With the launch of the new Cernit Metallic colors (see the review here), there’s been a renewed interest in metallic polymer clay colors themselves. What are they, what can you do with them, and which are the best brands of metallic polymer clay? I bought all the metallic colors that are currently offered by the main polymer clay manufacturers and put them through their paces. Here’s what I found out.
What is Metallic Polymer Clay?
Metallic polymer clay doesn’t have metal in it. Instead, mica powder provides the metallic color. Yes, they use the same wonderfully shimmery powder that makes up Pearl Ex and eyeshadow. Instead of colored pigments, mica powder colors the metallic polymer clay. Metal-colored mica powders make metallic colors, and “pretty” colored mica powders make pearl colors. For a metallic (or pearl) color to have the best sparkle, the base clay needs to be quite translucent. Otherwise, the opaque color pigment would cover up the sparkle of the mica. While it’s possible to create a metallic or pearl color entirely with mica powder as the colorant, some colors in some brands do also contain pigments to create a color beyond that of the mica.
(An aside here…pigments are used to make regularly colored polymer clay, like red or blue. Mica is used to create pearl and metallic colors. Mica and pigment powders are not the same thing. More about that here.)
Metallic Clay is not Glitter Clay
While metallic polymer clay can have quite a bit of sparkle, it is not the same thing as glitter clay. Glitter is made from bits of plastic that are punched from a sheet of polyester film. Glitter is — well — glittery! It has an entirely different character than metallic clay.
Brands of Metallic Polymer Clay
Most brands of polymer clay have metallic colors in their line. One notable exception to this is Souffle by Sculpey. Souffle has an opaque base which would make metallic (and translucent) colors impossible. Likewise, Fimo Professional doesn’t have metallic polymer clay colors, but they do have metallics in their Fimo Effect line.
The working characteristics of each brand of metallic polymer clay correspond more to the brand than they do to the color. So all Premo behaves similarly rather than all gold colors. I would expect that. But I was surprised at how much the colors of one brand different from another. I’ll go through each brand below. In each photo, I compared a plain baked circle with a raw disk on top, against a baked (and unsanded) mica shift disk. (What is mica shift? Learn about it here.)
Made by Sculpey and packaged just the same as any other color of Premo, the Premo Accents line contains all the glitter, metallic, pearl, and translucent versions of their Premo line. The metallic colors behave just like the rest of the Premo colors. (Which means they’re mostly soft, but sometimes I get a hard batch.) Premo metallic is brilliantly metallic, with a dense saturation of mica, creating a brightly metallic appearance.
It’s my guess that the Premo colors contain two sizes of mica in each color. I say this because the appearance of the clay itself is quite sparkly and twinkly (suggesting large flakes), but when you do a mica shift, a pearlescent swirl effect emerges that makes the designs look shimmery. I don’t think you can see it in the photos, but the antique gold and rose gold colors show it off more than the others. This glittery effect can make the Premo colors a bit garish for more subtle metallic effects.
Premo’s metallic colors are:
- 5519 Bronze
- 5067 Copper
- 5129 Silver
- 5517 Antique Gold
- 5055 18K Gold
- 5303 Gold
These colors were soft, easily handled, and baked with a matte finish like the rest of Sculpey III’s line. I was surprised to find no bronze or copper in the lineup. Like the Premo colors, there appears to be a coarse flake sparkly mica in these colors as well as a more fine flake that makes up the bulk of the color. There’s a distinct color shift between raw and cured for both the gold tones.
Sculpey III’s metallic colors appear a bit like glittery chalk, rather than metal, and the chalky nature makes for a dull mica-shift effect. If you’re going for intense shimmer, this isn’t your brand. I would use these colors mixed in with other colors to add a subtle shimmer to them.
- 1130 Silver
- 380 Buried Treasure
- 1132 Jewelry Gold
- 1086 Gold
Fimo Effect Metallic Colors
I had a lot of trouble finding out which colors that Fimo carries in its metallic line. Some of the colors are obviously pearl colored, and others say they’re metallic and aren’t. I bought everything I could afford and tried to make sense of it.
Fimo Effect is the line that carries the glitter, metallic, and pearl lines of Fimo. I’m not sure if the base clay is Fimo Soft (it’s not soft) or if it’s Fimo Professional. It doesn’t behave like either. The consistency of the clay is both stiff and sticky, and of all the brands I tried, this one stuck to my hands the worst. Fimo’s metallic colors didn’t look very bright in the package, but they turned out to have a beautiful metallic shimmer after baking. Their mica shift was quite good, too. The pearl colors weren’t all shimmery, and the Pearl Lilac was downright dull. I get the feeling there are some discontinued colors and not-yet-available colors on various websites.
Fimo Effect’s metallic colors are:
- 207 Pearl Rose Gold
- 08 Metallic Mother of Pearl
- 27 Metallic Copper
- 81 Metallic Silver
- 11 Metallic Gold
Kato Polyclay was developed with the philosophy that artists need strong, simple colors to mix their palettes. So the metallic colors here are very basic, with only copper, silver, and gold. You can create other colors by combining. For example, mix a touch of black with gold, and you have antique gold. Add Kato’s pearl color to the copper to get a rose gold color.
Kato is quite a stiff clay that can be hard to work with, and the metallics are no different. I found them to be very typically “Kato-like.” There isn’t a bright glitter effect with the Kato metallics. Instead, there’s a strong light/dark differential from the face of the mica to the side which means that it gives incredible mica shift images with a uniformly metal color. The baked finish of Kato is slightly shiny. The stiff nature of this clay means it provides very clear mica shift illusions. You can learn more about mica shift here.
Cernit Glamour used to be the line that had all the pearl and metallic colors. But they’ve made some changes in the line in the past couple of years. Now Cernit Glamour has pearl colors with a very fine grain. The metallics have been re-envisioned and are now Cernit Metallics. Then there’s Cernit Shiny, which is a line of brightly colored pearl clay with contrasting color mica flakes.
Because I still had some of the old Cernit Glamour, I included it here so you could see it. It does not have intense mica metallic effect, and the mica shift is quite dull.
Here are the colors of Cernit Glamour shown above:
- 10 White
- 08 Silver
- 50 Gold
- 57 Copper
- 55 Antique Gold
As mentioned in the above section, Cernit has a new line of metallic polymer clay called, appropriately enough, Cernit Metallic. I wrote a full review of Cernit Metallic in a separate article here. Cernit Metallic has 14 colors in its line, but here I’ve pictured the ones that are the most “metal-colored” for comparison. Cernit Metallic is brilliantly colored metallic polymer clay with intense saturation of mica without being glittery. It’s done beautifully in every test I gave it. But I’ll report on that in a separate article.
Of the 14 colors of Cernit Metallic polymer clay, here are the six pictured above:
- 80 Silver
- 58 Bronze
- 55 Antique Gold
- 53 Rich Gold
- 50 Gold
- 59 Bronze
Which Brand is the Best Metallic?
Choosing the best of anything is always hard because it depends very much on personal opinion and what you need for it to do. The usual differences between these clay brands hold true when it comes to handling. Premo acts like Premo. Kato behaves like Kato. So preferences will likely fall along those lines. But these clays don’t look the same at all. It’s quite hard to photograph mica successfully (long story), so I was not able to capture some of the visible differences between colors that are easily seen with the eye.
In general, Cernit Metallic is the most brilliantly and densely saturated in both color and mica. But Premo comes behind it in a close second. Premo and Cernit Metallic compare quite favorably in colors that are similar. Premo also has the best glittery sparkle. Kato has the most dramatic mica shift if you’re going for a crisp image. But Cernit gives the best effect for outright shimmery splendor. See more pictures of Cernit Metallic here.
Comparing in Mokume Gane
I picked four brands with colors that were roughly similar and made (nearly) identical mokume gane stacks. It’s never possible to make them identically, of course. But I tried. Then I cured them on light bulbs to get a dome shape. Then I sanded and buffed to bring up a brilliant shine.
Notice how Cernit has the most brilliant sparkly metallic effect. Kato seems almost flat by comparison. Fimo and Premo, however, both have richly complex light and dark pearlescent shimmery areas.
Handling Metallic Polymer Clay
For the most part, you treat metallic polymer clay just like any other polymer clay. The metallic colors can sometimes be too stiff, but I’ve also had them too soft. I think it’s the age or the batch of the bar that determines that. You do need condition it so that the mica lines are hidden when you need a smooth-appearing face.
Because of the metallic sparkles, metallic clay will get onto your hands and your pasta machine, and you should clean them so you don’t transfer the sparkles to other colors you work with. You’ve heard the joke that glitter is the herpes of the craft world, well, mica is worse. It’s like the common cold. It’s everywhere.
Metallic polymer clay doesn’t contain metal, so you don’t have to worry about it tarnishing or corroding. But you will need to change (or sharpen) your tissue blade often if you do a lot of slicing. Cutting through the mica will dull your blade.
Does it Look Like Metal?
No. I’m just gonna say it. Metallic polymer clay doesn’t look like metal. You can use it to create the impression of metal. We all knew, as children, that you were supposed to use the gold crayon to color the crown in your coloring book, even though it didn’t look like a gold crown, right? Metallic polymer clay is the same way. If you make a treasure chest, you can fill it with little circles of gold metallic polymer and everyone will know it’s supposed to be gold coins. But if you want to go for a realistic metal effect, you’ll have to take another strategy.
Gold and Silver
Pay attention to the color of your gold or silver clay. No gold ring is this orange, and some of those silvers look like my stainless steel fridge.
To make a good metal effect, you’ll have to create the illusion of metal, and that will require surface treatments. Polymer clay isn’t shiny enough to look like real gold or silver, but you can apply a bright treatment on the surface that gives a better metallic effect. Check out my article on 9 Ways to Create a Metal Effect.
Even coating some clay with metal powder gives a more convincing metal effect than pure metallic polymer clay. Here are some examples.
Note how the Pearl-Ex covered Premo is similar to the Cernit Metallic, and the real metal powder looks much more like metal.
To get an excellent metallic effect, try antiquing metallic polymer clay with acrylic paint to give it dimension. If you need to make a distressed, rusty, or aged effect, you can’t go wrong with Christi Friesen’s Swellegant patina paints and stains.
Using Metallic Polymer Clay
As stated earlier, metallic polymer clay can be used to make metal-colored items. But that’s not the best way to use this great type of polymer. Where metallic clay really shines (!!) is when it’s layered in mokume gane, included in millefiori canes, or used to create a mica shift. And the best way to show off these techniques is to make the super shiny. A shiny surface will intensify and brighten the mica particles, making them look otherworldly.
These three mokume gane covered domes are identical, made from the same sheet of clay. The one on the left is smoothed and baked. The center one is sanded and left plain. The one on the right is sanded (identically to #2) and then buffed. As you can see, the buffing brings out the shine! Isn’t that amazing? It only took a few minutes to sand those pieces and buff the one on the right, maybe 10 minutes total.
And if you’re not getting results like that when you sand and buff, you need my Sanding and Buffing eBook. Seriously. Just do it. Your metallic polymer clay (and your fingertips) will thank you. Sand better, not harder.
Sculpey provided a Sculpey Hollow Beadmaker, Harryman Designs provided metal powder, and Linda’s Art Spot was so kind to contact me and offer some clay for me to try once she found out I was working on this article. I had already bought it myself, but I want to give her a huge shout out for offering. Thank you Linda! As always, my opinions come from experience, and I do like to give credit where it’s due.