Making sense of Parchment Paper, Plastic Wrap, and Deli Sheets

What's the difference between parchment paper, deli sheets, and waxed paper, and which should you use with polymer clay?It’s commonly suggested to use parchment paper or deli sheets with your polymer clay for a variety of uses. I consistently notice reader confusion on the subject, so I wanted to shed a bit of light on these materials. What is parchment paper, exactly, and how do you use it with polymer clay? What are deli sheets and why do some polymer clay artists love them SO much? And is there anything wrong with using plastic wrap with polymer clay?

End the Confusion over Parchment Paper and Deli Sheets!

  • parchment paper is the paper you use to line baking trays when making cookies or biscuits
  • use it with polymer clay to keep your projects from getting shiny on the back during curing
  • parchment paper is also known as “greaseproof paper” in the UK
  • you don’t need special paper for this; any plain paper works great
  • deli sheets come in a pop-up box and are used to pick up baked goods or deli items in a store
  • paper deli sheets are VERY different from plastic deli sheets
  • plastic deli sheets cannot be baked but have MANY uses with polymer clay
  • any paper will leach (dry out) your polymer clay
  • plastic sheets will not harm your polymer clay
  • waxed paper is something entirely different, it is waxy and cannot be baked
  • some deli sheets are called waxed paper, aren’t waxy, and work for burnishing
  • there’s a ton of confusion here, so read the full text for more clarity

What is Parchment Paper?

It’s commonly recommended to use parchment paper with polymer clay, but when I was new, I have to admit that I didn’t know what parchment paper was. In my mind, I could only think of that blotchy-looking paper they print diplomas on. You know…like the old-fashioned parchment made from sheep’s gut. But that couldn’t be right. So, what was this parchment paper that everyone seemed to be using? I asked at an art store and was sent to the expensive paper section. Um…nope…that didn’t sound right either. But I felt stupid for asking, so I didn’t find the answer for a long time.

Parchment paper is often recommended for use with polymer clay. It doesn't, however, offer much advantage over plain copy paper.
Baking parchment paper is also known as greaseproof paper in the UK.

Come to find out there’s this stuff (that my frugal mother never used when I learned to bake) called baking parchment. It comes in a roll and is used to line baking sheets for baking cookies, biscuits, scones, and other yummy carb-filled goodness. If you’ve never used it before, I recommend it. No more burned cookie bottoms. You buy it at the grocery store near the plastic wrap or sometimes in the baking aisle on the bottom shelf near the flour.

If you’re outside the US, you’re likely nodding your head right now and saying to yourself, “Oh, this is just grease-proof paper.” Yes, indeed. Same stuff. (Why do we have different names for the same stuff? Argh!)

Why Use Parchment Paper with Polymer Clay?

So, how do you use parchment paper with your polymer clay? As with any basic material, there are lots of ways that you can use this stuff. But here are some of the most commonly suggested ones.

Lining Baking Sheets

Polymer clay naturally sticks to all glossy surfaces. So if you bake your polymer clay on a smooth metal baking sheet or a ceramic tile, you’ll get a shiny spot on the back where the clay was stuck to the surface. To prevent this, just lay the clay down on a piece of parchment paper first. No, the paper won’t burn in the oven. And yes, you can use the paper over and over.

Parchment paper is commonly recommended for lining baking sheets. This prevents the back of your piece from getting shiny. You can use plain copy paper or index cards for this, though.
Parchment paper is commonly recommended for lining baking sheets. This prevents the back of your piece from getting shiny. You can use plain copy paper or index cards for this, though.

Non-Stick Work Surface

Many of us use a glass sheet or ceramic tile as a work surface. This is great because the clay sticks to the glossy surface, making it easier to do things to the clay without it moving around. But it also means the clay can be damaged when you lift it from the glass or tile. Especially if you need to work with a super-thin and delicate sheet of polymer clay, it is helpful to lay it down on a piece of parchment paper, so the clay doesn’t stick to anything. You can easily lift it from the paper when you’re ready to use it.

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Burnishing

When you need to close the seam between polymer clay cane slices or smooth together the pieces shaved from mokume gane stacks, it works well to burnish the seams closed. To do this, just lay a piece of parchment paper down on the clay surface and rub back and forth with your finger or a doorknob (keeping the paper in place on the clay). This way you can smooth out the seams without distorting the design in the clay. I wasn’t joking about the doorknob. You can also use an espresso tamper, the back of a spoon, or the top of a candle jar.

Anti-Texture

To disguise fingerprints, it’s helpful to use a uniform texture such as with a coarse sponge or sandpaper. But sometimes you don’t want a visible texture. In this case, pressing parchment paper into the surface of the clay and burnishing will remove fingerprints, leaving the non-texture (or anti-texture) of the paper on the clay. It’s a nifty trick that helps you work more neatly.

Beware! Paper Will Leach Polymer Clay!

The “juice” of polymer clay is plasticizer and oils. Paper is absorbent, so if you leave unbaked polymer clay in contact with any paper, it will absorb the plasticizer and oils. This process is called leaching. Leaching can be a good thing if your clay is too goopy. But be aware that too much leaching will leave your clay dry and prone to crumbling. After baking, over-leached clay can be weaker and more brittle. (It’s the plasticizer in polymer clay that helps it to be strong after baking.)

Paper is great stuff, obviously, but remember that it’s not for long-term contact with your unbaked polymer clay.

Alternatives to Parchment Paper

Do you really need to invest in parchment paper for this? NO! I never, never use parchment paper with my polymer clay. If you’ve read any of my tutorials, you know how often I use plain copy paper for these functions. It’s cheap, it’s available, and it’s easy.

You can also use some other favorite papers, too. Layout Bond, layout paper, or marker paper is a favorite for artists who need to do a lot of burnishing and smoothing together of their polymer clay seams. Melanie Muir recommends this for her students, in fact. Layout paper is great because it’s very smooth and you can see through the paper to a degree so you can see what you’re doing. Freezer paper and butcher paper typically have a plastic coating on one side and therefore can’t be used in the same ways as parchment paper.

Deli paper can also work well for burnishing. Krithika Parthan raves about this type of pop-up paper for its smooth texture and ease of use. I agree…it’s great for burnishing and smoothing. But whenever mention of deli paper comes up, we end up with another one of those confusing questions. What, exactly, are deli papers and deli sheets?

What are Deli Sheets?

When you go to the deli or the bakery, there are these boxes of pop-up sheets that the staff uses to pick up the doughnuts or deli meats, right? Those are deli sheets! (Also called pick-up paper.) But wouldn’t you know it, there are two types of deli sheets. One is made from paper, and the other is made from plastic. But photos of the sheets look very similar, and online listings often don’t tell you which kind you’re buying!

Plastic deli sheets, when you can find them, are indispensable when working with polymer clay. These are like magic!
These plastic deli sheets are so handy with polymer clay that we should call them MAGIC SHEETS!

Paper deli sheets are just like I mentioned above. They’re great for burnishing, baking, anti-texture, and as a non-stick surface. But plastic deli sheets are a whole different thing. Plastic deli sheets are PURE MAGIC. Plastic deli sheets also come in a pop-up box, but they’re made of a thin, slightly frosted, sort of slippery type of plastic. They’re not very stretchy, and the plastic doesn’t stick to itself.

How to Use Deli Sheets with Polymer Clay

Deli sheets are plastic, so you can’t use them to line your baking sheet while curing your clay. But you can use them as a non-stick surface, plus a few more cool tricks. You can re-use plastic deli sheets, by the way, so they’re very economical.

Storing Canes, Sheets, and Misc Polymer Clay

Plastic deli sheets do not react noticeably with polymer clay, so they make an ideal material to keep your clay separated and lint-free. Plastic also does not leach, so you can leave it in contact with your polymer clay indefinitely. Because the plastic doesn’t stick to itself, it’s much easier to handle than plastic wrap. It’s straightforward to cut strips to wrap around your canes, keeping them from sticking together and getting dusty.

It works well to wrap polymer clay canes in strips cut from plastic deli sheets. It keeps the canes from sticking together and getting dusty.
I like to wrap my polymer clay canes in strips cut from plastic deli sheets. This keeps the canes from sticking together and getting dusty.

Burnishing to Remove Seams

You can use paper to burnish seams, but I much prefer using plastic deli sheets for this. Just spread the sheet with your fingers, then press it to the clay surface, being careful to avoid wrinkles. You can now use your fingers to press the clay together without any distortion to the clay’s surface design. Try it; it’s like magic!

Delicate Clay Management

If you have delicate sheets of clay that might get damaged or might stick to other clay, it helps to keep them separate by laying them on sheets of deli plastic. What do you do with a skinner blend sheet when you’re done with it? I set mine on deli plastic. That way I can peel the plastic off the back of the blend without damaging or stretching it. This comes in handy when dealing with very thin sheets.

Lining Your Extruder

Do you hate cleaning the barrel of your extruder? Even the Czextruder requires cleaning between colors. Try cutting a piece of plastic deli sheet to fit around your clay before you put it into the extruder. Make sure there’s no plastic over the end, of course. The extruder will push the clay out, and all that remains is a wadded-up piece of plastic. Just open the extruder, clean the disk, and repeat.

Domed Cutouts

When you use a cookie-cutter to cut a shape of polymer clay, the edges are squared-off, right? To get a nice domed surface, just lay a piece of deli plastic over your clay sheet (removing all wrinkles, of course), then press the cutter straight down. The plastic will stretch, creating a gentle dome shape, making the edges rounded. Try it; it’s fun!

Plastic deli sheets and plastic wrap can both be used to give a rounded edge when using cutters with polymer clay.
Plastic deli sheets and plastic wrap can both be used to give a rounded edge when using cutters with polymer clay.

Where to Buy Plastic Deli Sheets

Because you can’t just go to Walmart or Asda and buy plastic deli sheets, availability always causes some confusion. If you happen to have a kitchen or restaurant supply shop in your area, you can buy these there. Also, because businesses who use them need to buy cases of them, you typically can’t buy single boxes (and one box will last forever). So sometimes guilds go in on a group buy. But you can buy individual boxes on Amazon (US), with free shipping if you have Prime. In the US, especially if you’re ordering other claying supplies, I recommend Poly Clay Play and Linda’s Art Spot.

Outside the US, these don’t seem to be as familiar. Something very similar is sold as interleave sheets (Easy Leave Sheets) to put between frozen foods so they can be separated. In the UK, you can buy these at Lakeland and I’ve seen similar products at Morrison’s. I’ll bet there’s more. You can also use those thin, transparent, frosted shopping carrier bags. Cut out a section, avoiding the area with any printing on them.

Other Types of Plastic Sheets

Plain old plastic wrap can do many of the same things that deli plastic sheets can do. I like the Saran Wrap brand, but there are many brands. In the UK, of course, plastic wrap is called cling film. Some people have reported that their plastic wrap reacts with their clay and becomes gummy over time. Do make sure that you’re not using PVC cling film. Plastic wrap is increasingly made from LDPE instead of PVC because it doesn’t leach plasticizer into your food. But PVC is the same material that polymer clay is made from and the plasticizer from the clay will affect the integrity of PVC cling film.

If you’re using PVC plastic wrap or if you’re not sure how yours reacts with clay over time, use plastic deli sheets to store your polymer clay. For short-term contact, such as making domed cutouts, it shouldn’t be a problem.

People will also rave about Glad Press n Seal wrap for storing their clay. This plastic wrap has a coating which allows it to stick to itself on one side. This means you can press two sheets together with your clay inside. You can see this in action in Cindy Lietz’s video here.

Another type of Deli Sheet?

Now here’s where it gets REALLY confusing. If you’ve already done some searches for “deli sheets” you’ll notice that the term also applies to squares of waxed paper. Except that they’re not waxed. But then some are. Yes, I know that makes no sense. Read on…

Patty Papers

When you buy pre-made hamburger patties, they come with a little square of paper separating them. These are called patty papers, but some people call them deli sheets. (I told you this gets confusing.) Patty papers are very similar to baking parchment papers and can be used for the same things. In fact, true patty papers are incredibly convenient and sized perfectly (6 x 6 inches or 15 x 15 cm) for polymer clay. But unless someone gives you the EXACT one to buy, it’s a bit like playing roulette, and you never know what you will get. Sometimes what comes is waxed paper. (Yes, never mind that patty paper is also called waxed paper…there’s no wax on it. Confused yet?) And yes, you can spend a lot of money ordering various squares, trying to get the “right stuff.” Ugh.

Patty paper is quite similar to squares of parchment paper and can be used for many of the same purposes with polymer clay.
I’m quite fond of this brand of patty paper. It’s similar to thin parchment paper and works well with polymer clay. But contrary to what the name would imply, this is not waxed paper!

Waxed Paper Squares

Back in the days before plastic wrap was commonplace, people used waxed paper to wrap their sandwiches or keep their doughnuts from getting crunchy. Waxed paper indeed is coated in wax, and you can feel it on your fingers when you rub it. (An aside, did you ever melt crayon shavings between waxed paper using an iron? Cool!)

Some of the boxes of “patty paper” that I ordered while researching this article were actually waxed paper squares. You can use them to freeze your hamburgers, of course. But people commonly use them to wrap sticky candy pieces such as salt water taffy or kisses. But these sheets aren’t so good with polymer clay. Waxed paper will smoke and the wax will melt if you try to bake it, so you don’t want to use it the same way you use parchment paper. You can’t burnish with waxed paper. But you CAN use waxed paper to wrap around your canes for storage. In fact, Ivy Niles of iKandiClay uses waxed paper for all her beautifully wrapped canes. Even though waxed paper is paper, it doesn’t seem to leach plasticizer. That’s probably because it’s already saturated with wax.

Waxed paper does work well to wrap and store polymer clay canes.
Ivy Niles of iKandiClay wraps her canes in strips of waxed paper. It is durable and works well to protect the canes from dust.

Lisa Pavelka’s Deli Sheets

Even more confusion! What is this?? Many polymer clay sites carry Lisa Pavelka’s Deli Sheets. Funny, but they’re not patty or parchment paper, they’re not deli sheets, they’re not plastic…but what ARE they? These nicely-sized sheets seem to be a (plastic?) coated paper. The closest thing to compare them to is the backing from sticker sheets. Lisa recommends using these sheets to burnish her foils to the surface of polymer clay. Because they’re non-stick, you can use them as a non-stick surface in the same way that I use plastic deli sheets. (Note that in this case, you want to move the paper back and forth, sliding it over the back of the foil, rather than keeping the paper stationary as when you burnish clay seams closed.)

Do you print a lot of shipping label stickers and have a lot of the backing sheets? Katie Oskin uses these for lining baking sheets, mixing paint, and many of the same things I suggested for using with parchment paper. I’m all for recycling!

Summary of Parchment Paper, Deli Sheets, and Waxed Paper

So, the next time this subject comes up in a polymer clay group discussion, send people here to help clear up some of the confusion. I wish everyone used the same words for the same products, but that doesn’t happen. Hopefully this article will help shed some light.

Which products do I recommend? In my studio, I use plain copy paper and plastic deli sheets for everything mentioned. I think I will also be using that box of patty papers as it’s just so simple to grab a sheet and now I already have the box.

But everyone is different and everyone works a different way. What works for you might be very different from what works for me! In addition, each country has slightly different products and what makes sense and is obvious in one location will be utterly unavailable in another. You should have seen my (British) husband’s face when I asked him what they use waxed paper for in the UK. He didn’t seem to know what I meant. (Really? There’s no waxed paper in the UK??) Share your observations in the comments, especially if you’re from outside the US and have a different kind of paper, sheet, or plastic that you find to be very useful with polymer clay. We can all learn from each other!

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