Polymer Clay Tips for Beginners

Polymer clay is an extremely versatile medium which is perfect for beginners and professional artists alike. It can be a challenging and complex medium for those who want to push the limits. But it is also very easy for beginners and newbies to get good results, once you know a few tips and tricks. Here are some helpful polymer clay tips for beginners. If you’re interested in a more in-depth discussion of these topics, several of them link to longer articles.

Polymer Clay Tips for Beginners – Summary

  • polymer clay doesn’t have to be sealed or glazed
  • there are lots of ways to make your clay shiny
  • you can save hard, crumbly clay
  • proper baking is extremely important and most people get it wrong!
  • you can paint polymer clay
  • polymer clay is not toxic
  • not all brands are created equal – use the right brand for your project
  • improper storage can ruin your clay
  • find out what tools you really need to use
  • learn about using other materials with polymer clay

You Don’t Have to Seal It!

Learn about sealing polymer clay and more with these great polymer clay tips for beginners.

Because polymer clay is a durable, water-resistant plastic after baking, it is plenty strong and does not need to be sealed for protection. In fact, polymer clay itself will withstand water, weather, and wear better than any sealer. The sealer will break down before the clay will.

Sealers, glazes, and varnishes can very often become sticky, peel, become cloudy, or suffer from annoying brush strokes. Only use them if you really, truly need to, and always test your chosen varnish before using it on a large or important project.

But there are times when you do want to seal your polymer clay creations, however. If you use surface embellishments with your polymer clay such as mica powders, foil, or metal leaf, then you will need to use a sealer to protect them. Acrylic paint used to decorate your polymer clay will only need to be sealed if there is risk of it being scraped or rubbed off.

You may also want to use a sealer to change the gloss level of your polymer clay creation. Depending on your desired result, you might want to make a bead more glossy or a figurine more matte. Sealer can be used to create the result.

You can use most water-based varnishes to seal your polymer clay. Many people like to use the acrylic varnishes that are sold to protect fine art paintings. They come in gloss, satin, and matte finishes. But be aware that some varnishes may never fully dry on some brands of polymer clay. And putting varnish over acrylic paint can cause even more stickiness issues. Learn more, including which sealers to trust, in Do You Have to Seal Polymer Clay?

Do you want to check out other clear-coat options besides varnish? Read my article comparing the various glazes, sealers, varnishes, resins, and clear-coats.

Yuck, my clay is hard and crumbly!

Learn how to soften hard, crumbly polymer clay. More newbie tips at The Blue Bottle Tree.

Polymer clay sometimes gets crumbly as it gets old. Although it can be more difficult to work with, the clay itself is not damaged and can almost always be softened with a little work. If you warm the clay slightly, but not enough to cause it to cure, the clay will soften and become easier to work. Try placing the package of clay in your pocket for 30 minutes or so. Some people like to place the clay in a ziploc bag and then submerge the bag in hot tap water.

Polymer clay can also be softened by mixing in a few drops of mineral oil or liquid clay. Many clayers report excellent results by adding in small amounts of Fimo Mix Quick or a very soft translucent polymer clay. You can find more solutions for working with crumbly clay in Can I Soften Hard Polymer Clay?

Am I baking my clay right?

If you don’t follow any of these polymer clay tips for beginners, make sure you follow this one. I can’t stress that enough!! Polymer clay must be properly baked to ensure your project will be strong, durable, and attractive. Underbaking leads to breakage, and improper baking can cause color changes.

All ovens need to be checked with a separate thermometer (Affiliate Link – learn more here) to verify that the temperature you set is, indeed, the temperature that’s being reached. Always bake your project at the temperature recommended by the manufacturer, never lower. Lower temperature causes incomplete curing. Once your oven is preheated, begin timing and bake for at least as long as the manufacturer recommends. It’s okay to bake longer. In fact, most artists agree that longer baking leads to a stronger finished product.

To protect your project against browning and color changes during baking, make sure to cover your project inside the oven. I like to use two aluminum foil pans, one inverted as a lid, and clamped shut with a binder clip. This will prevent the oven’s heating element from “toasting” your project. Read much more, including advice on ovens, temperature, and baking tips in Baking Polymer Clay.

Protect your polymer clay during baking. Learn more polymer clay tips for beginners at The Blue Bottle Tree.

Can you Paint Polymer Clay?

Never use nail polish to color or add gloss to any polymer clay project. The chemicals in the nail polish can dissolve the polymer clay and/or cause it to turn sticky over time. Most acrylic paints work very well for painting the surface of polymer clay, but some of them do get remain a bit sticky. Always test your paint with the clay brand that you’re using. Fimo is known for having a lot of paint incompatibility, whereas Sculpey III can often work better.

Is clay toxic?

Polymer clay has been tested and is certified as being non-toxic and safe to be used as a normal crafting material. Touching polymer clay, working with it, and even baking it in your home oven is not dangerous. Polymer clay is not a food, so you don’t want to eat it, of course. And it’s not the right material for using to make food-safe items such as plates or bowls. But don’t be worried about any scary stories you might read on the internet about toxic fumes. There are no toxic fumes. Be logical when working with polymer clay, though. Use dedicated crafting tools, wash your hands when you’re done, and don’t eat snacks while you’re working with clay. And have fun with it!

Polymer clay can burn at temperatures over 350°F (170°C). If this ever happens, turn off the oven, open all the windows, and leave the room until the air clears. The acidic gases produced smell awful and are irritating to your lungs and you don’t want to breathe them. For more thorough discussion on this subject, make sure to check out Is Polymer Clay Safe?

Are you using the right clay brand?

There are many brands of polymer clay and they all have their good and bad features. Some clays are better for caning, others are better for sculpting. Some are completely unsuitable for jewelry making, others work very well. It’s best to use a major name-brand clay such as Fimo, Premo, Kato, Pardo, Cernit, and Filani. There are some no-brand clays available on the internet and sold as children’s craft clays. Many of these clays will give inconsistent or even disappointing results. It’s best to avoid using them and stick with the main brands, even if their price tag seems appealing. Are you curious about the differences between the brands of clay and which you should use, don’t miss What’s the Best Brand of Polymer Clay.

Sculpey III and CraftSmart brands are soft, weak brands of clay that are known for breaking and cracking after baking. They have their purpose, perhaps for making children’s figurines. But they are best to be avoided if you’re needing strength in your finished piece.

If you are using a quality clay brand and are experiencing breakage, then it’s most likely due to underbaking or incomplete curing. Read the section on Baking Polymer Clay to make sure you’re covering the bases there.

Store polymer clay in clay-safe divided boxes to keep it fresh and dust free. More tips here.

Storing clay without getting damaged

When storing polymer clay it’s very important that you keep it away from sources of heat that can lead to it being cured or hardened. Avoid storing near radiators and heaters, in cabinets above a lamp, or in a hot sunny window.

It’s also best to keep dust and pet hair from settling on your polymer clay. Many artists keep their clay in partitioned plastic boxes, like is sold for embroidery floss. Sandwich bags also work great to keep your colors separated. But be careful to only use “clay safe” plastic boxes with polymer clay. How will you know if it’s clay safe? Just look on the bottom for the recycle number “5”. This is a slightly cloudy plastic called polypropylene and works very well with polymer clay. Avoid the brittle, clear plastic with the recycle number 6. That is polystyrene and unfortunately polymer clay will dissolve and melt polystyrene. Polymer clay will also melt styrofoam in the form of packing peanuts and packing foam, so be careful to keep uncured clay from those materials. Read more about the various plastics used with polymer clay here.

Some brands and colors of polymer clay within a brand seem to dry out if not stored tightly sealed. This didn’t used to be necessary and you’ll read in older articles that polymer clay never dries out. It won’t completely dry out in the way that paper clay or Play-Doh will. But recent changes in the chemistry of some polymer clay means that you’ll most likely have better results if you store your clay tightly sealed in bags or in plastic boxes. Avoid storing in cardboard boxes or open to the air.

You can use powders, foils, and paints with polymer clay. More beginner tips at The Blue Bottle Tree.
Perfect Pearls and Christi Friesen’s Surface FX were provided by Poly Clay Play.

What tools do I really need?

So…you’re ready to get going with polymer clay, but what do you need to get started? Just as with any new art or craft, there are always plenty of things to spend your money on, and the temptations at the craft store are huge! But you really don’t need to spend very much money to get started creating with polymer clay. I wrote an article about creating a polymer clay starter kit, and it will give you an idea of the things you need, that you might want after you get going a bit, and things you’ll want to put on your “someday” list. As you’ll see, you don’t need those expensive kits to get busy playing with clay.

What else can I use with my clay?

Polymer clay works very well with other art materials and many of the products you already have for other crafts can be used with polymer clay. Experiment with mica powders, chalk powders, foils, acrylic paints, alcohol inks, Copic or Spectrum Noir markers, and acrylic inks. Rubber stamps, shape cutters, paper punches (on paper-thin sheets of baked clay), glitter, colored pencils, silicone molds, and epoxy resin are all commonly used with polymer clay and give you endless ways to create interesting results.

Can you do THIS??

When crafters are new to working with a medium, they are often worried that they’ll do something “wrong”. You have to remember that polymer clay is a new and evolving medium. Artists are discovering new ways to work with it everyday. Each new technique that someone develops was, at one point, undocumented and unknown. Try new things, try combining your projects with materials from other crafts, and let your imagination be your only limit. As long as you are not burning your clay or making it sticky with paint thinner, it’s really very hard to go wrong with polymer clay. You might not like what you make, but then again maybe you will discover something that no one has ever tried before. There are no limits. Enjoy and have fun working with polymer clay!

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113 thoughts on “Polymer Clay Tips for Beginners”

    1. I’m sorry you’ve run into trouble. When you are connecting two larger areas of a sculpture with a small area (such as a head and body with a neck), you need to have something to reinforce the connection. When the clay is raw, always make sure you use an armature in between, such as using a toothpick or a piece of wire inside the neck, extending inside of the head and body. Since your dough boy is already baked, you’ll need to get a tiny drill and make a hole into the head and body. Put a wire in that hole and use some Loctite Gel superglue (not the regular cheap stuff in the tube) to glue the wire into the holes and to glue the head back onto the body. That should help.

  1. Hi, just started to make dolls house miniatures using premo. I am restoring an old dolls house for my grand-daughter. The first thing I am making is a teapot. I have managed to make it look very good(after a lot of practice) but wonder what the correct method is for attaching the handle and spout which I make separately. Do I just bend the on or use glue?

    Love all your articles – they are going to help me so much. I do worry about the baking aspect and correct temps etc. but I am just going to jump in and see what happens. I am a bit of a bender of rules and constraints and it can sometimes be my undoing! But sometimes I get a good measure of success. You can’t win them all as they say but I’m not afraid to try.


    1. Hi Sally, to attach two pieces of baked clay, use a product called Bake and Bond by Sculpey. You will then have to bake it again. In general, I find that it’s easier and you get the best bond by attaching clay together when at least one of the sides is raw clay. Baked-to-baked is harder to make bond. But for a tiny teapot, it should be just fine.

      I’m a rule bender, too, and I have screwed up more clay than I care to mention. Which is probably why I’m such a stickler for doing it right now.

  2. Your article was fantastic! Thank you! I, like some others here, am new to clay. Found you through Pinterest & have found a few clay crafts I’d like to try from there too. I was hoping to make some nice ring bowls etc to sell on a craft page & glad I read this first. The instructions said to use Sculpey so went out & purchased it & played with it & loved it, but after reading this & hearing that it isn’t that strong, am worried about using it. I’d hate for it to break after someone had purchased my stuff. Im thinking Premo might be a better medium, would that be a better brand? Thank you again 🙂

    1. Yes, Premo is a more flexible and durable brand than Suclpey III. I think you’ll be happier with it. Also, make sure you’re baking long enough. At least an hour, maybe even more. Check out my articles on baking to learn more about that. Good luck!

  3. I’m new to claying and wanted to see if I could make embroidered pendants. Not knowing anything anout the different clays I purchased Sculpty III in a package of several colors. If I mix Premo with the Sculpty will it help make it more stable? I have only made 2 pendants so far. This tech is harder than it looks. Practice, practice, and practice some more! What would you advise? Thanx, Brenda

    1. Hi Brenda, yes, adding Premo to the Sculpey III will make it stronger. Also, with the enbroidery technique, the softer, stickier texture of the Sculpey III is actually quite a plus. A lot of people prefer to use it, in fact. Yes, the technique is a hard one. You picked an ambitious style for being a newbie. The key for this one, I think, is really just patience. I think it requires sort of an inner zen…just so many tiny little pieces of clay. And I know that using needles is better as you can get really, really fine with it. Good luck!

    1. All blades are going to be sharp, so you have to use discretion. If you need to cut paper thin slices of clay, then there’s no getting around it, you need a sharp blade. And just like having a sharp knife in your kitchen, you’re going to have to watch what you’re doing or there will be blood. That being said, I don’t use a sharp blade for general use. I have some scraper blades, used in floor scrapers to remove old floor wax, that are durable but not very sharp. I used those blades for most general lifting, scraping, and chopping needs. I’ve had them for years (a decade or more). I save my super sharp tissue blades for use with mokume gane and when I’m slicing canes very thin.

      There are some blades on the market with handles that help you recognize which side of the blade is the ‘business’ end. But you still have to be careful. I also know of a thin, flexible blade made by PVClay in Brazil that is not sharp at all and would be good for use with children. You might be able to contact Edinho Juliotti at http://www.pvclay.com.br for more info, though I don’t it on their website anymore.

  4. Marlene Torres

    Thanks so much for all of the information you’ve posted in a clear-cut, user-friendly way. I’m also new to polymer clay, but not new to sculpting. I’ve been crafting since I was about 5 or 6 years old every summer for years, baking clay in a kiln to bring home creations to my parents.
    I’ve done many different projects since then, including owning a spot at a craft store, craft fairs, etc. I am now making jewelry, but when I saw the polymer clay pieces on Pinterest and YouTube, I just knew I had to start this up.
    I bought some cheap dollar store clay to practice with, and my piece came out pretty good considering, but I don’t know what the clay is made of and am afraid to bake it. I’ve been waiting a month for it to air dry but it’s not cooperating. Oh well, I’ve purchased some Premo for now but still need more colors to make what I want. I’ve bookmarked your home page and signed up for your newsletter.
    You’ve pretty much answered all of my questions so far! I love your blog, and the way you explain things! Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Marlene, some of the cheap dollar store sets aren’t really polymer clay, they’re modeling clay and the labelling isn’t very clear. You could heat some with a hair dryer and see what happens. Does it melt into a smeary mess or does it stay the same shape and eventually harden up? Modeling clay will melt, and polymer will harden up. You can almost always get by with baking un-marked polymer clay at 275°F for 30 minutes without any trouble. But you’ll likely have better results with your Premo. Thanks for commenting and for your kind words. Happy Claying!

  5. Hi Ginger, thank you so much for sharing these hints and tips I have found them so useful already. I saw an article in a craft mag I want to try using alcohol inks with pc and I just HAD to check on your site to see if it was right! lol. I had thought that you cant use alcohol ink with the clay but instead it’s solvent ink you shouldn’t use, good job I checked! Lol.

    Thanks again

    Love and Blessings

    Sharon xx

    1. Thanks Sharon, and I think you can use solvent ink. There’s actually very little that doesn’t work with polymer clay. Nail polish, most spray sealers, and the kind of solvents that make you “high” seem to be the ones to avoid.

  6. Thank you for the articles you have written about this artistic medium. While I’ve been in art for over 25 years, this was one medium that I have never even tried! I JUST bought my first bit of polymer clay (Sculpey) at AC Moore the other day for use in making necklace pendants. The project was posted on a crafting blog, and while the directions are very clear, anyone who loves art and loves to be creative is going to think “What if I try X?” and it helps to have proper, clear-cut guidelines on the use of a new (to a person) medium. Your articles have answered questions I had, and many I didn’t know I had! My fingers have been itching to get to work with this stuff, but now I have a clearer understanding of what I’ll be working with, thanks to an experienced and knowledgable artist who shared her tips. I very much appreciate it, and I’ll be coming back for inspiration and more tips! Thank you!!!

    1. Welcome to the wonderfully addictive world of polymer clay. A lot of use come to this medium from other crafts and then never leave because it’s just so darned versatile. Have fun!

  7. I’m already hooked. Bought Craft Smart to play with but found it was too soft to hold some shapes (esp rounded) of the miniatures I tried to make. Guessing Premo should be my next brand to try??? Thank you for the great information!

    1. Premo is an excellent all-around brand of polymer clay. Fimo Professional is great as well, but it’s not yet generally available in the US. Kato is also good, and tends to be my favorite for techniques needing find definition, such as caning.

      1. I’ve been “collecting” tools and supplies for a long time now, as I catch it on sale, what I’ll need to get a good start on a LOT of different crafts that I am interested in. …actually I’m being heavily accused of being a “HOARDER”!!!! I have so many things that I want to do at the same time, that nothing is really getting DONE! I’ve been watching tons of “how-to video’s and procrastinating. Does anyone else on here have this problem? …or did you used to? I’m really overwhelmed with a huge unorganized and cluttered living space and have less than 2 weeks to fix it before my son comes to visit!!!!! I live in a 12×32 bldg and only about 15 sq ft of floor is visible!

        1. I’m exactly the same. Its worth buying some shelving and plastic boxes that have several compartments too

  8. Thankyou for all this helpful information for beginners. I am doing the learning and reading up before I get started. I have most of the tools and a new little oven but just need to take that giant leap and get started now.

    1. Just dive in. You’ve got nothing to lose. You can wad up the clay and use it again if you don’t like what you make. You don’t need to bake until it’s the way you want. You’ll learn more by doing. Of course, you’ll also find out how addictive it is. Then you’ll be hooked like the rest of us. You might want to get out now, while you still can. 😉

  9. Thank you for the article Can you use it to make fishing lures? If so will it float or sink in water? Would I have to seal it? Do you have any other info?

    1. Yes, you can. Polymer clay makes great fishing lures. It does not float unless you create the lures with a hollow area. Of course, there would be much experimentation to create the right drag/sink/float ratio. I would not use a sealer as polymer clay itself is completely waterproof. It’s PVC, but in a putty form that cures and fuses when you bake it. So after baking it’s pretty similar to any vinyl. But if you use mica powder, paints, or metal leaf y ou would want to seal it. I would choose Varathane and use several coats. I’ve used Varathane covered polymer clay buttons in the washer for months and they hold up very well. I would think the occasional dunking that a lure gets would be just fine. But of course, your mileage may vary.

  10. Thank you for posting all this great information. Everywhere I look there is an assumption of knowledge that escapes me. I’m am so new to polymer clay that I don’t know what clay to buy–yet. I want to be able to create dollhouse miniatures, beads, and other small objects de art. This project is, so far, in the “planning stage”. LOL

    1. Well, the thing with polymer is that you just have to roll up your sleeves and dive in. You’ll learn as you go and develop your own way of working with it. There’s not much you can do wrong, really. I’d say that Premo would be a really good clay for you to start with. It’s durable, easy to use, and comes in lots of colors. Avoid Sculpey III, though. It’s brittle and better for kids, really.

      1. I plan to buy your beginner’s tutorial tomorrow, and then start getting some basic tools and supplies. I already make dollhouse miniatures using found objects, homemade quilling paper, and homemade doughs. Plus, I’ve been making miniature jewelry for decades now. Thanks for the tip on the type of clay to start with. I kind of thought that is should be Premo Sculpey, but was dithering. When I get more into making beads and canes I’ll look into Fimo. It’s a shame my town doesn’t really have a craft store and I’ll have to order everything online, most likely. I’m taking the plunge!

        1. Oh good, I’ll be glad to have you join in the fun. Fimo professional seems to be a very nice clay. It’s certainly strong! But I can’t find it locally either. In fact, the local craft stores aren’t really good most places and most of us have to order online. Luckily, there are small companies worldwide who keep all us crafters well stocked with fun packages coming in the mail. My mailman must think I’m insane, really.

  11. My husband once made a set of little buildings for playing Settlers of Catan, and then baked them at too high a temperature, so we said that was the village after the barbarians attacked.

  12. I was wondering if you could use this type of clay to form small little tiles to make a back splash For the kitchen.

  13. Learning, or just being reminded, what one can do with Ployclay is always a treat. Thanks, Ginger! I wonder about “chalk powder” though. Can I scrape regular chalk, pastel or white standard chalk, and get this medium, or is it another type I’d buy in a craft store?

    1. Yes, you can use regular artist’s chalk pastels. Just scrape off a bit and use it as a powder. However, for a far more luxurious option, have a look at PanPastels. Now those are wonderful!

  14. Hi, I tend to think of myself as an intermediate user but I found this post very useful and a joy to read. Thank you!

    I used to find it nearly impossible to paint polymer clay with acrylic paint as it would peel as soon as it dried, but recently I found that if I bake the piece again after the paint has dried, it sort of bake into the clay and becomes virtually scratchproof, so much that I don’t even have to seal it if I am already satisfied with the finish. I’d love to learn what you think of this method 🙂

    thanks again!

    1. Hi Marcella,

      Yes, that’s exactly what I recommend! In fact, the paint sticks even better when you’re able to paint it on raw clay and cure the paint and clay together. People always seem to be afraid of baking acrylic paint, but polymer clay doesn’t really require that high of a baking temperature. It seems to do just fine. Every once in a while, I will see the paint change color a bit. But most of the time, the result is far superior.

  15. María Teresa Lefler Camino

    Thank you for your explanations, as always very complete and help clear doubts, in addition to teaching. Thank you for your time and dedication. Best regards.

  16. First time I read something about ‘Filani Clay’ on internet……, beside their own website. I visited their factory in Cape Town and was impressed about the quality of the clay, colours are beautiful….. Plilani and her husband are doing a great job!

  17. thank you so much for all your hard work to keep us informed. I want to impress on you how much it is appreciated.

  18. Thank you for this post.
    I always understood you had to have a dedicated oven for working clay as the fumes were toxic!! I have purchased one of those toaster ovens for the purpose and use it outside which isn’t always convenient. especialy on cold wet windy days.
    I only use Kato clay.
    I haven’t done much clay work lately but your atticle has me all fired up again.
    Thank you

    1. Yes, there is a persistent myth out there about the toxicity of polymer clay. It is perfectly safe to bake in your home oven. You might want to make sure you bake in a covered pan and you can always take it outside to open the pan. I’m glad you got fired up again. Have fun!

      1. So much good advice and so little time to play, but I will make time OH yes I will.
        Thank you to everyone it is good to read questions and comments and learn learn learn.

  19. Christine Matthews

    A brilliant article, so many points I had forgotten. I feel like experimenting armed with all the knowledge gleaned. Thank you.

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