Are you just getting started with polymer clay? I’m sure that you have a lot of questions. Everyone does! I’ve created this Beginner Roadmap to give you an overview of the things you will need to consider and to answer the questions you have.
Read through the sections below and follow the links to read more about the topics. Soon you’ll be creating confidently and successfully, making whatever your heart desires!
Polymer clay is an oven-cure modeling clay made from vinyl. It can be molded, blended, sculpted, textured, and manipulated in endless ways to create complex color effects. After curing it can be carved, drilled, painted, sanded, or polished. It is plasticized vinyl, which means it stays somewhat flexible after curing. It is available in many brands and an endless array of colors including glittery and special effects colors. Colors can be mixed to create new colors. Learn more about polymer clay here.
The major brands of polymer clay have been safety tested by independent organizations and are certified to be non-toxic. Polymer clay can be cured safely in your kitchen oven. Cured polymer clay is essentially vinyl, similar to a vinyl tablecloth or aquarium tubing. It is safe when used to create jewelry, sculptures, home décor items, figurines and craft items. It is not recommended for making food vessels, however, for sanitation reasons. Read more about the safety of polymer clay here.
While all polymer clay can be mixed and combined with that of other brands, each brand does have its own unique characteristics. You should choose a brand by the type of project you have in mind. Strength and ease of use vary from brand to brand. Many beginner brands are quite brittle. Children’s brands are soft to handle but that same softness means they are poor at holding fine detail. If you’re not yet sure what you’ll be making, start with all-purpose brands such as Premo, Cernit Number One, Kato Polyclay, or Fimo Soft. Learn more about the various brands in this comparison guide.
If you’re creating sculptures or figurines, consider how you will color your creations. There are two main ways of going here. One option is to sculpt the item from a single color of clay and then paint it after curing. The other option is to construct your creation with colored clay.
Both options are popular, but the effect of each looks quite different. In addition, please be aware that painting well requires a very different skill set than sculpting and many newbies struggle to create a neat finish.
In addition, polymer clay can chemically interact with many paints (especially model paints), potentially ruining your creation.
Translucent polymer clay is the same as colored polymer except that it doesn’t contain pigment. While it becomes more translucent after curing, it won’t be clear like glass. Mixed with regular clay, it can make foods look more realistic, make faux stones, and give a porcelain effect. On its own, translucent is great for faux glass effects. Learn about translucent here. See examples of translucent in this Pinterest board. And discover which is the clearest brand of translucent by comparing the photos in this article.
These beads were made with translucent polymer clay. You can learn how to make them in my Faux Glass Effects Tutorial.
Liquid clay is thinned-down polymer clay. It can be used to create syrup or food effects, it’s used to soften hard polymer, use it as a bakeable glue to bond bits of clay together. Some brands can make good coatings as seen here. And some brands can be used in bakeable molds to make clear shapes.
Liquid clay also comes in colors and with metallic or pearlescent effects. You can also make your own colored or glittery liquid clay by adding pigments or mica powders to colorless liquid clay.
When you get started, it’s easy to feel that you have to buy everything. Don’t! In the beginning, you’ll need very little, most of which you have around the house or you can even make yourself. Here’s a list of the tools and supplies you’ll want to make sure to get for your polymer clay starter kit. Use your scrap clay and some sewing needles to make these free needle tools.
Polymer clay is strong after baking, but it can droop under its own weight during construction. Use a wire armature, bulked with masking tape or compressed foil as a “skeleton” for anything that will be thicker than 1” (25mm) or so. Polymer clay can be baked many times without damage, so it’s good practice to bake at several stages in the construction of complicated pieces. This prevents damage to previous parts as you build on top of them.
Most art supplies that can be used on paper can also be used on the surface of polymer clay to create fun surface effects. This includes powders, paints, and inks. Most, including paint, can be applied to the raw clay surface. Some can also be applied after curing. There are few hard-and-fast rules here, so feel free to experiment. But that also means that some things won’t work. Explore and test and have fun! Be aware that some paints never dry on some brands of polymer clay, so do test those on a bit of scrap clay first. Learn about powders here.
It’s easy to assume that baking will make things look better. It won’t. Make sure all the fingerprints are smoothed and little bits of mess are removed before baking (when it’s much easier to do)! A Q-tip and some rubbing alcohol will work great. After baking, you can smooth a surface with a Q-tip and pure acetone, but it can also remove too much. Sanding is another great way to smooth (or to distress) a surface.
Baking is the MOST important step. Undercured polymer clay is brittle and nearly all breakage comes from undercuring. It’s the #1 newbie mistake. Most ovens are wildly incorrect, so use an oven thermometer to verify what’s really going on in there. Adjust your dial to compensate if necessary. Then bake at the correct temperature for at least 30 minutes for each ¼” (6mm) thickness. Bake longer if your oven is slow to warm up or if your baking pan is very thick. And always cover your item to protect it against browning. For more about baking, take this easy class.
Polymer clay is durable vinyl and does not need to be sealed. That being said, sometimes people like to create a glossy surface by adding a clearcoat. There are many materials you can use from varnish to resin to waxes. Here is an article explaining those various materials. But be aware that each material brings its own quirks and may even ruin your piece. For example, resin often cures badly and varnish accentuates fingerprints and marks. Never use a spray varnish on polymer clay! The best way to create a perfectly smooth, glasslike finish with polymer is to sand and buff. You can learn more about creating smooth finishes here.
Polymer clay never dries out, but it is a serious dust magnet. Always store your clay covered. I like to store my blocks in zipper sandwich bags, but any small plastic bag will do. I store them in larger plastic shoeboxes. Others like to store their blocks in plastic embroidery floss boxes. Those small multi-drawer units that mechanics use to store nuts and bolts work great, too. There are lots of ways to go here. But be aware that the plasticizer in polymer clay can bond to and dissolve some types of plastic. Never allow polymer clay to sit in contact with plastic labelled with recycle numbers 6 or 7. Polystyrene, Styrofoam, and polycarbonate can all be ruined by contact with polymer clay. Learn more about plastic interactions here.
When you’re first learning how to create or making fan art, it’s natural to want to copy the items that other people are making. But be aware that copies are technically not okay and you’ll get into hot water fast when sharing them in some groups. Never sell items or teach projects that you didn’t design yourself and always be honest if you’ve copied someone as a learning exercise. Be aware that some companies (such as Disney) aggressively protect their copyright for licensed characters. Nobody’s worried about you making Elsa for your niece, okay? But don’t make it your business to sell these types of things without purchasing the license to do so. Here’s a handy flowchart for helping to understand the rules of copyright. You can see a larger image and read much more about copyright here.
Ready for More?
Are you ready to learn more? Dive in and explore the variety of comprehensive tutorials and classes by Ginger Davis Allman of The Blue Bottle Tree. You can trust what you learn here. No more confusing, contradictory advice!
The eBooks, tutorials, and classes are organized into three main categories, Skill Builders, Techniques, and Projects. Below is a sampling. Click over to The PolyTechnic to see the full selection. Happy Claying!
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