The single most important (and most overlooked) art supply in the clay world is … pigment!
Pigment is the color in acrylic paint, watercolors, crayons, pastels, paint pens, and acrylic inks. Pigments have to be mixed with a binder or vehicle to be applied to surfaces, otherwise they brush right off.
But polymer clay is unique. The surface of unbaked clay is sticky and you can apply pigments to the surface. You can also mix them into clay, into liquid clay, or mix them into varnish that you “paint” onto the clay after baking. If you have pigments on hand, you don’t need to try every art product on the market! Pigments are the magic.
You can buy pigments from art supply houses or suppliers for soapmaking. Polymerweek.com has a lovely line of pigments that work well with polymer clay.
But you can also use pastels. Either in stick or pan form, pastels are just pressed pigment. (Pan Pastels are a fan favorite of polymer people.)
And there’s another source of pigments you may not have thought about. Makeup! Yes, the pans of blush, eye shadow, and foundation are mostly pigment and will usually work well with polymer clay. Look in your makeup drawer!
NOTE: Resin pigments are not generally pigments. They are usually either mica powder or dye drops.
For more info about the difference between pigments and dyes, read this article.
And if you want a deep dive into the world of powders, pigments, and dyes with polymer clay, check out my Powders Guide.