Ceramic tiles using Ron Clarke Method (raw TiO2 mix) and variations

I’ve recently been posting rather heavily in Robert Bunney’s (@robertbu) thread about my progress working with a basic titanium dioxide “mix” devised by Ron Clarke over on the Lightburn forum to coat and engrave ceramic tiles. As I had just come up with a “recipe” that showed promise, it seems a good place to start this new thread and quit “hi-jacking” Robert’s thread.

The “recipe” I came up with used a small cough syrup dosage cup to represent 1 part. By volume, add 1 part water to 2 parts TiO2 powder in small jelly jar. It readily swirls into solution without lumps or stirring. Add PVA glue to double the previous volume (easier than trying to measure it out in parts!). Add 1 part Dawn dishwashing soap and 3- parts more water to approximate viscosity for brushing… add more water to thin to suit.

The major difficulty I’m seeing is getting a consistent thickness of the coating… over-lapping brush strokes, blotches, etc. will show it the "final product. I’ve thinned the mix with water to the point now that I just pour a puddle into the middle of the tile and then use the tip of a brush/finger to reach the edges/corners of the tile. I then use my shake table to further level the surface… any bubbles will disappear as it dries.

The tile after lasering and before washing off the mix…

After cleaning the tile with dishsoap and water. I apparently missed a spot on the left edge…

I’ve also been thinking of a different “mix” that I’m calling the Windex123…

The “recipe”: By volume, add 1 part water to 2 parts TiO2 powder in a small spray bottle and swirl into solution. Add 3 (or more) parts of Windex glass cleaner.

This “mix” can be sprayed onto the tile and spread to edges/corners with finger/brush/stick. Allow to self-level and/or help it along with a shake table… be mindful of blotching. And since you’ve got your Windex out, tiles can be “squeaky-cleaned” before coating… :wink:

This image was coated with the Windex123 mix before lasering…

– David


Those both look really nice! Are you still investigating adding dye/food coloring to help you see if you missed any spots? Does the Windex Blue tint help with that?

I did indeed add a half-dozen drops of red food coloring to the mix for one test. It just showed more colorfully how blotchy the coating was…

Looked reasonable while engraving…

All that black background is blotchy as well… should be near solid black…

Unfortunately, I forgot that I had picked up a tile that I had previously engraved to test… and coated it with the colored mix. When I washed it off… surprise! Kinda a “Mona Lisa meets Gangster Frog”… :wink:

I don’t think adding a little food coloring will present a problem at this point.

– David


Is it easier to clean of than the spray paint version?

Very easy. I just hold it under running water, scrub with a few circular licks with a little “potato-scrubber” brush, and then use a dish-washing wand with Scotchbrite pad across the surface in all directions. Takes less than 30 seconds easy… :wink:

NOTE: The porous back of the ceramic tile readily soaks up water during this process. Do not lay it flat on a nice wooden surface until the tile has had a chance to thoroughly dry.

– David


Found an informative article here… 3 Main Paint Ingredients You Should Know About – On the House

Here are the three main paint ingredients you should know about:


The pigment provides the texture, color and hiding properties of the paint. Pigments actually used to be pretty dangerous and included: lead, chromates and asbestos. Dangerous pigments are in very rare use and are outlawed in most places. Titanium dioxide and iron oxides are safe, high-grade pigments and are found in better quality paints. Clay and silica are also used but don’t hold up as well.

In paint (and crib notes — haha), the binder is what holds everything together.
Linseed oil is usually the binder in oil-based paint, which is frequently mixed with one or more other vegetable oils. However, in water-based paint, one popular binder is polyvinyl acetate (white glue). As a matter of fact, there is a latex undercoating called PVA which is short for Poly Vinyl Acetate. Pretty creative huh!?!

The solvent in water-based paint is water.
In oil-based paint, the solvent is thinner (petrochemical distillate). When the water is evaporating out of latex paint and when the thinner is evaporating out of oil base paint both processes are referred to as drying. Before they evaporate, the solvents keep their respective pigments and binders in solution and help them penetrate deeply into the surface being painted. After the solvents have evaporated they leaving a thin hardened layer of pigment and binder that we know as paint.


Seems pretty clear… water, white glue, and TiO2 powder. Time to go play…

– David


In my previous post, I presented an excerpt from an article that described, in general, the ingredients of water-based paint. It also indicated that other additives were usually added to enhance the performance of the paint. So I mixed up water, white glue, TiO2 powder, and 10 drops red food coloing – similar to an earlier “recipe” – and got a very splotchy, unsatisfactory, result…

Then I remembered a post by Mark (@Notnewton) where he mentioned Floetrol… a water-based paint additive that levels out the finish and eliminates brush strokes. Turns out the local “big-box store” carries it and it’s not that expensive ($10/qt), so I got some… makes sense it’s not hard to find as there’s lots of painters out there :wink:

My recipe so far (as best I can remember):…

Add 2 parts TiO2 powder and 2 parts water into a small jelly jar. Carefully stir… won’t be same volume as 4 parts water. Add PVA glue to double the current volume. Add 2 parts Floetrol, 2 more parts water, and 10-12 drops red food coloring to tint. Stir well with stir stick… try to avoid creating bubbles.

Prepared a couple of tiles with this mix… looks far closer to spray painted than ever before…

The results are definitely better though it looks as though there were still a few bubbles on the frog… but the blacks are not bad and the flower girl looks as good as any tile I’ve ever done. Photos and solid colors may always be problematic but the two-color black and white engravings are looking good to my not-so-trained eye.

The Floetrol looks to be doing good things however so I’ll add some more and see what happens. Hopefully I’m sneaking up on it??? It’s pretty obvious I don’t know what I’m doing… :wink:

– David



My wife does acrylic pour painting and uses Floetrol for some of her pours.

I suggest you checkout some YouTube videos on acrylic pour painting and see if they’re recipes would work.


1 Like

Thanks, Mike.

I have watched some of those pour painting videos. While those coatings level out nicely, I think they’d be way too thick for what we need here. On several early tests that had over-lapping brush strokes, I saw the laser simply won’t laser through the coating where it is thickest and the result is “banding”.

I tried pouring a few times and though I could get a nice slick coating, it was too thick to laser through with my little 2.3W Banggood laser. I might be able to do it with one of my more powerful lasers but the smell definitely increases with the thicker coatings… smells like burning paint :wink:

These last several engravings I’m brushing the coating on and the thickness seems to be getting more consistent. The Floetrol has definitely eliminated a lot of the brush strokes. I doubt solid black areas will ever be as nice as the original material or tiles which have been spray-painted with flat-white paint, however… but it’s probably good enough for the two-color drawings, like the flower-girl. Here’s spray-painted with Krylon ColorMaxx flat white paint (left) and my latest mix (right)…

Note the left side solid black area of the homebrew tile is actually near-solid as it should be… probably took more care in the brushing on that side. Maybe just need more practice… :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

– David


Alright! Some progress…

Added 1 more part of glue (binder) to my current mix and the paint seemed to stick to the tile surface a bit better. My first tile since making the adjustments…

before paint removal…

after paint removal…

My best so far with the basic Ron Clarke method… and, all in all, I’m pretty pleased.

Another thing I’m looking at is lightly scuffing the tile surface with a Puck Whetstone (for sharpening edged tools)… in hopes of allowing the paint to grab/adhere to the surface better during coating.

– David


Have you tried spraying your mix at any point? Or is it to thick to work that way?

1 Like

Or airbrushing?

1 Like

If it is too thick then probably thinning with water would get it to flow good for spray. Spraying a few very thin coats usually goes faster and gives better results, vs trying to cover in one coat. Floetrol does help for brush strokes, but it is best for thicker latex paints like those commonly used on building trim work. With thin spray coats you won’t need it.

Edit: it would be fun to use Cnc to spray tiles evenly. :wink:


I’ve been kinda stuck and frustrated for the last several days. After the one good engraving of the Aboriginal fellow, I’ve had nothing but rejects. I thought maybe I needed to thin… then needed more white glue… and Floetrol… and still nothing seemed to work. And to top it off, although I knew what ingredients were in the mix, I totally lost track of the proportions. All I was getting was spots and brush strokes…

Finally decided the spots are a surface tension thing… and added a missing ingredient, Dawn liquid dish soap. Added some to the existing mix and, sure 'nuff, the spots went almost entirely away.

So decided to mix a new batch from scratch… and religiously followed a recipe I thought should work. I used "1 tablespoon = 1 part" and the concoction all fits in a little 6 oz. jelly jar, with room to allow gently stirring with a stir stick to avoid bubbles. Stirring as you go, the recipe…

2 parts water
1 parts TiO2 powder (heaping)
2 parts PVA white glue (Elmer’s School Glue)
2 parts Floetrol
1 part Dawn liquid dish soap
10-12 drops red food coloring

The result is a very smooth paint which brushes on and nicely adheres to the glossy tile surface. One "heavy but not too heavy" coat… no white tile showing. Lasered our favorite friend/villain, Wes Studi… Toughest Pawnee, from "Dances with Wolves" on a clean tile…

Before paint removal…

after paint removal…

Magua (bottom left) compared to previous tries…

Hopefully, this isn’t a "one-hit wonder" and I’ll be able to do more tiles with the same mix and same decent result. I’m ready to move on… or at least get shut of this paint stuff :crazy_face:

– David


I took a look at a couple of tiles I prepared last evening… decided they need a 2nd coat of my mix. I may be over-brushing in an effort to minimize brush strokes… :crazy_face:

Interestingly, Ron Clarke, just this morning in his LightBurn thread, posted his current “brush on” recipe…

Here is [Ron’s] method For best results with a brush on method measure out 100 ml of PVA glue and I now add 3 tablespoons of water plus two drops of liquid hand soap. Mix thoroughly. Now add one full tablespoon of titanium dioxide to a flour sift. Slowly mix sifted powered to your PVA as you stir. Make sure you mix well. I now strain this mixture through the flour sift into another vessel. Paint on clean tile as you would paint anything with gloss paint. I dry with hairdryer and laser at 1000 mm/m 80% power. 40 watt diode laser. Hope that helps. Substitute hand soap if necessary for washing up liquid.

Ron’s recipe is just the three main ingredients for water-based paintglue, water, and TiO2 powder – but is far more glue-heavy than any other recipe I’ve seen. No additives other than a couple of “drops” of liquid hand soap.

I’ve thrown out all my previous mixes – except my latest – and have mixed up Ron’s concoction as well. I didn’t have the sifter so just spent more time stirring the mix as I went. He also uses a hair-dryer to speed up the drying process. His speed/power settings are not far off mine for my little 2.3W Banggood laser as well. I’ll test both concoctions to see what I can see.

— David


As promised, I ran a test of the two mixes this afternoon and the results were a bit surprising. Possibly my little 2.3W laser isn’t strong enough to burn through the thickness of Ron’s TiO2 mix but this is the result…

Before paint removal…

and after…

Then I lasered the same image (this truly is Magua from “The Last of the Mohicans”… I errored in my previous post) with the same settings on a tile with 2 coats of my latest TiO2 mix. Note the addition of red food coloring definitely helps to see the coverage better.

Before paint removal…

and after…

Side by side…

In fairness, I think Ron’s recipe is proper for his laser setup and mixing directions… but obviously not for mine. But I’m pretty pleased now with the result I’m getting with my mix… not perfect but certainly better.

While water cleanup and a darker, blacker, image can be had with this Ron Clarke method (TiO2/PVA glue/water), it is definitely fussier to mix up and mess with and get a consistent coverage and result. I’m also thinking down the road of working on curved surfaces, like a coffee mug in a rotary fixture… and whether this would work well for that.

Spray painting with commercial paint is certainly quicker and and easier… and, spraying over 8 tiles at a time, the application is far more consistent. The disadvantage, of course, is that acetone or thinner must be used to clean away the paint.

The NWT spray paint method may be a “deal breaker” for some who are more educated and safety-conscious… but won’t be for others of us who’ve used this method and these solvents in the past. As this has already been discussed at length previously… please, let’s not rehash it. As I think we all agree… everybody gets to set their own level of risk acceptance and choose what methods/chemicals they are comfortable using.


– David


And, now, for a change of scenery… sailboats!

I’m showing my age here… but I found this really fine old sailboat picture. Ah… the graceful lines of the hull, the height of the masts, the cloth sails, the rigging, the sky, the water, the mountain in the background, and the rock in the foreground

Oh, well! I had to show you the real source material before I showed my tile attempt… as it’s too dark but otherwise not too bad.

I’m about ready to call this experiment a "semi-success". As I said in my last post, the Ron Clarke method does result in blacker blacks (undoubtably because we can control the TiO2 content) than any commercial spray paint I’ve seen… and water cleanup is especially quick and easy. But it is messier to play with (my kitchen sink is more a mees than ever!) and it’s more difficult to get a consistent coating from one tile to the next. It may well become my choice for black and white images/clipart but not for photos and grayscale images.

It had it’s moments but overall, it was fun.

– David


My favorite post of the day for sure :relaxed:. Best boat picture description ever! Thank you.


For completeness sake, I decided to laser a Krylon ColorMaxx flat-white spray-painted tile with the same image and same settings (1000mm/min, 100% power) as before…

Side-by-side Ron Clarke method (left) and NWT method (right)…

NWT – I apparently missed the area at the bottom while spray painting…

Ron Clarke method…

Both of these tiles could be made quite acceptable IMO if a bit more care was taken to pre-process the image for each process. I never took time to do a test tile for the Ron Clarke method… although I suspect that would be a waste of time as there will be more tile-to-tile inconsistency in the coating thickness. Maybe painting more than one or two tiles at a time would provide a bit more consistency.

BTW, for those who don’t know, this famous frame-grab (at least, in my mind… :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:) is from the 1947 movie, "The Lady from Shanghai"… and the “old-enough-to-be-my-mother” female, cluttering up my sailboat picture, is Rita Hayworth, widely considered the most glamorous actress of the 1940’s.

[voice cracking…] Oh, well…

– David


That photo fits into the oldschoolcool tag.

1 Like