What is ceramics, its origins, characteristics and evolution.

The history of ceramics and its evolution.

Since prehistoric times ceramics have had significant roles in human life. Flexible and manageable material, it represents both the raw material to create countless objects of various usefulness, and a form of artistic expression. Although the word ceramic derives from the Greek keramos, its invention dates back to even more ancient times. A long time ago, perhaps by chance, men noticed that very compact soil, if heated by fire, solidified. From that moment on, man has worked hard and started modeling clays, experimenting with increasingly advanced techniques to get better results. Curiously, ceramic has been discovered twice: in Mesopotamia, in the Near East, and in China and although these territories are distant both geographically and culturally, the destination of the finished products was almost identical: a perspective of functionality. From these places of origin it then spread all over the world.

The first ceramic artifacts appear in the Neolithic and are mainly composed of tools used for cooking. With the advent of the Egyptian and Chinese civilizations, ceramics began to be worked to create decorative objects.

From the hand modeling of clay, we subsequently moved on to the production of slabs and tiles, thanks to the introduction of the lathe, one of the first tools that allowed for more precise processing. In this way, articulated artifacts spread in the Eastern world, thanks also to calcite cylinders that allowed the plates to be decorated with repeated motifs.

A further innovation was the glazing, that is the decoration with “vitreous paints” of the clay support. The first glazes were applied around the III and II millennium BC and always in the East, and in particular in Egypt. The glazing made it possible to transform the ceramic slabs into real furnishing elements that were placed in the walls of homes and appreciated for their brightness and bright colors.

It is thanks to the spread of Islam that the ceramic wall tile arrives in Europe, passing through North Africa and reaching Spain, during the Moorish rule. The majolica tiles then conquered Southern Italy and went up all over the peninsula, finding fortune during the Renaissance. In particular, Tuscany and Emilia Romagna were the cradle of the production of interior majolica.

In fact, starting from the 15th century, ceramic became the most used covering material on the floors and walls of churches, palaces and public offices, which still today retain the glazed decorations that partly reflect the Arab and partly Renaissance style. .

The history of ceramics therefore passes through our country. The greatest Italian masters such as Donatello and Della Robbia have learned techniques from faraway places and have had the ability to improve, enrich and complete them with their knowledge, reaching such a high degree of perfection that no one else could ever achieve. And it is thanks to them that today made in Italy ceramics are considered extremely valuable products and in demand all over the world.

What is ceramics.

The word “ceramic”, from the Greek “kéramos” which literally translates as “art of working clay”, has a double meaning. On the one hand it indicates an inorganic, non-metallic material, very ductile in its natural state and rigid after the firing phase. On the other hand, it identifies the product itself obtained with the material consolidated with the cooking processes.

Depending on the quality, processing and glazing, different types of ceramic products are created:

Terracotta, porous paste, natural red color without coating

Faenza, porous paste, colored with transparent or opaque glass coating

Gres, with a compact vitreous paste

Porcelain, with a compact white vitreous paste

Earthenware, white porous paste, covered with a glaze

– Glazed terracotta or majolica, porous colored paste with opaque glass coating.

Refractory, white or colored porous material, which withstands high temperatures without undergoing substantial changes.

Advanced ceramic products. They are very pure, with particular compositions, resistant to heat and chemical wear and with exceptional electrical properties. They are used in all industrial sectors and also in the medical field.

For an overview of the world of ceramics and all its terms, consult Sicer’s glossary of ceramics.

Characteristics of ceramics.

Physico-chemical characteristics

  • Porosity
  • Color (reddish to white)
  • Refractoriness
  • Ability to produce water during drying

Mechanical properties

  • Hardness
  • Resistance to penetration
  • Abrasion resistance

Technological properties

  • Plasticity
  • Workability
  • Antibacterial properties
  • Anti-polluting properties

Types of ceramics today.

Handcrafted ceramic, bespoke and unique.

The handcrafted ceramics are made by hand starting from the processing phase, which begins with the choice of the type of clay and the technique to be used for modeling, up to the end of the decoration.

Handmade ceramics are usually unique pieces, difficult to reproduce and exclusive.

Industrial ceramics, the triumph of technology.

Industrial ceramics is defined as “serial ceramics” and it is made, unlike artisanal ceramics, through automated manufacturing processes.

History shows that from 1700 onwards the production began to have a “double nature”, that is artisan and industrial. Hand-made artisanal creations are carried out by small producers or shops, while large companies are increasingly focusing on large-scale productions.

Despite the standardization of production, today ceramic companies can defend the uniqueness of their products thanks to manufacturers and suppliers of raw materials for ceramic companies. They research and develop material applications that allow to enrich and differentiate the final surfaces in order to always have unique and exclusive coverings and floors. Today they are considered as partners because they bring constant innovation and technological know-how to support the production and creation of unique and substantially perfect products


If artisanal ceramics, difficult to reproduce, can boast unique characteristics, industrial ceramics have on their side the possibility of possessing winning technological characteristics. Let’s talk about the anti-pollution and antibacterial properties. Human health and the environment, in the ceramic field, are now more than ever considered two “hot topics” and extremely important.

Currently, ceramic companies can produce finished products with a very low environmental impact thanks to the solutions against the problem of harmful emissions into the environment proposed by their partners.

Sicer has also been operating in the field of both industrial and artistic ceramic coatings for over 25 years, thanks to the patented .LE eco-solvent-based series, took part in the fight against environmental pollution.

The .LE series consists of digital inks and glue. These lubricated and environmentally friendly products have an absent odor component and a reduction in harmful emissions compared to the best eco-inks on the market, while still guaranteeing excellent performance.

If the interest of ceramic producers in recent years has been moving towards new antibacterial and antiviral products for the final surfaces, with the Covid19 pandemic erupted in 2020, the focus is more than ever focused on these innovations.

Sicer is developing a new antibacterial and antiviral product dedicated to safeguarding health.

Today we can therefore speak of “antibacterial ceramics”.

Evolution of industrial ceramics, back to the future.

Industrial ceramics have been defined as such from the moment when, as described, production has become automatic, serial and standardized.

If, at least at the beginning, this was the trend, after the second half of the twentieth century ceramic companies have decided to focus more than ever on the personalization and differentiation of their finished products, supported by all partners in the sector, including manufacturers and suppliers of raw materials for ceramic companies.

We can believe that the desire of the companies was to maintain their industrial production trying to go back to the origins or to the unique and difficult to reproduce properties of artisan ceramics.

In reality, ceramic producers have done more: in addition to creating customized and difficult to reproduce finished products, they have managed to blend craftsmanship and technology, a perfect combination.

To date, a ceramic coating or floor can be unique and exclusive and have different technological characteristics, thanks to chemical and scientific research, that a handcrafted ceramic product could not have. The evolution of ceramics can be seen, more than ever, as a real return to the future!

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