Veneers and slabs are decorated sheets of polymer clay. A veneer is used as a decorative cover on other projects (much in the way you use a wood veneer to cover inexpensive, ugly wood). A slab, on the other hand, is a decorated sheet of clay that is cut apart, often using cookie cutters, to make shapes for jewelry. Once you’ve created polymer clay veneer or slab, how can you store it for later use? Here’s what you need to know about storing polymer clay veneers and slabs.
CAN You Store Polymer Clay Sheets?
Some people have great results and have large collections of sheets they store for future use. Others find that the sheets crack apart and are no longer flexible, making them impossible to cut or worked to create a finished project. Why the different opinions?
People will tell you that the sheets have been “leached” or that the clay will be too old, or that the sheet has dried out. Let me assure you, most polymer clay sheets, veneers, and slabs can be stored indefinitely. But there are some things you need to know.
The reason for the variety of opinions is that some clay brands don’t do well stored this way. And the type of storage material can affect the “health” of the stored sheet.
The Clay Brand Matters
Some brands of clay are always soft and don’t need much conditioning. Others become more “settled” over time and need to be conditioned before use. Those brands will crack apart and become crumbly when you first start conditioning them (even though they soften up and become smooth as you condition them). Fimo Professional, Pardo Art Clay, and Sculpey Original are all clays that will crack and crumble when you try to flex a sheet that’s been stored for several months.
Of course, if you could just mix up that clay and condition it again, it would be fine. But in the unconditioned state, those brands crack rather than flex. And if there’s anything imposing a spreading force on the sheet, it will crack apart rather than stretch. (Remember this point, it becomes relevant when choosing a storage system.)
The Thickness Matters
Very thin sheets of clay are fragile. Plain and simple, thicker sheets store better without damage. I always like to back my sheets if they get too thin and this is why. Now that I know better, I seldom store a sheet that is thinner than a #4 on my pasta machine. If I need a sheet to be thicker, I back it with another sheet of clay. But don’t use Fimo Professional, Sculpey Original, or Pardo Art Clay as a backing sheet if you want to store a veneer. Even thick sheets of those clays will crack during long-term storage.
The Storage System Matters
First, you probably already know this, but don’t store polymer clay sheets between sheets of paper. Paper will absorb the oils and plasticizers from the clay, leaving it more fragile and prone to cracking.
But did you know that plastic sheets also absorb plasticizers from the clay sheet? You’ll notice this because the plastic sheet will warp slightly where it’s been in contact with a sheet of polymer clay. This is because the plasticizer swells the plastic sheet just a tiny bit.
Now normally this isn’t enough to matter and it isn’t enough to dry out a sheet of polymer clay. But the swelling of the plastic can exert pressure and stress on the clay sheet. And a thick sheet of plastic, if it swells much, can exert quite a lot of pressure on a clay sheet, spreading it apart. And anytime you have one surface spreading and the other one being brittle…cracks occur. This is why polymer clay sheets, stored in plastic page protectors, will crack apart.
You can use very thin sheets of plastic deli wrap to store veneers and this does work well. But the clay sheets are unsupported and the act of handling them can cause them to crack. In addition, as the deli sheet absorbs the plasticizer, it wrinkles up a bit. And those wrinkles can mar the front of the sheet you are storing.
My Storage System
While this system isn’t perfect, and sometimes I do have sheets that don’t stand up over time, nearly all sheets stored this way are perfectly usable. Yes, stored sheets, veneers, and slabs ARE more fragile and you do have to be careful with them. But they are not wasted and nearly always can be used.
I store each sheet in a photo sleeve. These are clear plastic, made from 2mil thick polypropylene (which is recycle number 5…totally clay safe). They’re a sleeve, only open on one end. But I take a pair of scissors and slit two of the edges. This way, each one opens like a book. I just lay a sheet down carefully, close the sleeve, then “squeegee” it smooth to remove all the air bubbles from both sides. You won’t get all the bubbles out. But removing them also makes the whole thing rigid. So your veneer now is sort of like a “card”.
I’m sure there are other brands, but this is the brand I’ve used and had excellent luck with. I do want to be clear, though, that I’m not talking about using the 3-ring page protectors or the thick plastic pocket pages that go into photo album binders.
I know that lots of people love using 3-ring binders and page protectors. If they’re working for you, then please don’t change. But they didn’t work for me.
These sleeves come in many sizes, but I like to use both the 4×6 size and the 5×7 size because that’s the size that photo boxes come in. Yes, these sleeves fit nicely in photo boxes. And these individual photo boxes can even fit into large boxes and cases. Plus, you can label the boxes and organize your veneers any way you’d like. You can even write on the photo sleeves with a Sharpie permanent marker. This totally sparks joy. Enjoy!
This article is republished from my Crackle Compendium, which is a tutorial and exploration guide taking you through many ways to create a distressed and cracked sheet of clay to be used in your creative polymer clay projects. You can learn more about this informative guide here:
Lined, cracked, distressed
Crackle is a versatile technique that can make a fine web, deep crevices, or even interesting animal skin effects. This guide takes you on an adventure of discovery into the limits of polymer clay’s magic.
How to Use Stored Sheets
After you’ve stored your sheets, how can you use them? First, look at the sheet and see what condition it’s in. Do you see any cracks? If so, that’s your clue that the sheet will need to be treated gently. Without taking clay from the plastic sheet, rub the surface of the plastic, pressing firmly. You don’t want to distort the sheet, but do try to press any cracks together again. This sheet will need to be backed with a sheet of fresh clay. Gently peel the BACK sheet of plastic from the sheet and then place the back side of the clay sheet to a new sheet of clay. Go ahead and cut/use as desired. You may have to be quite gentle.
But in most cases, I find that sheets stored in this way are perfectly usable even after being stored for several years. Just rub the plastic first, which sort of “conditions” the sheet. then peel away the plastic and use the veneer or slab as desired. Have fun!
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