Why are Red and Orange Mugs More Expensive?

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Promo Expert

Published: May 11th, 2020

Welcome to the wonderful world of ceramic science! This lesson covers all the chemistry of coloring promotional mugs and tumblers. If you've ever wondered how we get the reds just right (or why it costs more to get ceramic products in orange), this is where you'll discover the sizzling scientific secrets of ceramics.

If you've ever taken a digital stroll through our ceramic mugs page, you might have noticed red and orange colored mugs are priced slightly higher than their mug brethren in more muted or darker colors. Why should coffee drinkers and tea sippers who prefer to drink from a bright, fiery mug have to pay more? It turns out the higher cost of red and orange ceramics comes down to chemistry. There's a whole complex chemical process involved in producing red and orange ceramics.

First, a History Lesson

Red and orange glazes have been popular for many years. A well-known example is Fiesta Ware, which was produced by the Homer Laughlin Company. The red Fiesta dinnerware, along with four other colors, was first offered for sale in 1936. The red was extremely popular; it was also the most expensive to produce due to the material costs and the unpredictability of the red glazes when fired in a kiln.

One of the ingredients in the red glaze was a radioactive material called uranium oxide. Lead was also often used in creating colors. This was a pretty common practice before World War II until safer, economical color-creating chemicals were discovered. Fear not: no one is using radioactive materials in the making of mugs these days. Science has helped manufacturers find alternatives, and laws like Prop 65 and other federal mandates keep toxic materials from showing up in consumer products at harmful levels.

And Now for a Science Lesson!

Mugs (and all ceramics) are usually made from clay and then forged in a fiery kiln – an oven for hardening the dry clay. Ceramics usually go through the firing twice, once to create a durable, hardened product and then again to be glazed, colored, and decorated. Using a kiln might sound like an old-fashioned process used in a small village, but there's actually science behind using a kiln to create ceramics. In fact, kiln temperature can have a huge effect on glaze colors like orange and red.

The firing process to create red and orange glazes requires more expertise and care than the firing process to create other colors. Reds and oranges are notoriously fickle colors in the kiln; they need to be fired in a high-oxygen environment because carbon monoxide is produced when the carbon in the clay has burned out. This gas can negatively affect the glaze if it isn't replaced by oxygen. Ceramics that are glazed with reds or oranges need to be fired at a lower temperature, such as Cone 04, 05, or 06 (that's anywhere from 1830 – 1940 degrees Fahrenheit). The length of time the items are fired is also important because the reds and oranges can burn out, disappear, or change color at higher temperatures. This extra care can create extra work and additional cost for these colors.

Today's red and orange glazes (as well as many paints, chalks, and other supplies) are cadmium-based. Cadmium creates rich yellows, reds, and oranges and is also a stable chemical, unlike the radioactive materials used to create colors in the past. Because of the rich vivid hues cadmium provides for products (as well as the safety and stability it offers), it costs a little bit more.

Orange you glad you came to class today? Creating red and orange ceramic products takes a special chemical reaction, as well as some expertise with using a kiln. Whether you're looking for a bright, sunny mug to warm up the morning or something in a cooler, darker shade, there are plenty of colors and styles to choose from in the wide world of ceramics – and we know your logo will look great on all of them.