Painting polymer clay puts the finishing touches on your project. Create little details on miniature creations or add gradients of color to handmade jewelry. You could even use paint to simulate other materials, like wood or stone. The possibilities are endless when you use mixed media in your projects.
If you're ready to get painting on polymer clay, prepare with a few tips and ideas to gather all the inspiration you need. Discover polymer clay painting tips below to help add the perfect finishing touches to your creations.
1. Select Quality Paint
After you start your project with quality Sculpey® clay, you should use high-quality paints to add color and details to your crafts. Getting the right paint for your projects may take a bit of testing or research. What you select will ultimately depend on the look you want for your finished craft. For most projects, you should select quality paint with:
- Opacity: Depending on the look you want for your clay project, use quality paint with a strong opacity. This paint will provide good coverage and pigmentation on your project. An opaque finish is especially useful to paint a light color onto dark clay or to cut down on how many coats your project needs.
- Fade-resistance: Paint colors fade over time, whether with handling or exposure to the air or sun. Working with a quality paint could help your creations last longer. Look into paints with pigments instead of dyes and consider heavy-duty options if you want your clay craft to last a long time.
- Smooth texture: Try to find quality paints with a smooth texture rather than a lumpy one, unless that's the finish you're after. Smooth paint makes it easier to add color to your projects, especially small ones or detailed areas.
Many crafters select acrylic paint for their projects. It's easy to find and comes in a rainbow of colors, ideal for endless projects. For the best coverage, consider heavy body acrylic paint, which has a thicker consistency. You could consider using oil paints for painting polymer clay, but be sure to test different types of paints and look into how to use them.
2. Use the Right Tools
The tools you use to paint your clay will depend on what you're making and the area you need to paint. Using the right tools can provide precise results. Paintbrushes and tools are easy to find and come in an array of shapes and sizes. To get the best tools for your clay projects, you should:
- Use quality brushes that won't shed hair, as that would create unwanted texture in your paint.
- Select a small detailing brush if you're working on a small creation or delicate details in a larger piece.
- Pick a large brush to cover larger areas of your project efficiently.
- Use a dotting tool for precise dots, whether you're making eyes or a polka dot pattern.
3. Let the Clay Cool
If you decide to paint your project after you bake it, let the clay cool before adding color. Letting the clay cool is an essential step to ensure you won't burn your fingers on hot materials. It's also crucial for a better paint application. Paint can change consistency or adhere incorrectly to the surface of your project if it's still warm. Give your creation time to cool once it bakes. The larger or thicker your project, the more time it will need to cool.
4. Sand the Surface
Some paint and clay varieties may not adhere well once you cure the clay. If you realize the surface of your project is smooth after baking and the paint won't stick, lightly sand the surface. That roughens up the texture slightly and gives the paint a surface to grip onto. Use a high-grit sandpaper, like 400 or 600 grit, and work lightly so you don't alter any details you put into the clay. If you have intricate details, you may prefer to test different paints and types of clay to find the right combination instead of sanding.
If you do sand your project, wipe off the surface and clean up any dust at your workstation before breaking out the paint. Painting over the clay dust can create unwanted texture as it mixes with your paint. Place scrap paper under your project to help gather the dust and throw it out. Do not rinse clay dust down the sink as the particles are too fine to remove from wastewater.
5. Paint Before You Bake
Polymer clay doesn't shrink or expand as it cures, meaning you can paint it before you bake. Unbaked clay may create a better bond with paint as it cures. Test different types and brands of paint to find the best results. While paint that's baked onto polymer clay will rarely burn or bubble, it can change colors as it bakes. For creations that look the same after baking, choose paint that won't change color with heat. It is important to run a test on a small piece of scrap clay as some paints do not react well to clay or heat.
Remember to follow the package instructions when baking your clay, even if you've painted the surface. When using Sculpey polymer clay, set your oven or toaster oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. From there, baking times will depend on the product you're using and the thickness of your creation:
- For Sculpey III®, Super Sculpey® and Original Sculpey®, bake for 15 minutes per 1/4 inch thickness.
- For Sculpey Premo™ and Sculpey Soufflé™, bake for 30 minutes per 1/4 inch thickness.
Bake your products on a metal sheet, a ceramic tile, oven-proof glass or a Sculpey Oven-Safe Work Mat. If you place your clay project on the surface and paint it before baking, wipe excess paint off the baking surface before you bake the painted clay.
6. Create Texture With Paint
Some crafters desire a crackled finish on their creations, and paint helps achieve that. Choose a variety that doesn't stretch much once it dries, like acrylic paint. Paint a layer on a sheet of raw clay and let it dry. Once the paint dries, roll out your clay using a rolling pin tool or a sheeter. You can then cut shapes from the sheet or form it into the shape of your choice. Play around with color combinations and try metallic paint for a shiny and crackled effect.
You could also try mixing paint into uncured clay for a different way to add color. Mixing water-based paint into polymer clay can have varying results. As you bake your project, water in the paint will turn to steam, and that can create bubbles in the clay. Some crafters are after that texture, especially if they're replicating materials like stone. If that's not what you need for your project, mix a small amount of heavy body acrylic paint into the clay.
7. Add an Antique Finish
You may want to create an antique finish on beads, jewelry or other clay items. Antiquing adds dimension and age to a piece that you've just created. All you have to do is dilute acrylic paint or start with a thin paint. Brush the wash onto your creation, and wipe off anything on raised areas before it dries.
This process works especially well on stamped or carved designs in your clay. The watered-down paint will lay in the crevices and enhance the detail you worked hard to create.
8. Seal the Finished Product
Once you've painted your polymer clay craft and it looks how you want, let it dry. When it's ready, you can seal the finished product. You'll find various glazes and spray varnishes out there, but look for products that work on both clay and the type of paint you used.
When you're working with Sculpey clay, we recommend using our glazes to finish off your creations. Apply two to three thin coats, waiting at least 30 minutes between each layer. We offer two glaze finishes, perfect for different results for your creations:
No matter what type of seal you select, test it on a hidden part of your project or a scrap piece of clay you tested paint on. Check that the glaze dries and isn't sticky. You should also make sure it doesn't affect the paint, either by lifting it or changing the color.
Craft Colorful Creations With Sculpey
If you're ready to create colorful projects, select Sculpey, the best polymer clay on the market. Want alternatives to painting on polymer clay? Our clays have the best color palettes available, meaning you can find the colors you want for your projects, no paint necessary. No matter what you make or how you make it, we supply the tools, you supply the creativity!
Check out our polymer clay to find the perfect Sculpey materials for your next project.