How to Paint Terra-Cotta Pots

Get creative and turn plain clay pots into a colorful accent for your home.

If you're looking for a fun, easy DIY project that you can complete in an afternoon, look no further. Painting terra-cotta pots is a great way to turn a plain planter into a colorful accent for your home or yard. It's also a good way to give your plants and herbs a pretty new home or create a thoughtful handmade gift for a friend. Our step-by-step tutorial will teach you how to make a cool dipped effect for a modern look, but the sky's the limit when it comes to your flowerpot design. Terra-cotta pots are inexpensive and readily available in most garden centers and home supplies stores and you can find the rest of the supplies needed in your local craft store. Now grab your paintbrush and get started!

wooden shelving with plants
Carson Downing

Before You Get Started

Acrylic craft paint is the best choice for painting clay pots because of its highly pigmented formula. Colors will be bright and saturated, especially if you use primer and multiple coats of paint. Coating the painted surface with spray shellac helps seal the finish and make it water-resistant so that you can use your pots outside.

Although terra-cotta is a durable material, it's best to bring the pots in when the weather gets cold as they can crack in freezing conditions. To clean painted clay pots, gently wipe them down with a damp cloth as needed.

How to Make a Painted Terra-Cotta Pot

Supplies Needed

  • Terra-cotta pot and saucer
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Kraft paper or newspapers
  • Wide rubber bands
  • Artist's paintbrush
  • All-surface primer
  • Acrylic craft paint
  • Aluminum foil
  • Masking tape
  • Spray shellac
  • X-Acto knife

Step-by-Step Directions

Follow these simple step-by-step directions to make your own painted clay pots for your favorite herbs or houseplants.

Step 1: Prepare Your Workspace

First, prepare your workspace and make sure you are in a well-ventilated area. Line your work surface with Kraft paper or newspapers and get all your supplies out so they're ready to grab when you need them.

Step 2: Clean the Pot

Make sure that the terra-cotta pot and saucer are both clean. Remove any price tags or stickers if the pot is new as well as any dust or dirt if you are repurposing an older pot. Wipe it down with a damp microfiber cloth and let it dry completely.

Step 3: Create a Design

If you want to create a dipped effect, flip the terra-cotta pot upside down so the bottom of the pot is facing up. Grab a rubber band and stretch it around the pot at an angle. You could also use more than one rubber band for a geometric look that creates sections for multiple paint colors. Or skip the rubber band altogether and freehand a design onto the terra-cotta pot, in which case you can skip this step.

Step 4: Apply a Coat of Primer

Using a paintbrush, apply an even coat of primer to the area below the rubber band or the sections created by multiple rubber bands, and let it dry completely. Apply an even coat of primer to the inside and sides of the saucer, then let it dry completely as well.

Step 5: Start Painting

Once the primer on the terra-cotta pot and saucer has dried completely, you're ready to start painting. If you chose to go with a paint-dipped design, begin to apply a thin coat of acrylic craft paint on the primed area below the rubber band. If you used multiple rubber bands, use multiple paint colors in the primed areas they section off. Do the same with the saucer, covering the primed area with an even coat of paint. You may need two or three coats of paint to achieve a bright, saturated color, but make sure to let each layer of paint dry completely before applying the next, as this will ensure a smooth finish and prevent flaking.

Step 6: Wrap Pot in Aluminum Foil

Next, tear off a piece of aluminum foil and wrap the unpainted half of the terra-cotta pot with it, using the rubber band as your guide. Use masking tape to secure the foil in place and to hide any gaps between the rubber band and the foil that would expose the terra-cotta pot surface. If you used multiple rubber bands and have more of a zigzag design, simply work in sections. Tear off smaller pieces of foil and secure them along the rubber band lines, ensuring none of the unpainted terra-cotta pot is exposed.

Step 7: Apply Coat of Shellac

Holding it from the recommended distance, spray two to three coats of shellac onto the painted portion of your terracotta pot, then do the same with the saucer. Let them both dry completely. The shellac creates a smooth finish and adds a protective layer to seal the paint. Anytime you work with paint or shellac, make sure that you are in a well-ventilated area and wear a face mask.

Step 8: Remove Aluminum Foil

Using an X-Acto knife, carefully score the paint along the entire length of the rubber band to gently loosen it. Cut the rubber band and slowly peel the masking tape off to remove the foil. Work slowly so as not to damage any of the painted surface. Place the painted clay pot inside the saucer and it's ready to be used around your home!

Additional Painting Options

If you want to go a step further, use multiple rubber bands and paint colors for a crisscross design or take a paintbrush and freehand polka dots, stars, or other shapes over the top of the painted pots.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are there types of paint that shouldn't be used on a terra-cotta pot?

    Watercolor paints aren't a good choice for terra-cotta pots, since they aren't as thick as acrylic paints. Oil paints can be used, but they take months to dry completely when painted on terra-cotta.

  • Is it necessary to seal a painted terra-cotta pot?

    It's a good idea to seal terra-cotta pots after you paint them to keep water from seeping through the paint. There are self-sealing acrylic paints available, so if you use those, there's no need to seal.

  • Does painting a terra-cotta pot affect the plant?

    No, painting a terra-cotta pot won't affect the plant it holds as long as you paint the pot before adding it and let it dry thoroughly. Never paint a terra-cotta pot with a plant still in it.

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