Mica shift is a polymer clay technique where you create a ghost image in metallic or pearl clay. Perfectly smooth, a well-executed mica shift effect fools the eye and intrigues viewers. Mica shift looks like the design is raised or depressed into the surface, but it’s an illusion. It is perfectly flat. If you sand and buff the item after baking, you can get a perfect glassy mica shift you will love.
What’s the Secret of Mica Shift?
Mica is a natural or synthetic mineral powder made of tiny, flat flakes that shimmer in the light. You know mica as “fairy dust” or the shimmery pearlescent powder that is in eyeshadow, pearl or metal colored plastics, and the sparkles in nail polish. When these flakes are randomly oriented, the light reflects off them irregularly, giving a sparkle effect. If the flakes are aligned to be flat, they reflect the light all in one direction, and the item looks shiny.
(Want to know more about metallics? Read my article about metallic polymer clay here.)
When you roll metallic or pearl colored polymer clay in a particular way, the mica flakes lay flat, making the clay appear bright and shiny. If you then press a design into the clay with a stamp, the mica particles in the clay move to follow the contours of the stamp. If you then cut off the raised design, the remaining clay will show the ghost image of the design you pressed into the clay. This is called mica shift.
What Makes a Good Mica Shift Effect?
To create a good mica shift effect, you’ll need a clay that is pearlescent or metallic. Look for a brand and color of polymer clay that has a lot of sparkle. You’ll also want a brand of clay that is stiff enough to take a good impression and will slice cleanly with a blade without smearing.
You’ll also want a clay that has a significant difference in color between the face and the side of the mica flakes. This color differential will give a high contrast between the base and the shifted areas of your mica shift project.
What’s the Best Polymer Clay for Mica Shift?
While any polymer clay that contains mica particles will work for the mica shift technique, not all brands perform the same. It’s best to use a brand of polymer clay that is richly metallic or pearlescent and densely saturated with mica. Not all pearl or metallic colors will have a rich saturation of mica pigment. (For more info comparing these metallic brands check out the companion article here.)
Brand new on the market, Cernit Metallic is an excellent polymer clay for creating the mica shift technique. Its richly saturated and intensely shimmery mica makes it one of the best choices for creating mica shift. It has great colors, lots of sparkle, and a large differential between the dark and light states. Cernit metallic is a show-stopper in its brilliance, especially in the gold colors.
Cernit Shiny also works nicely for the mica shift technique, but it isn’t quite as dramatic. The older Cernit Glamour metallic colors (now discontinued) aren’t impressive for mica shift. Make sure to get the newer Cernit Metallic. Read my comprehensive review on Cernit Metallic here.
The metallic colors of Premo Accents make great mica shift. Not only do they have great sparkle and clear resolution of the stamped image, they also have a luminous or shimmery effect in the mica shift. This is likely due to having multiple sized mica flakes in each color.
Sculpey III doesn’t make a very good mica shift with its metallic colors. While you can create a mica shift, the soft nature of this polymer clay means that the ghost image of the mica shift can be indistinct and smeary. There is also low contrast between the dark and light areas.
The metallic colors of Fimo Effect also create an excellent mica shift effect. They have clean, clear ghost images and have a good contrast between dark and light. They don’t have as much sparkle, however. Some of the Pearl colors in the Fimo Effects line don’t work very well for mica shift. They don’t have enough mica in them.
Kato Polyclay makes incredibly contrasting mica shift effects. The light and dark differential is huge, but for some reason, there is little sparkle in the final mica shift piece.
Shrinkage in Mica Shift Designs
For some reason, in some colors of Premo, Fimo Effect and Kato Polyclay, the depressed areas of mica shift will shrink during curing, leaving a surface that’s not perfectly smooth. This needs to be sanded down to get a perfectly flat surface once again. The first time this happened, I thought I’d been careless. But it happens regularly, but not consistently. It’s a mystery! I wanted to mention it so you wouldn’t think you were nuts if it happened to you.
Get this Mica Shift Tutorial
There are lots of tutorials out there for making mica shift in polymer clay. A quick google will give you plenty of them. But there are some basic misconceptions when it comes to mica shift. For example, you don’t need to make a thick stack, and there isn’t just one way to fold the sheet before putting it into the pasta machine. I have a FREE Mica Shift Tutorial that you’ll find in the class catalog/shop.