Polymer Clay: FAQ

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By paperfaceparade   |   Watch
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Published: August 20, 2008

Does it matter what kind I buy?

Yes, it matters what *kind* you buy, but it doesn't really matter which brand-- just whichever one is easier for you to work with. Make sure it's bakeable clay and not modeling clay. It WILL melt in the oven (For example, using non-bakeable modeling clay as a filler for larger sculptures may or may not result in said sculpture cracking/exploding and oozing hot, melted slime. …Not that I'd know that from first-hand experience or anything. Nonetheless, you have been warned). Some polymer clay brands are Fimo, Sculpey, Premo (I believe this is made by Sculpey), and Kato.

What's the difference between the different brands?

FIMO Soft—Soft, and sturdier when baked because it stays slightly flexible. The darker colors will stain your hands, but this can be washed off easily with some good dish-soap. Non-toxic.

FIMO Classic—Basically the same as FIMO Soft, but it's harder. Go figure. Non-toxic.

FIMO Effects—Cool FIMO colors that sparkle/glow in the dark/etc. Non-toxic. On the rare occasion that I do want sparkly clay, I spring for clay that already sparkles as opposed to dealing with the herpes of the craft world that is glitter dust. I've never particularly enjoyed working with glitter, but after one year of working as a holiday cashier at Target and between fishing it out of my eyes during lunch breaks and constantly finding it on my clothes/register/car-seat/toothbrush/armpits, I swore it off entirely.

Sculpey III—Hard, brittle when baked, a wider variety of colors than FIMO, and slightly cheaper than all the other brands. This is what I first used when I got into working with polymer clay and I don't mind using it now. Non-toxic.

Premo—Soft, the colors don't bleed onto your hands like Sculpey III, and, as far as I've observed, it's durable after you bake it. It's a little more expensive, but if you can afford it or if you find it on sale, stock up. I don't think Premo is non-toxic.

Kato—I haven't ever had a chance to work with Kato, but I've heard it's the best brand out there. Same with Premo, I'm not sure if it's non-toxic.

What's the best way to knead clay?

A clay conditioning machine (aka mini pasta machine). I absolutely love mine. My knuckles tend to get sore pretty quick while I'm hand kneading clay and by the time I actually get to making the charms, I'm so sick of working the clay with my hands. A clay conditioning machine cuts out the process of having to knead the clay until it's soft enough to work with, and it can be used for rolling out big, even sheets (which also tends to kill the knuckles). They usually come with lots of different thickness settings, and if you have a pasta machine, there are different settings used for pasta that might come in handy with clay. Though I wouldn't recommend using the same machine for both pasta and clay.

What about coloring your clay with chalk pastels?

Now, this is something that I'm slightly new to, but I like it so far. Instead of buying a whole plethora of colors, just buy white clay, and large set of chalk pastels (they don't have to be fancy, professional-artist quality. You're just going to grind them up and use them for the color.). If you're patient, get a hard-bristled brush or something with similar physical properties, and vigorously rub at the chalk pastel over a desired amount of white clay. Aaaaand mix. And mix. And add some more color dust. And mix. If you're impatient, you can use a razor blade and shave off pieces of pastel, but when you mix your clay, there might be undesirable lumps of chalk that are hard to break down.

However, I prefer just buying clay in the colors I want and I reserve pastels for coloring TLS and adding coloring details just on the very surface of the clay.

What is Liquid Clay/TLS?

Translucent Liquid Sculpey. The FIMO brand is pretty similar. It's great for effect. i.e. maple syrup, cherry glaze, etc. To add color, shave/brush off chalk pastel dust and mix it in. If you want to thicken it, just use regular clay (see my TLS tutorial). Straight up TLS is pretty flexible after it's baked.

After working with both the Sculpey brand of liquid clay (TLS) and the Fimo brand, and I like Fimo better. There aren't too many differences. TLS is very opaque before it's baked, whereas Liquid FIMO is already clear (and it's a little more transparent after baking than TLS).

Does clay dry out?

Umm, it might. After like... three decades. Still, keep it in an airtight container. At least keep the dark and light colors separated. Sandwich/zip-lock bags work great, or a large plastic container with separate compartments. If you leave it sitting for a long time (i.e. a year), even in an airtight container, it will need some conditioning before you can work with it, but it'll be just fine.


How do you get that powdered look on your powdered doughnut?

Brush a ton of white chalk pastel dust on to the doughnut before you bake it. Push it in slightly. Don't worry if it 'disappears'. It 'reappears' after you bake it. Also, I found this weird paint-like stuff in my mom's old crafting supplies. It's like... really thick paint. It looks kind of like stucco when you apply it. If you can find something like this, it would work great for a snow-like look. Just apply it after you bake it, not before. XD

I've also heard that you can use flour, corn starch, and talc powder (aka baby powder), but I've never tried any of these myself.

How do you make those little bite marks?

I have this tiny oval shaped clay-cookie cutter. I use the very tip of it to slice away at the edge of the piece of clay until it looks like some very small person has taken a bite out of it.

How do you make lots of super small things, like the sprinkles on the doughnuts?

Well, you could either make each one individually, or you can do things the easy way. *gasp!*. The sprinkles, for example, roll out a super dooper thin log of clay, then slice it into 'sprinkles'.

TIP: If you're trying to make a piece of something, a cake for example, don't just make one piece. Make the whole cake. If you want a piece of bread, make a loaf of bread. If you want a watermelon slice, make the whole watermelon. If you want a diced onion, make the whole onion and dice it.

How do you get a smooth gradient between two different colors?

This technique is called a Skinner blend, and I have a tutorial for it. paperfaceparade.deviantart.com…

How do you make the details inside of things like fruit?

This technique is called a Millefiori cane and I have several tutorials (the Kiwi and the Orange) for it. It's basically where you make a giant roll that looks like an awkward cartoon version of a thick fruit slice and then you roll it out super tiny and then suddenly it looks cute and realistic.

How do you get clay, especially canes, to not smear/squish when you cut them?

Freeze them! It only takes a few minutes, and that way they'll be a little stiffer when you're cutting them and won't lose their shape. As far as smearing goes, make sure you're using a sharp non-serrated blade. :)


What kind of paint can you use?

I don't use paint on many of my clay creations, so I'm not the best person to ask. I used to think acrylic would be the best option, but I know of people who exclusively use oils.

What kind of glaze do you use?

Clear fingernail polish works great and it's a whole lot cheaper (granted, no two clear fingernail polishes are alike). I've used Sculpey before, though. It was really thick, so I watered it down a little. I don't know a whole lot about different glazes. I've been using the same bottle for years. It's like... a huge bottle. Glaze can be applied with a paintbrush, and it should only take a minute or so to dry.  Dip gently, try to avoid having to scrape your brush, and make gentle strokes. This will help you avoid air bubbles. If you see any air bubbles, blowing on them usually makes them go away. Just don't hyperventilate.


What tools do you use for working with the clay?

You really don't need to go out and buy a snappy set of tools just for working with clay.

Clay gun:

Along with my clay conditioning machine, I bought a "clay gun". Basically, ... ok, so you know those kids toys used for playdoh that you put the playdoh inside and then push the clay out to make playdoh spaghetti and star shaped logs? That's basically what a clay gun is. Except instead of being bright and colorful and made out of plastic, they're made out of metal. Using a clay gun can be hard on the hands... which is why I don't use my hands. lol. First, I put the clay in the microwave *GASP! NO NOT THE MICROWAVE!!* Yes, the microwave. I turn the power setting on the microwave to about %50, then I flatten the clay so it's not very thick, and then I put it in the microwave for NO MORE than 5 seconds at a time and NO MORE than 15 seconds total. Be warned, YOU CANNOT DO THIS WITH KATO OR PREMO, only non-toxic clays such as Sculpey and FIMO. This warms the clay and makes it very soft so it's easier to push through the clay gun. Then, I put the clay in the gun, turn the clay gun upside down (... I'll make a tutorial later on, because not all clay guns are the same so some of you are probably giving me a O.o face right about now.) and press down on the fingergrips with my feet (while wearing shoes).

For the following tools, I have my own substitutes. XD


Haha... I used to use AA batteries. It's not tapered, and it doesn't leave 'fingerprints' in the clay, and the clay doesn't get stuck to it. With a wooden rolling pin, the clay gets stuck in the little creases, and it's basically a pain to clean. You could also use a glass bottle of some sort, or an acrylic rolling pin.

Now, I have a clay conditioning machine (aka miniature pasta machine that is Sculpey brand and specifically for clay). It saves time and effort when conditioning/softening/mixing colors/rolling out sheets/etc. I love it.

Cutting the Clay:

I was kind of young when I started playing with clay, so I used a butter knife for the longest time. It totally smeared the clay. lol. So, don't use anything that's serrated. Razor blades work. They're kind of like box cutters except not. It's just the blade, so it's kind of scary to use, unless you roll a large log of clay (long and wide enough to make a handle for your blade) and push it into the top of your blade so that you have something to hold onto. You can to the same thing with needles and pins-- push a ball of clay into the top of the pin, then bake it, and you have handy dandy high-quality clay tools.


One thing that's kind of hard to make at home are shape cutters, so invest in a good set of miniature cookie-cutters for cutting awkward shapes like stars and hearts. You can probably find these in the same aisle as polymer clay at the craft store. *HanaClayWorks www.hanaclayworks.deviantart.com has a lovely tutorial on making stars without a cutter, as well as a fabulous FAQ section.

Texturing/smoothing tools:

Toothpicks, hairpins, needles, toothbrushes, tin foil balls, sandpaper, etc. Just about anything you want to use to texture. For smoothing, your fingernail works, or you can get a small piece of plastic wrap and wrap it around the end of your finger to rub out fingerprints. I'm usually too lazy to do this, so there are fingerprints all over my charms. Gently rubbing with your bare finger can fix small mistakes. I've heard that rubbing alcohol and a Q-tip can get rid of lint and fingerprints before you bake the clay. Just don't douse the clay in rubbing alcohol or it will turn to goop. Also, you can sand the clay after it's been baked. I haven't experimented with this too much. I hear that you're supposed to start with coarser sandpaper and work your way up to the ultra-fine sandpaper.


I have never used a clay mold before. I tried making one once. Kind of botched it… You can use cornstarch, flour, or talcum powder (baby powder) to make the clay pop out of the mold easier.

Baking tools:

Designate a cookie sheet or glass pan for baking your clay. While the clay is non-toxic, you don't really want to be eating tiny clay particles. If you only have one cookie sheet or something, you can bake your clay on tin-foil, or paper. No, the paper will not burn unless it is touching the back or sides of the oven, and you probably don't want it touching the racks either.

Jewelry-making tools:

You can use a pair of designated fingernail clippers as wire cutters, or some good old wire cutters. You will need a pair of round nose pliers if you want to make your own eyepins. I used to make my own eyepins, but it's like 99 cents to buy 60 or so of them, so I just buy them because I'm lazy. If you're making a necklace or bracelet, you'll need clasps, small wire rings (these are hard to make, so I also buy these), and chain. For necklaces, you don't want super chunky chain, but be sure that the links are big enough that you won't want to jump off a cliff while trying to attach a charm and the clasps. For bracelets, you'll want larger chain.


How long/hot do you bake the clay for?

200º F for 15-20 minutes. At 200ºF, you're less likely to burn anything. I don't think I've ever burnt anything, actually, and I've left some things in there for two to three times the suggested baking time. If you're impatient, you can bump the temp up to 225ºF and shorten the baking time, just keep an eye on whatever you're baking.

Are the fumes toxic?

Only if you burn the clay. So, just, don't do that. lol. If you do burn something, keep the room well ventilated for at least an hour. Don't throw the burnt clay away until it's cooled down, or you will melt your garbage bag, and you will have a gross gooey mess to clean up after the next time you take out the garbage.

EDIT: bought some Premo clay, and nowhere on the package does it say that it's non-toxic, so I'm assuming that it is. Probably just if you eat it. So. Don't eat the clay.

Will the colors change after I bake the clay?

No, colors will stay the same. However, if you are using translucent clay (not TLS, just regular clay that is slightly opaque), it won't be translucent at all before you bake it, and after, it should be fairly translucent.


So, just a few tips about cleaning up.

Rubbing alcohol works great for getting off clay that's stuck to anything, I just don't know if it's safe to use rubbing alcohol on wood furniture-- which you probably shouldn't be exposing to polymer clay anyways. Just soak a paper towel in the rubbing alcohol and wipe surfaces down. To clean off my clay machine, I soak a makeup wedge in rubbing alcohol, set the machine to the thickest setting, then crank the machine with one hand while holding the thick end of the makeup wedge with the other and gently gliding it from side to side between the rollers. This gets clay particles off so they won't stain other, lighter shades of clay.

I use a toothbrush and rubbing alcohol or dish-soap to clean my clay gun and other miscellaneous tools.


1.) Wash your hands often, especially between dark and light colors. Not only will this keep color from spreading, but (although, like I've already said, it's not toxic) do you really want to ingest or spread clay particles all over your house?

2.) Don't use the same pan for baking clay as you do for baking food, for the same reasons you should wash your hands.

3.) Try not to burn your clay. Don't leave the house while you have clay in the oven, or if you have anything in the oven for that matter. This shouldn't be news to you. If you do burn your clay, don't intentionally inhale the fumes. Turn off the oven, and remove the burnt clay to cool. Wait until the clay has cooled off before you chuck it.

4.) Keep clay out of reach of little children. Again, although the clay is non-toxic I don't think a giant wad of clay would be the greatest thing for your digestive system.

Everything is shapes. Everything is a combination of circles, lines, and triangles. Seriously. Take a look around. A square? Two triangles. A cone? A triangle and a half circle. Don't make the thing, make the shape, then give it the personality of the thing. If you draw, you already know this, and if you already know this, you can do this with clay and make just about anything you can draw.

Any more questions? Post them here and I'll answer them as soon as I can!
© 2008 - 2019 paperfaceparade
EDIT: 10/15/2012- I did some updating. I've learned some new techniques and been able to try new tricks and tips and I've put them in here. :)

Any questions? Ask away!
anonymous's avatar
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Alivien's avatar
AlivienHobbyist General Artist
if I use powder should i glaze it afterwards? What is the best finish/glaze to use?
paperfaceparade's avatar
I haven't tried using glaze on top of powder. I think that might depend more on the quality of the powder than the glaze, because you won't want the powder to completely dissolve in the glaze. . It might just be trial and error. What might work best is some kind of spray glaze or adhesive, but I haven't done much research or experimentation so I don't know what would work with poly-clay and what wouldn't, but I can see painting glaze on powder being potentially problematic. 
eembuc1000's avatar
eembuc1000Hobbyist General Artist
I live overseas, and when my mom recently visited the U.S., I sent her off to get some clay. She told me she bought "clays, tools, and molds", and I'm slightly worried. She gets back tomorrow.... I also forgot about the bit where you need to bake the clay... we don't have an oven (long story). I guess that's what friends who have ovens are for! I'm sure your tips will be very helpful when the clay arrives, so thanks very much for making this! :D
boboosy's avatar
I wrote my question before .. Waiting for answer ..plzzz heelp
boboosy's avatar
Thank u for sharing your findings it's really helpful.. Can you tell me how to keep the icing or something like it looking wet and glazed .. The other day I used translucent liquid sculpey with soft pastels to make a donut frosting it was nice glossy shine but after baking it it really looked horrible the donut icing didn't look shiny/glossy anymore it looked dry so can u help :)
paperfaceparade's avatar
after your clay and tls have been baked. don't bake anything that's been glazed. 
paperfaceparade's avatar
buy some glaze that has a glossy finish, sculpey brand or whatever you like, or even clear fingernail polish and paint some of that on whatever you want to look shiny. 
chinchinpet's avatar
Thanks for the awesome infos!! I've just made my very first polymer rose, was wondering if I should decorate it with pastel chalk first or bake it and then decorate it. Thanks for your help!
paperfaceparade's avatar
depends on what you're doing with the chalk. if you're shaving it onto the clay for a powdered effect, then i'd do it before. if you're wanting to draw on the clay with chalk (which i have never tried) i'd probably do that after, so the clay maintains its shape. like i said, i've never tried that, so i don't know how well it will work/hold up.
xxsuperpandaxx's avatar
xxsuperpandaxxStudent Traditional Artist
super helpful, thankyou
Aerusss's avatar
AerusssStudent Artisan Crafter
Thank you for sharing! very helpful
paokikipao's avatar
Thank you so much for this :DD ^_^
I just started using polymer clay and I think this is really helpful :3
violet-lotus's avatar
violet-lotus General Artist
Can anyone recommend what to do with burnt projects?? A horrible mishap occurred last night, and 3 days worth of work got ruined due to a miscommunication RE: the temperature.

Almost all of them are charcoal black now (not tie dye and bright neon, like before, dammit!).

I'm just not sure if polymer clay loses its strength and durability when it is overbaked like that. A whole cookie sheet's worth got baked for a half hour at 350 degrees F. (they were smokin', oh god such a disappointment, tears still well up in my eyes..)
paperfaceparade's avatar
Sorry, I'd say just throw it away. For one thing, as much as the clay packaging might say it's non-toxic, I can't think that it'd stay that way after being burnt into fumes and charcoal. If anything, if the structure still seems to have held together well enough, and isn't at risk of crumbling upon being breathed on/lightly touched, then you could try painting over them. Sorry about the mishap-- that's always frustrating.
violet-lotus's avatar
violet-lotus General Artist
Thanks for the suggestions. My husband felt bad for me and he took all my projects out of the trash and washed them off. The charcoal-like residue was able to come off and some of the pieces looked perfectly fine underneath. I was able to save most of my projects that I will utilize for non-jewelry creations. Some of them (funnily enough) almost looked better! I was able to make lemonade out of the lemons, I guess. :)

The structure was fine too. They felt very well cured.
LelaLullaby's avatar
LelaLullabyHobbyist Photographer
I used clear nail polish for a good long while, and now that I have actual glaze I like the glaze better. It isn't as shiny, but I noticed that all the charms I made with clear polish gets dirty easier and dust sticks to it horribly. With my glaze it doesn't do this.

but I did have a question. Do you know if you can glaze actual sprinkles and it not get gross in time? I want to make the little sootballs from spirited away and I can't make stars very well, so I was wondering is glazing sprinkles could work means how people use food and stuff in resin(Like sprinkles).
paperfaceparade's avatar
I've noticed that about clear fingernail polish, too...

Hmm. I'm not sure. I think you could try it just fine. I don't know how well they would bake, and I doubt they'd get gross but they might dissolve over time. Hope that helps :)
TernFeather's avatar
TernFeatherProfessional General Artist
So clear fingernail polish is the best thing to use for glaze? I'll have to give that a try. I bought a can of Mod Podge spray and I'm pretty disappointed because it stays sticky after drying (and seems to get stickier when the humidity goes up!). Do you think it would work if I painted over the layer of Mod Podge with nail polish? Thanks for making this FAQ!
paperfaceparade's avatar
that should work. yeah, i like clear fingernail polish. it works, it's cheap, etc. the sculpey glazes work well, too, though. they're just a little more expensive, and i think they're a little stickier/thicker, which i don't like. the thing with the fingernail polish is that you have to work quickly, or it starts getting thick/sticky, too. =)
TernFeather's avatar
TernFeatherProfessional General Artist
OK, thanks! I'll give it a try.
Awesome0Bubbles0's avatar
THANK YOU SO MUCH. Im still a beginner when it comes to polymer clay. thats helps ALOT.
sailorangel's avatar
sailorangelHobbyist Digital Artist
I read somewhere that I would have to clean my entire oven after baking the clay before cooking anything else, unless I cover it with tinfoil but I'm worried the tinfoil will leave marks in the clay - do I need to clean my whole oven? Or just air it out? I don't want to poison myself or my family :( But I would rather avoid scrubbing the whole oven... any tips?
paperfaceparade's avatar
if you're using sculpey or fimo, you don't need to clean your oven. they are non-toxic clays. if the clay doesn't say non-toxic on the label, then you might want to look into getting a second oven for clay, or a counter-top oven. you can get decent ones at home appliance stores for around $40-$50. (sorry for the long delay in response time..)
anonymous's avatar
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