Ceramics vs Pottery: Here’s What You Need to Know

Learning the difference between ceramics vs pottery

Ceramics vs. pottery, what’s the difference? Are they the same thing? These are common questions about these seemingly similar products. There are clear distinctions, but also some blurry lines.

What Is the Difference Between Ceramics vs Pottery?

The first thing that comes to mind when you think of ceramics vs. pottery is probably clay. However, this is only part of the answer.

The short answer is that pottery is a type of ceramics. So, all pottery is ceramics, but not all ceramics are pottery.

Pottery has a pretty narrow definition when it comes to the material and shape of the product. Meanwhile, ceramics include countless products made from different materials.

The exact differences between ceramics vs. pottery are a bit more complex than that. So, an in-depth look at each is in order.

What Are Ceramics?

Ceramics are products made from non-metal inorganic materials that go through permanent changes as a result of heat treatment. This is what makes ceramics suitable for the typical uses, such as kitchenware and wall tiles.

Since clay is the most widely used ceramics ingredient, it makes a great example of how this works. Clay is a soft, sticky compound that’s easy to shape because of its water content.

However, this water makes it soft. Even after drying, clay will only absorb new water, which will soften it or make it dissolve. Therefore, people fire the clay.

When clay reaches a temperature of 660 degrees Fahrenheit, or 350 degrees Celsius, the structure permanently changes. It has now become ceramic and won’t ever dissolve in water. Since many of the oldest uses for ceramics revolved around containing liquids, that’s a game-changer.

Once fired, a ceramic material has a fixed shape. There’s no way to un-fire ceramics.

ceramic coffee mugs

Image from Pixabay

These days, there are more ceramic materials than simple clay. Examples include zinc, silica, zirconium oxide, and various transition metal oxides. The latter ones often create semi-conductive ceramics, which gives them different uses than typical ceramics, which are insulators.

Glazed ceramics have a glass coating, usually made from silica. The glaze makes them glossy and more resistant.

Examples of ceramic products

What Is Pottery?

Pottery is the oldest form of ceramics. Although all pottery belongs under the label of ceramics, the opposite is not true.

As the name implies, pottery revolves around pots. The definition isn’t quite that narrow, but it gives us a good idea.

different types of clay resulting pots

Image from Pixabay

Works of pottery all fill purposes similar to that of a pot. Mugs, decanters, flower pots, and bowls are some examples. They’re all containers of different kinds, which is essential to the definition.

Also, pottery always consists of fired clay, also known as terra cotta. Some argue that glazed pottery technically doesn’t belong under this category, although others would beg to differ.

Also, pottery naturally develops a glaze at very high temperatures. So, it can be hard to tell the difference between naturally glossy high-quality pottery and low-quality ceramic containers with supplemental glaze.

However, there are different subtypes of clay pottery, as well. For example, porcelain and stoneware are both forms of pottery. But not everything made from those materials counts as pottery.

Do you still find the whole ceramics vs. pottery thing confusing? Don’t worry; it’ll make perfect sense soon.

What about clay sculptures?

Ceramics vs. Pottery – The Process

the process of making a pot

Image from Pixabay

The process of making ceramics vs. pottery is another significant difference. As before, the pottery example is also an example of ceramics, but not vice versa.

How to make pottery

How to make other ceramics

What Are Some Common Types of Ceramics and Pottery?

As we mentioned, clay is the most common material used in pottery and ceramics. However, different types of fired clay exist. Therefore, it’s wise to get familiar with these types of ceramic clay to get a better understanding of ceramics vs. pottery.





The Bottom Line

The easiest way to summarize the matter of ceramics vs. pottery is that pottery is one form of ceramics. It’s the oldest and simplest form, and it always results in containers made of clay. Clay ceramics can come in a variety of forms, such as earthenware and stoneware.

Ceramic covers far more than clay pots. Various ceramics with different properties are useful for everything from knife-making to space engineering and interior design.

Want to join the discussion? Sound off in the comments below.

Featured Image from Pixabay


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