Painting Polymer Clay – Before or After Baking?

steps to paint polymer clay

It’s best to apply paint after baking the clay 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 will also risk getting the paint cracked 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 enure 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.

Cooling the clay will also help as 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 paint the polymer creatively without chipping the paint, varnish the painted clay, and make polymer-painted beads.

So, let’s enjoy our creative journey!

Why Its Important to Bake Polymer Clay?

One of my friends who is into clay crafting asked me about it, and 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 made from synthetic materials, such as plastics.

This also means it’s not an air-dry clay that can dry on its own. So, to get the 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.

So, once you know why baking polymer clay is essential, let’s get back to our topic – painting the clay!

What Paint to Use on Polymer Clay and How?

Painting on polymer clay is a fun, creative, and safe project.

You can technically use any type of paint with color combinations of your choice on polymer clay to create unique designs and patterns.

But I think it’s best to use high-quality heavy-body acrylic paint on polymer clay.

This paint comes with a thicker consistency and is made specifically for crafts that include polymer clay.

Choosing this will also ensure that the paint is non-toxic and won’t damage your clay.

For achieving the desirable stunning finish that lasts for long, some of the features you should look for when selecting the paint are:

  • Smooth texture
  • Resistant to fading
  • Strong opacity with bright and dark colors

When you are ready with the paint of your choice, 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 if you plan to make some 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.

If it’s still warm, the paint may not stick or get cracked soon. Remember that the larger or thicker the piece is, the longer it will take to cool. So, give it enough time.

Step 2- Decide on the Colors

Now, it’s time to get your hands on the paint and decide on the colors you want to use.

You can either go for a single color or multiple colors. It all depends on your preference.

If you want to use two colors, make sure they contrast each other well so that the design is visible.

Step 3- Mix the Colors

The next step is to mix the colors together – use a limited palette of just a few colors or go wild with a bright and vibrant palette.

The important thing is to mix the colors together until you get the desired shade.

Step 4- Sand the Polymer Clay

Use fine-grit sandpaper (like 400 or 600 grit) for sanding the clay. This will help to create a smooth surface for the paint to adhere to.

Work gently on the piece of clay mold you have, especially when sanding the intricate details and patterns.

Step 5- Apply the Paint to the Clay

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 design, but if you have the proper skills, you can choose something more complicated, like adding textures.

If you want to add some details like flowers, leaves, letters, or alphabets, use a small brush, dotting tool, or even a toothpick.

Step 6- Allow the Paint to Dry

Once you have finished applying the paint, let it dry completely.

This may take a few hours, depending on the thickness of the paint and the variety of paint you have used.

If the climate is humid, it may take even longer for the paint to dry. You can then use a hairdryer (at a low setting) to speed up the drying process if you want.

Step 7- Add the Sealer to the Painted Clay Mold

After completely drying the paint, it’s time to protect your painted design. You can do this by spraying an acrylic-based sealant on the finished clay mold.

Glazes and spray varnishes are also best to use, and they 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.

Let the sealant dry completely before proceeding to the next step. This could take 4-6 hours, depending on the sealant and the thickness of the layer.

types of paint to use on polymer clay

Adding the Textures to the Polymer Clay

Adding textures can be a bit tricky, but with patience and practice, you can add them to your 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 and 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 to your clay mold, make sure you paint them nicely and have time to dry them completely.

Baking the Polymer Clay Project After Painting

Many times crafters prefer to bake their non-toxic raw polymer clay project after painting – to make the project more permanent.

Baking the clay (if done right) also helps to set the paint and give the project a nice, glossy finish.

But if you do it wrong, all the paint can get chipped, causing your whole 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

This is extremely important as it helps prevent the paint from bubbling and chipping.

To bake the clay piece, preheat your oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit and place the painted clay project on a baking sheet.

2- Bake for the recommended time

Bake the clay for about 10 minutes per 1/4 inch thickness. If your clay piece is 1 inch thick, for example, you will need to bake it for 40 minutes.

However, for delicate and thin clay jewelry pieces, you may only need to bake them for 5 to 10 minutes.

3- Allow the clay project to cool completely

After taking the clay project out of the oven, let it cool down completely on a wire rack.

Do not touch or move the clay piece until it has cooled completely, as this can cause the paint to chip.

4- Apply a clear coat to the baked clay

After the clay project has cooled, you can apply a clear coat to protect the paint and give it a nice shine.

For sealing, you use any type of clear coatings like an acrylic sealer, varnish, lacquer, or even mod podge.

Make sure you choose the right type of clear coat for the paint you have used.

I would recommend applying the sealant 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.

5- Allow the clear coat on the clay to dry completely

Once you have sealed your clay project, let the clear coat dry completely before moving or handling the clay project.

This could take anywhere from 4-6 hours, depending on the type of clear coat you have used.

Related FAQs

Is polymer clay food safe?

No, 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.

Do you need to fire polymer clay in a kiln?

Unlike regular 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.

What is the difference between oven-bake clay and air-dry clay?

Oven-bake clay is made from polymers that are activated by heat. Air-dry clay is made from materials that naturally air dry, such as paper or wood pulp.

If you are concerned about the safety of oven-bake clay, you can use air-dry clay instead.

The bottom line

Polymer clay is so versatile that you can turn it into miniatures, beads, jewelry, face dish, wall hangings, picture frames, sculptures, and much more.

With a little practice and creativity, you can create beautiful pieces of art with polymer clay, especially when you get them baked and painted.

Whether you bake the clay before or after painting it, follow the instructions properly to get desired results.

Also, make sure you use good-quality polymer clay and paints to avoid any disasters. So, go ahead and give it a try!

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