Most Polymer Clay Problems are Caused by This One Thing

In the 20 years that I’ve worked with polymer clay, a constant frustration has always been that clay is too hard, crumbly, or difficult to smooth out. I’m used to having to soften my clay to get a smooth sheet. Stickiness was a rarity. But right now, most people are working with clay that’s fresh from the factory. That means new makers are facing a whole host of problems and perhaps getting some pretty poor advice from fellow makers. Here are some tidbits to consider.

A hand squashing a sticky mass of white polymer clay.

Sticking in Cutters – If your clay is sticky, it’s too soft. Also, you should keep your clay stable by laying it on a glossy work surface. Then it won’t stick in the cutters as much. Then you lift the clay with your blade (here’s how). Basic cutter shapes should not require any sort of release (such as water, cornstarch, or leather spray). Even complex cutter shapes should work well if the cutter is made properly and you adhere the clay to the work surface. Here’s a whole article on dealing with sticking in cutters.

Distortion – If you can’t lift your pieces with a blade, your clay is too soft! The same goes if you can’t transfer your pieces to a baking tray without stretching and distorting them.

Pits on the back – Yes, you should bake your pieces on paper. But if the clay is too soft, you will still get bubbles trapped behind the clay. The clay shouldn’t droop onto the paper.

Bubbles – Sticky clay will stick to your pasta machine rollers and pull the sheet apart a bit, causing little blisters that expand in the oven to make “polymer acne”.

How to Solve this Problem?

Freezing your clay can help, but it’s temporary and attracts moisture which causes more problems. Cornstarch can help, but it can leave a white residue and prevent the clay from attaching to itself in later steps.

It’s much better to make sure your clay is the right consistency before you start working. If it’s too soft, leach it! Not sure what leaching is? You can learn about leaching in this article.

And while we’re at it, when new makers are used to too-fresh clay, they later freak out when faced with any stiffness or crumbling in clay. They’re then told to add clay softener or oil which…you guessed it…just makes things sticky again.

Learn to make your clay STIFFER! How stiff should the clay be? It’s a matter of personal preference, of course, and some brands are definitely always going to be softer or firmer than others. But generally, you should not be running into any of the problems you see listed here. Properly prepared polymer clay should hold its shape and never droop with gravity.

Get some paper and start leaching. It will take a bit to get used to the new texture, but you’ll find much less distortion and be able to work more neatly.

Leaching Cernit Metallic polymer clay to make it less soft and goopy.
Leaching Cernit Metallic polymer clay to make it less soft and goopy.

Sand better, not harder

Everyone loves a perfectly smooth, glassy finish, but it seems to be elusive. Does your polymer clay look scratched and rough after sanding? This course will change everything.

5 thoughts on “Most Polymer Clay Problems are Caused by This One Thing”

    1. Not exactly ruin the clay, no. But you can remove too much of the oil and plasticizer so that the clay is dry and crumbly. That’s why you should check after a few minutes and see how it’s going.

  1. Ginger, I’m so glad you addressed this! I know fresh clay will naturally be softer, but I’ve struggled so much with the new batches of premo! Seems like no matter how much I leech it, as soon as I make a pass through my pasta machine, it’s stickier than before I leeched it. I’ve left some sheets leeching for an hour to no avail. Should I leech longer? Change out the paper? I’m at a loss here!

    1. You can leach longer and you can change the paper to sop up more of the oils. But depending on the formula of the particular bar of clay, you might not like the consistency of the result. It just might be that the clay isn’t a consistency that you enjoy working with. I’ve struggled with Premo, myself, and prefer using Cernit for this reason. If you can, set the bar aside and come back to it in six months. Often a clay just needs to age a bit to be much more workable.

  2. Hi Ginger,
    I purchased one of your tutorials and you emailed me to see how I liked it. I haven’t got to practising surface patterns in polymer clay yet but it looks like a lot of fun. I’ve only been working with polymer clay for a year, an obsessive year, and your articles and information have helped me so much. Will get back to you when I’ve made something from your tute. Kate

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