How to buy polymer clay? Well, you go to the store, pick it out, pay for it, and then come home and play with it. Right? Yes, but there are some things to think about, too. Are you getting the best prices? Is the clay good quality and how can you tell? Is it better to buy online or locally? Here are my thoughts on the subject, sort of an insider’s guide for how to buy polymer clay.
Fresh Clay is So Much Nicer
It used to be that polymer clay had an indefinite shelf life. But around 2008, the formulation of many clay brands changed to exclude phthalate plasticizers. And it seems that whatever they’re using nowadays doesn’t give polymer clay quite the shelf life that it used to have. I’ve had some brands and some colors tend to get old and crumbly with time (while others are just fine). I therefore find that it’s important to buy clay that’s reasonably fresh and try to use it within a year or so from the time you buy it.
Polymer clay doesn’t come with an expiration date on it, so many retailers don’t realize that freshness matters. Especially if sales of polymer clay are low in your area, a local store might have clay on its shelves that’s been there for years. How can you know if the clay is too old? The easy way is to give it a squeeze. If the edges of the block don’t mush down with your knuckle, then don’t buy it. It’s too hard and will just drive you nuts to try to soften it.
You can also check the date code. Yes, some brands have a manufacturing date code that gives you a great clue into how old the clay is. Polyform brands of clay (all the Sculpey varieties) have a manufacturing date code on the package. It is stamped in black numbers on the side of the package (Souffle, Premo, Sculpey III) or printed on the back of the box (Sculpey Original and Super Sculpey). It starts with the year, then the month, then date (and likely the hour). So something made today would be 20150130. See how that works? Older Cernit clay had the manufacturing date stamped right on the back label, in standard European date format (day/mo/year). There is a code stamped on the front of Kato blocks, but if it’s a date it’s in some sort of code that I can’t figure out. (Let me know if you know the secret code.)
If You Buy Crumbly Clay
Sometimes you get home and start working with your clay and it’s unworkable. What can you do? First off, some clays are just more crumbly than others and do take a bit of effort to get conditioned. But you should be able to make the crumbs stick to each other. If you take a marble sized ball of crumbs and can’t make them adhere to each other within a few minutes of working with them, then the clay isn’t worth your time. It’s too old. You should take it back to the retailer and find another, more reliable, source of clay.
On the other hand, sometimes clay is only just a bit too hard and while it sticks together, the seams aren’t smoothing out. The solution is to add a bit of clay softener, liquid clay, or even baby oil soften the mass of clay. It’s a big subject and there are lots of ways to do this, so if you want to learn more then check out my article on softening hard polymer clay.
Getting a Good Price When you Buy Polymer Clay
I would love to have enough money that price never mattered. But it does matter. And since we would love to be able to afford more clay (and have more time to play with it), finding the best prices for polymer clay is a must. Here are some ways to find better prices when you buy polymer clay.
I want to say a word here about buying cheap clay. Don’t. There’s no reason that you have to resort to buying store brands of clay. Michaels has Craftsmart and HobbyCraft has ShapeIt! Both are somewhat cheaper, but the quality is just not there. (And some people assume that Sculpey III is cheaper, but it’s not.) This is a false economy. Not only do you waste money on clay that breaks and you won’t use, but you can almost always find better quality brands of clay for those same low prices. The same goes for the cheap deals on multi-pack clay you might find on Ebay or Amazon. You will just be frustrated and your money will be wasted. There is also the issue that generic clay is often manufactured in countries where there aren’t regulations about the toxicity of the materials used. Lead and cadmium are cheap stabilizers and there’s no guarantee they’re not being used in this clay, and phthalates may very well be used as the plasticizer. Name-brand clay is certified to be non-toxic. Don’t run the risk of using clay that has a questionable origin.
If you’re shopping locally, the major craft stores often have coupons and sales that really help to bring down the price you’ll pay for your clay. Subscribe to the mailing lists of your local Michaels, HobbyLobby, DeSerres, or HobbyCraft. This way you can get advance warning of the sales and there are often coupons. I never, ever go to these craft stores without printing off a coupon first. I really don’t know if the craft stores outside the US have sales and coupons like we do here, but it’s certainly worth asking or looking on their website. Store loyalty clubs often have great offers as well.
The large chain craft stores sell their polymer clay at full retail price. For instance, a bar of Premo at my local Michaels is $2.97. But when purchased online, I know of many suppliers who sell this same clay at a lower price all the time. I even know of suppliers who sell Premo at $1.49 per block. Yes, sometimes you have to pay shipping. But if you join a supplier’s mailing list, you’ll be sure to know when they’re running free shipping offers.
A word about shipping. Postage is expensive. And international postage from the US is downright outrageous. There is nothing that the online sellers can do about it as these costs are set by the USPS. If anyone is offering free shipping, they are absorbing the cost. So while you do need to consider the cost of postage in your purchase, please don’t be angry with the sellers who are trying desperately to find the cheapest way to get your purchase to you!
Sometimes you can get together with other clayers to place a large order to take advantage of free shipping offers or special discounts. This is especially helpful if you have to order from another country. Shipping charges are often much less painful when they’re spread among several friends. One popularly suggested retailer, Munro Crafts, offers a 50% discount (on applicable items) for orders over $200. That sounds great, but be aware that their discount is off of retail prices. Unless you’re hitting that $200 point, the price per bar is still well above other online companies. For instance their price of a bar of Premo is $2.97. You would need to order 67 bars to get the price down to $1.49 and you’d still have to pay for shipping. Nothing wrong with that, but do be aware and be a wise shopper.
Should you Buy Polymer Clay Locally or Online?
I notice a tendency for people to assume that everyone else can easily buy clay where they live. It’s actually not true for most of us. It’s fairly easy to buy Fimo if you live in Europe or Premo if you live in the US. But if you want one of the more unusual brands, you’ll have to order online. I buy most of my clay online because I get a better selection, I can shop for a better price, and I can also pick up really wonderful supplies with the same order. Luckily, buying online is quite easy in this modern day of internet and international commerce.
I like to order from sites like Joann.com and DickBlick.com (online, not the stores) when they have special offers and free (or low cost) shipping. They have a large turnover and their clay is always soft and nice. Shipping does tend to take a long time from Joann.com, however.
Buying Polymer Clay from Marketplaces
I know that a lot of people like to order from Ebay. Please know that Ebay, Amazon, and Etsy are just marketplaces and there are many different sellers who sell through them. There’s nothing wrong with them necessarily, but know that all sellers are not equal! You could be buying old stock from someone who has bought out a local craft store. Or perhaps they’re reselling clay they bought online much cheaper. “Buyer Beware” is the mantra here. If you’re buying from Amazon or especially Ebay, do some research on the individual seller. Do they have a website and Facebook page? Are they an established seller with lots of good reviews? If you do choose to shop on one of these marketplaces, do try to find a seller with an established reputation. Buy from a reputable seller, not just “Ebay”.
Buying Polymer Clay from Small Businesses
But I also have a fondness in my heart for the many small businesses around the world who make it their job to supply polymer clay and supplies to you and me. Most of them are very small and the owner is the one doing all the work. These suppliers are very good to know because they will often be able to help with special requests (if they’re not too busy!) and they have hand-picked a range of supplies that’s very different from what you can find in the bigger shops. Many are polymer clay specific in their focus, offering classes, claydays, and gallery space. These retailers are the overworked gems of our community.
My Favorite Small Polymer Clay Suppliers
Here are some really great retailers that you need to get to know. Either I’ve ordered from them myself or have had personal interaction with them where they’ve shown their dedication and willingness to help. These are not the big corporate faces. These business owners are the tried and true heroes. Get on their mailing lists. Communicate with them, tell them when you’ve had great service. Tell others. Leave good reviews. Share them on social media. They depend on you to keep them going. And we do need to keep them in business. They bring us new products, unusual colors and brands, deal with import fees and middle-men, and give us a one-stop shop where we can buy lots of our favorite polymer clay supplies. Here they are by country. I’ll also give an idea of the brands of clay they carry, too.
- Poly Clay Play – Trish Hodgens – Premo and Sculpey, Pardo, Viva Decor supplies, Ranger, (everything, really)
- Munro Crafts – Most clay brands, full retail prices unless you buy in bulk, but then it’s super cheap. Lots of supplies, too.
- Linda’s Art Spot – Linda Prais – Etsy shop that sells Pardo and many wonderful supplies
- Clay Factory -Howard and Marie Segal – Fimo, Cernit, Pearl-Ex, some supplies
- Filigree and More – Sue Sutherland and Ellen Prophater – Fimo, Kato, Pardo, Premo and other supplies (phone orders only)
- Clay Alley – Karen Rhodes – Premo and Sculpey, Cernit, Kato, lots of neat odds and ends
- Shades of Clay – Wendy Orlowski – Kato, Premo, Sculpey, Pardo Trans, CaBezels and lots of supplies
- Polymer Clay Canada – Marie Redmond – Premo, Sculpey, Souffle, Sculpey Tools
- Clayaround – Penny Vingoe – Premo, Kato, Fimo, Pardo, Lucy Tools, and a phenomenal selection of supplies
- EJR Beads – Emma Ralph – Fimo, Cernit, supplies, glass beads
- Happy Things – Marja Novratidis-Bullee – Fimo, Sculpey, Premo, Kato, Pardo, Lucy Tools, PYM II and tons of supplies
- Hobbyrian – Karolina Söderberg – Premo, Fimo, Cernit, a full range of tools, finishes, custom cutters, silkscreens and texture, resin, PYM II and much more
- Poly Studio – Valérie Ronvel-Blaya (Veesuel) – Fimo, Sculpey, Cernit, Pardo, Kato, full range of tools, supplies, and fun stuff
- Craftband.ru – Zhanna Vasileva- Fimo, Sculpey III, Vintaj, Ranger Inks, supplies
- 2Wards Polymer Clay – Suzanne Ward – Kato, Kato tools, Pardo Trans, Lucy Tools, NeverKnead, supplies
- The Whimsical Bead – Dani Rapinett – Premo, Sculpey, jewelry supplies, tools, magazines
- I Love Smart – Pardo, Fimo, Kato, Sculpey, supplies, books, tools, more.
I’m sure there are many more wonderful sellers. But these are the ones that I have personal experience with or have had recommendations from satisfied customers. I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised if you choose to buy from them.
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