Testing Metallic Paints on Polymer Clay

One of the things we love to do when working with polymer clay is to add a little bit of shimmer or sparkle, either as an accent or to replicate metal, such as for a bezel or setting. There are so many metallic and shimmering pearlescent paints on the market, so which ones are good? Which ones aren’t? I was curious, so I gathered up 11 different jars and bottles and got busy testing metallic paints on polymer clay.

Review and tests of metallic acrylic paints on polymer clay.

 

All of the paints I tested are acrylic paints, which means that they have an acrylic medium or carrier, and then a metallic or mica particle suspended in them. Some of them also have pigments or dyes as well. Note, none of the paints tested seem to contain actual metal particles, rather they seem to all use mica to create the metallic effect. (Paints did not tarnish and oxidize when treated with VerDay Patina Spray , which is similar to Swellegant.) I didn’t test the metallic pastes (Inka Gold, Gilders Paste, Rub n Buff) or the mica powders (Pearl Ex and Perfect Pearls) because they function very differently and I’ll review them separately.

Lots of beads on bead pins. They'll be used to test metallic paints on polymer clay.
I tested each metallic paint on both Kato and Premo, and painted half the beads before curing and half after curing. That meant 44 bead. That’s a lotta beads, so I used bead roller sets from Poly-Tools.

Materials and Methods

The paints tested are as follows. This is also how they’re labelled in the pictures.

  1. Maya Gold by Viva Decor in Night Blue
  2. Maya Gold by Viva Decor in Aubergine
  3. MetaMica by Stewart-Gill in Potpourri
  4. Pearlise by Stewart-Gill in Black Pearl
  5. Silks by LuminArte in Pretty Peridot
  6. FW Pearlescent Ink by Daler-Rowney in Pearlescent Pink
  7. Golden Fluid Acrylics in Iridescent Gold (Fine)
  8. Lumiere by Jacquard in Metallic Gold
  9. Folk Art Metallic in Pure Gold
  10. Dazzling Metallics by DecoArt in Glorious Gold
  11. Precious Metal Colors by Viva Decor in Gold

I tested each of the 11 metallic or pearlescent paints in a variety of ways to explore their covering power, their chemical compatibility with polymer clay, their durability, and their general appearance. I also checked their ability to crackle on a stretched clay sheet, the number of coats required to cover patterned clay, and compared their coverage and flow on paper. Here’s more details on the tests:

Metallic Paint on Polymer Clay Beads

All paints were tested as follows:

  1. Two coats of paint on white unbaked Kato Polyclay, baked at 300°F (148°C) for 1 hour.
  2. Two coats of paint on white baked Kato Polyclay (baked at 300°F (148°C) for 1 hour), then heat set at 275°F (135°C) for 20 minutes. (Beads were wiped with alcohol before painting.)
  3. Two coats of paint on white unbaked Premo, baked at 275°F (135°C) for 45 minutes (these were smaller beads, so I baked less time.)
  4. Two coats of paint on white baked Premo (baked at 275°F (135°C) for 45 minutes), then heat set at 250°F (121°C). (Beads were wiped with alcohol before painting.)

These beads were evaluated for appearance of paint after two coats, tackiness after curing, any color changes with baking, how well the paint adhered to the bead (scratch resistance and durability), and finally if any of these characteristics varied by the brand of clay used or whether the paint was applied to uncured or cured polymer clay.

Compare and test various metallic acrylic paints on polymer clay. More at The Blue Bottle Tree.
Two coats of each metallic paint on a white bead made of Kato polyclay.

Coverage of Metallic Paint on a Patterned Polymer Sheet

Paints were applied to a sheet of baked Premo made from black and white retro cane slices. One, two, and three coats were applied separately to evaluate the relative coverage. After heat setting the sheet (and paints) at 250°F (121°C) for 20 minutes, I also tested these by scratching with my fingernail to test durability.

Testing how many coats of metallic paint are required to cover patterned polymer clay. More at The Blue Bottle Tree.
Testing coverage power of metallic paints. Top row is one coat, second row is two coats, and bottom row is three coats of metallic paint on patterned polymer clay.

Crackle Effect on Stretched Clay Sheets

Thick sheets (#1 on my Atlas) of unbaked white Premo were painted with two coats and left to dry overnight. These sheets where then run through my pasta machine on a #4 to evaluate crackle effect.

Testing crackle ability of metallic paints on polymer clay.
Sheets of raw white Premo polymer clay were painted with two coats of metallic paint. After drying overnight, they were run through a pasta machine to evaluate crackling. The 6th and 11th paints did crackle, all others did not.

Coverage of Metallic Paint on Printed Paper

Each color of paint was applied to a printed sheet of paper, in a single stroke, to evaluate how well the paint flowed on paper and how well it covered the print. This gives an indication of how translucent the paint is.

Testing coverage of various metallic acrylic paints on paper over print.
Evaluating coverage of one stroke of metallic paint on printed paper.

Silk Screen Printing

Conversation with Sue of Creative Journey Studios indicated that several of these paints work nicely for silk screen printing. Since I have Sculpey’s Silk Screen Kit on hand, I took a few extra minutes to test how several of these paints performed. I tested Maya Gold (Night Blue), MetaMica, Pearlise, and Precious Metal Color by screen printing onto #3 sheets of white unbaked Premo. After the paint dried, I baked them at 275°F (135°C) for 30 minutes.

Metallic paints silk screen printed on polymer clay.
Metallic paint silk screen printed onto white Premo polymer clay.

Results and Discussion

  1. Maya Gold by Viva Decor in Night Blue – Provided in a jar, this thick bodied paint is gorgeous, it’s like a blue tinted paint with distinct silver sparkles. The paper liner inside the lid had disintegrated, though, and had to be carefully picked off the paint in the jar. The paint covered beautifully in two coats on all surfaces tested. The paint body itself is glossy and the mica particles are fairly large and give good sparkle. But paint applied to raw clay bubbled during curing and changed color to a royal blue. Paint applied to baked clay, even when baked at 275°F (135°C) for 45 minutes, did not bubble. This paint must not be compatible with polymer clay because it remained tacky and gummy on polymer clay. Also, where it peeled off, it left the underlying clay stained red. (Odd, it’s blue paint.) There was no difference between Kato and Premo. It stuck better when applied to raw clay, but peeled easily when scratched. Not only did this clay not crackle, but it peeled off the sheet of clay in a rubbery mess when run through the pasta machine.
  2. Maya Gold by Viva Decor in Aubergine – This color of Maya Gold produced identical results as the blue color with the exception of the color shift when used on raw clay. It also has slightly smaller mica particles, giving a bit less shimmer.
  3. MetaMica by Stewart-Gill in Potpourri – Also in a jar, with a consistency a bit like mayonnaise, this paint had a very slight shimmer. It covered fairly well, two coats had a bit of streaking, three would have been better. Labelled as a gloss, I found this to be a satin paint and it didn’t really have a great metallic shimmer. I loved the rich color, though, and it painted on with a rich, smooth, buttery flow. When painted onto raw clay, the color faded considerably during baking. Baking did not change the color of paint applied to cured beads. But sadly, this paint easily peeled off all beads tested. The paint stained the underlying clay red. This paint dried well on the clay, was only slightly rubbery feeling, but did not create a true crackle effect. Though it did stay attached to the raw clay sheet.
  4. Pearlise by Stewart-Gill in Black Pearl – An almost flat black paint with a very fine mica shimmer, this paint reminded me of chalkboard paint. It covers completely and very well with one coat. It dried completely, was not tacky on beads, and I couldn’t scratch the paint off my beads. It did not create large crackles, but it did break into a fine network of crosswise lines. This paint had a lot of carbon black in it, and I suspect it sort of masked the pearlescent quality they intend for it to have. Perhaps the other colors of this range have better shimmer. This is a nice paint.
  5. Silks by LuminArte in Pretty Peridot – Labelled as a semi-gloss acrylic glaze, this honey-textured paint comes in a little tiny jar or pot. Definitely a light green glaze with a fine mica shimmer, this paint does not give much coverage at all. It would take many, many coats of this for complete coverage. It is a semi-gloss paint body and gives a fairly tacky or rubbery feel when used on polymer clay. Most people would say it’s sticky, though it didn’t actually stick to anything. It was more like a window cling in feel. On Kato beads, this paint peeled off easily. But it was impossible to remove from Premo beads with my fingernail. It did not crackle and instead peeled off the raw clay sheet.
  6. Pearlescent Ink by Daler-Rowney in Pearlescent Pink – I only included this because I thought it would offer a good contrast to the other paints. This is sold as an ink for use with fine brush and dip pens. But it really surprised me. It is a liquid, the consistency of milk, and does not give much coverage at all. But it is heavily infused with a medium sized mica particle and creates tremendous pearlescent sheen. It dries nicely to the touch, even on raw clay, and is impossible to be scraped from both Kato and Premo beads. And yes, this does create a very nice crackle effect on raw polymer clay, but you need to use several coats to get a good even coating.
  7. Golden Fluid Acrylics in Iridescent Gold (Fine) – Textured a bit like liquid polymer clay, this fluid acrylic is the only one on the list to be a fine artist’s material rather than a craft material. It has a satin paint body and has a lot of fine textured mica with a good, reflective shimmer. I don’t see it as being iridescent. Two coats left the beads streaky and it would take many coats for complete coverage. There was a slight tacky feel to the beads, but not exactly sticky. Painted on raw beads, this paint was impossible to be scraped off after baking. But painted on baked beads, you could scrape it off with effort. So for this paint, I would recommend painting it on raw clay before curing for maximum durability. This paint did not crackle and easily peeled off the raw sheet. For an artist’s paint, I was surprised that this paint wasn’t more pigment dense, to be honest.
  8. Lumiere by Jacquard in Metallic Gold – Lumiere comes in small squeeze bottles similar in size to alcohol inks. A traditional favorite of polymer clay artists, I was surprised to find this paint performing so badly. It is not very pigment dense, has very little coverage, and acts more like a glaze than a paint. The paint body itself is glossy and remains quite rubbery or tacky even after being heat set. It peeled easily off Kato beads. But on Premo the story was different. If painted on raw Premo before curing, the paint was nearly impossible to scratch off the beads. But if painted on cured Premo, you could scratch it off with some effort. This paint did not dry enough for crackling. It peeled from the clay in a gummy mess onto my pasta machine, much like the Maya Gold paints did. Even though this isn’t a very densely pigmented paint, it does have quite a reflective shimmer.
  9. Folk Art Metallic in Pure Gold – A $2.17 craft paint that’s the consistency of honey gives moderate, but streaky coverage with two coats. It will need at least 4 or more coats for full coverage, but it has more pigment density than the Golden paint. The paint body is more like a satin, not a semi-gloss. It required some effort to scratch this paint from polymer clay beads, and when painted onto raw Premo, it stuck tight after curing. This paint feels smooth and silky when dried, not sticky at all, but it does not work for crackling. It stretches as the clay stretches and peels off in spots. This paint has good metallic shine.
  10. Dazzling Metallics by DecoArt in Glorious Gold – This $1.87 bottle is nearly identical to the Folk Art Metallic, but it does actually stick a bit better to the beads and is harder to scratch off.
  11. Precious Metal Colors by Viva Decor in Gold – I’m not sure this is an acrylic paint, but it is water based. It has a very slight chemical solvent smell, so this might have a very different paint body than the others tested. But this performed wonderfully! This is a very different paint. It has a very large mica particle, almost glitter sized, and it gives a brilliant metallic shine that is much more metallic than any of the other paints. This is the only paint I’ve seen that actually rivals gold leaf. Because the particles are so large, it’s a bit like painting with glitter paint and it’s hard to get complete coverage in 2 coats. Three would be better. It dries beautifully to a very nice hard, smooth surface. No tackiness at all. And it was impossible to scratch this paint off both Kato and Premo beads. And this gives one of the most impressive crackle effects I’ve ever seen on stretched polymer clay. It truly looks like gold leaf. Painted on with a dry brush, this paint would give lovely metallic highlights.

About that Bubbling

Maya Gold paint on Kato polyclay. Top beads were painted before curing.Some polymer clay artists report that acrylic paint sticks better when it’s applied to raw clay and then baked. But when I mention this in groups and forums the fear is always that the heat will bubble and ruin the paint. And when the first painted beads came out of the oven at 300°F (148°C) and I saw the bubbling, I thought the temperature must have been too high for the paint. But the bubbling actually seemed to correlate to being on unbaked clay, not to the temperature it was baked. In fact, when I looked under the bubbles on the Kato beads, I could see cracks in the clay where the gasses escaped. Premo baked at 275°F (135°C) only bubbled on the beads that were painted raw, not on the ones merely baked at that heat.

Silk Screening

Oh gosh that was fun. I will have to write about silk screening another time. All four paints printed beautifully. The Maya Gold and the Meta Mica showed signs of some staining around the edges of the paint, and sure enough, when I scraped off the paint, I could see the stained clay underneath. The Maya Gold was sticky and smeared easily (though it did not peel outright). The MetaMica peeled off easily. (These results reinforced the previous results with durability on clay.) With hard scraping, the Pearlise smeared a bit, but tenaciously stayed stuck. And the Precious Metal Color seems to be made for this…gorgeous, gorgeous color. Excellent performance, and I could not scrape it off.

Bonus Result

When I saw how tacky several of these beads were, I coated them with Varathane to see if it would fix the problem of some paints having a sticky surface. And it did. Every one of these brands then had a great finish that was no longer tacky or sticky. But it did not allow the poorly adhering paints to adhere any better. An interesting point, though. Painting Varathane on each of these cured beads, I found that none of the color came off on the brush. Except with Silks. That turned my paintbrush green! I’ve seen this happen with my other colors, too.

Conclusion

Wow, how to summarize all that? Well, let’s see. Let me just break it down into some bullet points.

  • Maya Gold is incompatible with polymer clay. It’s gorgeous on paper, though.
  • Pearlise, Daler-Rowney Pearlescent Ink, and Viva Decor Precious Metal Colors are exceedingly durable on polymer clay and have no hint of tackiness or stickiness.
  • Daler-Rowney Pearlescent Ink and Viva Decor Precious Metal Colors are the only ones that will give a crackle effect when painted onto a raw clay sheet and then stretched.
  • No brand of acrylic paint bubbled or discolored when painted onto baked polymer clay and heat set at 275°F (135°C).
  • Painting acrylic paint onto raw clay and then baking gives better durability and adhesion except with Maya Gold, Silks, and Golden Fluid Acrylics. Those bubbled.
  • Inexpensive DecoArt and Folk Art metallic paints are excellent for use on polymer clay.
  • Some paints still peel from polymer clay even after heat setting.
  • I want to try more colors of Pearlise. It looks very promising. It has a great finish, good coverage, excellent adhesion.
  • Maya Gold and Precious Metal Colors had the largest mica particles. MetaMica, Pearlise, and Lumiere had the smallest.
  • None of these paints used actual metal. They all appeared to be mica based.
  • Precious Metal Colors gives the most convincing metal effect.
  • Silks don’t seem to be very good for use with polymer clay. They have a dye in them that bleeds with Varathane and they are quite sticky and tacky.
  • Lumiere is so popular with clayers (and performed so badly here) that I wonder if I have a bad batch? Does anyone else have similar results with theirs?
  • Sometimes paints get sticky many months or years later. I can’t test for this today, of course, but I’ll keep the beads around and report back if anything changes.

Recommendations

I was honestly surprised and quite pleased with the performance of the Precious Metal Colors. If you want a bright metallic effect on polymer clay, you’re just not going to get a better result than this. It’s…pardon the pun…brilliant. It paints nicely, it crackles nicely, it silk screen prints nicely, and it comes in many bright, shiny colors. Win!

I was also surprised at how well the FW Daler-Rowney Pearlescent Ink performed. I have had it for years and never used it on polymer clay, but now I will. It also makes me think I need to look into the other brands of acrylic inks, too.

Pearlise came out as a strong contender, too. Like I said earlier, I’d like to see this paint in other colors. If it’s anything like this Black Pearl, it will be a trusty workhorse in your polymer kit. It wasn’t much for crackle, but it does give good coverage, sticks well to clay, and has a nice smooth finish.

But the surprise was the strong performance of the very inexpensive craft paints by DecoArt and Folk Art. They were more densely pigmented than the far more expensive Golden Fluid Acrylic and Lumiere, and they had better durability on baked beads, especially on Kato. They had a much better, far less tacky feel to them as well. If you’re looking to get a range of metallic paints for your polymer clay, I would lean toward these paints vs. Lumiere paints.

Credits and Fine Print

Most of the materials I used in these tests were things I had on hand or I bought for the purpose of doing this comparison. A few items were received as a courtesy from suppliers or manufacturers. But you have my word and my promise that I will always strive to give you the most honest information that I can. Here are the generous people who provided some of the materials I used in this article. Please show them some love and tell them I sent you!

  • The beads were created on bead rolling sets and bead pins provided by Poly-Tools. I used Pro sets #4 and #7.
  • The MetaMica and Perlise were provided by Poly Clay Play.
  • The Maya Gold was provided by Viva Decor.
  • Silk screens were provided by Polyform.

Thank You!

I want to thank you all for your kind words and encouragement. It does take a lot of time, work and expense to do these tests and it means so much when I get emails and messages from you expressing your appreciation. It’s truly amazing that we’re part of this wonderful sharing community. And can you believe it’s all because of some little bricks of plastic clay? Who would have thought! And now I have a favor to ask of you. Would you mind sharing my website with your other polymer clay loving friends? It would be great if a few more people knew about my tutorials. I would be ever so grateful!

And if you missed my tutorials…you can find them here:

Polymer Clay Tutorials

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *