Polymer clay comes in a variety of colors and is used in so many ways, but sooner or later you’ll likely want to create a metallic appearance. Maybe you’ll want to make metallic accents on a sculpture. Or maybe create a metallic bezel or some jhumkas (Indian earrings). Perhaps instead you want to take some ideas from the world of precious metal clay and create some charms or a toggle or even a shawl pin. How would you create a metallic look on polymer clay?
There are many ways to create this metallic look, and I’ll introduce you to some of them here. Each strategy gives a slightly different look and you might want to choose one over another for certain applications. But before you invest in new products, which ones create the most convincing metallic look on polymer clay? Below I’ll show each one, explain how I created the effect, and show pictures of it. Hopefully this will give you a good idea of which approach you want to take.
Before we get there, though, I want to say a word about the colors involved. Nearly every craft material contains a version of gold in its color range. But those golds are seldom the same gold. One might be an antique gold, another a warm gold, yet another a brilliant sparkly gold. Because each of these materials naturally comes in a different color of gold, try not to compare the actual color of the gold. Try to compare things like the coverage, the sparkle value, the texture, and how convincing the metallic effect is. I chose gold for my comparisons, but several of these products come in a variety of metallic colors.
1. Metallic Polymer Clay
Metallic polymer clay is a translucent polymer clay that uses mica powder as its pigment. Many brands of polymer clay carry gold and silver in their range. Pearl clays are also in this category, and in reality metallic clay is just “gold” pearl clay. This is gold Kato polymer clay, completely unfinished. As you can see, the color is quite orangey and not particularly metallic looking. This type of clay itself doesn’t create a very convincing metallic look. It’s a material that’s much better when used in mokume gane effects where the gold colored particles are spread out and catch the light, or when used in the mica shift technique.
2. Rub ‘n Buff
Rub ‘n Buff has been around, and has been used with polymer clay, for many years. It’s a wax-based cream that comes in a little tube. Here I used the color called “Gold Leaf”. Originally designed to create the gold highlights on picture frames, it works great as a highlight on many materials. Just lightly brush it on (I use my finger), let it dry, and buff it to a high sheen. For this test, though, I used my finger to coat a raw sheet of black clay with Rub ‘n Buff. I let it dry a few minutes, then pressed a stamp into the clay. After baking I gave it a light coat of a sealer.
Unlike most of the products in this article, Rub ‘n Buff contains actual metallic particles. This means that it will tarnish and turn green over time. It also means the sparkle is a bit more dull. Rub n’ Buff gave excellent, albeit rather matte, coverage. It didn’t really seem to need a sealer, I just used one to try to make the sparkle come out a bit. It didn’t, really.
3. Gilders Paste
Similar to Rub ‘n Buff in that it’s wax-based and made with metal particles, Gilders Paste comes in a small tin similar to shoe polish. I rubbed this on a sheet of raw clay and then pressed a stamp into it. I varnished it after baking, just to intensify the sparkle.
Gilders Paste doesn’t tend to stick to baked clay very well (it scratches off), so adding it to raw clay is a much better strategy. It stays better when baked on. This is the color called “Inca Gold”. It had a surface that almost looked burnished and I liked the warm glow it had, probably more similar to an old brass. It’s not very sparkly when used like this, but I know it works really well as an antiquing treatment that adds a subtle shimmer. Gilders Paste has a full range of metallic and also non-metallic colors and shades, and thins with turpentine.
By the way, the name of this product really is spelled “Gilders Paste”. There is no “u” and there’s also no apostrophe. Gild, in this case, refers to the word meaning to coat something with gold.
4. Inka Gold
A very different product from the previous two, Inka Gold is a paste made by Viva Decor that is sometimes described as a paint. I seldom use it as one, though. I tend to use it as a highlighting accent. Although it’s wax based like Gilders Paste and Rub ‘n Buff, it is water soluble rather than petroleum based. It’s also mica based and not metal based, so it’s very shimmery, and it comes in a wide range of bright and pastel colors.
I spread the Inka Gold onto a raw sheet of clay and then pressed a stamp into it. I then baked it and sealed it. When spread onto a sheet of raw polymer clay and allowed to dry, Inka Gold can be used as a crackle paint by then running the sheet of clay through the pasta machine. If you look closely in the picture (click to make it bigger), you can see where the Inka Gold crackled a bit from the pressure of pushing the stamp into the clay.
There isn’t very good coverage, but Inka Gold does give a very bright shiny metallic look.
5. Pearl Ex
Pearl Ex is a brand of mica powders that comes in 48 shimmery colors. When brushed onto raw clay, these powders stick immediately and can be burnished to create a very smooth metallic finish. Mica powders consist of minute flat particles of the mineral called mica and they’re responsible for many of the shimmery effects you see in cosmetics and art materials. If the flat particles are all jumbled, the light scatters, making the surface seem dull. But if you can lay the particles down flat, like when happens when you burnish Pearl Ex onto raw polymer, the effect is far more shiny than what was created in the previous methods.
In this sample, I smoothed Aztec Gold Pearl Ex onto a sheet of black clay, then pressed the stamp into it, baked it, then sealed it. The effect was very good with excellent coverage and good reflectivity. It gives a very good metallic look on polymer clay. It does need to be sealed after baking, though.
6. Gold Leaf
True gold metal can be beaten very thin and applied to decorative objects such as paintings and artworks, religious items, building domes, and even the lettering on an old book cover. Real gold is very expensive, so most crafters use a gold-colored aluminum or copper metal leaf instead. I used Mona Lisa brand metal leaf, in the gold color for this sample. First I stamped the raw clay, then I applied the gold leaf with a soft brush, pushing it down into all the nooks and crannies. Metal leaf adheres to raw clay without using an adhesive. After baking, though, I did seal this with Varathane so that the gold leaf wouldn’t be scratched off.
Because this is a real metal sheet, and the unbroken surface area is large, the shine from this sample is certainly the most convincing for a bright metallic look on polymer clay. Metal leaf does not stretch, though, so the sheet cracked and did not adhere deeply into the design. It also rippled a bit during baking, leaving a slightly crazed appearance. While this is a really cool effect, it might not be exactly the kind of metallic look you’re going for.
Like with Inka Gold, you can get really great crackle effects with metal leaf. Because it doesn’t stretch, you can adhere it to a sheet of raw clay and then run it through the pasta machine to create crackles. Metal leaf also works nicely in between the layers of mokume gane.
7. Acrylic Paint
These last two samples were painted with acrylic paints that scored highly in my test of metallic acrylic paints on polymer clay. This sample is Deco Art Dazzling Metallics paint in Glorious Gold. I painted three coats onto pre-stamped, unbaked polymer clay. I did not use a sealer. As you can see, the color is excellent, the coverage good, and the metallic shine effect is wonderful.
This paint comes in many bright colors and is a phenomenal value for the money. It gives very high shine, far greater than what I thought acrylic paints could do. I think it’s even nicer than the much-loved Lumiere paint. I like this treatment the best for creating a metallic look on polymer clay. The effect is great and the ease of use can’t be beat. It cures well on polymer clay, it has a good surface, and it’s easy to apply to any shape or texture. Very versatile.
There are many brands of metallic acrylic paint. Not all acrylic paints will completely dry on polymer clay. Most are just fine, but a few brands will remain slightly sticky or tacky. Always test a new paint with the brand of clay you use to make sure they play nicely together. It’s better to find out problems before you paint a beloved creation.
8. Precious Metal Colors
Made by the German company Viva Decor, the line of Precious Metal Colors is marketed as a varnish and not a paint. I suspect this is a translation issue because this isn’t a varnish as we know it in English. (And in Europe, nail polish is called nail varnish, so it’s a language difference.) It is a brilliantly pigmented paint filled with mica particles. The gold color has quite large particles with extremely bright reflectivity that gives almost a glitter appearance. I’m not sure this gives a metallic look, exactly, because it’s really a bit too sparkly to be gold metal. But it’s sure impressive. It doesn’t give a good coverage on black clay, there’s still some show-through. The other colors of this line of paint have smaller particles, though, and are much less garish.
9. Metal Powders
I didn’t include this in the original test, but metal powders are another way to go here. When applied to unbaked polymer clay (as you’d do with mica powders), metal powders give a rich, luminous, glowing shine. They still won’t look like polished chrome-like metal, but you will have a richer appearance than the above methods. You can buy real metal powders in a variety of metal colors from Harryman Designs.
And if working with powders intrigues you, check out my Guide to Powders. It covers mica powders, metal, dyes, and pigment powders, which are all very different materials, and explains how they work with polymer clay. Check it out here.
What Gives the Best Metallic Look on Polymer Clay?
For the most convincing metallic look on polymer clay, you’ll need to apply something to the surface of the clay to give a metallic color and enough metallic shine. Metallic colored polymer clay, while lovely for other things, won’t give a metallic appearance.
Wax based products that contain real metal flakes, such as Rub ‘n Buff and Gilders Paste are wonderful for creating an old-world or subtle antiqued metallic accent, but not as good for creating the bright shiny look of polished metal. I think they would be nice, though, as accents on the top of metallic clay to give an old world feel.
Inka Gold, like the other wax based products, is better when used as a highlight or accent to create a metallic shimmer on something that’s already metal colored. It’s bright and shiny, almost like a frost.
Acrylic paint, metal leaf, and Precious Metal Colors all give a bright, shiny metallic look on polymer clay. However, they give quite different results, each with a very different character.
Think about the type of metallic look you’re trying to achieve and let that guide your choice for what product to use. Each of these products is a wonderful one to use with polymer clay for a variety of effects. Hopefully this helps you pick the one that gives you the results you want.
I left out one really promising product because I haven’t yet purchased any, and that’s metallic Pan Pastels. I hear that they’re rich and deeply pigmented and they stick to the clay very well without leaving spillover like Pearl Ex can do. I’m hoping to get my hands on some soon.
Here are the products I purchased for these tests.
- Kato Polyclay in Gold
- Kato Polyclay in Black
- Rub ‘n Buff in Gold Leaf
- Gilders Paste in Inca Gold
- Inka Gold in Gold
- Pearl Ex in Aztec Gold
- Mona Lisa Composition Gold Leaf
- Deco Art Dazzling Metallics in Glorious Gold
- Viva Decor Precious Metal Colors in Gold
To seal the Rub ‘n Buff, Gilders Paste, Inka Gold, and Pearl Ex, I used a product called “Final Coat“. I’m experimenting with it right now to see how to holds up and how well it seals mica powders. So far it’s quite promising. I received a sample of it from Wendy Orlowski of Shades of Clay.
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