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
  • check out the Beginner Section of this website for MORE articles!

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, Sculpey Mold Maker, or a very soft translucent polymer clay. You can find more solutions for working with crumbly clay in Can I Soften Hard Polymer Clay?

Don't miss these fantastic polymer clay tips for beginners.

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 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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103 thoughts on “Polymer Clay Tips for Beginners”

  1. Hi, I am making a smallish (18″ ling x 10″) shoulder dragon to wear for a festival. It has a wire form covered in foil and want to use clay for final coat. Now I know to paint then bake, will the clay hold up after baking, ie: sitting on shoulder and walking around or should I just paper mache???

  2. Can you over-condition polymer clay?

    I live in the PNW, so my house is always cool, around 64 degrees, except during high summer. I usually run my clay through the thickest setting on my (motorized) pasta machine about 40 times, folding it in half each time. Then I’ll go down to a thinner setting, depending on what I’m making. If my clay has been sitting for awhile, I’ll run it through again a few times.

    Am I overdoing it?

    1. You can, yes. Some clays will get sticky if overworked. But there’s no reason you need to be conditioning for that long. You only need to go until the clay is workable and behaves properly. Conditioning isn’t a chemical reaction, it’s just so that the clay is softened up and “plays right”. Usually by the time that colors are mixed up, the clay is fully conditioned.

  3. hello, my name is Anthony Boyd and I have a question rather than a comment. I want to make polymer clay walking stick (cane) handles to put on some sticks I found without handles. is polymer clay tough enough to do this with a good armature. if so what brand would you recommend. I hope this not to much of a bother. respectfully, anthony

    1. Yes, you can use polymer clay to decorate a cane or walking stick. There are many ways to do it. It does depend on the structure of your cane (wood, metal, plastic, etc) and exactly how the decorations will attach. I suggest that you get a couple packages of Premo and just play with the material. That will give you an idea of how it behaves and how it will work for your project.

  4. Hello, thank you very much for the tips. I live in Angola, (Africa) it is very complicated for me to find material to do my work. I have to send to buy in Portugal. I recently discovered Clayologie in South Africa, does anyone here know this brand?

  5. I would like to try the aluminum pan idea for baking and noticed the type of paper clip you used to seal it. Are those ok to put in the oven at 275°? Will the plastic melt or cause plastic fumes?

  6. Hello – and wow lots of great info here. I have a question about quantities. I am wanting to emulate glass in some large rounds – approx 430mm diam and a least 3mm thick. Can you combine packets for larger pieces? They are intended to be part of a sculpture and I can’t use glass because the copper support shapes aren’t perfectly round – they are slightly organic. I thought using Polymer I can shape exactly to the contours of the copper.

    1. Hi Natalie, I’m not exactly sure what you have in mind. Yes, you can combine packages to make something as large as you want. But there are limiting factors. One is that polymer clay is vinyl and it will sag if you make large, wide areas. I think 430mm is too wide to make a piece that’s only 3mm thick. It would bow in the middle and droop. Also, translucent polymer clay isn’t clear. It’s merely sort of frosted. It can look quite clear when made thin and when you do certain things do it. But something 3mm thick will not appear clear at all. You might want to use another material for your project.

  7. Hello Ginger, firstly I have to say how totally glad I am that I came across your website here and the wealth of knowledge you’ve accrued on it ! I’m a total newbie to PC, and am yet to even open a packet, but I think I’ve fallen head over heels in love with all the wondrous possibilities for creativity that PC as an art form opens up. I’m still getting the bits and pieces together that I’ll need and it’s taking a while as I’m buying them all online (& as cheap as I can) so it takes a little time for it all to come down to my end of the world (I’m a Kiwi) I may very well of missed it or am yet to come across it, but I’ve got a totally newbie basic question for you .. when you condition clay for use, how long does it stay that way if you store it appropriately ? As I have no idea and I have nightmare visions of hours spent rolling clay every time I wanted to start a new project. So please tell me it’s got a little bit of a shelf life ? I’m sure I’m going to have SO many questions in due course, so if there’s anywhere else better to ask please feel free to point me in the right direction ! And Thank YOU again for this amazing place, I’ve already signed up to your newsletter 🙂

    1. Welcome! There’s not a simple answer to your question because it depends on the clay brand that you’re working with. Some of them require a lot of conditioning, others require little. Generally, you only need to condition your clay enough to make it workable and so that it is smooth and you can join, blend, and shape it without cracking. And once conditioned it does “settle” again, some brands more than others. But mostly you’ll just condition what you need as you go. It’s not something you can do in advance, really. I cover this answer in detail in my Polymer Clay Essentials eBook, so when you’re ready to learn more you might want to pick that up.

  8. I don’t notice information here under “Polymer Clay Tips for Beginners” on the importance of conditioning clay before using. While you probably cover this in a different article, it definitely is a must-have tip for beginners. I just had this question asked in a FB group by a new clayer and came to Blue Bottle Tree to supply a link for “beginners”. Thanks!

    1. Hi Elise, good to see you here, and I do appreciate your referrals! Conditioning is important, but it’s not a simple subject. Each clay brand has different requirements and philosophies. Also, there are formidable conditioning myths out there that need de-bunked. I cover all this in my Polymer Clay Essentials eBook. It’s I’ll see if I can’t add something to the list. It’s a good one. Thanks!

  9. Can you use this clay to make trivets, also will it melt if you put a hot pot on it? I am a newbie at this and thought I would like to make these things and also coffee coasters. Is this possible? Thanks.

    1. Hi Sophia, yes, polymer clay is relatively heat resistant. It will not melt or burn below 350°F (190°C), so it’s an excellent material for coasters. A trivet, not so much. It would depend on how hot the pot was. You wouldn’t want to take a saucepan directly from the stovetop and place onto a polymer trivet. Do be aware, though, that any paint or varnish you apply to the coaster’s surface might stick to hot coffee cups, so you will want to stick with just polymer and leave off the surface treatments.

  10. Perdón olvide comentarle que soy de México y si tienen envió acá , si es así para pedirlo y que me lo envíen y si es posible cual es el costo del envío gracias saludos

  11. Hola gracias por todos los consejos , esto de la arcilla me tiene fascinada y entre mas veo y leo más me interesa quiero comprar el Poly fast y voy a ir a Bélgica quiero saber si tiene tienda allá para vicitarla estaré en septiembre y ccomprar los TUTORIALES para computadora por favor me podrá dar una respuesta gracias

  12. Pingback: Learn To Sculpt Like A Pro With These 12 Useful Sculpting Tutorials | Tutorials Press

  13. I want to make something generally the same shape size as this tumbler I found at target ). I want to form it around something that is the same shape. Do you have any suggestions for easily removing from the mold and making sure it stands in the oven. Or can I bake it around something in the oven? What kind of materials would work for that and how would I separate the clay?

    Thanks!!

    1. I would form it around a large glass vase or even a wine bottle. Wrap the bottle with foil before you add the clay. Then bake the whole thing in the oven. Once it’s cooled, remove the bottle and the foil. You may need to pad the bottom of the bottle because it is indented. Have fun!

  14. Ginger!
    You are a wizard and I have learned so much from you. I am new to polymer clay and am still trying to perfect my clay conditioning. I use either Premo or Fimo, but sometimes, as I roll the clay through the pasta machine I get what looks like cracks along the otherwise conditioned-looking clay. I am wondering if I have somehow damaged the pasta machine, or is the clay too warm, or is the clay too dry? Overall, my rule of thumb has been if the clay can be folded without cracking it is conditioned. Is that true? Sorry for all the questions, but I need help.

    1. Different clay brands will behave differently during conditioning. Some will absolutely still crack. That is not a reliable indicator of conditioning. There’s quite a bit of brand-specific background info, but in general you know your clay is conditioned when it’s smooth enough to make what you want and when it will stick to itself well. For a more detailed answer, it’s something that I cover in depth in my Polymer Clay Essentials eBook. There’s a whole chapter on conditioning.

  15. If you sculpt an object with a hole in it, what will be the effect once baked/cured? Will the hole expand, contract or remain the same size? Thanks!

    1. In general, polymer clay does not shrink or expand during baking. The hole will remain the same size. Some soft clays might droop and the hole, if large and unsupported (such as an archway) might collapse. Some clay brands do expand a smidge while hot, but they will return to the original size once cooled.

  16. I’ve never worked with polymer clay but am very excited to get started. After forming sculpture should I bake it before adding color like chalks? Then bake it again? Thank you

  17. I have used low fire white clay in the past to create sculptures that I then painted with black acrylic paint onto which I added color by layering Prismacolor colored pencils. The results were beautiful. I sealed them with a mat finish varnish.

    I now have home studio and would like to try the same approach with polymer clay. Can I paint and use Primacolor on it? Can I get polymer clay that is a neutral color since the color I add will be from the colored pencils? What brand would you recommend?

    Thank you for your informative article!

    1. Yes, you should be able to get a similar (but not identical) result. Keep in mind that working with plastic coatings (all acrylic varnishes and paints are a plastic coating) can have chemical interactions with polymer that prevents it from drying. So test, test, test. But there’s no reason you can’t find suitable solutions. Sounds fun!

  18. Azariah Yashaahla

    Hello this is my first time using this clay . I wanted to know do i need to use water for polymer clay? And can it also bake on a griddle?. Thank u so much!!!

    1. No, water is not needed for using polymer clay. You cure it in the oven, and for most brands of clay you’ll use a temperature around 275°F (130°C). You can’t use a griddle because the entire polymer clay form needs to get uniformly hot in order to cure properly, without going over 350°F (177°C). At that temperature, polymer clay burns and produces noxious, irritating gas.

    1. You can use any brand of artist’s pastels. Inexpensive brands tend to have less pigment than high-end artist’s brands. But they will all work. Many people prefer to use Pan Pastels because you can just use a brush so easily without having to first scraper or grind the chalk sticks to a powder.

    1. Are you using polymer clay that bakes in the oven, or an air-dry clay? I don’t use air-dry clays so I can’t really offer any help there. Polymer clay will not dry out in the air. That being said, polymer clay can become less “conditioned” when you are sculpting and that may lead to cracking. A lot of sculptors bake the piece at the end of each session, adding more clay to build up their piece each time. You can bake your clay multiple times. But if it’s true polymer clay, it’s not going to actually dry out.

  19. Kris Trimmier

    Hi! Love reading all your articles, so helpful! I have fallen for the appliqué/embroidery technique for jewelry! I love all the tiny details. My favorite clay is Kato Polyclay. I’m concerned about the durability of tiny pieces (leaves, petals) that I attached with needle tools. I usually bake them for 30 minutes total. Any suggestions for making pieces with dimension more sturdy?

    1. It’s good that you’re using Kato, it’s a good, strong clay. But note that it doesn’t have the best adhesion. Make sure your flowers are sticking well to the base. You might need to use a dab of liquid clay (which can be messy, so you may prefer not to). Always bake a long time at one time (not cumulative). I bake everything for at least 45 minutes. And Kato is far stronger if you bake it hotter. Get an oven thermometer and bake, covered, up to 340°F or so if it’s Kato. Or you could switch to Fimo Professional, which is the stronger and more flexible than Kato.

      1. Thank you so much! I’ve started pre-baking the base just long enough to harden, coating with Kato’s liquid clay and adding the pieces and baking them again for 40-45 min and they seem MUCH more sturdy. Thanks to an oven thermometer I’ve learned my oven runs a little hot (no pun intended), about 12 degrees higher than setting. I’ll have to experiment with Fimo Pro too.

  20. Hi……..I am very much a novice at this, and I did buy craft smart until I get the hang of what I am doing. (The price was right! LOL). I want to make houses for a fairy garden. I have saved cans that I thought would help add stability and weight. Can I bake my clay around the cans? Thanks

  21. I make wooden peg people for my grandkids and I would like to be able to make things like ears that I can either permanently attach to animal pegs by gluing the baked polymer clay piece to it or make removable items like hats for them. I have never worked with polymer clay before. Is it possible to make a piece and then glue it to a painted wooden peg doll?

    1. Hi Dee, yes, it’s possible to glue baked polymer clay “bits” to wood. But you’ll need to remember that not all glues work well with polymer clay, and you’ll have the same problems with glueing any two items together, such as contact area and breakage due to shear. A little ear sticking off of a peg is going to be pretty susceptible to being broken off, regardless of what it’s made of. So you might want to think about using polymer for the entire thing so that you can put a little pin in there and give it more hold. I hope that makes sense. But it sounds like a very fun project. Good luck!

    1. No, E6000 can never be baked. To join two pieces of raw clay, the best thing is to use a dab of liquid clay, Kato PolyPaste, or Genesis Thick Medium. They are all similar to polymer clay and need to be baked to activate the bond. If you need for the bond to hold the raw clay together and then be bakeable, you would use Lisa Pavelka’s PolyBonder.

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