The Dream Machine is the first polymer clay roller designed by a polymer clay artist with our specific needs in mind. This is not a re-labelling of a pasta machine! I bought the Dream Machine because my old Atlas had begun to have too many ripples and I had heard from so many people who said this machine truly was a dream. My experience hasn’t exactly matched up with that. Here’s my review of the Dream Machine. This is the fifth in my series of polymer clay machine reviews.
- Pasta Machine Problems
- Cheap Pasta Machines (Makins, Amaco, and Sculpey)
- Atlas and the Modified Atlas
- The Dream Machine (this article)
- LC Machine
- Summary – What’s the Best Pasta Machine for Polymer Clay?
Overview of the Dream Machine
The Dream Machine is a polymer clay roller designed by Polymer Clay Express at Artway Studio. Rob and Wilma Yost are the owners of the company and they designed the Dream Machine to meet the needs of polymer clay artists frustrated with the limitations of pasta machines in conditioning, sheeting, and mixing polymer clay. The Yosts developed the specifications for the machine and then contracted with Albion Engineering in the US to make the them. Albion apparently outsources the machine’s construction, as mine arrived with a sticker indicating that it was made in Taiwan. The Dream Machine sells in batches when demand is sufficient, and sells for USD$345.
The Dream Machine is a solidly built, heavy machine that has no sharp edges or rough areas. The base of the machine is a single piece of cast steel that’s been coated with a black enamel. You’ll see the company name and number etched into the coating on the base. There are holes in the base of the Dream Machine so you can bolt it to a workbench if you’d like.
The base has four rubber feet that keep the machine from sliding around on your work table.
Along the front and the back of the machine are thin tie rods that hold the machine together. These tie rods are not covered with fenders. On the front tie rod there are removable plastic width adjusters that can slide back and forth on the tie rod. The clearance under the rollers is a mere 1 3/4″ (45 mm). The base of the Dream Machine is 13 1/2″ (343 mm) wide by 4 3/4″ (121 mm) deep. You do need to allow room to the right of the machine for a motor or clearance to use the crank handle.
The rollers are made with a very smooth stainless steel. The throat of the machine is 10 1/8″ (257 mm), but the rollers themselves are only 9 1/2″ (241 mm) long due to exposed washers at the ends.
The Dream Machine’s scraper blades are flexible steel with a dark coating. They are not tapered at the edge and have a pebbled surface. The blade fits onto a metal bar. This assembly is then installed under the Dream Machine rollers by mounting it onto another mounting bar. The blade and mounting bars are held in place by three hex nuts. The front and back blade assemblies are very similar. A major selling point for the Dream Machine is that you can remove the blades for cleaning.
Wide rollers mean that there’s nothing to keep your polymer clay sheet from expanding widthwise. Width limiting features are very useful. The Dream Machine includes two width limiters made of a strong plastic and fitted to the front tie rod. They’re held in place by a thumbscrews that are tightened down. On earlier versions of the Dream Machine, these limiters were permanently attached and could only be moved side to side. Now they can be removed completely.
Thickness Adjusting Knob
Just like pasta machines, with the Dream Machine you can adjust the distance between the rollers, and thus the thickness of your polymer clay sheet by using an adjustment knob on the left side. There are 10 thickness settings (1 through 10) and they’re changed by pulling out and turning the knob. The numbers are very clearly marked on the knob and there is a marking on the side of the machine to indicate which setting is being used. The knob has knurled ridges on it, making it easy to grab.
Again, just like all other clay conditioning and rolling machines, You can use a crank handle to turn the rollers. The handle is heavy-duty and strong, and slots into a hole in the side of the machine. You can use the Dream Machine from either side, so it is perfect for lefties. The crank is steel and has a black plastic handle.
What Comes in the Box
The Dream Machine arrives nestled in a box and packaged in closed cell foam. Aside from the Dream Machine itself, you also receive the crank handle, a manual that I consider incomplete, and a small wrench. There is no clamp included. It’s simple enough to use a C-clamp from the hardware store. This also means that you can accommodate tabletops of any thickness.
Dream Machine Accessories Available
The Dream Machine does not come with a motor, but you can buy one for USD$475. A motor is nice, of course, and it allows the machine to be used without clamping. Therefore, you can use it anywhere on the table or workbench. There is also a sheet feeder available for USD$22.50. Because the Dream Machine has such low clearance under the rollers, Polymer Clay Express now offers a Dream Machine Elevator that raises your machine another 4 inches (100 mm). You can get the elevator for USD$49.50. You can also buy replacement scraper blades and retainer nuts.
Using the Dream Machine
Seeing the “specs” of equipment on paper doesn’t always tell the full story. It’s much more helpful to get a user’s view of how it actually performs.
Cleaning the Blades
Unlike an Atlas pasta machine or craft store polymer clay machine, you can remove the blades of the Dream Machine for cleaning. But they don’t come out easily. The instructions in the manual are aren’t very clear and difficult to read. The included small wrench isn’t very effective for removing the hex nuts as directed in the manual. Try using a socket wrench for a much easier experience. Nancy Ulrich shows how to do thes in under two minutes in this video. But for me, it still takes about 10 minutes. Unlike the “Monafied” Atlas, you can’t leave the machine in place. You have to unclamp it and turn it over. This makes it impractical to clean the blades between each color.
Something in the machine scrapes the face of the sheet of clay as it goes through the machine. This causes it to collect a lot of clay that later falls out onto the following color. It’s not possible to quick-clean the blades by using a baby wipe to reach under the rollers and wipe off the blades as many users do with their Atlas. There is just not enough clearance between the blade assemblies and you can’t get your finger in there.
Sheeting Polymer Clay
I was unable to consistently get a nice smooth sheet of clay thinner than a #8 setting with the Dream Machine. This correlates to #3 setting on my Atlas Wellness. Even using stiffer clay such as Kato, I can’t reliably get thin, smooth sheets. The sheets don’t chatter, rather they have wide ripples. I also see scraping of the face of the sheet of clay at all thicknesses. The clearance under the machine (unless you buy the optional elevator accessory) is tight enough that the nuts of the blade assembly scrape against the sheet as you remove it from underneath the rollers.
You can make sheets of polymer clay up to 9 1/2″ (241 mm) wide, and the Dream Machine is strong enough to handle that much clay. The thickest setting is #1 at 0.109″ (2.8 mm) and the thinnest is #10 at .032″ (0.81 mm). This is roughly equivalent to settings #0 to #5 on an Atlas Wellness. This means that it’s not possible to make sheets with the Dream Machine as thin as you can with the Atlas.
Perhaps because the rollers are so wide, polymer clay sheets are not uniform in thickness from left to right. The gap between the rollers on the left side is about 0.3mm thicker than on the right side.
Ease of Use
This is a solid, heavy, tough machine. It can handle as much polymer clay as you throw at it, and it shows no signs of twisting, torquing, or distorting from using stiff clay. Just as with pasta machines, there is no gear advantage, so cranking through stiff clay will give your arm a workout.
I find the thickness dial to be uncomfortable to turn. It has a sharp edge on the machine side and it is somehow awkward to pull out and turn. The indicator mark is on the side of the machine and can’t be seen from the front of the machine. (Try putting a mark on the top of the machine to help you choose a thickness.)
The width limiters are really nice. They’re really great for keeping a skinner blend narrow. Since the Dream Machine is so wide, some people use these width limiters as markers to separate the rollers into three areas. This allows you to use one for black, one for white, and one for colors (or translucent).
Problems with the Dream Machine
When I first received my Dream Machine, it was defective. There were pits in the rollers, the crank handle was so tight that it I could drag the table around by cranking the handle of the empty machine, the adjustment knob was very difficult to turn, and there was the poor sheeting discussed above. At Rob’s request, I sent the machine back to Albion for assessment. After a couple of weeks, I received a replacement machine from Rob. While the stiff cranking and adjustment knob was resolved (more on that in a minute), the poor sheeting remained.
In the meantime, clayers around the world had heard that my machine had issues and they contacted me asking for information. There were many phone conversations with Rob and even with Ken Becker from Albion as I tried to help them get to the bottom of the problem with these machines. Eventually, I received a third machine. I am still unhappy with it but after discussion with other Dream Machine owners, the poor rolling appears to be normal behavior and not a defect.
Solving the Problems
As it turned out, there was a problem with the third production run and many of the machines were made with the back tie rod too short. This caused the roller mechanism to bind causing the cranking to be quite difficult. You can see the solution clearly in pictures, shared by Bettina Welker, where a washer is added to the back tie rod to add space. Polymer Clay Express and Albion learned of the solution, and began retro-fitting the machines as they were sent out. You can tell if your machine has the fix by whether or not there is a washer on the right side of the back tie rod.
When writing a review it is customary to mention something about the customer service. I have to be frank and say that my experience was terrible, and left a lot to be desired – both in the ordering and fulfillment process. When I and others encountered problems with our machines it became apparent when we exchanged details of our experiences online that we were each being given a different story as to what the problems were.
The experience left a bad taste in my mouth and it’s taken me nearly a year and a half to write about this machine without using expletives. Retailers need to remember that how they treat their customers is central to the customer’s experience, and therefore to repeat sales.
If you are unhappy with your Dream Machine, the company does offer a three year warranty. Rob and Wilma assure me that you can have your machine repaired or replaced for free, with free return shipping.
A lot of polymer clayers have the Dream Machine and love it. Please don’t be offended by my unhappy experiences if you love your Dream Machine! I wish I could join you in loving mine. It could be that the early machines are different from the machine I have. Also, your satisfaction with this machine will vary based on what you need it to do.
If you condition large amounts of stiff clay at a time and need wide, thick sheets, then a Dream Machine is going to make you very happy and I do recommend it. If you need a machine that is easy to clean and can make smooth, thin sheets, then I don’t recommend this machine. The Dream Machine is an expensive steamroller, not a finely finessed all-purpose polymer clay machine. It is so close to being a great machine, and it does some things much better than other rollers on the market. But at the same time it lacks basic functionality that cheap pasta machines have at a fraction of the price.
Ordering a Dream Machine
The Dream Machine is not a stock item. When you place your pre-orders you pay 50% of the machine’s price. Once sufficient orders have been received it takes around four-five months for the machines to be built and delivered.
When they’re shipped to the customer, the outstanding 50% is charged. Polymer Clay Express usually orders a few extra, too, in addition to the ones that were pre-ordered. They are currently taking pre-orders for the fourth production run of the Dream Machine. You can learn more on their website.