One of the most common (and tragic) disasters that new polymer clay crafters have is when they use a spray varnish to coat their polymer clay project. It will nearly always remain tacky, the spray varnish never completely drying. I’ve tested many brands of spray varnish for polymer clay over the years, and only one has been durable, un-sticky, and smooth. PYM II has been the gold standard spray varnish for polymer clay and has been recommended heartily for years and years. It’s a fantastic product that I highly recommend. But it’s not the only spray varnish that will work. I’ve done some preliminary testing, and I can now heartily recommend Helmar Crystal Kote Matte Spray Varnish for polymer clay.
Dani Rapinett from The Whimsical Bead is an Australian polymer clay retailer. After many years of trying to import PYM II, she finally gave up and tried to find a product that was available locally. She recruited her student Laura Yodgee to test a variety of Australian spray varnishes to see how they worked on polymer clay. Because I’d written about spray varnishes for polymer clay previously, both Dani and Laura contacted me to see if I would also put one of their favorites through its paces. You can read Laura’s excellent description of how this and the other varnishes worked on the various brands of clay that she tested.
Why Aren’t Spray Varnishes Available Everywhere?
Spray paints and varnishes contain chemicals that require them to be shipping in special transportation categories. Because of this, you can’t send spray varnishes and paints by air. This also means that sellers in different countries can’t import these sprays without dealing with formidable import regulations. The process is often unmanageable, if not impossible, and can be very expensive. If a specific company has a distributor, they handle the importation process. But if there is no distributor in a country, that product is often wholly unavailable. This is why PYM II has been nearly impossible to source outside the US. (Note, PYM II is available in the EU because Marja of Happy Things has gone through this process to bring it to her customers.)
Because of this, I knew that I’d be unable to order Helmar spray varnish from Australia. On a whim, though, I thought I’d see if it was available in the US. Imagine my shock to find that there is a US distributor (Helmar USA) and I was able to order this spray varnish from Amazon. (Note: people are currently reporting a bad batch with bad spray nozzles from Amazon.)
Helmar Spray Varnish for Polymer Clay
Helmar Spray Varnish comes in gloss, matte, and a fixative. I bought and tested the gloss and matte versions. Having done tests on polymer clay varnishes and sealers before, I had test tiles on hand of five brands of polymer clay. I immediately got busy testing these sprays to see how well they performed on polymer clay.
Helmar Crystal Kote Gloss varnish wasn’t very shiny, but it did give a semi-gloss finish quite similar to that of PYM II. It produced a lovely finish on all brands of clay but did remain a tiny bit sticky on Fimo Professional polymer clay.
Helmar Crystal Kote Matte varnish, however, was a dream come true. This spray was invisible on my test tiles. There was no stickiness on any brand of polymer clay. I was unable to scratch it off. Even after five months, there is still no stickiness on any of the test tiles. This is excellent news! Finally, we have an alternative to PYM II spray varnish for polymer clay!
Helmar Matte on Mica Powder
Helmar Crystal Kote Matte was invisible on my test tiles, so I wondered if it was doing anything. So I made little shapes with six brands of polymer clay, dusted them with mica powder, then baked them. After baking, I coated them with three moderately heavy coats of Helmar Matte spray varnish. Not only was this also invisible on the mica powder, but it also worked beautifully to seal and protect the surface. No mica powder came off on my hands when I rubbed the pieces with my fingers. I was sparkle-free!
Helmar Matte vs. PYM II
So, which is better, Helmar Matte or PYM II spray varnish for polymer clay? Well, I think they’re both excellent products for our uses. If you already have PYM II and are perfectly happy with it, then there’s no reason to go out and buy some Helmar Matte. But if you’ve been eager for a spray varnish for polymer clay that is completely matte with no shine, then Helmar Crystal Kote Matte is for you.
I’ve not worked with Helmar as much as I have PYM II, of course. Time will tell if I like it better to seal alcohol inks or paints or anything else. But for the time being, I heartily recommend this spray varnish for polymer clay.
Where to Buy Helmar Crystal Kote Matte
If you’re in Australia, Helmar Crystal Kote will be available from The Whimsical Bead very soon. In the US, I was able to pick it up from Amazon. You can also order it directly from the distributor, Helmar USA. (Note: Amazon’s supply seems to have trouble with defective spray nozzles at the moment.) It’s available at full-service art shops in New Zealand, too.
There doesn’t seem to be a distributor for Helmar Matte Varnish in Europe, so I can’t recommend a source for my readers there. If anyone outside the US or Australia can buy this product locally, please comment below or send me an email and I’ll update the information here.