The Beginner’s Guide To Polymer Clay


A Beginner’s Guide to Polymer Clay

What do you need to start out using Polymer Clay? I’ve put together a beginner’s guide for the most necessary items to help you make something great!

What is Polymer Clay?

Polymer clay is a kind of clay that is made by several brands. It was originally invented by a doll maker who wanted to create dolls that were not as breakable as some of the porcelain dolls.

Some more known brands are Sculpey and Fimo, but there are many other great brands, too! Polymer clay does not dry out or harden completely until it is cooked.You can re-work polymer clay as many times as you want and the consistency will not change until it is baked. It can be baked in a regular oven, no special kiln or equipment needed. 

When I teach polymer clay workshops, I tell the students that a little bit goes a long way. Polymer clay is not typically used to create large scale sculptures. At almost $2.50 for a 2 oz brick, it becomes expensive. It is great to use for miniatures, beads and small trinket dishes. 

Once I buy the clay do I need to do anything to it?

You will need to play with the clay for a few minutes. This is called “conditioning the clay” and it stops the clay from crumbling. It activates the polymers in the clay and gets it ready to sculpt. You do not want to play with it for too long (especially if your hands are very warm) because then it gets too soft and it is hard to get real fine details in your work. You can always fix this issue by popping it into the freezer for a few minutes.

What Kind of Polymer Clay is right for me?

Personally I recommend the sampler packs for those people starting out using polymer clay. It gives you a nice variety of color and choice. Sculpey makes this great one for beginners:

If you’re looking for a polymer clay that is better for details, I like to use the Sculpey Premo brand or the Fimo Professional. I also like Kato Clay. I would not recommend using these clays with kids because they will be frustrated with how hard the clay is to condition. However, there are many teens and tweens that could definitely have success using these. Here are the clays I have the most experience using:

What else do you need to make your first project?

A tissue blade:

If you’re doing sculpey with younger kids, I would recommend slicing the clay for them. However, in some of my smaller classes of kids 10 and up I teach them safety and how to properly use the tools. I think they’re capable and can use these blades:

These blades are great for beginners because it is easy to see which side is sharp and which is not. However, only use with adult supervision…

You will want to pick up a smooth cutting board for your clay. Polymer clay doesn’t ruin most surfaces itself, but the blade can leave scratches. I also have found using silpat mats work great. 

I like this mat because it is white.

What tools/materials do you use that you love?

I love my pasta roller. I have two for using when I do workshops and classes. Everyone loves using it and it was a great investment. The nice thing about the pasta roller is that it rolls out the clay perfectly and evenly in a variety of thicknesses. I highly recommend it. I use this clay roller – it isn’t the best one out there, but at that price it is good enough. The crank lever falls out sometimes, but it has worked great for years and gets the job done!

  • A toothbrush. That’s right, an old toothbrush is great for adding texture. 
  • Aluminum Foil – bunched it up and also great for adding texture.
  • Acrylic rolling pin – I love this rolling pin so much. The clay rarely sticks and it is a perfect size.
  • Cookie cutters – I love the Sculpey Brand cookie cutters.
  • Liquid sculpey – this stuff is amazing! It is great for fusing pieces of clay and also great for “frosting a cake” or adding details that are soft. It still bakes hard.

How do I store my polymer clay?

Polymer clay comes wrapped in a special plastic. I have found it doesn’t love acrylic and sometimes eats away or melts it. I know it isn’t pretty, but I mostly store my clay in tin foil. Once they’re in tin foil, they’re good for life. No joke, I still have clay from high school – almost 25 years old!

How do I bake my polymer clay?

Each brand of polymer clay comes with baking directions. I have found in my oven that 225 is the best temperature and I have never burnt the clay at that temp. Since every oven is different, you can start off by using the directions on the clay and then adjust as you get more into the clay making. I typically bake my clay for at least 35 minutes. For bigger items, I have done 45 minutes.  If you mix brands, I would use the lowest temperature of all of the brands – better safe than sorry! Burnt polymer clay smells awful! It takes about 24 hours for the clay to continue to harden.

You can make a test chip at before baking your projects. After baking the clay, and cooling for 24 hours you can try to bed it. If it breaks upon bending, it wasn’t baked long enough. If it slightly bends, it is good to go! I typically do a test piece when purchasing new brands or new ovens. 

Can I bake the clay in my home oven?

The answer is yes, but it is always better to have an oven that is designated just for crafts (if possible). People are always getting rid of toaster/convection ovens so don’t spend too much money on them!

How do I bake the polymer clay?

Bake it on a ceramic tile. I have also used aluminum foil, but it doesn’t heat as evenly because the metal conducts so much heat. Although I prefer a ceramic tile, I always use foil when teaching on location and I have never had a problem. Some people say to use paper but it makes me nervous to use paper in the oven so I have never used it.

Bake your objects face up just in case the bottom burns.  You can also loosely put a piece of foil over the beads or sculptures to protect them from direct heat. I especially like to put a foil tent over the clay if I am using white or translucent clay. They tend to burn more easily.

Please feel free to email me any questions  – I am always happy to help and love it when people start using Sculpey! It makes a great gift!

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