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Review: Portraits on Porcelain

By Betsy Finn, M.Photog.,Cr.

In the search for new products to offer, it may be worth looking to the past. I remember seeing porcelain plates on display in my grandmother’s home as a child, and the porcelain portraits offered by Memory Lane Porcelain Portraits are a contemporary take on the timeless wall hanging. Memory Lane is a wholesaler that creates porcelain and marble pieces from your photographs.

The ordering process is very personal. You can fill out an order form and email your image files or print the form and mail a photo the old fashioned way, and there's a number to call if you have any questions. To evaluate the end product, I ordered two porcelain pieces and one laser-etched marble piece. The porcelain square was easy to design on my end, and I did a pretty good job of estimating how the oval images would look … or so I thought. Fortunately, the folks at Memory Lane are very thorough and emailed me about a potential issue with one of the oval portraits; due to the cropping of the oval, they suggested rotating the image slightly to make it feel more natural. I happily accepted their suggestion.

The three pieces arrived, well packaged in bubble wrap, in a timely manner. Here are the originals I submitted and the three finished pieces:

Finn Family Images

Memory Lane Porcelain Portrait examples

Both the porcelain and marble pieces are about 1/4-inch in thickness. In this image, taken of the laser etched marble, you can see the shiny and non-shiny aspects of the etching process (which results in a black and white image).

Memory Lane Marble Portrait side view

Memory Lane offers a quality guarantee if any porcelain portrait discolors under normal conditions or proves defective in any way that is attributable to their workmanship. It is reassuring to know that they won’t fade or discolor as printed photographs can with direct exposure to sunlight. These porcelain pieces, since they are glazed, should hold up under exposure by a sunny window!

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the produt. I really liked how the landscape picture turned out as a square porcelain. The colors on the oval porcelain didn’t hold true closely enough for my taste—the reddish skin tone hues in the glaze were a little more pronounced than the original image, and the contrast was not as defined. Having worked with ceramics, I understand that the properties of glaze are not going to allow an exact color replication of a printed photo; it’s similar to working in different color spaces. That being said, I would love to see how these would work in black and white on the porcelain.

One other caveat about the differences between a photographic print and the porcelain: these are not as crisp as a print. Based on my understanding of ceramics, that’s just the nature of the beast (it all depends on the smoothness of the ceramic tile and the detail that can be retained with the glaze). I chose a “busy” family portrait for the marble piece to see how the etching would handle detail. It did preserve all the detail, but a simpler image would have more impact on this medium.

 [How Porcelain Portraits Are Made]

When I asked about the image quality, a company representative explained, “The ink is actually crushed minerals, which create a glaze that becomes a permanent part of the porcelain once placed in the kiln. Because of this, the images may not look as crisp to a photographer. Due to the type of keepsake these are, however, we have found that most of our photographers' clients are fond of the softer look on the porcelain.” When you register as a preferred customer, your client ID can be flagged with a preference for softer or crisper images so that they can adjust the image prior to being placed on the porcelain and fired in the kiln. The only other thing you’ll need to know is that the finished pieces do not come ready to hang. You will need to buy wall hangers for plates, or self-standing easels if you want to provide your clients with an immediate display option (or direct them to purchase their own). Typical turnaround time is 5 business days.

Potential applications? I could see these being sold for families, children, and weddings. In talking with the sales rep, she told me about a client who ordered a number of heart tiles as wedding table centerpieces. For a newborn portrait, it would be precious to have a portrait of the baby or little toes along with the birth stats. Personally, I think these are more intriguing as a design add-on rather than a straight portrait.

Pricing for porcelain portraits is $56 to $300, depending on the size, which ranges from 1.96 x 2.75 inches all the way up to 9.45 x 11.81 inches. Several porcelain shapes are available (oval, heart, circle, square, rectangle). Marble pieces are available as rectangles and ovals, in either 5x7 or 8x10 (starting at $75). Sample packages start at $100 and allow access to preferred client benefits such as 20% off porcelain pricing. For more information about Memory Lane Porcelain Portraits, visit www.porcelainportraits.com.

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.,Cr. has a portrait studio in Michigan (bphotoart.com); she also blogs at betsyfinn.com.