Although polymer clay hasn't been around as long as some other mediums, it's making a statement in the world of artistry. You can create many things with polymer clay — just a few examples include keychains, picture frames and most commonly, jewelry.
In this guide, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about how to make beads out of polymer clay. We'll also give you some inspiration on using those beads in some fun crafts. Grab your polymer clay, and let's get crafting.
What Is Polymer Clay?
Polymer clay is a versatile art medium. It's an oven-baked clay that stays soft until activated with heat. Polymer clay is not like natural clay. It's man-made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), plasticizer and pigment. You can make a lot of things from polymer clay, like:
- Lanyard charms
- Refrigerator magnets
- Flower pots
One of the most common uses of polymer clay is to make jewelry — necklaces, earrings, bracelets. One of the most versatile things you can make are beads, which you can accessorize into jewelry or add to other crafts for a 3D element.
How Does Polymer Clay Harden?
Polymer clay is a type of clay, but it comes from a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) base. PVC is a synthetic plastic polymer, and it's number three when it comes to the most widely produced synthetic plastic polymers in the world. Because of its foundation, as well as additional ingredients, polymer clay stays soft and retains its color and size when baked, which leads to its use as a crafting material.
To harden polymer clay, you need to heat it in a household oven at around 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes per 1/4 inch of thickness. Once baked, you can personalize your craft by painting, drilling, buffing, sanding or carving it.
A defining factor for beads is their hole that runs through both sides. What's nice about working with polymer clay is that you can drill the hole after crafting or make the hole while the polymer clay is still soft.
Preparation Steps for Making Polymer Clay Beads
Like any craft, there are a few steps you need to do before creating with polymer clay. Prepare for your crafting day with the following steps.
1. Buy Your Polymer Clay
The type of polymer clay you use is important. There are many types of polymer clay on the market, including glow-in-the-dark and eraser types. When making polymer clay beads, choose a versatile polymer clay, like:
- Sculpey Premo™: One of our more versatile polymer clay options is our Sculpey Premo™. People love premo because of its strength and flexibility after baking.
- Sculpey Souffle™: Beadmakers love our Sculpey Souffle™ polymer clay because it is lightweight after hardening. It's perfect for jewelry making, especially for advanced techniques like caning.
- Liquid Sculpey®: Use our Liquid Sculpey® polymer clay when crafting with molds. It's essentially a liquid version of polymer clay that hardens in the oven like traditional polymer clay.
Polymer clay beads require traditional polymer clay. Polymer clay comes in many colors, too. The type of colors you use depends on your bead type and personal preference.
2. Gather the Rest of Your Supplies
The supplies you need will vary on the project you're working on. In general, polymer clay bead making requires:
- One or more colors of polymer clay
- A clay conditioning machine
- Graduated cutters
- A toothpick, skewer or needle
- Corn starch
- A baking sheet
Prepare your polymer clay by working it through a clay conditioning machine, which makes the clay easier to work with. A roller allows you to create even sheets of clay. With your even sheets, use graduated cutters to cut exact circles for uniform beads. A toothpick, skewer or needle allows you to poke your hole through the bead, which you can skip if you plan on drilling a hole post-baking.
3. Make Your Workspace
Once you've gathered your supplies, prepare a crafting space. Make sure you have enough room in your workspace to roll out and manipulate large chunks of clay. You can work on your counter or table, or anywhere with a flat and smooth surface.
Set out a piece of wax paper on your work surface. Polymer clay picks up imprints on whatever it touches. So, if you work on a wooden surface, then the wooden pattern will appear on your polymer clay beads. Also, make sure your work surface is clear of any debris, which your polymer clay will pick up as well.
How to Make Polymer Clay Beads
Let's begin your bead journey! The following steps set the foundation for making lightweight, inexpensive polymer clay beads.
1. Gather Your Materials
In addition to the above Sculpey® bead-making tools, assemble the following supplies:
- Clay work surface: Wax paper, ceramic tiles and our Sculpey Tools™ Oven-Safe Work Mat protect your work area.
- Knife: A knife from our Sculpey Tools™ Clay Tool Starter Set cuts clay sections for beads.
- Blade: Dual-handle Sculpey Tools™ Clay Blades cut straight, decorative and curved slices in clay canes.
- Acrylic roller: The smooth, nonstick Sculpey Tools™ 8-Inch Acrylic Clay Roller rolls sheets of clay with ease.
- Sandpaper: Sand and smooth beads with the wet/dry Sculpey Tools™ Sandpaper Variety Pack.
- Conditioning machine: Condition and create flat clay sheets with the Sculpey Tools™ Clay Conditioning Machine.
- Piercing tool: Poke holes with a needle, toothpick or Sculpey Tools™ Clay Tool Starter Set Needle End Pointer.
- Polymer clay: Collect your choice of liquid polymer clay and polymer clay colors.
- Clay canes: Dive into bead-making with time-saving previously made canes.
2. Prepare Your Workstation
It's essential to keep your workstation as clean as possible, as polymer clay tends to pick up anything it comes into contact with. Cover a well-lit table or flat surface with wax paper, tape the edges to your work surface and make sure the paper is smooth and secure.
Shape beads on the wax paper or on a movable oven-safe surface so you can easily transport your project from table to oven.
3. Condition the Clay
Warming up the clay prevents cracking during the baking process. Knead and condition the clay with the Sculpey Tools™ Clay Conditioning Machine. Remember to wash hands between working with different clays to prevent color transfer.
4. Make Decorative Beads
There are countless ways to decorate your beads! With Sculpey® clay, it's easy to make solid-color, patterned and faux-finish beads. Visit our How-To page to learn how to make these popular looks:
- Cane: Create bull's-eye, jelly roll or repeat-pattern canes.
- Bargello: Mimic the look of needlepoint stitchery.
- Millefiori beads: Incorporate a repeat-pattern floral design look.
- Mokume-gane: Add a nature-inspired texture like wood grain.
- Marbling: Blend several clay colors to mimic the look of marble.
- Faux effects: Make beads look like stone, sea glass, terrazzo and more!
5. Size and Cut Clay Sections for Beads
Create uniform beads by rolling a clay log or using a pre-made cane. Cut equal-length clay slices using a ruler as a guide. Slices should be thin but not to the extent that they are see-through. Alternatively, roll a clay sheet and use small circle cutters to make equal pieces of clay.
6. Shape Beads and Refrigerate
Slowly roll the bead around on your work surface in tiny circles, or form beads by hand for non-spherical shapes. Use just a small amount of pressure to keep all colors and patterns intact. Simplify this process with our Sculpey® Bead Maker and Hollow Bead Maker.
Chill the shaped beads in the fridge for about 15 minutes to firm up the clay and make it easier to poke holes without distortion.
7. Add Bead Holes
Every bead needs a hole for a string to be pushed through. Remove beads from the refrigerator. Use a twisting motion to pierce a hole through each bead using a toothpick, Needle End Pointer or Sculpey Tools™ Etch 'n Pearl tool. Or, skip this step and drill holes into your beads after baking, if desired.
8. Bake Your Polymer Clay Pieces
The most important thing to keep in mind is polymer clay beads must be suspended while curing to hold their shape. The Sculpey Tools™ Bead Baking Rack elevates beads as they bake, so there's no risk of flat bottoms!
Most polymer clay beads need to bake for 10 minutes at approximately 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Always use an oven thermometer and follow the directions on your packaging to ensure you are baking the beads at the correct temperature.
9. Sand and Coat Beads
After baking, sand your beads to remove any fingerprints or blemishes. Start with 400-grit sandpaper and work your way up to finer grits until you achieve a perfectly smooth surface.
Sealing beads is an optional step, as polymer clay bakes to a durable finish. If you wish to enhance your creation with a matte, satin or glossy clear coat, be sure to use a polymer clay-compatible finish.
How to Make Marbled Polymer Clay Beads
There are many ways you can make polymer clay beads. In this section, we'll walk you through two of the most simple patterns — single-colored and marbled beads. Later in this post, we will explain how to make more complicated patterns, including heart-shaped and multi-colored beads.
Here are the steps to create a single-colored polymer clay bead:
- Roll your colored clay through the conditioning machine.
- Lay your sheet of polymer clay on your smooth surface.
- Use your graduated color to cut a circle from the sheet.
- Cut out as many circles, or beads, as you can.
- Take one circle and fold it in half. Then, fold it in half again. Doing this will make it easier to roll into a sphere.
- Gently roll the polymer clay between your hands until it becomes a sphere-shape.
- Next, you'll want to make the hole for your bead. To do this, poke a toothpick into one side of the sphere and carefully twist the toothpick until it pops out the other side. This may slightly distort your sphere, but it's simple to fix.
- Take your bead off of the toothpick and gently reroll your bead to regain its spherical shape.
Another way to make beads is marbling. Follow these instructions when making marbled polymer clay beads:
- Choose two colors of polymer clay.
- Run each color through the conditioning machine to prep for work.
- Roll out each color clay into two long snakes.
- Place each colored snake parallel to each other.
- Gently twist the snakes together, creating what's called a "cane."
- Cut a piece of the cane. The more you cut from the cane, the bigger your bead will be.
- Gently roll the piece of polymer clay in the palm of your hands. Begin rolling your clay with more pressure and gradually relieve that pressure as you finish making the ball shape. You should end up with a near-perfect sphere.
- Follow steps 7 and 8 from the single-colored polymer bead instructions.
Once you've created your polymer clay beads, the next step is to prepare your clay beads for baking.
How to Bake Your Polymer Clay Beads
Polymer clay needs to be baked in the oven to harden. But, there's a slight obstacle you have to work around — if you place your bead directly on a baking sheet, it will settle on one side and flatten. To fix this, many crafters use corn starch.
Place a thick layer of corn starch on your baking sheet. Corn starch is fluffy and doesn't react in the oven. It will mold to the shape of your bead when it's in a thick enough layer.
Put your polymer clay beads on top of your pile of corn starch. Baking times vary depending on the type of polymer clay you use and your bead's thickness. On average, beads are baked at 275 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes per 1/4 inch of thickness. Dedicate one bead as a tester and bake it first. Once you know you have the right temperature, start baking the rest of your beads.
Try These Polymer Clay Bead Patterns
At Sculpey®, we have a whole section of our website dedicated to fun polymer clay projects. Some designs you can do with polymer clay beads include:
1. Teardrop-Shaped Beads
Teardrop-shaped beads work great as pendants for necklaces or as accessories to DIY-earrings. To make teardrop-shaped beads, you'll need:
- Sculpey Premo™ Clay
- Sculpey® Gloss Glaze
- Clay conditioning machine
- Teardrop-shaped cutter
- A toothpick or pin needle
With your work area prepped, you're ready to make teardrop-shaped beads:
- Work your Sculpey Premo™ Clay through your clay conditioning machine.
- Lay your sheet of clay on the table. If you want your earrings to be thinner than the sheet, roll your clay. Avoid rolling your clay too thin, though, or it will be more prone to breaking after baking.
- Use a teardrop-shaped cutter to cut out as many beads as you want, or as the clay sheet allows.
- Use a toothpick or needle to poke a small hole at the tip of the teardrop, just small enough where you can thread string through.
- Bake the teardrop-shaped beads at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes per 1/4 inch of thickness.
- Once baked and cooled, add shine and protect your teardrop-shaped beads by applying Sculpey® Gloss Glaze.
These teardrop-shaped beads are great for many jewelry crafts. Their versatile shape allows you to try out different patterns and textures, too!
2. Heart-Shaped Beads
Whether you're making a charm bracelet or dainty earrings, these heart-shaped beads will add a charming, romantic flair to your craft. To make heart-shaped beads, you'll need:
- Liquid Sculpey®
- Sculpey Tools™ Oven-Safe Molds — Jewelry
- Alcohol ink
- Mixing cups
Making the beads are easy:
- Add some Liquid Sculpey® into a mixing cup.
- Mix in some alcohol ink. You can mix it in all the way, or you can gently swirl the color, or colors, around to create a marbled effect.
- Pour the colored Liquid Sculpey® into the heart-shaped mold. Our molds have pre-designed bead holes, so you don't have to worry about creating one yourself.
- Bake the mold at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 30 minutes.
- Let the mold cool before taking out your heart-shaped beads.
Liquid Sculpey® beads are great options for people who struggle with fine-motor skills, or those who struggle with rolling perfectly shaped beads.
3. Canework Beads
There's no greater feeling than creating a stunning, intricate canework design. Caneworking is a technique where the clay design runs through a log or cylinder of clay. When you cut into the cane, each cross-section shares the same beautiful pattern. To make these elaborate-yet-simple bead patterns, you'll need:
- At least two colors of Sculpey Souffle™, one dark and one light.
- Sculpey Tools™ Clay Blades
- Sculpey Tools™ Clay Tool Starter Set
To make your canework beads, follow these steps:
- Run your clay through your conditioning machine, or knead it with clean hands.
- Start with your light-colored clay. Create a 3-by-4 inch sheet and roll it into a log with a 1/2-inch diameter. Cut it into four pieces. Place two side by side, then cut a third log in half and fill in the triangular spaces between the two round logs. Mold the last piece into a triangle, and place it on top of the oval you just created.
- Flatten out a piece of dark-colored clay and wrap it around the light-colored clay. Settle the sheet into the crevices using a small clay rod. Trim any excess.
- Add another sheet of light-colored clay, then another of the dark-colored clay. Fill in the negative triangular spaces with dark-colored clay. Then, compress the shape into a triangle.
- To reduce the triangle, gently roll it in your palm. This should make the cane longer and smaller. Then, cut the rod in two, and combine both halves to turn the triangular rod into a square-shaped rod. Divide it into four pieces and trim off the ends, leaving you with four 1-inch logs.
- Stack the four rods to create another larger square, then reduce until it is double its original length.
- Repeat these steps until you've reached your desired scale. The more you repeat, the smaller and more intricate the pattern will appear.
- Create cube-shaped bead cores using any color clay.
- Reduce your cane to the size of your cube faces. Cut a thin slice to add to each side. Then, you can roll the square into a football shape or leave it as a cube. Pierce each bead using a clay tool needle.
- Bake your beads at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes per 1/4 inch of thickness.
Canework beads can display many unique and masterful patterns. Create bullseyes, spirals and more using this same technique. If you're looking for more inspiration for your cane pattern, check out the Sculpey Soufflé™ Midnight Blue & Igloo Canework Beads project instructions.
4. Polka Dot Beads
Knowing how to make polka dot patterns is a must for many crafters. Luckily, making polka dot beads are fairly easy. All you'll need is:
- Two colors of Sculpey Premo™ clay
- Circle clay cutter
- A clay conditioning machine
- A toothpick or skewer
Follow these steps to create polka dot polymer clay beads:
- Prep your clay by running it through your clay conditioning machine.
- Use a circle clay cutter to cut out even shapes in one of your colored clays.
- Roll each circle into a ball.
- Take small pieces of your second color and roll them into tiny balls.
- Place each tiny ball evenly around your larger, primary sphere.
- Gently roll the ball in your palms to combine the clays. Now, you should see your polka dot pattern coming to life.
- Use your toothpick or skewer to poke a hole through your bead.
- Reshape your bead.
- Place the polka dot bead on a bed of cornstarch and bake at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes per 1/4 inch of thickness.
These polka dot clay earrings will look great with a necklace. You can create similar polka dot patterns on all your beads to get a beautiful matching set!
Make Crafting Easier With Sculpey® Polymer Clay
Are you making polymer clay beads soon? How exciting! Our crafters at Sculpey® are here to cheer you on every step of the way.
Crafting should be fun — and it is when using Sculpey® polymer clay. We offer some of the best polymer clay available. Our clay stays soft while you're working, and it remains durable after heating.
Browse our products for more information on what makes our polymer clay so great. And, if you're looking for crafting inspiration, stop by our how-to page!