You’ve most likely heard most of these simple polymer clay tips and tricks before. But then again, maybe not. It’s never good to be that guy who’s standing there saying, “Whoa, I can’t believe nobody ever told me that!” It’s always better to be the guy standing there nodding his head saying, “Yup. Knew that.” So, with that in mind, here you go!
1. Hand Sanitizer cleans clay residue off your hands.
After working with polymer clay, there is usually a residue on your hands which soap and water will not remove. Alcohol dissolves polymer clay, so it works well to rub some alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel into your hands, and then wipe them clean with a paper towel. Follow up with a soap and water wash and you’re good as new. (And rubbing alcohol is pretty great to have in the studio, too!)
2. Cornstarch is your friend.
This one has several uses. Cornstarch makes a great mold release for molds and texture sheets. A bit of cornstarch on your finger is great for smoothing the fingerprints off of your clay creations. And finally you can bury your beads in a bed of cornstarch when baking to prevent the clay from browning or scorching.
3. Nail polish, spray paint, and solvents will cause sticky polymer clay.
For some reason, this polymer clay tip isn’t well known. It seems like such a simple solution to use nail polish to accent your polymer clay creations. Or use clear nail polish as a glaze. Don’t do it. Ever. Under any circumstances! The solvent in nail polish will begin to soften and dissolve your polymer clay, even baked clay, making it sticky and gooey over time. The same holds true for most varnishes and paints in spray cans can either degrade the clay or remain sticky. And also paints that are solvent based and require mineral spirits to clean your brushes may never fully dry on polymer clay. If you need a spray sealer to coat polymer clay, then you should use PYM II, a polymer clay safe protective coating. Read here for more information about polymer clay sealers, including which ones to use and which to avoid. (Note: Some brands of nail polish seem to work, most don’t. So beware. Also, artists oil paints do work on polymer clay but thin coats are best as it takes a long time to dry.)
4. You can change the texture of polymer clay.
If your polymer clay is too soft and mushy you can firm it up by a process called leaching. To leach clay, you just sandwich sheets of it between plain paper and then put a book on it for a few hours. Keep checking until the clay’s the consistency that you want. The longer you leach it, the more of the clay’s plasticizer will leach into the paper and out of the clay. This will cause the clay to be more firm. You don’t want to do too much, though, or the clay will be too crumbly. Conversely, you can soften clay that is too hard and crumbly by mixing in a small amount of baby oil, liquid polymer clay, or you can use a product by Sculpey called clay softener (previously called diluent). Again, don’t add too much or your clay will be too soft. If your clay is too hard to mix, you can chop it up and then let it sit a few days with the softener. It will diffuse through a bit, allowing the clay to soften enough to be able to be mixed. (Though in my opinion, life is too short…I just toss clay that’s this much work.)
5. Most Important of Polymer Clay Tips: You really do need an oven thermometer!
They’re less than $10 at a kitchen supply store or even WalMart if you’re lucky. And they’re indispensable! Even if you’ve been baking in your oven for years without a problem, that doesn’t mean that it’s accurate. And when it comes to clay, accuracy counts. You’ve got to bake it long enough and hot enough to get a full and complete cure. Otherwise your project will be spongy and brittle. On the other hand, some brands of clay are very susceptible to burning and high spikes in temperature might not hurt your casserole but it will completely toast your polymer. This is part of getting to know your oven so that it can be your friend and give you very good results. Read all about baking polymer clay here.
6. Sharpie fades on polymer clay.
I see Sharpie Markers recommended in tutorials all the time and I have to tell you…don’t do it. Sharpie markers are a great little tool and I love them for all sorts of crafts. But Sharpies are a solvent-based dye based marker. And that means that over time the dye will diffuse into the polymer, creating a “blur” or bleed. Use a pigment based marker instead, such as PITT Artist Marker or Microperm markers. See the article What’s the Best Pen for Drawing on Polymer Clay?
7. Store polymer clay in Ziploc sandwich bags.
Polymer clay can react with and dissolve some plastics. But plain old Ziploc sandwich bags are polymer clay safe. Plus you can zip the bag shut, keeping out dust. And if you’d like, you can label the bag with a Sharpie, removing all doubt about what brand of clay you put inside. Read my article about what plastics can be used to store polymer clay.
8. Use white scrap clay to clean your hands and pasta machine.
When working with white polymer clay, you want it to stay pristine white. Fibers, dirt, or residue from other clay colors that are on your hands or in your pasta machine will contaminate your nice white clay. Here’s an easy solution. Take a ball of white scrap clay and roll it around in your hands. It will pick up any contaminants. Then run it through your pasta machine, allowing it to pick up any stray colors or fibers there. You can use this scrap clay over and over. Keep it in a Ziploc bag. (Bet you saw that one coming.)
9. Crumpled aluminum foil makes a good bead core.
When making a large bead or a large figurine, you save both clay and weight by using crumpled up aluminum foil as a core or armature. Just crumple it tightly and then cover it with clay, then bake.
10. To avoid bubbles, put clay fold first into the pasta machine.
Are you finding bubbles in your polymer clay after conditioning it with a pasta machine? Bubbles are bad because they will expand during baking, creating an unsightly lump in your work, often ruining a piece. When conditioning clay, try inserting your folded over sheets of clay into the pasta machine fold side first. That way air doesn’t get trapped inside. If you do get a bubble, just slice into it with your razor blade and then press the air out, sealing the hole shut with your fingers.
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