the drying time. The final step in the production of pottery is firing, transforming the dried clay into a robust ceramic material. 

Bisque Firing and Glaze Firing

The initial firing, referred to as the bisque firing, is carried out at a lower temperature to get rid of the clay's leftover moisture and organic matter. As a result, "bisque ware," a porous and more durable type of pottery, is produced.

Glaze firing is the last step. This is when the pottery is coated with ceramic glazes to add color, texture, and /or a clear waterproof surface after being bisque-fired. The glazed pottery is then fired again at a higher temperature, usually until the clay reaches the vitrification point and hardens into a vitreous glass-like material.

In order to create high-quality ceramic works, imagination, expertise, and attention to detail are essential throughout the pottery-making process. Potters have a variety of ways to express their artistic vision through hand-building and wheel-throwing methods. They then dry, fire, and glaze their creations turning raw clay into durable pottery.

Read More: How to Fire Pottery Without a Kiln

Ceramics vs. Pottery: Which to Choose?

In summary, pottery is a type of ceramics that specifically involves shaping and firing clay to create functional or decorative objects. Ceramics is the more general term encompassing a wide range of materials and products that are formed by firing non-metallic inorganic materials at high temperatures. 

In other words, pottery is a plate or bowl and ceramics is the material it is made from. Regardless, both provide their benefits and uses. And now that you know the difference, figure out what you want to make, which type of material you want to use, and get to crafting!

Read More: The Raku Firing Process

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