Do you fancy sculpting with clay but don’t have all the bits and bobs you think you need or know where to start? Well, search no more, as you have just found the best polymer clay tutorial. Polymer clay is the most exciting clay product, and it has been around long enough to gain a great reputation. This beginner polymer clay tutorial will go through all the tools you need and teach you how to use polymer clay step by step.
Polymer Clay Tutorial for Beginners
Polymer clay is suitable for all kinds of creations and suits beginners to experts in this exciting creative hobby. It has been around for several decades, and so has evolved into a really fabulous craft. The sky is the limit when you decide to go down the polymer road, and success is really guaranteed. If you are a sewer, you can even make polymer clay buttons for a custom-made look to your clothing.
Polymer clay gets the thumbs up and ten out of ten for practicality and performance.
- L-long-lasting clay for
- Y-young and old
- R-robust and really great gifts for everyone.
What is Polymer Clay?
Polymer is a very practical clay product that is of plastic origin. It is a synthetic, modeling clay that can be molded until it is cured in the oven on a low temperature. The basic component of the clay is poly-vinyl chloride or PVC.
There are many different brand names of polymer clay available as well as different preferences in different countries. Some of the most well-known brands include FIMO as well as Sculpey Clay and Pardo. Read more about what is polymer clay for more brands.
The basic actions used in clay modeling are - rolling, molding, pinching, scratching and poking, cutting, shaping, storing, and baking.
Fimo Brand History
FIMO has been around for over seventy years! It was named after a little girl called Sophie, or Fifi for short, who was the daughter of a German doll maker. The doll maker was looking for an alternative to Bakelite for her dolls. She tried this new modeling compound and gave some of the new clay to her daughter to play with.
Fifi made all kinds of wonderful clay miniatures and enjoyed playing with the clay. When the formula for the ‘new’ clay was sold, it retained the name of Fimo - Fifi’s modeling compound.
Best Polymer Clay Tools to Use
The beauty of working with polymer clay is that you can really start with a few simple basics and build up your craft as you go along. The other wonderful advantage of this plastic clay modeling product is that it lasts and lasts and can be re-modeled and designed for as long as it remains in its original state (ie. unbaked).
With this in mind, you will be able to find many of the tools you need to get started in your kitchen.
- Craft knife – Used to cut your clay to size and cut rolled canes, which is a form of molding different colors to make interesting patterns.
- Roller or rod – Used to roll out the clay. Wooden rollers are not recommended, as wood absorbs the clay plasticizer. Use plastic glass or ceramic rolling tools. In addition, a pasta machine is a great asset to help with the rolling and blending process.
- Worksurface – Once again, not a wooden board. Use ceramic tile, a glass cutting surface, or a plastic cutting board.
- Needle tools – You can make your own needle tools using tapestry needles that you can insert into a cork handle or make your own clay handle. Ensure the needle won't twist and turn in the handle by setting it with strong glue. Fabric or ribbon wound around the end of the needle would also serve as a handle and help with gripping the needle while it is used to decorate.
- Toothpicks - These make great little tools and are very inexpensive. They help to secure clay while you buff the finished article, and they help make holes in beads if you are making jewelry.
- Clay of course - Choose the brand you are familiar with or try out a small quantity while you decide on the best product.
- Storage – The best option is the plastic mini storage containers with compartments, as your different clay colors should not touch each other. A tin with paper to separate the different colors also works, depending on how many colors you have to store.
- An oven with a regular temperature gauge. Baking is the final stage of your product, and it is vital that there is a controlled temperature to bake the item you have made.
These basics will set you up to start molding and modeling the clay. Your own hands are also a very vital part of the modeling and conditioning of the clay.
How to Use Polymer Clay Tutorial (Techniques and Terminology)
When you start out on a new hobby, there are always a few new terms to understand, and sometimes one can almost feel that there is a new language to be learned. Polymer clay has a few technical terms, but they are so easy to understand as most of them are associated with everyday household practices.
All these are familiar words in the average household and to a crafter. How are these terms associated with polymer clay?
Step 1 - Conditioning Polymer Clay
Conditioning refers to the softening of the clay and returning it to its malleable state, ready for work. Read more about how to soften polymer clay. You will start by conditioning any hard clay, blending colors and effects, and fixing any old clay.
It may be that your clay is just a little stiff and harder to work with due to air temperatures or humidity. In this case, simply put it in a zip lock bag and tuck it in your pocket while you walk around and get on with other chores. You can even sit on it in the zip lock bag, so the warmth of your body heats the clay and makes it easier to work with.
The conditioning of the clay may just take a bit of a rub in your nice warm hands. If you have a pasta machine to use, then send the clay through one of the thick shredders, and that will help bring it back to a conditioned state. Keep your pasta machine for ‘clay only’ projects!
Blending Colors of Polymer Clay
When the conditioning process is done, you can blend the clay colors by rolling out snakes of clay and then twisting and folding the snake back on itself. Fold and roll until the blended color does not crack. You may stop once you have a marbled effect or continue until the new color is perfectly even.
Fixing Crumbled and Dried Polymer Clay
Clay that looks as if it is beyond repair can be revived. Polymer clay really lasts and lasts, but sometimes it can look crumbly and dried out. There are simple solutions. No need to throw the clay away.
- Start by putting the crumbled clay and some soft clay in a plastic bag together for a few days. The plasticizer from the new clay permeates the old clay, and then you can mix the two together or pass them through the pasta machine.
- If you have an old food processor around, you can chop the clay into little bits and put them in the processor for a few short bursts at a high speed. The action of the blades and the heat generated will soften the clay.
- If the crumbled clay is very stubborn, you may add clay softener or some liquid clay. Don’t worry about using old clay. If it has been kept free of dust and dirt, it will come back to life and surprise you with its ability to revive.
Sometimes the opposite problem arises, and the clay is too soft. In this case, simply lay the soft clay on sheets of paper, and the oily plasticizer soaks into the paper. Then you can condition as before and roll out a whole lot more snakes!!
Step 2 - Sculpting with Polymer Clay
Once you have nicely conditioned, soft clay, it is time to start creating and modeling. See the Treasurie article with polymer clay ideas and projects to get you started.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to start sculpting with polymer clay:
- Create basic shapes: Create these shapes with the clay - this will be the skeleton of your sculpture. For example, a simple flower can be created by creating 6 small balls of clay, which are then flattened to form each petal.
- Assembly: Start attaching the basic shapes together to form the general structure of your sculpture. Make sure to blend and smooth out the seams between different parts.
- Add fine details: Once the polymer clay item is ready, start adding details using various sculpting tools. Textures, facial features, and fine elements can be added at this stage.
- Smoothing: Once you're satisfied with the details, smooth out the surface of your sculpture using your fingers or tools. If you plan on sanding after baking, this step doesn't need to be perfect.
- Pre-Bake Inspection: Make a final inspection to check for any flaws or areas that need touch-ups.
How to Make Polymer Clay Beads
Polymer Clay Earrings Tutorial
Step 3 - Polymer Clay Baking & Curing
This is the most important part of the process, the final stage of our polymer clay tutorial, and the point of no return! Baking hardens the clay and finishes the article you have made. Read more about how to bake polymer clay.
Best Temperature to Bake Polymer Clay
Polymer clay must be baked in an oven at temperatures between 215F (102C) to 325F (163C), and you cannot bake the clay in a microwave.
Although polymer clay is rated as non-toxic, it does give off fumes, so one needs to be aware of them during the baking process. The clay package should give the required oven temperature.
The baking time also depends on the thickness of the article. The thicker the piece, the longer time required. A time of 20 mins per ¼” thickness or 6mm is a good guide.
What to Bake Polymer Clay On?
Use a baking tray, glass, or ceramic tile for your baking surface. A piece of baking paper to rest on will help avoid shiny spots.
Dimensional items can be placed on a mound of corn starch to support their shape. Items like beads with holes in can be threaded on skewers and baked as the bead is suspended from the skewer or even a toothpick.
Step 4 - What to Do After Baking Polymer Clay
It is important to keep rounded items off the flat surface while they are drying, as the clay will flatten slightly and spoil the shape. It is also wise to make bead holes a bit wider as they tend to close as the clay bakes.
The baked clay is rubbery when it comes out of the oven but will harden as it cools. Handle with care, as the clay will be hot as it comes out of the oven.
Should I Seal Polymer Clay?
That is a question asked by many clay enthusiasts and the next topic in our polymer clay tutorial. Actually, you don’t have to seal polymer clay after it is cooked.
There are some occasions when you may want to seal the clay for specific reasons, but polymer clay is durable plastic clay and is water-resistant. Once the clay has been baked, it is shockproof and fairly tough. Some of the sealing products used sit on top of the clay and deteriorate before the clay does.
A long time ago, when I used to make FIMO with my sister, we used to use clear wood varnish. I still have some of my original pieces, and the FIMO looks perfect, but the varnish has gone brittle and yellow. Modern sealants are better, but I still think you should just leave the polymer clay unsealed.
When NOT to Seal Polymer Clay
- Do not seal until you have tested the sealer and found it perfect for your article. Some sealers and varnishes turn sticky or cloudy and ruin your work. Varnish is like a thin plastic coat on top of another plastic surface, and therefore, it can peel off.
- Do not seal over fingerprints or marks. The sealer will not cover ugly marks, so always make sure the item is free of any blemishes.
- Do not seal with a wax sealer that can collect in grooves or a liquid varnish that collects in pools on your newly sculpted article.
- Do not seal with any of the following: nail varnish, oil-based varnishes, Mod Podge glue and decoupage mediums, dimensional glazes, and certain spray varnishes. Pym is a recommended brand of spray varnish to use.
When to Seal Polymer Clay
There are, however, some situations where it is warranted to seam polymer clay:
- When you are making beads, that may come in contact with the skin or clothes, and the pigment from the clay may be absorbed.
- For decorative effects like antique or burnished looks. Experiment and check the supplier’s directions. Test the varnish on a sample of clay before applying it to your finished masterpiece!
- Use the right sealer and look for gloss, semi-gloss, or satin finishes. Use a matt finish if you prefer. There are spray sealers for delicate objects.
Polymer Clay Tutorial Safety Tips
Before starting any new project, safety is of paramount importance, especially if you are going to involve children. They will want to join in, and they will love working with the clay!
Here are a few polymer clay tutorial safety tips:
1. Polymer Clay is synthetic and considered non-toxic. However, it is advisable to keep it away from toddlers and pets that may take a tasty chunk out of your clay.
2. Don’t eat and work with the clay at the same time. Clay can find its way into your mouth, and food will find its way onto the clay.
3. Keep Polymer clay tools separate from other tools and for clay work only.
4. Take care when working with sharp objects and blades. Watch the activities of children with sharp tools and supervise them carefully.
5. Always work on glass or a ceramic tile or plastic cutting board.
6. Wrap and store the clay you are not working with.
7. When sanding or buffing, or drilling, use a mask and goggles.
8. Supervise young children when working with sharp tools and hot ovens.
Polymer Clay FAQs
Here are some common questions people ask about polymer clay projects.
Do you Paint Polymer Clay before Baking?
If you have a type of paint that can withstand the high temperatures in the oven, you could paint polymer clay before baking, but this is not recommended. Many paints can give off toxic fumes when put in the oven and this is not worth the risk. You will get great results from painting your polymer clay after baking.
Is Polymer Clay Easy to Work With?
Polymer clay is extremely easy to work with for adults and kids alike. With just a few simple techniques, it is easy to make all kinds of polymer clay projects, such as keyrings, earrings, jewelry, beads, bowls, and more. Soften the clay, sculpt it into a design, bake, and you are done!
What is the Easiest Polymer Clay to Work With?
The main difference between the generic cheaper brands and the more expensive Fimo and Sculpey is how hard they are out of the packet. Sculpey III is specially formulated for polymer clay beginners and is much softer to start with. It also comes in a wide variety of colors, so you will have minimal mixing required.
Why is Polymer Clay so Hard?
Polymer clay is not designed to be hard, but certain dry conditions can result in harder clay. Some brands are also harder than others.
To fix this problem, condition the clay by needing or adding a softener such as Sculpey Clay Softener. Minute amounts of oil can be added, but this may weaken your clay and burn in the oven.
Where Do I Start With Polymer Clay?
The first thing you do after taking your polymer clay out of the packet is to start by kneading the clay to make it soft. After it has been softened, you can shape it into endless different shapes. Lastly, it will be baked to harden and cure the clay. Most types of polymer clay don't need sealing or painting afterward unless you are after a particular effect.
Why is Polymer Clay Good to Work With?
Colors can be blended, things you make can be broken down and remodeled, and only at the final stage of baking will you have reached a point of no return. Polymer is water-resistant, hardwearing, and easy to use.
Children, as long as they are past the stage of putting everything in their mouths, really enjoy this product. It lends itself to simple beginner stuff and to more advanced ideas too. So with all that information carefully tucked away, here are the basics to get you started.
Is Sculpey Better Than Fimo?
Both of these brands produce high-quality polymer clay. What you should look for is the best product within the brands. Sculpey and Fimo both have different types of clays to suit different purposes. For example, they have clays that are softer out of the packet and are better suited to beginners and kids.
Does Polymer Clay Need to Be Baked?
Yes, polymer clay needs to be baked in the oven in order to make it hard. Oven baking cures the clay and makes it long-lasting and durable. It cannot be air-dried like other clay types.
What is the Difference Between Polymer Clay and Modelling Clay
Polymer clay is a plastic clay designed to be cured by oven baking. In contrast, modeling clay is made from oil-based compounds and is not designed to be oven-baked. Both are used for sculpting and manipulating.
Polymer Clay Tutorial - In Conclusion
Polymer clay will open many doors of exciting but really simple crafts to the whole family. It is a remarkable creative medium - Practical, Original, Long-lasting, for Young and old, Makes Excellent Robust Really Great Gifts (P O L Y M E R). A hobby you will get caught up in and want to know more about.
More About Polymer Clay
Now you have read your first polymer clay tutorial, here are some more articles: