First – what IS cold finish as it relates to ceramics?  A cold finish is anything that is NOT glaze/underglaze. Only to be used for sculptural items – yes, jewelry can fall under this category.  It is relegated for sculptural items ONLY because it is NOT food safe.

Cold Finish Medium Used

As it says in the title of this post, this tutorial is all about using artist quality Tombow Markers as a cold finish on sculptural ceramics.

This post examines just Tombow Markers, which had an interesting “oops” moment at the end. I’m looking forward to examining other types of professional grade markers in addition to permanent markers in future explorations. Do you have a specific name brand of markers you’d like me to add to my resource page?  Comment below and let me know!

The best way to use this product is with patience! Some color seemed to show the marker lines more than others, some were easier to build up layers of color to make the saturation darker, some blended nicely and others just over powered.  Lots of practice will be needed to find the way that works best for you for using this medium.


Tombow Markers of a variety of colors

Bisqued Ceramic Item (I make carved relief tiles to use as test tiles

My Process

In the image above, you may have noticed that one side is white and one side is off white.  The white side has been primed with gesso while the off white side is bare stoneware clay.  In my cold finish exploration, it’s not just about the mediums that can be used.  It’s about finding the best combination to create the best results. I’m testing all my current materials on tiles that have been primed with Liquitex Gesso . Once I complete this round of testing, every medium will get tested again with a different priming material.

  1. Prime half the test tile. Let sit overnight.
  2. Decide on color scheme. Grab a marker and start coloring!
  3. Apply first layer of color without worrying about coverage.
  4. Continue to add layers of color creating depth and opaque coverage – this will work with SOME colors and not others.
  5. Apply sealant.

I know… seems way too simplistic, right?  Well it is EASY, but I’m saving the more in depth and time intensive tutorials for those in my member group. This process/tutorial page is definitely geared for folks who just need a little prodding, to know the basics, and like to explore the DIY approach. If you’re interested in the more in depth tutorials, check out the MEMBERS ONLY tab at the top and look at all the different subscription levels. There’s something for every budget.


I mentioned earlier that these were artist quality markers – you don’t HAVE to use expensive professional artist quality products so feel free to experiment and use the off brand markers from the dollar store and see what you end up with.  Using a higher quality product will definitely prolong the life of your finish – especially if the colors are lightfast – but it’s not necessary when you are first starting out and just experimenting to see if this is a technique that appeals to you.  As you’ll see in pictures down a little further in this post…even professional quality markers have their pitfalls. If you read the tutorial about using Pan Pastels as a cold finish, you can see how the roughness of the bisqued stoneware clay eats up the sponge.  It has the similar affect on the felt tips of these markers.

When comparing the gessoed versus non-gessoed side of the tile, I’m not sure which side I prefer.  The both of negatives. You see those white spots??  THOSE are from little droplets of water hitting the surface when I used my spray bottle for another project. The water did not interact well with the alochol ink from the Tombow Markers. Both the gessoed and non-gessoed sides were affected. Quite an interesting observation!

I really like the darker pigment saturation on the gessoed side, but I do not like the smearing that occured when I applied the sealants (read below).

The gessoed side also allowed for the pigment to sit on top of the tile (which is why it is more saturated with color – it did not absorb into the tile).

In the next picture, you can see the differences in using a variety of different sealants.  For this iteration of experiments I’m using ModPodge.  I’ve used Krylon as a sealant but have found that for my preference (a matte finish), Mod Podge Matte provides that better than some of the other sealants I’ve tried.  As with the primers, I will be doing these same sets of test tiles with a variety of sealants in the future.

With the Tombow Markers, I was quite surprised with the results from brushing on the ModPodge! I will have to see if using a spray on sealant would have the same results on the non-gessoed side. If you look closely, you can see that on the side with the Liquitex Gesso, the pigment from the markers actually smeared as I brushed on the ModPodge.  On the non-gessoed side…it completely bleached the colors!  This outcome caught me totally by surprise and I’m not entirely sure WHY or what caused this reaction.  More research and experimentation is definitely needed to see if I can troubleshoot the causes of these reactions.  As a result, it is difficult to see the difference between the gloss and matte sealant.  I’m not entirely sure additional layers of brush on gloss sealant would increase that affect if desired.


  • When using Tombow Markers, keep in mind that a spray on sealant may work best on a primed/gessoed surface. This is something I will be testing in the future.
  • If you want to blend 2 different colors to create shadows it will take trial and error to determine which colors will actually create the desired effect.  For many of the colors, simply adding an extra layer of the same color was enough to create that effect.
  • Very little to no pigment came off my fingers when I pressed firmly and drug my finger over the top of the unsealed and non-gessoed part of the tile.


I hope that these basic pictures, tips, and brief instruction were helpful.  At the very least, it should give you a starting point to launch your own exploration into this medium as a cold finish.  For more information about additional cold finishes, check out the COLD FINISHES page under the RESOURCE CENTER tab.  To be notified when I publish new tutorials or blog posts, sign up for my newsletter or RSS feed and check back often.

Have any questions?  Please ask!

cold finish technique exploration and resource page funded in part by a project grant (2018-2019) from the Maine Arts Commission