Using Ceramic Tiles with Polymer Clay

In any workshop with any art or craft there are always those objects which we rely on so heavily that we don’t even realize that they’re an indispensable tool. In my studio, that would most certainly be the lowly ceramic tile. I have a dozen of them and I use them for every single project I make. Every one! Here are some of the ways I used ceramic tiles with polymer clay.

Why use ceramic tiles with your polymer clay?

  • Ceramic tiles make an excellent, durable work surface.
  • Because clay sticks to shiny surfaces, it’s great for keeping your clay stable while you work on it.
  • Ceramic tiles can go directly to the oven, with the project on it.
  • They make great palettes for paint or messy materials because they clean so easily
  • Tiles can also be left in the oven to lend it some heat stability. (Read here for more info on baking polymer clay.)
  • Ceramic tiles are available cheaply from any home improvement store.

Using Ceramic Tiles with Polymer Clay in the Studio

What is so great about a ceramic tile in the artist’s studio or craft room? Well I’ll tell you! Here’s how I use mine:

Work Surface

I use a ceramic tile on top of my table when I’m working with polymer clay. I roll out snakes and sheets of clay on it. I lay down clay and the tile has just enough “grab” so that my clay doesn’t scoot out from under my tools when I’m working with it. The surface is completely smooth and doesn’t transfer a texture to my polymer clay piece. The hard tile cannot be damaged by my cutters or knife. And I can easily use a long flat blade to lift up a sheet of polymer clay without damage because the blade slides against the smooth tile and under the clay.

Chopping up clay for faux stone techniques becomes easy. And best of all, I can make a real big mess with paint or alcohol ink without ruining my work surface. Try that with Formica or a wooden surface! (You should see the top of my work desk…yikes. I’m messy.)

And when you work with polymer clay, there is always the concern that the plasticizers in the clay will leach into the surface you’re working on, or leach out of the clay making it dry and crumbly. This isn’t a worry for ceramic tile. It’s completely impervious and I can leave clay on it indefinitely without harm.

Use a ceramic tile as a work surface when working with messy paints or ink. by www.TheBlueBottleTree.com
When working with messy paints or alcohol ink, ceramic tiles make a stain-proof surface that is easy to clean up.

Carrying Tray

Unbaked polymer clay is soft and that means you run the risk of making marks or distortions when you move it from place to place. I like that I can create my clay object right on the ceramic tile and then transfer the tile to the oven.

I can also set aside one phase of a project while I work on another phase. I just pick up the tile and put it aside. I commonly have tiles with bits of clay on them sitting on bookshelves in my studio. Sometimes an idea will need to “incubate” for a while. This way I can clear my desk easily to work on something else.

Baking Surface

Yes, you can bake your polymer clay items directly on a ceramic tile. It’s the ultimate table-to-oven tool! You can set the tile directly on the oven rack or you can set the tile inside of a covered pan and put the whole thing in the oven. Because the surface of the tile is shiny, I use a plain sheet of white copy paper to prevent shiny spots where the clay touches the tile. Yes, you can put paper in the oven. Even at 325°F (163°C) the paper does not burn.

Using ceramic tiles with polymer clay inside of a baking pan to keep it from burning during baking. www.thebluebottletree.com
Use a ceramic tile inside baking pans to keep polymer clay from scorching during baking.

Heat Management

A ceramic tile can be placed in the bottom of a toaster oven to help keep the heat even. Because the tile itself holds heat and releases it steadily, it helps your toaster oven to maintain a more consistent temperature.

I always bake polymer clay on a ceramic tile, covered, for the same reason. It helps hold the temperature steady as the heating element cycles on and off.

Ceramic tile is also heat resistant for the times when you need to use a heat gun for embossing, flash curing liquid polymer clay, or partially curing the surface of clay to be used in crackle techniques.

Palette

When using acrylic paint, I just squeeze a little puddle onto a ceramic tile. I can paint directly from there. It also works great when I need to mix colors. Once the paint dries, it’s super easy to scrape it off with a razor blade. I find this to be a better option than using paper plates or a sheet of plastic or aluminum foil. And as often as I use paint, I really can’t afford artist’s disposable palette paper, either!

Use a ceramic tile as a palette which can be scraped clean with a razor blade. www.TheBlueBottleTree.com
You can use a ceramic tile as a palette which easily scrapes clean with a razor blade.

Smooth Surface

The same property that causes shiny spots when baking polymer clay can also be used to an advantage. For some polymer clay techniques, it’s preferable to use a smooth surface, such as glass, so that the clay will adhere to the tile for better handling. I use this property in making the small circles in my Graduated Colors Tutorial. Sculptors often “stick” their wad of clay to the work surface so that it stays in one place.

Or you can use the smooth surface to give a  glossy surface to your clay after baking.  You can make window clings by drizzling liquid polymer clay onto a ceramic tile and baking it directly on the tile. Ceramic has all the benefits of glass for this purpose, but is much more durable.

Use a ceramic tile to give polymer clay a smooth surface. As seen in the Graduated Colors Tutorial by www.TheBlueBottleTree.com
Use a ceramic tile to give polymer clay a smooth surface. As seen in the Graduated Colors Tutorial.

Working with Resin

Resin can be a messy, frustrating material. It’s imperative that your piece is completely flat so that your resin cures flat. Ceramic tile is great for this. And when I make the inevitable spills and drips, it’s easy to remove cured resin from ceramic tile with a scraper blade. But perhaps the best feature is that I can easily pick up the tile and move my resin-filled items to a new, dust free location while they cure, leaving my desk free for another project.

What Kind of Ceramic Tile Do I Need?

Your ceramic tile must be glazed with a glossy, smooth glaze. Textured tiles will not work. Nor will unglazed tile such as quarry tile or terra cotta. The tiles sold for use in shower walls work well. These types of tiles are also used in restaurant kitchen walls and in industry clean rooms.

Ceramic tiles come in a variety of sizes. I use both 8 x 10″ (20 x 25cm) tiles and 6 x 6″ (15 x 15cm) tiles. Make sure you pick white or cream tiles, also. That gives you a clean visual surface on which to work. You want them big enough to work on, though, so the most common 4 x 4″ (10 x 10cm) ones aren’t really big enough.

Ceramic tiles can be used in the craft room or art studio. www.TheBlueBottleTree.com
Choose smooth, light colored ceramic tiles to use in the art studio or craft room.

Where Can I Get Them?

Your local hardware or building supply store will have ceramic tiles for sale, usually able to be purchased individually for less than a dollar each. My favorite place, though, is to get them at our local Habit for Humanity ReStore center. It’s like a thrift store for building supplies, and a great resource for crafters and homeowners alike.

How to Take Care of Them?

You can clean ceramic tiles by scraping residue off of them with a razor blade or scraper blade. For more thorough cleaning, I like to use isopropyl alcohol (Rubbing alcohol to those in the US). You could even put your tiles through the dishwasher without harm. I keep my tiles stacked in a desk drawer, so I always have one on hand when I need to move things aside as my desk gets crowded.

This article on Ceramic Tiles in the arts and crafts studio is the third in the Indispensable Tools Series. Have you been using ceramic tiles with polymer clay or other crafts?

31 thoughts on “Using Ceramic Tiles with Polymer Clay”

  1. I have a ton of matte ceramic tiles left over from a bathroom renovation. I’m pretty sure they’re coated ’cause they’re the floor type tiles, but I’m not sure if these would work since you said they need to have a glossy surface?

    1. A glossy surface is really helpful when you are sticking your piece to the work surface to keep it from moving around. But it’s not necessary. The matte tiles will still work nicely.

  2. I have just started working with clay so this was a extremely helpful artical. So I Mentioned to my husband that I could use some tile and tempered glass for my clay projects and he brought me home a case of 12 x 12 and 6.6 white tile and a huge sheet of the tempered glass don’t think I’ll need that much but it was helpful. My husband is a superintendent and has access to lots of this and always thinks I need more of something then I could ever use

  3. Hi! I am just starting with polymer clay and have been using all your advice, it is a fantastic resource, so thank you so much.

    I was given a huge box of tiles at the hardware store, plain white squares, which I am delighted with for working on. Then I had a thought – I have a liquid clay, which I am going to colour to use as a paint. BUT – could I use the tile and paint on to that, and bake it, to sell as a pot stand? It’s the Christmas sale coming up, and that would make a great addition to my art and my polymer clay pieces. I have so many tiles and I can see potential, if it would work?

    1. What a great idea! I think it might work in the short term. But liquid clay might stick to the pot which is set onto it. Also, water can cause the liquid clay to lift from the glossy ceramic tile. Go ahead and experiment with it. The idea has some possibilities. Go for it!

  4. I noticed you used the binder clips to clamp together the aluminum pans. Great idea! I’m guessing they are totally safe and won’t melt? Will the plastic on them warp or give off plastic fumes?

  5. Just wondering if I decorate a tile with polymer clay and bake it, will it stay, or later need adhesive, if so what kind? I have already baked it, it seems to be stuck on…but will it stay? Thanks

    1. The polymer will stick to the glossy tile sort of the same way a suction cup sticks to glass. It will hold for a while, but it’s not a very secure bond. Many people people prefer to pop the polymer off the tile and then add a strong, flexible glue like Weldbond or a gel superglue like Loctite Gel Control.

  6. kathayiskrzyckikl

    if it says for one hour at 250 and it didn’t harden (cure) all the way because it is a thick piece can I put it back in without ruining it and cure it more. I use a tile would it be better if I use aluminum pans?

    1. You need to make sure what the temperature actually is in your oven. 250 is not hot enough for anything but Fimo. And depending on your oven and the size of the tile, it may take quite a long time to get back up to temperature after putting it into the oven. I leave the ceramic tile in the oven and then bake in a covered metal pan.

      If they’re not cured enough, you can put them back in the oven for the TOTAL time. Two 30 min sessions do not equal an hour.

  7. Hi Ginger 🙂
    I love using the tiles for working with as you say the clay clings to the tile which is great for working on fine details withing designs 🙂 but I have now added smaller tiles to my set as they are fantastic when working on minititurs for my garden displays that I have been designing.
    I have found that a 1″ tile is great for working on bunny rabbits 🙂 or birds nests 🙂 I was lucky to recive my 1″ tiles from my next door neighbour who found them in the garden when she was sifting her dirt to remove all stones over the size of a quarter inch 🙂 and she found a dozen 1″ tiles and as she knows I love to recycle almost anything she asked if I would like them 🙂
    Now I am looking for some 2″ ones as I can now work on my designs no matter what it is I am working on and I nolonger have the problem of fingerprints on my work.
    For my work surface I was lucky to find a glass sheet at the tip from an old oven which means it’s safe to use because it’s been heat treated to increase the glass strength. The same goes for old microwaves too.
    All glass used for stoves, microwaves and yep the new stovetops are all heat treated to increase their streangth so they are great to roll clay out on and the glass from the small oven door is the perfect size for my work top 🙂
    So keep an eye out for anyone throwing out an old oven or microwave and ask them if you can take just take the door apart for the glass 🙂
    It will need a blooming good clean around the outer edges but oven cleaner the foam kind is great to get it all nice and clean 🙂

    Well better run the oven has gone ding so stage one of my miniature is ready for stage two 🙂
    Have fun 🙂 and I hope I have help someone with my tip 🙂

  8. Thanks for the tip, I bought some at our local home improvement store and it worked VERY well! That plus an acrylic roller and I cannot believe the difference in my polymer clay crafting experience 😀

  9. A definite staple in my clay studio. I use the 12×12 as my main work surface. Like Ginger said, It’s quick to move out of the way. I may have to stop working on something to fill an order. i just slide the tile in a small garbage bag, put on the shelf and get out another work surface. When i’m ready to go back and finish the first project, my work surface is already set up to get right back to work, I just need to pull it out of the bag and put it in place. I also use the 6×6 and 8×10. Aside from my work surface I probably use the 4×4 ones the most. They’re great for baking the small things like the clipboards on my Nurse and Xray tech fig’s. And they’re perfect when I make color chips. It also comes in handy when I start making a small figurine. Putting the small fig on the 4×4 and then on my 12×12 work surface is like having my fig on a turn table. I can spin it around however I need to and even pick it up for close up work if needed.

    When it comes to inexpensive ‘must have’ tools I would have to say for me, the ceramic tile is as important as my cutting blade and my needle tool.

    I too am guilty of having multiple work tiles in bags on shelves. I had to go out and buy more 12×12’s because all of mine were up on shelves. And I have a lot! Lol. Thankfully they are very inexpensive.

    1. See! I knew I wasn’t the only one! Aren’t they great? And I’m like you, I need more of the silly things because I’m always using them up. The turntable idea is brilliant, thank you SO much for bringing it up. It’s so simple, but effective.

  10. Hi, I love your idea of storing projects on tiles on a bookcase shelf to have room on the table for another project!!
    I used tiles today for a flat surface to apply resin to some palm tree pins after reading your post above.
    Is there a trick to getting the excess resin off the tiles?? Does it bake off? Thank you, Sophia in S.F.

    1. Ah, another ceramic tile convert! I swear I go through them like candy. No matter how many I have it’s never enough because there are always so many sitting around with half-done things on them. It’s a great surface to use with resin. Just wait until the spilled resin is cured completely (the next day usually) and then you can just pop them off with a razor blade. I’m not sure if you can bake resin (I think you can but I can’t remember off hand), but it doesn’t bake off. To clean uncured resin off the tiles, just wipe with a paper towel and then wipe with alcohol and fresh paper towels until the tile is shiny clean.

  11. GB, you write so well, I read this even though I can’t imagine needing this info. Thanks.
    “The tiles sold for use in shower walls [and] work well”

    1. Oh Ron, flattery will get you everywhere. And you’d be amazed when you might need a ceramic tile. It’s like a towel. Obviously. And the typo…all fixed. Thanks!

  12. Ginger, I use ceramic tiles for all the reasons you cite, and also to press clay: when I’m concerned about air bubbles, I’ll cure a piece sandwiched between two tiles to get a nice, flat piece. I also sometimes press clay into rubber stamps (or vice versa) using tiles when I’ve become frustrated using a brayer and can’t get the pattern even. And finally, when a piece comes out of the oven kinda uneven, I’ll put it on my work surface while it’s hot and weigh it down with a couple tiles to flat it and make it straight.

    IOW, tiles make good weights. 🙂

    BTW, your new photo is just lovely!

    1. Great idea, Binky. I’ve done the same thing after curing, to flatten them out when they’re a bit wonky. But curing between tiles works for you? The one time I thought I would be so smart and try that, I didn’t get a complete cure. I’ve not revisited it, though. Might have been a fluke. And thank you about the photo. My beloved husband took that for me last week.

        1. One of the things I plan on doing soon is a comparison of cure temps, times, strength, and browning, and see if I can come up with the optimum for each brand. The recommended times on the packages are nowhere near sufficient, that’s for sure.

  13. Great tip! I’ve been using clay tiles to create and bake items and love them. I’ve also used them for mixing paints. But the great tip is putting one in the bottom of a toaster oven to keep heat even! Also using an aluminum pan to cover piece when baking – I’ve been using tented aluminum foil, but pan would be so much easier! Thanks!

    1. Yes, aluminum pans are great. I have two sizes. And you can get the really deep ones if you work with tall pieces like sculptures. And I close them with binder clips. I like that the pan cools almost immediately, too, so I can carry it into the studio with bare hands. Because otherwise all the pot holders were accumulating in the studio, LOL.

  14. I like to use 12″x12″ plain white tiles — they’re big enough to lay out broad sheets of clay. Then I use smaller ones for “paint pallets” and other things like you’ve mentioned. My ceramic tiles are the first tool into the case when I travel with clay supplies. Another indispensable tool you mentioned is the aluminum roasting pan. I love those, not only for putting the tiles in to bake, but also just for covering works in progress. It’s vital to keep the raw work covered in my house, because of the cat hair… a pair of tiny tipped, delicate tweezers is important to help control that, too! 🙂

    1. I have four cats, two of whom are Maine Coons. A dog-owning friend was stunned to find out that yes, cat fur becomes airborne and will settle on everything. Never reverse direction on your ceiling fan or it all comes wafting down!! I do cover resin while it cures, but you’re right, I should probably think about covering clay, too.

  15. Yarned Together

    Awesome topic & thank you! I bought some clay a while back (I’ve never used it before.) and was looking for what surfaces to use it on, as I didn’t want to use my tabletop!

    1. I’m so glad the information is helpful. I’m still learning things every day that seem rather small but make a huge difference in the way I work. Another good work surface is a sheet of tempered glass if you can find one.

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