While decorating polymer clay, it’s best to apply the paint after baking since the heat from the oven can change the color of the paint or prevent the clay from setting properly.
Painting before baking the polymer clay can also make the paint crack or chipped off, although the chances are very low because the clay does not expand or shrink as it cures.
That said, if you’re using water-based paint, you can apply it before baking the clay. Just ensure to let the paint dry before baking the clay, or it might react with the heat and produce fumes.
Once baked, you must allow the clay to cool completely before painting because the paint adheres best to cooled clay and also you don’t burn your fingers when painting.
Well, if you feel motivated and excited about starting your project, you will definitely want to read further. I have much more information here, including how to decorate the polymer clay creatively without chipping the paint, and then varnishing the painted clay.
So, let’s enjoy our creative journey…
Why it’s Important to Bake Polymer Clay?
One of my friends who is into clay crafting, jewelry, and bead making asked me about it. So, I think it makes sense to get this clear first.
Unlike regular clay (made from natural materials such as earth and water), polymer clay is man-made from synthetic materials, such as plastics, resins, coloring agents, and fillers. This means it’s not an air-dry clay that can dry on its own – to get the polymer clay cured, it’s baked in an oven.
If you do not bake the polymer clay at the right temperature and for the right amount of time, the particles may not fuse properly, which can cause the clay to break and crumble easily when working on it.
What Paint to Use on Polymer Clay and How?
Painting on polymer clay is a fun, creative, and safe project because you can technically use any type of paint with color combinations of your choice to create unique designs and patterns.
However, I think, it’s best to use high-quality heavy-body acrylic paint on polymer clay as it comes with a thicker consistency and is specifically made for crafts that include polymer materials.
For achieving a stunning finish that lasts for a long without damaging your clay, here are some of the features you should look for when selecting the paint:
- Smooth texture
- Resistant to fading
- Strong opacity with bright and dark colors
When you are ready with the paint, collect your paintbrushes (a large brush as well as a small detailing brush for adding the fine details). It may also help if you get a dotting tool to make exciting designs like polka dots or eyes on the clay.
Once you have all the tools ready, here are the steps you should follow…
Step 1- Allow the clay to cool
Since we will be painting the clay after the baking, the first step will be to let the clay cool down after you have baked it.
Remember that the larger or thicker the piece is, the longer it will take to cool. So, give it enough time. If it’s still warm, the paint may not stick or get cracked soon.
Step 2- Decide on the colors
Now, it’s time to get your hands on the paint colors you want to use.
You can either go for a single color or multiple colors depending on your preference. If you want to use more than two colors to go wild with a bright and vibrant palette, make sure they contrast each other well so that the design is visible.
Step 3- Sand the polymer clay
Use fine-grit sandpaper (like 400 or 600 grit) to sand gently on the piece of clay mold, creating a smoother surface for the paint to adhere to.
Work carefully, especially when sanding the intricate details and patterns of your polymer clay jewelry, home decoration, craft, and sculpture.
Step 4- Apply the paint to the clay and let it dry
Apply the paint to the clay using a brush and dotting tool while being as creative as you want with the design.
For beginners, it’s good to go for a simple colorful design using a paintbrush. But if you have the proper skills, you can choose something more complicated, like adding textures and details like flowers, leaves, letters, or alphabets, using a small brush, dotting tool, or even a toothpick.
Once you have finished applying the paint, let the polymer clay dry completely. Depending on the thickness of the paint and the variety of paint you have used, it may take a couple of hours to dry. If the climate is humid, you can use a hairdryer (at a low setting) to speed up the drying process if you want.
Step 5- Add the sealer to the painted clay mold
After completely drying the paint, protect your painted design by spraying an acrylic-based sealant on the finished clay mold.
Glazes and spray varnishes are also best to use and are readily available in craft stores near you. Be sure to choose the sealant that’s compatible with the clay and the type of paint you have used.
After the application, let the sealant dry completely which could take 4-6 hours, depending on the sealant and the thickness of the layer.
Do You Need to Fire Polymer Clay in a Kiln?
Unlike regular air-dry clay, polymer clay is much easier to work with, and it doesn’t require firing in a kiln. You can fire it in your kitchen oven at a temperature that is safe for food.
But remember, polymer clay is not food safe and should not come in contact with food. This means you shouldn’t use it for making utensils, bowls, or mugs. You can, however, decorate these items using paintable polymer clay.
Additional Tips for Adding Textures to the Polymer Clay
Adding textures can be a bit tricky, but with patience and practice, you can get one step ahead by adding them to your polymer clay creations using tools like a rolling pin tool or a sheeter.
Using these tools, cut shapes from the sheet of clay, or you can make some creative designs like birds, flowers, toys, etc., to add to the surface before painting.
If you plan to add these effects, paint them differently from the background. I would suggest using metallic paints that will give your textured clay a beautiful shiny appearance that pop.
A few other products you can use creatively to create a vivid color contrast are Pearl-Ex powders, mica flakes, chalk pastels, stamping inks, dyes, and even glitter.
Stencils, masks, and different beautiful shapes of glass can also be used to spruce up your polymer clay creations before painting. After adding all the desired effects, paint the clay nicely and have time to dry them completely.
Steps for Baking the Polymer Clay Project After Painting
Many times crafters prefer to bake their non-toxic raw polymer clay project after painting – to help set the paint, make the project more permanent, and give it a nice, glossy finish.
As long as it’s done right, there’s no problem. But if you do it wrong, all the paint can get chipped, causing your entire project to look terrible.
So, here are a few things you should keep in mind while baking your painted clay project:
1- Preheat the oven before putting your clay project inside
To bake the polymer clay piece, preheat your oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit and place the painted clay project on a baking sheet. Remember, this step is extremely important as it helps prevent the paint from bubbling and chipping.
2- Bake for the recommended time
It’s good to bake the polymer clay for about 10 minutes per 1/4 inch thickness. For example, if the piece is 1 inch thick, bake it for about 40 minutes. But if it’s a delicate, thin clay jewelry piece, you may only need to bake it for 5 to 10 minutes.
3- Allow the polymer clay project to cool completely
After baking take the project out of the oven and let it cool on a wire rack. Do not touch or move the piece until it has cooled completely – this can cause the paint to chip.
4- Apply a clear coat to the baked polymer clay and let it dry
After the project has been baked and cooled, you can apply a clear coat (like an acrylic sealer, varnish, lacquer, or even mod podge) to protect the paint and give it a nice shine.
Make sure you choose the right type of clear coat for the paint you have used and apply the sealant only after baking the clay.
Applying the sealant on the painted clay and then baking it could release toxic fumes into your home, which can be harmful. Also, applying the clear coat sealant on unbaked painted clay can leave the surface looking blotchy when you bake the clay afterward.
Once you have sealed your project, let the clear coat dry for 4-6 hours.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.