The Difference Between Polymer Clay and Air Dry Clay

Polymer and air-dry clay are great options for crafting and creating wonderful art and jewelry pieces. While both clays are useful products, they each have unique properties and advantages, from composition to finishings. People often wonder can you bake air dry clay? The answer is no which makes its drying process vastly different from polymer oven-bake clay. Air-dry modeling clay will harden at room temperature without baking. Polymer oven-bake clay, on the other hand, requires the proper application of heat to make it hard. 

Polymer clay also won’t shrink as it hardens and sets, which can occur with air-dry clay. Learning the difference between polymer clay vs. air-dry clay can help you choose the right medium for your next project!

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Have you been thinking about getting into clay crafting? Maybe you’ve been clay crafting for a while and are learning about different tools and projects to try.

There are all kinds of clay out there, the two most popular being polymer and air-dry, and each has its unique properties. Here, we’ll talk about the differences between each type, as well as some advantages of choosing one over the other. You can also purchase both of these products directly from our website!

What Is Polymer Clay?

Polymer clay works great for many people and projects. It’s a favorite of many crafters because of its versatility and ease of use. With just a little bit of kneading, it becomes soft and malleable in your hands, making it easy to shape.

One of the main advantages of polymer clay is that you can leave it on your workspace without worrying about it getting dry. If you like taking breaks during crafting, or if you have forgetful kids, you don’t have to fret about wasting clay. 

Once you’re done shaping polymer clay, you need to bake it. You don’t need to take it to a professional kiln to set it — you can use your own oven right at home!

Air-Dry Clay vs. Polymer Clay

Air-dry clay is slightly different than polymer clay. Like polymer clay, air-dry clay is commonly used for various projects and is popular for beginner craft projects.

Some of the best air-dry clay tips include:

  • Always work on a clean surface with wax paper or a silicone craft mat.
  • Experiment with stamps, cookie cutters, and other tools for unique designs.
  • Condition your clay by kneading it before working on your project.
  • Be careful when rolling your clay, as thin clay may crack when drying.
  • Use the score and slip method to join pieces of clay.
  • Allow enough time for the clay to dry, which can take 24 to 72 hours.
  • Store leftover clay in an airtight container to use for another project.
  • Apply varnish to seal a finished clay project.

Can You Bake Air Dry Clay?

You don’t need an oven to harden or bake air-dry clay. Depending on the size of the project, air-dry clay will fully set in one or two days. After it dries, the clay has an almost porous, spongy feel. Baking air dry clay is not recommended as it sets on its own and baking air dry clay can ruin your project.

 If you want your creation to harden faster, you could accelerate the process by baking it in the oven. This method requires great attention to avoid burning or melting the material.

Use a low temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit when you bake air-dry clay. The baking time will vary depending on the clay’s thickness. You can leave thinner creations in the oven for around 20 minutes, monitoring it constantly. If your piece is thick, bake it until the moisture is completely evaporated and continuously check on it since it might crack if left too long. 

Benefits of Polymer Clay

One of the biggest advantages of polymer clay is its ability to stay workable. If you’re a schoolteacher or have children of your own, this clay is a great choice. 

Kids can get distracted and may walk away from their project without finishing it. With polymer clay, you don’t have to worry about tossing out any ruined product.

Polymer clay is also available in a number of pre-made colors — more than air-dry clay. It also maintains its shape better over time, allowing you to create more exact shapes and detailing.

This product is an ideal choice for crafters because it has many unique benefits and there are seemingly endless projects to create using polymer clay. You can make figurines, jewelry, ring holders, buttons and so much more. Polymer clay is as versatile as your imagination is creative!

Another benefit of polymer clay is its durability. This quality ensures your creations can be enjoyed even years down the line. Once polymer clay has been fired correctly in an oven, its firmness is between air-dry clay and natural clay. Properly fired polymer clay will remain slightly flexible even once it has set and hardened. Finished polymer clay pieces will be sturdier than air-dry clay but will not have the delicate brittleness of natural pottery.

Polymer clay is a modeling clay with a polymer polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, base. When uncured, it will stay soft at room temperature and harden when baked in the oven at the recommended heat. Using polymer clay over other varieties offers numerous advantages, such as:

  • A permanent shape and resistance to water after curing.
  • A wide range of color choices, from bright colors to pastel.
  • Special effects like metallic, opal, granite and more.

Polymer Oven-Bake Clay: Cons

As a teacher or parent, there may be times when you opt for air-dry modeling clay over polymer oven-bake clay. Why? Polymer oven-bake clay:

  • Requires close supervision at all times during baking. Polymer clay is only suitable for children ages 8 and up.
  • You don’t have access to an oven and you cannot cure it.

Find Sculpey® Polymer Clay Online

At Sculpey®, one of our specialties lies in polymer clay. On our website, you can find kits like:

  • Sculpey Premo™ Bead Making Jewelry Kit: One of the most popular uses of polymer clay is to make DIY jewelry. We make jewelry-making easy with our bead making kit!
  • Sculpey Soufflé™ Multipacks: Is your mind racing with new project ideas? Get inspired by our colorful Sculpey Soufflé™ Multipack! Our Sculpey Soufflé™ is notable for its versatility and lightweight quality, and it will make bringing your jewelry pieces and other ideas to life a breeze.

We have a wide range of polymer clay colors and ideas to make crafting fun for people of all ages.

Benefits of Air-Dry Clay

Both polymer and air-dry clay are easy to handle, but air-dry clay is a bit easier to manipulate because of its spongy composition. Sculpting air dry clay is easy making it especially suitable for kids whose hands aren’t as strong.

Air-dry clay is great for child care environments. Elementary schools and day care centers can use air-dry clay without needing an oven. Air-dry clay can be used for crafts big and small, which is great for larger projects that might not fit in an oven. Rather, the creation can sit on display while it dries.

When it comes to drying clay quickly at home air dry clay is the easy clay to work with as an oven is not needed.

Air-dry clay is also ideal for children or schools because the material does not need any special tools to create fun projects. Crafters can even use air-dry clay for unique textures and appearances in mixed media projects.

Air-dry clay is quite durable, as long as it is not rolled out too thin. While delicate, thin or small aspects of a project may be more fragile, air-dry clay as a whole can create durable, long-lasting projects. When properly sealed with a glaze, air-dry clay pieces become even more durable and water-resistant.

Sculpey Air-Dry™ modeling clay is ideal for sculpting and can be shaped into coil or slab forms. If air-dry clay becomes stiff, you can add a little bit of water and knead it to make it soft and fresh again. This type of clay will dry hard and:

  • – Is easy to handle and manipulate. 
  • – Can be painted or colored with markers once dried.
  • – Retains a permanent shape after drying.
  • – Does not require exclusive products for finishing and glue.
  • – Is suitable for all ages due to the variety of clay types on the market.

Air-Dry Modeling Clay: Cons 

Clayers may opt for polymer oven-bake clay over air clay because:

  • Air-dry clay requires long drying times, especially for large projects.
  • Unused air-dry clay must be stored in a zip-close bag or air-tight container.
  • Even after air-dry clay is hardened, it is not waterproof. 

How Long Does Air-Dry Clay Take to Dry?

The time your air-dry clay creation will take to harden completely depends on the object’s thickness, the room’s temperature and its humidity. It generally takes 24 to 72 hours for air-dry clay to dry. Larger projects may take up to a week to dry out. You can expect air-dry clay to begin hardening as soon as it gets exposed to air, so any leftover clay should be stored in an air-tight container to keep in moisture.

The fastest way to cure an air-dry clay piece is to place it in the oven at 200°F until hardened.

You can cure air-dry clay faster by increasing the airflow around a finished project. A stand-up or ceiling fan is one method. Hairdryers aren’t recommended since they unevenly heat the clay and may cause cracking. If you want to speed up the process, you’ll have to rotate and flip the piece on occasion to ensure equal curing.

Air-dry clay may also weaken if the exposed surfaces dry faster than the interior, so for best results, let the clay harden on its own and avoid handling it.

What Is Air-Dry Clay Best Used For?

The versatility of air-dry clay makes it ideal for new and experienced clayers alike. You can pinch, score and stamp it. Air-dry clay can also be embellished and painted.

Some example projects with air-dry modeling clay include the following:

Experienced crafters can even use air-dry clay to create jewelry and accessories, like earrings, necklaces and bracelets. You can use porcelain air-dry clay to craft detailed objects like flowers, ornaments and figurines that dry with a smooth, slightly translucent finish.

Try using white air-dry clay for a personalized key ring or create a terra cotta planter with air-dry clay in any shape you can imagine. Sculpey Air-Dry™ clay opens countless possibilities for decorations and keepsakes!

Tips for Crafting With Sculpey Air-Dry™ Clay

Sculpey Air-Dry™ is a versatile and very forgiving product with which to make a myriad of projects. Air Dry Clay an excellent clay for earthy, organic projects as well as for more primitive or rustic creations. From simple ornaments, buttons, and jewelry to more complicated projects such as figurines, fairy houses, and containers the things you can create with air dry clay are endless! The clay is non-toxic and cleans up easily with water.

Making shapes is easy using Silicone and rubber molds. Clay can also be impressed with texture sheets and rubber stamps as well as common items such as doilies, burlap, feathers, seashells, flowers, and leaves, etc.

To get started, wash your hands and make sure your work area is clean and dust free. A flat, non-porous surface to work on is key. A self-healing craft mat is ideal for cutting clay and clean up. Teflon craft sheets work well as do smooth ceramic or glass tiles. A clay roller or rolling pin can be used to roll smooth sheets of clay. Clay blades and craft knives and are great tools for cutting clay sheets. Raggedy edges of cut clay can be smoothed with a wet finger or soft paint brush.

Additional wet clay can be applied over dried clay by using water and/or a dab of white glue. Keep raw clay in plastic to prevent premature drying. Use water to moisten clay as needed while you are working with it. Fingerprints can be smoothed out using water while creating or by lightly sanding after the piece has completely dried.  

You can even transfer images onto raw clay! Simply print an image of choice on regular copy paper and place face down on moistened clay. Gently rub with light finger pressure then carefully remove the paper. Printed tissue paper can be applied to raw clay as well with the same technique!

Drying time will depend on how thick your clay creation is as well as temperature and humidity in your work environment. For durability try to use rolled clay at least 1/4” thick. Its best to allow clay to dry overnight or for a day or two. Elevating your creation or flipping it over during the drying process will help the bottom of the project dry quicker. You can speed up the drying process by placing the clay creation in a warm oven at  180 °F and checking every 20 minutes.  Speeding up drying time can cause the clay to crack. To repair cracked clay, wet the affected area with water and push a small amount of softened clay over the cracks. Let dry then sand as needed.  Foam backed sanding sponges are great for sanding flat and curved dried clay. It is advisable to sand in a well-ventilated area and/or use a dust mask. Remove sanding dust with a soft paint brush. 

In addition to being extremely durable, dried clay can be sanded, carved, drilled, stained, painted, and even decorated with permanent markers. Alcohol inks, stains, and watercolor paint can be applied directly over the porous dried clay for light or transparent effects. Dried clay can also be painted with acrylic paints for more opaque coverage.

Once dry, apply acrylic craft paint with art brushes. For best results, first seal your project with a water-based craft sealer. You can also use the sealer to protect painted areas as you work.  Mistakes can be lifted easily with a damp paintbrush.

Do You Need to Seal Air-Dry Clay?

While you don’t have to seal air-dry clay, adding a finish to your project helps protect it against wear, smooth out unnoticeable imperfections and increase sheen. Since air-dry clay is a porous material, you can seal it to prevent the clay from softening and breaking down upon contact with water.

To improve the clay’s resistance against water, apply coats of varnish, epoxy resin or acrylic sealers. You can also paint a fully dried air-clay project without a sealant base layer. Acrylic paints will both decorate and protect your creation. Keep in mind that air-dry clay is difficult to waterproof completely.

Is Air-Dry Clay Durable?

Air-dry clay is a very malleable material that stiffens over time. Compared to kiln-fired clay, air-dry clay isn’t as sturdy when dried. However, you can still make robust projects that last a lifetime.

Avoid rolling out air-dry clay too thin and keep a consistent thickness throughout your clay piece for the best results. You can brush on a slip mixture to fill in small cracks that may occur as the clay shrinks while drying.

Find Sculpey Air-Dry™ Online

Are you ready to start crafting using air-dry clay? Sculpey® offers many types of air-dry modeling clay you might enjoy, including packs like:

  • Sculpey Air Dry™ Keepsake Kit: Whether you’re an expecting parent or have a friend who is expecting, consider trying our keepsake kit. Our keepsake kit comes with an impression-shaping ring, hole punch, a set of air-dry clay tools and instructions to capture your baby’s — or fur baby’s! — handprint.
  • Sculpey Air-Dry™: For versatile and fun uses for air dry clay, choose our Sculpey Air-Dry™ kit! Our formula is lightweight, smooth and easy to use. We offer white and terra cotta shades, and you can use oil paints to make any color you want!

Craft projects like succulent planters, necklaces, pencil holders and so much more! 

Shop Sculpey® Polymer and Air-Dry Clay Online

Sculpey® carries an excellent variety of air-dry and polymer clay, as well as many other types. If you’re looking for inspiration, visit our how-to page and learn more about what polymer and air-dry clays can do.

Whatever your skill level, and no matter what types of projects you’re planning, you can find the perfect clay with Sculpey®!

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