Mica powder is currently very trendy. And when something becomes so popular, two things happen. First, market innovation brings new products. And second, so much buzz about a product means that misinformation proliferates, making it quite difficult to learn how to effectively use the product. Mica powder has been around for a long time. But in the past few years, as the trends for DIY crafts have really taken off, mica powder is suddenly “a thing”. You can use mica powder with resin, soap, makeup, nail arts, painting, paper arts, and much more. But since I write this website about polymer clay, that’s what I’m going to focus on here.
What is Mica Powder?
Mica is a shiny mineral that’s mined from the earth. If you’ve ever found a sparkly rock, there’s a good chance that it contains mica, especially if it can be peeled apart in thin sheets. This mica is ground into tiny flakes and colored to make sparkly powder. Originally all mica came from the ground, but nowadays there is also synthetic mica that is made from ultra-thin sheets of lab-created glass-like mineral. Even though mica powder is pearlescent, it is not made from crushed pearls or oyster shells. It is also not made from metal or plastic and should not be confused with glitter. Mica powder comes in a variety of flake sizes and the larger the particle size, the more sparkly it is. Very large flakes of mica can very much appear like glitter but are irregular in shape, not punched out of a plastic sheet the way glitter is.
Mica flakes are coated with metal oxides and/or pigments to give them color. This means that you can buy mica powders in a huge array of sparkly, shimmery colors. Mica powders are not, however, the same thing as pigments. Contrary to the confusion that poorly worded online listings have caused, mica powder and pigments are not the same things. You can read my article here to readily see the difference and why that matters when using them with polymer clay.
Because mica powders reflect the light, the flakes can be coated in such a way to make the light bounce back in multiple colors. This makes duo, interference, and color-shifting mica powders. (For comprehensive coverage of this topic, plus info about pigments, metal powders, and dye powders, check out my Guide to Using Powders on Polymer Clay.)
Mica Powder and Polymer Clay
Mica powders are added to polymer clay to make your favorite pearl and metallic colors. You can also buy mica powders and apply them to the surface of your project. Since raw polymer clay is naturally slightly sticky, mica powders stick readily to the surface. Mica powders will not stick to the surface of baked clay, so you’ll need to mix them with your favorite varnish or clearcoat to make a “paint”.
On raw polymer clay, mica powders can be applied with a finger and smoothed (burnished) flat to enhance their shine. Or they can be applied more precisely with a soft, dry paintbrush. For even more precise application, try wetting your brush. Clean your brush as usual, with soap and water.
There is a huge variety of polymer clay techniques that use mica powders to add shine or sparkle in a controlled manner. You could apply them through a silkscreen. Or you could apply the mica powder to a texture sheet or stamp that is then pressed into a sheet of raw polymer clay. I’m particularly fond of using them in crackle effects, which are covered extensively in my Crackle Compendium exploration guide.
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.
Sealing Mica Powders on Polymer Clay
Mica powders applied to raw polymer clay stick very well and do not need to be sealed unless they will be handled. Thick applications of the powder can lie on the surface and make you assume it’s brushing off. No, this is excess mica powder that is not attached. Clear coats will, however, give additional protection and even enhance the brilliance of the sparkle. Be very careful using a gloss spray varnish. Most are not compatible with polymer clay and will never dry, ruining your project. Instead, use a very light-bodied sealer such as Swellegant Sealer or Final Coat. I also like Pledge Floor Care (known by many names including Future and Johnson’s Klear). You can learn more about these clearcoats in my articles on sealers here, here, and here.
Is Mica Powder Safe?
Mica powder is non-toxic. It does not cause cancer. It does not contain asbestos and does not cause lung fibrosis with casual exposure. You do not need to wear a mask while applying mica powders to a project. This is the same material that is in eye shadow, blush, and face powder, after all. But please remember that you should never breathe any particles (of anything) if you can help it. Take care to minimize the amount that “floofs” up, and if you’re going to make a big cloud or if you are repackaging them, (or work with them occupationally), you should wear an N95 mask.
Pigments, mica, and powders are magical
Don’t be intimidated by those little jars and packets of colorful powders. Learn to use them effectively in your projects.
Mica Powder Translucency
There’s one more thing I should mention about mica powders, and that’s translucency. Some of them have high coverage and you cannot see the color of the polymer clay underneath. Others are very sheer and have poor coverage. Sheer colors will look very different on a light base than they do on a dark one. In addition, duo and interference colors show up VERY different on a dark vs a light base. Because I got frustrated knowing which jar of Pearl Ex to grab, made a color chart with all 54 colors, and hung it on my wall. I have made the file available for download (for free) here so you can get it printed and have one, too. The page also has an interactive Pearl Ex comparison tool so you can pick the colors you’d like to see side-by-side.
Where to Buy Mica Powders
Well-known craft product manufacturers such as Ranger and Jacquard have their own dedicated lines of quality mica powders that come in a huge range of colors. Ranger makes a powder called Perfect Pearls and Jacquard makes a line of mica powders called Pearl Ex.
Perfect Pearls contains gum arabic so that you can wet it to make a paint. But the gum arabic causes the Perfect Pearls to be gritty and can make it hard to smooth the powder onto raw polymer clay neatly. Contrary to a (very) popular misunderstanding, Perfect Pearls do not contain a “resin” that allows them to bond better during baking. All mica powder bonds well to polymer clay during baking. Gum arabic does not enhance this effect.
Because of the grittiness in Perfect Pearls, I prefer using Jacquard Pearl Ex with polymer clay. In addition, Pearl Ex has many more colors in its range, including duo and interference colors (54 in total). On July 1, 2020, Jacquard released 5 new colors of Pearl Ex. You can read about them and see them being used here.
Buying Mica Powders Online
Because mica powders are wildly popular at the moment, and because it’s easy to buy them in bulk from China, there are thousands upon thousands of small businesses selling mica powders. They’re often packaged in sets of colors sold in tiny baggies or vials. These sets are a great way to get a large number of colors cheaply. Be aware, however, that if you need a specific color for an ongoing project, the colors are not usually labelled accurately or become unavailable. (I have several colors of nail powders that I can’t get more of, much to my dismay.)
In addition, mica powders are often sold as “pigment, dye, mica powder” or other such words in the listing title. This “keyword stuffing” is misleading and it also means that you aren’t going to be sure if you’re getting pigments, mica powders, or mixtures. (They won’t be dyes, btw. Dyes are very different.)
In addition to the named colors of Perfect Pearls and Jacquard, you can also buy mica powders from cosmetic suppliers. I like Brambleberry because they give a lot of information about each one, making your choice easy (or harder due to the choices)!
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