As you probably know, there are many brands of polymer clay, and each one has slightly different characteristics that make it a favorite for people wanting to achieve a specific result. Cernit is a brand of polymer clay, produced in Belgium, that is very popular with European and Russian polymer clay artists. So many talented people are getting such good results with Cernit that it makes us wonder what is so different about it? I received generous samples of Cernit clay from two suppliers here in the United States (Marina Taenkova of Marka Decor Craft and Marie Segal of Clay Factory, Inc.) and have been busily claying away, trying many techniques and exploring all the ways that make Cernit polymer clay different from (or similar to) other brands. Here’s my review of Cernit polymer clay. Because there’s so much to say and discuss, this article’s pretty long. So if you’re interested in a specific topic, use these links to help you find what you’re looking for.
- A First Look at Cernit
- How Does Cernit Change During Baking?
- What Colors Does Cernit Come In?
- Caning with Cernit
- Mica Shift with Cernit
- Using Surface Treatments
- How Strong is Cernit?
- Is Cernit Good for Sculpting?
- Where Can I Buy Cernit?
- Summary and Recommendation
A First Look at Cernit
Cernit polymer clay is, in general, just like any other brand of polymer clay. It comes in a bar, is a putty-like dough that you work with to create something, you can cure it in the oven, and you can carve, sand, drill, and paint it after baking. You can mix Cernit with any other brand of polymer clay, and you can use it for all the techniques you’re used to using when you create, such as extruding, mokume gane, caning, using texture sheets, etc. So it’s more similar than it is different from the brands you’re already familiar with.
Cernit comes in 56g (roughly the same as 2oz) package and some colors also come in larger 500g (just over one lb) packages. The blocks come with a plastic package that’s heat-sealed on each end like a candy bar, so the packages are air-tight. (Note: Cernit used to come in a 62g package, but this was changed several years ago. Any packages of that size are quite old.)
When you open the package, Cernit looks very similar to any other brand of polymer clay. Once you slice off some of the clay and start working with it, you’ll notice that some colors are firmer than others. This could be due to age (more popular colors such as black and white are always newer due to faster turnover), or it could just be that some colors are more soft. (This is true with many clay brands, by the way.) In most cases, I found that a slice of the clay would go through the pasta machine with little to no crumbling and flaking. The clay conditions easily and responds very well to the heat of your hands, soon becoming very smooth and workable.
Cernit is quite stretchy in your hands and works well for die forming and other techniques where the stretching of the clay is important. The clay isn’t waxy like Kato and isn’t chalky and sticky like Fimo Professional. But it is a bit sticky and can stick to your fingers when it gets too warm. It does have a good balance of sticking to itself (making construction easy) but not TOO good at sticking to itself. You can usually peel apart clay that you’ve stuck together if you change your mind. Cernit does not leave much of a residue on your hands, but you will still want to wipe your hands with a baby wipe when you change to a lighter color or after you’ve been using red.
If you find that the Cernit is getting too droopy and soft or sticky while working with it, leave it to sit for a few minutes. Temperature makes a huge impact on this clay, so it would be an excellent one to use if you have cold hands or live in a cold climate.
How Does Cernit Change During Baking?
After baking, you’ll find that Cernit has many of the same frustrations as any other clay. You’ll still see fingerprints, “the bumpies”, and, if you’re using translucent, plaques. Cernit does bake with a slight sheen, quite similar to that of Fimo Professional.
Cernit Has a Porcelain Quality
Many people say that Cernit has a porcelain quality after baking, and it’s a feature that is even mentioned on the package. What does that mean? It’s not hard like a porcelain teacup and it’s not matte like fired clay. But it is rather translucent. If you hold any baked color of Cernit up to the light, you’ll be able to see a glow of light coming through it. This means that baked Cernit polymer clay will have a luminous quality, rather than a chalky one like Fimo, Souffle, or Sculpey III.
Cernit Changes Color During Baking
One of the most challenging aspects of working with Cernit is that it changes color during baking. This is because the clay doesn’t use opaque or chalky fillers and therefore has a translucent base. Translucent clays, by their very nature, turn less white during baking, resulting in a darker color. So this means that most of the colors of Cernit will have a noticeable shift in color after baking. I found that it was a good idea to create a baked color swatch of each color so that I knew what was going to happen during baking and could design my piece accordingly.
All colors of Cernit will change color during baking, even black and white. One of my readers mentioned that she didn’t like that white Cernit turned translucent upon baking. I found that there are actually two versions of white. Porcelain White is a 50% opaque, and Opaque White is a lot closer to being fully opaque. It is opaque for all practical purposes, but it is not a chalky white and does have some light come through when you hold it up to a window.
This color shift feature of Cernit can be frustrating when you use it for caning because colors that seem good together when raw will darken during baking and can give you a dark, dull, and uninteresting cane that you don’t expect. Just make sure that your cane is designed with this color darkening in mind.
Color Ranges in the Cernit Line
Cernit has several ranges of colors in its brand. Each has slightly different characteristics and will be used in different ways.
This is the main color line of Cernit. There are 43 colors that include white, black, neutrals, primaries, and lots of lovely mixes. While all of the colors have a translucent quality to them, some are more translucent than others. Very recently, the manufacturer has begun to label the more translucent of these colors as being “50% opaque” and the rest them as being “100% opaque”. I don’t think the colors themselves have changed, rather I think they’re just beginning to label them to make it easier for the clayer to understand how that particular color will act.
This is the range of pearlescent and metallic colors. Unlike the pearl and metallic colors in other brands of clay, these clays seem to be more richly colored and have a more subtle shimmer, less “frosty”. Several of the colors appear to have two kinds of particles included in them. The Glamour Bronze, for instance, seems to have both a fine mica and also a larger metallic particle, giving a slight glitter look.
These fluorescent colors of Cernit are in Day-Glo colors that glow brightly under UV (black) light. Aside from translucent white, these are the only colors of Cernit that include fluorescent dyes or pigments. The Neon Light colors must have a fairly translucent base because they all darken considerably during baking.
The Cernit Translucent range are colored translucent clay. These clays have no opaque binders in them so they bake very clear. The colors are very intense, far more than other brands of colored translucent clay. In many cases, you’d want to mix these intense colors with plain white translucent to get the best see-through effect. I think these would be interesting as the colorant for other brands of translucent clay, such as Pardo or Premo.
Cernit white translucent is quite white (non-colored) and is one of the clearest translucent clays that there is, certainly a rival of Premo but without the tan color. I still do find, however, that Pardo translucent is clearer than Cernit.
Similar to the Sculpey’s Granitex line, the Cernit Nature colors have two kinds of particles. One is a hexagonal black flake, very similar to glitter (but not shiny). The other is a tiny short pieces of fine fiber that reminds me of flocking. The Nature colors are designed to look like stone. These little fibers and flecks do mean the clay won’t cut cleanly. In fact, when you use a blade with this clay, the fibers collect on the blade and if you’re not careful, these bunches of fibers can end up on your clay as lines or streaks.
Just as Fimo and PVClay have a range of doll clays in their offerings, so does Cernit. I didn’t get a chance to review it, but I expect it would be fairly similar to the rest of the Cernit line. And unlike Super Sculpey, Cernit Doll comes in 8 varied flesh colors.
Can You Cane with Cernit?
Well, technically, you can cane with any polymer clay. 😉 But does Cernit give a good result when you cane with it? I found that it was pretty easy to cane with Cernit. The clay isn’t too sticky, so I was able to rearrange sections as I built my cane. I followed a tutorial I found online (And I won’t link to it here because it was impossible to follow and the photos were incorrect. I swore a lot when trying to follow the instructions.) But even with all the messing around and false starts, I was able to get a tolerable kaleidoscope cane. The softness of the clay was working against me in trying to get precise angles to line up. Also, since Cernit can be pretty soft, so make sure that you give it a good, long rest before you slice it.
There’s another reason why caning with Cernit can be a bit blurry, and that is the translucent colors. Because translucent clay allows color from adjacent sections to show through, you can sometimes get a blurred visual effect, making it look like there’s not a clear distinction between the colors. For the sharpest visual effect, design your cane to have strong contrasts and use the 100% opaque colors.
Because of the softness and the color blurring, I think Cernit will be best for more organic canes where there the cane slices will be manipulated, such as when you make flowers with them, or in the style of Teresa Salgado‘s “scayning” technique. Cernit isn’t going to work as well as Fimo or Kato for extremely precise or intricate cane designs where exact placement is required.
Mica Shift with Cernit Glamour Colors
I’ve read that you can’t get a good mica shift effect with Cernit Glamour colors, but I didn’t find that to be true. Marie Segal suggested that these colors give a better mica shift effect when they’re mixed 50/50 with translucent. I tried it both ways, and I do think that I like the effect better with full strength. But I’ve not tried it with all colors. You can also see in the photo below that Cernit sands and buffs to a high shine beautifully! You can see the mica and also the larger metal flakes that Bronze has.
The Cernit Glamour Violet made an equally gorgeous mica shift. However, its effect was just slightly less impressive than the Bronze, but not enough that you can see it in the photos. Again, note that sanding and buffing Cernit can give a tremendous high-gloss shine. Nope, no varnish was used here. And yes, these are completely flat and smooth as silk.
Using Surface Treatments with Cernit
Cernit accepted paints, silk screening, alcohol inks, chalks, and varnish just as well as any other brand of polymer clay. I had a grand time playing with several things, including my Rustic Beads technique and my Faux Glass Effects process. One unusual thing about Cernit (as well as Fimo and Pardo) is that they can be damaged by water when raw. So be aware that using water as a mold release can lead to the clay getting sticky if you leave it on for very long.
How Strong is Cernit Polymer Clay?
It’s really hard to say that Cernit is the strongest brand of polymer clay because there are many ways to assess strength of a material. But it’s certainly one of the strongest. I compared Cernit to Premo, Kato, Sculpey III, and Fimo Professional in three tests. I made sticks, which I tested for flex and breakage. I made balls, which I smashed with a hammer. And I made thin strips, which I tried to pull apart and also tested for strength on the fold. In all almost all cases, Cernit was as strong as or stronger than any other brand.
Is Cernit Good for Sculpting?
Sculpting is a word that can mean so many things from cute little kawaii charms made by hand to incredibly intricate sculpting done with tools. Cernit is known for being excellent in the kind of sculpting where you have lots of blending and things are shaped by hand, such as Marina’s flower bracelet I showed above. While the clay can hold fine detail, it does droop easily and that makes it frustrating if you need a complex shape to hold while you’re working on other parts of it.
Here’s another set of flowers I sculpted using Rusalina’s excellent YouTube tutorial. The blue ones are made from Cernit, the white one is made from Fimo Professional, and the light violet one is from Premo. All three clays are strong enough for this technique. But Cernit did work the best. I found the Fimo to be too sticky and the scissors kept sticking.
One thing that Cernit does very well is to form folded sheets. I made this brooch using the FanFolding techniques in Helen Breil’s incredibly excellent tutorial ebook. As you can see, the clay is flexible and can take tight curves and folds without cracking, and it also accepts the mica powder beautifully.
Where Can I Buy Cernit?
Marina Taenkova of Marka Decor Crafts and Marie Segal whose husband Howard runs Clay Factory, Inc. both work with Cernit extensively and feel strongly that it’s a great clay that needs to be given the attention it deserves. Therefore both of them made sure that I was well-stocked with a with a huge variety of Cernit so that I could work with it and write an article to share with the polymer clay community. They’ve been so generous and helpful that I’d suggest going to them first!
Cernit can be purchased from Emma Ralph of EJR Beads in the UK. Emma also helped me by answering many questions about the clay as well. Emma says she ships to any country. As Cernit is so very popular in Europe, there are many dozens of suppliers and I can’t even begin to list them all. At the moment, the website for the manufacturer is down and I have been unable to contact them. I think they’re travelling. I’ll update this when I know more.
Cernit doesn’t have a large buyer base in some countries, so suppliers might have old stock. If your order contains older 62g packages, or if the clay is too hard or crumbly to work, then take it up with your supplier and know that fresh and properly stored Cernit won’t be impossible to work with. Buying any brand of polymer clay from ebay or Amazon can be risky because you are not buying from a supplier with a known reputation. Read more here about buying quality polymer clay.
Summary and Recommendations
Cernit polymer clay, which is made in Belgium, is a high quality, professional clay that I am happy to recommend. Here are the highlights.
- Porcelain quality due to strong translucent base
- Translucent base means colors darken noticeably during baking
- Main color range transitioning to labels with either 50% or 100% opaque
- Wide range of 80+ colors including translucent, pearl, metallic, stone, neon, and doll
- Translucent is very, very clear
- Easy to work with, soft, smooth, stretchy when raw
- Can become sticky when overworked, let it rest a few minutes
- Temperature sensitive so not great for those in hot climates and with hot hands
- Can be extruded, sculpted, shaped like any other polymer clay
- Not the best for precise caning, but does make nice “sculptural” canes
- Very strong and flexible after baking
- Takes paints, surface treatments, and varnish well
- Sands and buffs beautifully
- Beautiful, dark, mica shift is possible
- High quality, professional clay that is good for almost any technique
- Not available in many stores in the US
- Older packages might be hard, crumbly – order from reputable supplier
- Best for: All-around clay work, jewelry, hand sculpting
- Not good for: Those with hot hands, precise caning, color fidelity
- All in all, Cernit is one of the best polymer clays out there!
Credits: Many thanks to Marina Taenkova of Marka Decor, Marie Segal of Clay Factory, Tonja Lenderman of Tonja’s Treasures, and Christina Butler of Poly-Tools for providing materials used in preparing this review. I’m honored to be able to help get the word out to all of you about products like this.
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