In the world of polymer clay, we’ve long “borrowed” art materials and tools from other crafts and activities. From pasta machines to floor scrapers, from oil paints to varnish, we are always looking for new ways to use the materials we encounter. In recent years, nail art has become very popular and I guess it’s no surprise that the specialized materials and tools used in nail art often have a lot of use in the art of polymer clay. Here are some of my favorite nail products that can be used with polymer clay.
Nail powders are normally used by smoothing onto partially cured UV nail polish. There are many types of nail powders, made from mica powder, synthetic mica, glitter, or metal oxide-coated flakes. These powders also stick to unbaked polymer clay, allowing many decorative options.
Want to explore nail powders in more depth? These fun-filled materials are the focus of a month-long Discovery Challenge in Blue Bottle Insiders. There’s also a long-form article that goes into detail about the various types of nail powders and how they might be used with polymer clay. If this sounds like your kind of thing, please join Blue Bottle Insiders and get started!
NOTE: Dipping powders are very popular right now. They are colored or sparkly powders that also contain acrylic powders. You use them on your nails by coating with a special liquid and then dipping your finger into the powder. Because this powder contains acrylic, you should not bake it. Do not bake dipping powders!
UV Nail Polish
UV Nail Polish (also known as gel polish) cures by using a UV lamp, which is sometimes known as a “nail dryer”. It’s not really drying anything. It is curing the UV resin that makes up gel nail polish. This brush-on coating is the same material as the UV resin that we use in our crafts. This brush-on coating can be used as a glossy top coat for polymer clay. Just brush it onto your baked polymer clay item, allow to self-level, then cure with a UV light or nail dryer light. Go here to read more about using resin on polymer clay.
Just like fingernails, polymer clay can be shaped by using abrasives. Nail files, emery boards, and nail blocks can be used to remove rough edges and large bumps on polymer projects. You can also use electric nail shapers to shape baked polymer clay. Coarse abrasives remove clay but leave behind white scratches that need to be removed. Use progressively finer abrasives to remove scratches and leave a smooth finish. Nail tools can’t give you a super glassy finish, though. For this, you’ll need ultra-fine sandpaper and buffing tools. If you want to get a glassy finish with sanding and buffing, don’t miss my much-loved ebook/course on the subject.
The above video shows what’s possible when you sand and buff polymer clay. Nail tools won’t get you that effect, however. For that, you’ll need to understand the full process, which you can learn here.
Dotting Tools and Brushes
Dotting tools allow you to apply small dots of nail polish precisely. Sets come with different-sized balls on the end. Also called “ball tools”, you can use these tools to precisely apply paint to polymer clay. This works nicely for eye highlights, “sparkle dots” and more. You can also use these tools to create impressions in your polymer item, making a line of decorative dots. You can use this to disguise seams or press down decorative elements. Dotting tools often come with sculpting tools on the other end. The particular set pictured below is very handy for polymer clayers. I also like this set, which has both dotting tools and nice liner brushes.
While UV nail polish is safe for polymer clay, regular nail polish generally isn’t. The plasticizer in polymer clay can soften nail polish, making it sticky. The brand of polish AND clay matters, making this compatibility highly unpredictable. Never use regular nail polish on polymer clay and don’t recommend it to others. Save them the heartache! Learn better ways to create a glossy clear coat on polymer here.
The little gems and sequins that are sold for use with nail art can sometimes be used with polymer clay. Most often the sequins can be baked with your creations, but unless the gemstones/crystals are glass, they should be added after your project is baked.
Stamping plates are etched metal plates that hold polish that is then transferred to your nail by using a rubber or silicone stamp. There’s no reason that you can’t do this with polymer clay! The difference is that you should always use acrylic or oil paint, and not nail polish. You can also use these textured stamping plates as textures for your polymer clay. I bought these stamping plates recently on Amazon here.
Bottom line, just explore and see what you can find. Be willing to take risks, see these materials in a new light, and perhaps discover something new. Some things will work, some things won’t. But you always have the possibility of making wonderful new discoveries. Enjoy!