While polymer clay doesn’t need to be sealed, there are times that you will want to put a glossy coating on the surface of your baked pieces. This is particularly true when making polymer clay earrings. Resin is often recommended, but more and more people are becoming disillusioned with the frustrations of working with resin. Varnish is another alternative, and Varathane is a favorite choice. But brush strokes are an obstacle with varnish. But recently, I’ve become aware of another varnish that is the best one I’ve tried yet. I have tested it and can now heartily recommend CrystaLac Brite Tone on polymer clay.
What is CrystaLac Brite Tone?
CrystaLac is a small, family-owned company in Tennessee that makes coatings and paints. They developed a water-based, high-solids polyurethane varnish for coating guitars and other wooden stringed musical instruments. I suppose because of the association with musical tones, they called this varnish Brite Tone Instrument Finish. Because Brite Tone has a high percentage of solids (that means less water), it creates a thicker polyurethane coat on things. It is marketed as being self-leveling, it doesn’t yellow, is durable, and can be applied either with a brush or a sprayer. You can also build up several coats, giving you a thick, shiny, flawless coating.
Because of the proliferation of digital cutting machines and the convenience of reusable metal mugs and tumblers, it has become a very popular cottage industry to make and sell decorated tumblers. Using resin or powder coating technologies to coat tumblers can be difficult, so tumbler-makers discovered Brite Tone and have had great success using it. This has put CrystaLac “on the map” and made more people aware of their products. Tumblers are one thing, but can you use CrystaLac Brite Tone on polymer clay?
Polymer Clay is Tricky
Sadly, many varnishes and paints turn sticky when used on polymer clay. In addition to chemical interactions, we have to consider durability and flexibility when evaluating a clearcoat on polymer clay. Since polymer clay is flexible, will flexion cause a brittle coating to crack? Additionally, because polymer clay items are often handled (perhaps as jewelry, figurines, or home decor), the durability of the coating is important.
CrystaLac Brite Tone, Description
This polyurethane varnish comes in a plastic pail, sort of like the one that plumber’s putty or wall spackle comes in. It’s easy to open, but you’ll most likely want to pour some out into a smaller jar and work from that. Unlike Varathane, this liquid is not white. It’s slightly amber-colored and about the same viscosity as heavy cream or coffee creamer. It goes on clear and dries crystal clear. There is no icky smell or strong odor. According to the MSDS, Brite Tone doesn’t have any unusual handling or storage requirements. Use basic common-sense measures when it comes to safety. The website says it has low V.O.C. and is “environmentally friendly.”
CrystaLac Brite Tone on Polymer Clay – Results
I tested CrystaLac Brite Tone on Sculpey Premo, Sculpey Souffle, Sculpey III, Fimo Professional, Kato Polyclay, and CosClay. In all cases, Brite Tone was applied to a baked test tile with a brush. Four coats were used, allowing four or more hours between coatings. I evaluated the pieces after six weeks of sitting on a tray in my home studio (climate controlled). Oh, by the way, I only evaluated the GLOSS version of Brite Tone.
Brite Tone’s Smoothness
Brite Tone applies smoothly without brush strokes, and it does self-level. I noticed that small bubbles popped up (not from trapping them during application), but they popped when I ran a lighter over the surface or blew on the item. Brite Tone dried smoothly with no flaws. It did not, however, camouflage or cover slight surface imperfections from the polymer clay’s surface. Because the surface did have some specks here and there, even four coats of varnish didn’t look exactly like resin. But it was remarkably smooth. The finish was superior in smoothness and shine to that of Varathane, which I tested at the same time. Brite Tone was exceptionally glossy on polymer clay. Please note that many thin coats are far superior to fewer thick coats. Thick coats dry unevenly and do get bubbles.
IMPORTANT: Make sure that you let the Brite Tone dry at least 3-4 hours between coats. If you recoat too soon, you will see tiny bubbles or divots known as “orange peel” effect. Please be patient with this coating!
Is Brite Tone Sticky on Polymer Clay?
In my experience, if a product is going to be sticky on polymer clay, it usually becomes that way within a week or so. It’s been nearly three months, and I see no signs of stickiness on any of the brands of polymer clay that I tested. In fact, the feel of CrystaLac Brite Tone on polymer clay is very pleasing. It has a dry feel to it, not grabby or rubbery the way that some varnishes can be.
Durability of Brite Tone on Polymer Clay
There are many good paints and varnishes out there that fail on polymer clay because they are easily scratched off. CrystaLac Brite Tone adheres well to all of the brands of polymer clay that I tested, with the exception of Kato Polyclay. Brite Tone could be scratched off Kato Polyclay with some effort. Kato is a difficult brand for sealers to adhere to, so this was not surprising. To be honest, I was honestly surprised by how well the Brite Tone performed.
Brite Tone Covering Sticky Paints
I also used Brite Tone to coat sticky paints (for another test I am doing). If the paint was only a tiny bit sticky, Brite Tone was able to cover and stabilize the surface, making it strong and scratch-proof. But if the paint was quite soft and sticky, the Brite Tone was not able to stabilize the soft paint, and it could be scraped off the polymer clay’s surface.
Is CrystaLac Brite Tone UV Protective?
On the label of Brite Tone, it states, “U.V. Protection.” They don’t define this, but I wanted to see how it fared as a coating over alcohol ink that was exposed to the sun. I applied dots of either Piñata or Ranger alcohol inks to tiles of white Premo polymer clay. I then baked one tile. The top of each tile was coated with two coats of CrystaLac Brite Tone on the polymer clay and alcohol inks. Then I put the tiles in the full sun for ten days in July in southern Missouri.
As you can see, all colors of the alcohol ink faded terribly. Brite Tone did not prevent fading of any color of alcohol ink. It did, however, appear to slightly protect some colors, allowing them to fade slightly more slowly than the exposed alcohol ink dots.
I could not see any yellowing of the Brite Tone itself after ten days in the full sun.
Other CrystaLac Varnishes
After I bought Brite Tone from Amazon, I found that CrystaLac also has several other types of varnishes. I bought the Extreme Protection Polyurethane and the Crab Coat Exterior Marine Varnish and tested them for shine, durability, and flexibility on CosClay polymer clay. I specifically chose the Crab Coat because they advertise that it is flexible. Does that make it better for flexible polymer clays such as CosClay?
The Extreme Protection performed nearly identically to the Brite Tone. Both were equally shiny and durable. Neither varnish cracked when flexed. The Crab Coat was not as shiny as the other two varnishes. None of the three CrystaLac varnishes cracked when flexed. Of the three, however, the Brite Tone did introduce some stiffness that made the test tile slightly less easy to bend than the tiles coated with the other two varnishes. I’d be happy using either Brite Tone or Extreme Protection on Polymer Clay.
Recommendation for CrystaLac Brite Tone on Polymer Clay
Buy it. Just buy it. It’s so much superior to any other brush-on varnish that I’ve used. It’s durable and glossy. It has minimal brush strokes (if any), it doesn’t yellow. It doesn’t get sticky. It doesn’t peel off once it’s fully dry. Brite Tone is my new go-to gloss varnish on polymer clay. I will still use resin when that’s the finish that I want. And I will always prefer the perfection of a sanded and buffed finish for bare polymer clay. But if you need to use a brush-on gloss varnish for polymer clay, you cannot do better than CrystaLac Brite Tone. Highly recommended!
Buying Brite Tone
Because Brite Tone is a US product, it’s going to be more easily obtained in the US. You can order directly from CrystaLac or from Amazon. They also have an Amazon Canada store here. The company does appear to do international shipping, but the postage cost will likely be quite high. I don’t see any sign of international distributors for this varnish. You can buy Brite Tone in 8 ounces, 1 pint, 1 quart, 1 gallon, and 5-gallon sizes. It comes in Gloss, Satin, and Matte, but this review only covers the gloss version.
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