Polymer Clay Materials Guide
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I frequently get asked what materials I use to make my polymer clay figurines, but I figured I’d make a little guide to share all my favorite materials! You definitely don’t need all these materials to start working with polymer clay, and in fact, it would be overwhelming to start with all these materials! I slowly collected the materials and tools I have now over the past 10 years, and you may find you don’t even need all these tools for the clay work you want to do!
If you want to start working with clay, I would recommend either starting with 1-2 colors just to see if you like the process of sculpting - you can also try a couple different brands to see which is your favorite! If you want more colors, purchasing a set like this 12-color Sculpey Premo! Classics Sampler Kit or this 24-color Premo! Sculpey 24 Color Sampler is a great way to get started! If you get a set like either of these, you can purchase more 2oz or even 8oz blocks of the colors you use the most, as you use up the clay! As for tools, you will likely figure out what you want/need as you practice sculpting!
Below I’ve listed pretty much everything I use to make my pieces! Please note that these links are mainly places that operate in America, since I live there and source my materials from these companies. You can likely find similar materials and tools in local craft stores and craft websites where you are!
2020-2021 Clay Shortages:
You may notice that right now polymer clay is often out of stock at your local craft stores, or even online. Sculpey actually addresses this in this post on their website! I try to check my favorite materials websites regularly, and buy the colors I need when they are available. It's not ideal, but I'm hopefully we'll see an increase in availability soon! Websites I check for clay availability include:
I'm writing this post in January 2021, and as of now, it still seems like there are significant clay shortages. I'm hopeful that in the next few months, there will be more clay available!
Clay and Sculpting Tools:
My absolute favorite clay is Sculpey Premo/Sculpey Premo Accents lines! When properly baked, I find this clay to be more durable than other options, and it has a consistency I really like working with. Sculpey Soufflé is another clay I use, and it also bakes to be durable, but it has almost a “grainier” texture and is softer than Sculpey Premo, so I tend to use it less. It comes in a more limited color palette, but the colors it comes in are really fun! I also use some Sculpey III, but since Sculpey III is more fragile after curing than Sculpey Premo, I only use Sculpey III when it is mixed with at least 60% Sculpey Premo or another more durable clay. You can always use Sculpey Premo Translucent or White Translucent to mix with Sculpey III, which will give a more transparent effect but maintains a similar color.
I regularly get questions about Fimo polymer clay, so I figured I’d mention it too! I personally use Fimo infrequently because I’m more used to working with Sculpey Premo. Fimo is still a great clay, and still is durable after baking, and in fact I know a lot of artists who prefer it above Sculpey! It’s truly just a matter of availability and personal preference!
If I’m making a figurine with delicate details, such as one of my unicorn figurines, I will give the piece a full wire armature. This wire is my absolute favorite I’ve found for making armatures, and I use it and aluminum foil to make an armature to wrap clay around. I also use little pieces of wire to reinforce any delicate parts of the sculpt that I’m worried could break or “slump” in the oven during baking. To form the wire, I use a pair of pliers and a pair of wire cutters - I don’t actually know where my pliers and wire cutters came from since I had them before I started making armatures, but I’m sure similar tools you can find would work similarly! If I ever do replace my tools, I’ll be sure to share the new ones!
I use a variety of sculpting tools to help me with small details on my pieces. If you’re new to sculpting, you don’t really need to get tools right away - I suggest using things you can find around your house, like toothpicks or sewing pins, before investing in clay tools if you’re not sure if polymer clay is for you yet. Get creative - a pen can be a great roller, for example! Even though I’ve been sculpting for a long time, I still regularly use tools like sewing needles and toothpicks in my polymer clay work! My most used sculpting tools are:
- Silicone Clay Shapers: I personally use the size #0, but I sculpt very small (my figurines are usually between 1-3 inches tall). If you want to sculpt larger than I do, the size #2 might be better for you!
- Nail Art Dotting Tools: I use these for a bunch of different things, including indenting for eyes and blending pieces together, as well as as a roller to roll out a clay sheet. I bought this set back in 2016, and I assume they’re just about the same today! Any nail dotting tool should work similarly, but notably back in 2016 these took like a month to ship to me.
- Embroidery Needles: Sewing needles work too, but I like a thicker embroidery needle blending two pieces of clay together, and for other fine details.
- Quilting Pins: Any sewing pin is fine, but I like ones that have bigger round heads! These are finer than embroidery needles, so I use them for smaller details.
- X-acto Craft Knife: this is the size of X-acto knife I use. Please do not use a craft knife like this if you are a minor or if this could be dangerous for you for any reason! If you need a safer option, or if you are purchasing for a child, I used a set of Sculpey Modeling Tools for many years!
- Cake Frosting Tips: I push clay through these to create a “frosting” look, and I also cut the strips of clay into little “stars.” Wilton size #14 is my most-used type!
- Clay Extruder: I have a Makin’s Clay Extruder, that I’ve had for 10+ years, and it still works! I mainly use this to make thin tubes of clay to cut into sprinkles, and it definitely isn’t a tool I find necessary for what I make, but it is a fun tool to have!
Pasta Machine/Clay Craft Machine. I use my machine to help “condition” clay to make it softer before sculpting (conditioning is also essential to keep clay strong after baking). I also use it to roll out flat sheets in different uniform thicknesses, and to make blends (for more information on blends, look up “Skinner Blends” or head over to my TikTok - I show lots of blends on there!) This Amaco Clay Craft Machine is the newer version of the machine I have been using for the past 10 or so years, and mine is still working today! Notably, over time these machines can get “streaky,” so you may find over time that you need to roll scrap clay through them before using new clay to avoid getting streaks on the clay you’re using for your project. I’ve heard there are more expensive pasta machines that don’t get streaky over the years, but I don’t have any experience with those yet! If I ever end up getting a higher-end model, I’ll have to update you all!
Liquid Clay: I mainly use liquid clay to bond pieces of regular clay together, or to make polymer clay frosting! There are other uses for this material too; use your imagination! My most-used type is the generic Translucent Liquid Sculpey, but it comes in lots of other fun colors too!
Add-Ins/Colors to Add Before Baking:
Chalk pastels and Shimmer Pigments: I use a lot of colored clay, but I also color clay by dusting it with soft/chalk pastels, or for a shimmery look, Jacquard Pearl Ex Pigments. These both give different effects than just colored clay, and while they aren’t necessary for working with clay, they are fun!
- Chalk/Soft Pastels: You definitely don’t need a fancy set; I personally just choose an affordable option! I like to grind up chalk pastels before dusting them on clay, and I store ground-up pastels in plastic vitamin sorting containers - it’s a little funny, but a great storage solution! I use paintbrushes to brush on both chalk pastels and Pearl Ex pigments - any paintbrushes will do; but the softer the better! If you don’t have soft paintbrushes lying around, I suggest getting a simple set like these CraftSmart paintbrushes to use for this, and for other uses in your clay work!
- Pearl Ex Pigments: I have Set 1 and Set 2, and I find myself reaching for Set 1 the most because it has more “natural” metallics. These are also available in individual colors, so you can choose which ones you think you’ll use! These last forever for me - I’ve had Set 1 for 10+ years of sculpting, and you can barely tell I’ve used them at all, except for my absolute favorite one!
- Solar Color Dust Chameleon Pigments: I use these for a color-shift effect, that catches the light and reflects different colors!
- Glitter: I mix all types of glitter into my clay for some sparkle! I have a few of these Tulip Glitters and a few Recollections Extra-Fine Glitters, but I’m sure any type of glitter would do! I use an iridescent clear glitter the most, personally!
I personally paint my sculpts with acrylic paint. I’ve used pretty much every type of acrylic paint, from affordable craft acrylic, to professional-quality acrylics. Here are some I’ve used (from most affordable to most expensive):
- Apple Barrel Acrylic Craft Paint: As far as affordable craft acrylic paint goes, Apple Barrel is my favorite brand I’ve found! They are available online, on Plaid’s website as well as through some other retailers, but I’ve had the most luck finding a variety of colors of these in-store at Walmart stores. These work great on polymer clay, in my experience! That being said, these can be a little inconsistent on thickness - some are thicker, some are watery. For the price, I’m definitely not complaining about the inconsistency!
- Artist’s Loft Acrylics: These paints are definitely a step above typical craft paint - they’re thick and saturated in color!
- Liquitex Heavy-Body Acrylics: these are artist-quality acrylics. I find these are quite thick, and notably, they are much more expensive than the other options listed here! I would recommend these if you are really worried about fading for pieces that might be in direct sunlight. I personally have had no issues with the more affordable options fading, but if you’re concerned, these paints are considered more lightfast.
I also get asked about what gold paint I use - my most-used gold paint is this one by DecoArt Dazzling Metallics. Please note that I still often need to build this up in multiple coats - I haven’t found an affordable metallic paint that isn’t sheer, so I build up several coats of this one!
Paintbrushes: I actually would suggest investing in higher-quality brushes, even above high-quality paint! Because I sculpt very small (usually between 1-3 inches tall), I use absolutely tiny paintbrushes for almost all my painting. My most used brush is this Windsor and Newton Cotman brush in size 0000, and my second most used brush is this Artist’s Loft Golden Taklon brush in size 18/0. You may prefer much larger brushes than I use, and you may find that choosing larger brushes works better for you! In general, I find that softer brushes work better for me, at least for the style I paint in!
I use a piece of folded aluminum foil as a paint palette. I feel like I waste less paint than when using a plastic paint palette, and it doesn’t soak up paint like cardboard or paper would!
The best sealant I’ve found for polymer clay is a wood sealant by Varathane! I use it both in the Gloss, and the Matte. The Matte isn’t absolutely matte, but I really love the finish it gives. Please note; be absolutely positive you get the water-based version of this sealant, not the oil-based! Oil-based sealant yellows, and I’ve heard that oil-based sealers can actually destroy your clay. I use any basic soft brush to brush on sealant; getting a pack like these CraftSmart paintbrushes can be used for sealant and for other uses in your artwork! I do find that whatever brush I use for sealant gets a little messy (and eventually destroyed) over time, so I prefer to keep my sealant brush separate from my other brushes.
Other tools/Materials I use:In addition to my “main” materials I use for my sculpts, I also find the following materials/tools really helpful!
- 91% Isopropyl Alcohol: I use this with cotton swabs to *very carefully* remove texture and “fuzzies” from unbaked clay. Make sure to use a new cotton swab for each color of clay, and I find that if I get rubbing alcohol too close to where two pieces of clay meet, it weakens the bond! It also wipes away any chalk pastel or shimmer pigment you’ve put on the unbaked clay, so use with caution! I also use Isopropyl Alcohol to clean my work surface.
- Acetone: I use 100% Acetone nail polish remover on a cotton swab to remove texture and any imperfections from baked clay. Please note that acetone will at least partially remove any chalk pastel or shimmer pigment added to your clay.
- Cotton Swabs: I use these with both isopropyl alcohol and acetone to clean clay.
- Aluminum Foil: I use foil as part of my armatures, as well as to use as a paint palette.
- Wax Paper: I put this under my pieces while painting and sealant, to protect my work table, and to keep sealed pieces from sticking to my work surface while the sealant dries.
- Daily Vitamin Containers: I use these to store ground-up chalk pastels, and small pre-baked pieces to use in sculpts.
- Toothpicks: I use toothpicks to mix liquid clay or paint, and they also make great sculpting tools!
- Popsicle sticks: similar to toothpicks, I use these to stir liquid clay, or sealant.
- Solid Clay Conditioner: I actually use this along with scrap clay to clean my work surface, tools, and hands - I find that any fuzzies on my hands/tools stick to this, rather than on my nice clean clay!
- Gel Control Superglue: this is my favorite superglue, for both unbaked and baked clay! Some liquid superglues can discolor clay, and/or be messy. I use this in teeny-tiny amounts, if I can’t get clay to attach nicely, or in the rare but unfortunate circumstance that a piece breaks.
- Pyrex Baking Dishes: while there are many types of dishes you can bake clay on, I personally use Pyrex to bake my pieces in! While clay is non-toxic, you may feel more comfortable having a dish specifically for baking clay, as opposed to the dishes you use for cooking and baking.
- Oven: I use the oven that is in my apartment to bake my clay, but some crafters prefer to use a separate toaster or craft oven for clay. I always make sure that the oven and stovetop haven’t been used for at least a few hours before I bake clay, to avoid any temperature issues that could burn or discolor my clay! Please make sure that your oven has plenty of time to pre-heat before you bake your clay. Notably, every oven is a little different and you may have to experiment with your oven to figure out what the “actual” temperature your oven heats to is. They aren’t always accurate!
- Tackle Boxes: I use these to store my unbaked clay, and to store finished pieces before I ship them out! Please note that unbaked clay can and will eat into and melt certain types of plastics, so be really careful about what boxes you use to store unbaked polymer clay! The Polymer Clay Tutor has this great article on what recycling numbers of plastic are safe for clay, and which are not! The Blue Bottle Tree has written a valuable article on plastic and clay as well.
I hope this little post helps you out! Please keep in mind that sculpting can be a unique experience for everyone, and you may find tools or materials that you prefer to the ones listed here! Hope you have fun sculpting!