10 Simple Polymer Clay Tips (that you surely knew – but maybe not?)

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!)

10 Simple Polymer Clay Tips at The Blue Bottle Tree.com

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, or Helmar Crystal Kote. These are both polymer clay safe protective coatings. 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.)

10 Simple Polymer Clay Tips by The Blue Bottle Tree

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.

10 Simple Polymer Clay Tips by The Blue Bottle Tree.com

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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183 thoughts on “10 Simple Polymer Clay Tips (that you surely knew – but maybe not?)”

  1. Crystal Friend

    I wanted to start making some things with clay and my husband bought me a pack of Art skills Crafters Closet oven-bake clay. I dont know if it’s polymer or not. It was very hard when I opened it but knew from reading that I would need to knead it and work it a bit. It did soften up but now its VERY soft.
    I want to make flowers and small figurines but this stuff is so soft that my petals droop. What type of clay does this sound like? Is there anyway to make it hold its shape better? Are there different types of clay for different types of projects? If so what would a clay this soft be good for, molds maybe?
    I really wanted an air bake clay. And I plan to buy some more this week but if I can use this I’d like to. If I cant use this for flowers which kind – oven bake, air dry, polymer etc should I use and is there a cheaper brand you would recommend for Just starting out with? I dont wanna buy a really expensive clay and ruin it learning lol .
    I just found your site and have learned so much already! Thank you for sharing all that you do and for any help you can give me!

    1. I’ve never heard of that brand of clay. It sounds like one of the many no-name or generic brands available in kits on marketplaces. They’re usually very hard, then very soft, then too mushy to do things with. I would recommend getting some Premo and use that for making things. It’s a good all-purpose brand. You can still use the other stuff, but use it for bases, cores, and things that don’t require much fine detail. You can add Premo to the other clay and bake it together. They’re completely compatible.

  2. Hi Ginger, I am new to making jewelry using polymer clay, I am baking it in my oven with a baking sheet but it seems like the clay that is laying flat and touches the baking sheet becomes shiny or melts? I don’t know how to prevent this from happening. Any tips?

    Thanks!

  3. Michelle Fournier

    How long will ot take for nail polish to make the clay sticky? I jist started making earrings and I used a sparkle polish on them topped with a resin. Am I going to have issues with that?

    1. Usually, the problem is that the plasticizer from the clay softens the plastic in the nail polish, making it sticky. So it usually happens within the first few weeks. Not all nail polish will have this problem, however. The resin on the top might also prevent the stickiness from being felt. I really can’t predict, however. Let’s cross our fingers. 🙂

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  5. My daughter made beautiful ornaments from polymer clay and sealed them with something that has remained sticky. Is there anything I can put over that to get rid of the stickiness?

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  7. Hey there, I was wondering if you could substitute tin or aluminum foil for gold or silver leaf in makume canes?

  8. Ginger,
    I would like to make a little watercolor plein air kit using sculpey clay to make the paint wells. Do you know if the sculpey will react with the watercolor paint in it? I put it in the wells & let it dry. Then I use a damp brush to get paint as I need it.
    Thank you

  9. What should i do about nail marks? I have long nails and always leave marks in clay bit really dont want to cut them

    1. I think it’s just a matter of practice. I do get a fingernail ding once in a while, but they’re really rare now. For one thing, I seldom handle the clay with my fingertips. I use the flat pads of my fingers. And when I sculpt or shape the clay, I use tools for sculpting, not my fingers. It does take time to learn a new way to handle the clay, but taking care to pay attention to how you’re working will pay over time.

    1. Model Magic is indeed an air dry clay. However, doesn’t matter what kind of clay you’re using on your project, either it’s air dry or polymer, I wouldn’t suggest using clear nail polish to seal them. In the long run the project will become sticky, especially when being exposed to heat (sun, hot temperature, etc.).

  10. Ginger,
    Your number 9 simple clay tip might help me with my sea anemone “fingers.”
    I’m going to roll up aluminum foil very thin and put a length into each finger so
    that they don’t just flop over. But I think an octopus’ legs might need something
    thicker. Would steel wire be as okay in the oven as aluminum? Pete

  11. Binky Melnik

    Hey, Ginge:

    I had an epiphany about nail polish on polymer this afternoon while at the beauty supply store: while looking at nail polish, I noticed that one said it was an acrylic polish and safe for artificial nails. Lightbulb! I’ll bet it’s polishes like those which work on clay, as opposed to the standard enamel. That’s prolly why you come across the rare fimoteuse who says she successfully uses nail polish on clay: she’s using an acrylic polish and not an enamel.

    I usta wear artificial nails yet never twigged to this in spite of the fact that I searched out acrylic polish to wear with eh. I guess my old brain jettisoned that info when I started wearing my nails naturally, without tips.

    It’s still a bad idea (nail polish doesn’t wear well), especially considering there are sooo many better alternatives, but I thought I’d float this idea past you to try to explain why a rare few successfully use polish.

  12. Robin Pasternak-Seggelke

    I read, above, that nail polish is a no-no on poly clay. What about acrylic paint. I have noticed that it stayes sticky even when thoroughly dry on my cardboard creations. Will it stay sticky on fired poly clay?
    Thank you.

    1. Most acrylic paints work well on polymer clay, but once in a while one will remain sticky. This is why it’s always a good idea to test them. If you get a sticky one, just choose another paint.

  13. Surprised how few people know you can put Super Sculpy in hot water to bake it, and get great results with NO chance of scorch/burn marks.

    1. That’s because it’s not a suitable curing method. You are correct, there’s no chance of burn marks. But temperature of water can never exceed 212°F (100°C), even in a 500 degree oven. (It’s a fact of physics…water has to have a state change before it can increase to that temperature…it must turn to steam.) And that is not a high enough temperature to properly cure polymer clay. It might look hard, but you’ll find the clay is not fully fused and will be very brittle.

  14. Have you ever heard of unbaked polymer clay getting moldy? I had started a sculpture and placed it in a plastic container to store it (and keep it from getting dusty) – then life happened, and by the time I got back to it (several months later), it had mold growing on it. I’ve searched the web but have been unable to find ANYTHING on this – is it still safe, and what’s the best way to clean it off (and prevent it from happening in the future)?

    1. Yes, I have. It will happen if the clay is kept moist and without fresh air. If it’s just a couple of spots, I’d just scrape it off and not worry about it. But if the whole thing is covered, please take care of your health and do as little as you can to disturb it…it must be thrown away. Remember that mold spores in your lungs can cause pretty nasty illness. In the future, store your in-progress polymer clay sculptures lightly covered and not tightly sealed. In general, it’s better to go ahead and bake a partially completed sculpture than to store it. You can always add more clay and keep going later.

  15. Hi sorry im probably going to ask a stupid question but, I wanted to make faux floral glass bead out of polymer clay. I was wondering could I place organic flowers (dried) onto a made bead backing (polymerclay uncured) and place a thin layer of translucent clay on top (not making contact with dried flowers) and bake it? Or would it cause toxic chemical fumes?

    Thank you

    1. There are no stupid questions! There will be no toxic fumes. You can embed dried flowers in polymer clay…people do that all the time with flowers from funeral arrangements and weddings. To place the flower on the surface, I’d use liquid Kato Polyclay to “decoupage” it onto the base clay. Should work nicely.

  16. hello, can you tell me how to keep the clay clean whist sculpting, I always end up having to scrape dust and fibres off the faces gently with a scalpel knife whilst sculpting, it drives me insane, even when they are baked I can still see tiny dirt on it, so annoying……
    thank you.
    Sharon

    1. Oh that is always the most frustrating bit isn’t it! There are two parts to this. One, preventing the lint, and I discuss that here. The other is removing the lint before baking. You can often removing it by using a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover, or medical spirits. After baking, the only thing that removes it is sanding (very fine grit) or using 100% acetone on a Q-tip. But be careful on the last one as it also dissolves the clay and can obliterate fine details. Good luck!

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  18. For how long (is there a maximum duration of hours or days?) can I let my polymer clay creations stay at room temperature before I cure/bake them? I’m making several pieces and I want to bake them at the same time to save time and electricity. Also, Can i bake several pieces on the same tray side by side?

    thanks

    1. Yes, you can save up your pieces on a tray and bake them all at once. I do that all the time. There’s not really a limit to how long they can stay. Just know that if they sit a few days you might find them hard to work on again if you need to change them…the clay might “settle” a bit and become less easily blended. You might find your piece will crack rather than “move”. But if you’re done with them, they can stay on the tray indefinitely. Just make sure they’re covered to keep dust and lint off them (and in my house…fur). And make sure you don’t have them sitting on paper, which will leach out the oils. Also be aware that a soft clay might get a shiny, flat spot on the bottom from where it conformed to the tray.

  19. Hi Ginger,

    My name is George–Not Georgia,,Not Georgina, and Not Georgie.

    Am I the only male in your group of polymer subscribers?

    I have great admiration for the work you are doing. You have opened new window for me to explore.

    Thanks, George

    1. Hi George,

      No, you’re not the only male around here. While the polymer community does tend to be overwhelmingly female, men are a valued part of the group as well. Feel free to speak up and join in. We’re glad to have you here! And thank you for the kind words. Polymer is a great world to explore for sure!

  20. Hi Ginger, this is an amazing site, so helpful and inspiring!

    My question is about molds (apologize if you have answered elsewhere). I am wondering what materials can be used in the oven along with the clay that will release the clay easily. Will metal and glass work, or do you need to coat things with cornstarch or some other medium?

    I have been making little round boxes using a plastic toy ball that happened to roll under the kitchen table to shape the clay around, but even with cornstarch, pulling the uncured clay off without damaging the designs has been agonizing.

    1. Metal and glass can both be used in the oven to shape polymer clay, yes. Clay sticks pretty tightly to smooth things, but you can often pop it off after baking by sliding a blade or spatula under the edge and breaking the seal. You could also use foil between the ball and the clay. Also, two part silicone mold putty is non-stick. It could be formed into a ball shape and then used as a form.

  21. Great article. You’re right it felt good to nod and say ‘I knew that’ but I still learned quite a bit. Especially the Sharpie tip.
    I wonder, Is Saran Wrap ok for clay? I use it to wrap canes and never thought to question this before

  22. i ran my clay thru the pasta machine with the paper, didn’t see any bubbles whatsoever, worked on my pieces, baked, and now i see large bumps on the pieces – the are ruined (i spent lots of time added pearl ex prior to baking. i don’t know what to do other than trying to bake them with something heavy on top but i’m not sure what to use that won’t wreck the pieces and will fit in my toaster oven…any ideas??
    thanks so much!

    1. Unfortunately, this is pretty common. Sometimes gases dissolved inside the clay itself will form bubbles during baking. We call those “the bumpies” or “pimples”. So frustrating! The only solution I know of is to bake the clay upside down (the the gases rise to the back not front), but that can affect the texture of the surface. Some brands do this more than others. Premo is notorious. On the other hand, if they’re big bubbles, could it be because you laid it down directly on a ceramic tile to bake and the bubbles are between the clay and the tile? Next time, put paper between the clay and the tile. That allows air to escape. As for your finished piece, you could weight it down with a ceramic tile (depending on the shape of the piece) and bake it again, leaving the tile on it until fully cooled. But make sure you put down paper first so you don’t get shiny spots.

      1. thanks for the suggestions. i will try both – upside down, and adding a tile on top and see which one works for me – hopefully one does! it’s so disappointing!

    2. What I do when I want to make sure something stays flat is to bake it sandwiched inbetween two tiles. I put paper on the bottom tile, lay my item on it, lay paper over the item, then another tile, flat side down. Then bake, adding some extra minutes to give the tile time to get up to temp. After baking I remove my item as soon as possible from the paper, so it doesn’t stick, but put the sandwich back together and let cool.

  23. Hi;
    I’ve been searching all over the internet to see if Sculpey (original) finished pieces could be painted with oil paint. You touched on it here as a toss up depending on solvents in the paint, but since I don’t know what those solvents would be, I’ll ask:
    If a piece is coated with gesso (the waterbased acylic used to prime painting surfaces) could oil paint then be safely used? Thanks!

    1. Hi Kenni, if you’re talking about regular artist’s oil paints in the tube then yes they can be used on polymer clay. There’s no need to undercoat with gesso. But I wouldn’t use oil based paint that comes in a can because there are so many other chemicals involved (and they vary from brand to brand) that it’s a bit of a roulette whether it will work or not. This being said, most of the time when people use oil paints on polymer they’re doing sort of a glazed effect, rather than a heavy opaque treatment. You’re using Sculpey Original, which is white, so that tells me you might be looking for more solid color coverage. For that I would suggest an acrylic paint.

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