Oh, the internet. We do love you, but my goodness, it’s easy for bad information to spread like wildfire. I think this comes from newbies feeling pressured to make social media posts before learning to master their craft. Other newbies watch those posts and assume the info is accurate. Next thing you know, we have a whole new crop of misunderstandings and myths. Here are the top polymer clay myths that I’m encountering lately.
Myths About Coatings
MYTH: Varnish is a Resin Substitute
Resin has its issues. There are health concerns. It’s messy. It has a short shelf life. It’s a pain in the butt to use. So many makers are looking for another way to make a smooth, glossy finish on their polymer clay earrings. They learn about Brite Tone or other varnishes and assume that it’s the same thing. Varnish is not the same thing as UV Resin! Resin is a thick pour-on plastic that “fills in” all the bumps and flaws on the surface of your baked clay, leaving a glass-like, smooth finish. Conversely, Varnish creates a super thin coat that conforms to (and even accentuates) all of the surface flaws, specks, fingerprints, and texture of the baked clay. Varnish works well to make a surface glossy, but it does not smooth the surface.
MYTH: Resin is Toxic
I will incur some wrath on this one, but I encourage you to read carefully. UV Resin is not toxic. By that, I mean it’s not poisonous. That’s why many resin suppliers state that their resin is “non-toxic”. It is. All UV and epoxy resin is non-toxic. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe for everyone to use. You see, resin is hypersensitizing, which means that it can cause your immune system to go haywire. In other words, you can get an extreme allergic reaction to resin. And the more you’re exposed to an allergen, the more likely your body will have this reaction. So you should minimize your exposure to UV resin by using gloves, glasses, and even a mask. This is especially true if you use these materials more often than occasional crafting. If you are in production, you should consult the MSDS for all materials you use and follow those safety guidelines for occupational exposure.
By the way, UV-cure nail polish is the same thing. So if you get gel manicures, you are already being exposed. And yes, once you become sensitized to resin, you can’t get gel manicures anymore.
MYTH: Varnish and Paint Must Be Water Based
This is a misunderstanding that won’t seem to die. The idea is that some varnishes and paints never fully dry on polymer clay and become sticky. But it has nothing to do with being water-based. The plasticizers in baked polymer clay will soften some water-based varnishes and paints. This is why testing each new paint or varnish you use is important.
But plenty of oil-based paints and varnishes work just fine. Artists’ oil paints are great, as are oil-based polyurethane varnishes. The drawback with oil-based products is they take a long time to dry and can readily yellow with time. And, of course, always test before using them on a treasured project!
Myths About Baking
MYTH: You Can Bake Resin
Polymer clay bakes at a relatively low temperature, meaning UV resin will not melt or burn when baked at lower clay-curing temps. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good practice. All UV resin will eventually turn yellow. You might have a few years before it yellows, but it will eventually get there. And heating UV resin dramatically shortens the time before the resin turns yellow. You will often find UV Resin turns yellow immediately when you bake it.
MYTH: You Can’t Bake Varnish or Paint
Yes, you can. Polymer clay does not bake at a very high temperature. Certainly not high enough to break down the paint. But baking paint can cause the color to shift, depending on the pigments or dyes used in the paint. It can also cause the paint to bleed into the clay (important when using silkscreens to apply paint). But generally, it won’t hurt anything to bake paint or varnish at clay curing temps.
In fact, it’s often recommended in older clay tutorials. So here’s a bonus myth. Back in the ’90s, fabric painting was a big deal. Before that point, the only high-quality acrylic paints were artists’ paints. But this sudden market for fabric paints meant that the instructions on the bottles said to “heat set” the paint. Well, you needed to do that on fabric, or it would just wash out. But it’s not necessary if you’re not washing fabric. You see, acrylic paint (and varnishes) take several weeks to cure fully. You can make that happen quickly by heat setting or waiting. Heat setting is not necessary.
HOWEVER: Varnish and resin are not the same thing. You should never bake UV resin!
MYTH: Overbaking Makes Clay Brittle
I’ve been writing about this myth for a while, and I think most people understand this one now. But I still see it being spread from time to time. If your baked clay snaps when you flex it, you’re either dealing with a brittle brand of clay (eg. Sculpey III, Sculpey Original) or not baking hot enough and/or long enough. “Overbaking” polymer clay, ie. baking too long or hot, doesn’t make it brittle. The longer you bake it, the stronger it gets (to a point). And while we’re at it, the temperature causes the clay to burn, not baking time. You can bake clay for hours without damage if the temp is correct.
MYTH: Browned Polymer Clay is Unavoidable
You always want to bake your clay in the sweet spot between brittleness and brownness. Some clay brands (especially Fimo) are more susceptible to this color change, and this sweet spot can be hard to find. Light colors such as white and translucent will always show this darkening more readily than dark colors. But the browned clay is most certainly NOT unavoidable. If you find it impossible to bake light colors or translucent without turning brown, then your baking setup needs to be optimized. If you’re short on time, my Baking and Curing Tutorial will help you get there faster.
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MYTH: Plasticizer Bakes Out of Polymer Clay
Polymer clay is made of PVC resin (it’s a powder or paste), plasticizers, pigments, binders, stabilizers, and lubricants. The plasticizer makes the cured clay flexible and durable, rather than brittle and rigid. It’s an essential part of the formula that does not bake out. It remains as part of the cured vinyl. This does make sense. If the plasticizer baked out, the clay would come out smaller than when it went into the oven. We see some shrinkage in some brands (less than 1%). But plasticizer makes up 10-35% of the clay. That would be a lot of shrinkage!
Myths About Polymer Clay
MYTH: Fimo (or Premo or Kato) is the Best Brand
There is no “best” brand of polymer clay. They’re all slightly and subtly different in their handling, their characteristics after baking, how they interact with other materials, the colors in their range, and many more details. For every person who loves one brand, another person will despise the same brand. It comes down to personal preference and what you need the clay to do. You can learn more about different brands in this article. But be aware that there is no best (or worst) brand. They all have their uses.
MYTH: Never Bend Your Baked Clay Pieces
What is it with those videos that show people bending their clay pieces in half? Why do that? Someone in those threads always comments, “Stop doing that! Never bend your clay!” Oh, dear. Yes, bend your clay! You should be able to flex your baked clay pieces without them snapping in two. You need to flex your baked clay samples now and then to ensure your pieces are strong, flexible, and well-cured. But there’s no need to tear your clay apart. That whole bending-in-half thing is unnecessary.
MYTH: Cheap Clay is Bad Clay
What about those weird off-brand clay sets on Amazon or Ali Express? Are they good to use? Well, yes and no. If you have precise needs for your clay and need a predictable, uniform, reliable performance, then buy name-brand clay from a reputable supplier. But if you just want to play around? Go for it! Those no-name sets are “cheap stuff from China” so you need to understand they often have poor quality control standards, minimal (if any) safety testing, and unpredictable performance. But they still (usually) bake up just fine. I don’t recommend you buy those cheap clays (they’re not usually a good bargain if you do the math). But if you are gifted a set, can you use it? Sure. You might find that you don’t like it much. So use it for bead cores, or mix it with better clay.
Other Polymer Clay Myths
MYTH: Use Acetone to Remove Flaws
Acetone is an aggressive, toxic solvent that dissolves baked clay (as well as your manicure). It’s a fantastic way to salvage pieces that have lint baked into them or to remove annoying bubbles that pop up, ruining an otherwise perfect piece. But it’s not a substitute for learning how to work neatly in the first place. Most of the problems that makers fix with acetone are better prevented by cleaning your work area, washing your hands, baking on paper, smoothing edges, and learning to be neater. You can remove lint and small marks BEFORE baking by using rubbing alcohol which is a far less aggressive solvent.
Part of learning how to work with polymer clay is learning to take advantage of all the tools you have. Acetone is definitely one of those tools. But using it willy-nilly instead of learning better skills is a bit like using a floor stripper instead of a broom. Knowledge is a superpower.
MYTH: Add Oil to Soften Hard Clay
Not all hard clay needs to be softened with an added softener. Most of the time, crumbly clay is just not yet fully conditioned.
Even after diligent conditioning, some clay needs a softener added. In that case, don’t add Vaseline, mineral oil, or baby oil. While those oils will work to soften the clay, and adding a tiny bit won’t hurt anything, they’re detrimental in larger amounts. If you add too much oil, the baked clay will look weirdly shiny or even weep oil. It’s far better to use clay softeners. You can use any brand’s softener with any brand of clay.
MYTH: E6000 is a Great Glue
Often recommended by jewelry makers and crafters, E6000 is a glue that’s been around for a long time. It is a good general-purpose glue for bonding rigid things together. But it’s a terrible glue for use on polymer clay. First off, it’s toxic. It also doesn’t cure well on some brands of polymer clay. I’ve had it be gummy and never fully cure. Other times, it goes brittle and allows rigid metal components (such as earrings or brooch backs) to pop right off polymer clay. While it’s always best to embed metal findings into polymer clay (ie. bake them in), there are times when you want to use glue. In that case, use a gel superglue such as Loctite Gel Control.
What polymer clay myths are you encountering? Share them and discuss them in Blue Bottle Insiders.
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