Arte Es Vida

Types Of Polymer Clay And Lessons Learned The Hard Way by arteesvida
December 17, 2006, 5:11 pm
Filed under: Clay Jewelry

I was never one to playa-hate the original Sculpey. And I am still hesitant to do so because unlike many clay artists who won’t let it ever darken their doorstep, I do think it has a lot of valid studio uses. Because it is so inexpensive and readily available (Wal-Mart even!) it is great for beginners and experimentation. It is easy to condition, so it is great for children and for people with arthritis. I use it for mold making and toner transfers primarily. Because it has less PVC and more fillers it is more brittle so it isn’t great for thinner projects (like most jewelry projects are), but it works fine for wall pieces, art dolls, and stuff that isn’t heavily handled.

But I had my first true original-Sculpey disaster this week. I was working up some face samples (another good use for original Sculpey…studio samples), and my faux raku technique didn’t take. At all. Serious, serious disaster. If you don’t believe me, I scanned the evidence. Behold the face as it is supposed to look, in my usual jewelry-making clay:

Elements Face Good

And then this is what happened when I used the same technique in original Sculpey:

Elements Face Bad

To say it “didn’t take” would be putting it mildly, I know.

But this got me thinking about polymer clay, all the odd quirks that the different brand have, and all of the lessons I have learned by working with these different brands over the years. And I think it is something that merits its own article. The most common type of email I get, besides the basic “where did you buy XYZ?, is about polymer clay. What kind do I use, what kind works best for which projects, why did one clay not work the way it was expected to? Hopefully this will answer some of these questions…but as for why the raku technique didn’t work? I still have no idea.

What Is Polymer Clay?

Polymer clay is PVC (polyvinyl chloride…the same stuff in the pipes, yes!) suspended in a plasticizer. Essentially this means that while it behaves like a clay (with some cool bonuses like accepting transfers, inclusions, paints, and pigments), it is essentially a somewhat porous plastic. Because of this, it fires at a much lower temperature, so you can cure your pieces in an oven. Also, polymer clay never dries out. It doesn’t have to be kept in special air tight containers or in water…although it can become somewhat crumbly as it ages, making it more difficult to condition.

Specialty Clays

There are a bunch of specialty clays on the market, most produced by the Polyform Products Company. They include liquid clays and granite clays (both of which I use regularly) as well as other products such as bendy clays, eraser clays, and glow-in-the dark clays (which I have had less positive experiences with). I rarely get questions about the specialty products so I am not including them in this piece. But if you are interested in more information on them, please drop me an email. I would be happy to do an article about them at some point in the future.

Brands Of Clay

SCULPEY CLAY (made by Polyform Products Company)

· The aforementioned original Sculpey comes in 2 pound boxes and larger. It is very soft and easy to condition. It comes only in white, takes transfers well, it is very inexpensive, but it also has more fillers than the other clay so it the most brittle after firing.

· Just like the original comes only in white, Super Sculpey comes only in (Anglo) flesh tone colored. It is slightly stronger, and actually has some flexibility to it. So it is a decent choice for doll makers.

· Sculpey III is the most popular of the Sculpey products among clay artists. It comes in about 40 colors, and fires to a nice matte finish. The darker colors are especially nice, and when I work with colored clay, especially when I need to make a blend (such as my faux coral) this is the one I most often use…except their turquoise, which I don’t like as well as Fimo’s (this is just a personal color preference because I like a greener-based turquoise). The longer you work with it, the softer it gets…which is nice for blending, but frustrating when it makes your cane work smear.

· Premo Sculpey is still fairly soft and easy to condition, but doesn’t bleed as much when used in cane work. The colors are also based on the basic painter’s palette model, so if you have a good color theory background, mixing your colors to exact specifications is easiest with Premo.

FIMO CLAY (Eberhard Faber)

· Fimo clays is probably the most popular brand among clay artists. It is the stiffest and driest of all the clays, and is the most difficult to condition (even when using a pasta machine, it still crumbles during the first conditioning passes through the rollers). But it is well worth the trouble because it fires VERY strong and with a nice glossy surface (which can also be buffed or sealed to a very high shine). It rarely smears in cane work, so for people like me who are not very adept at cane-making, it is the most error-proof choice. Fimo also takes pigment powders (pre-fired) and paints (post-fired) the best…especially the black. Black Fimo is my base clay for any jewelry-making project that isn’t a custom color blend. Any time I use Pearl Ex, I use black Fimo as the base. My faux raku face (the one that worked, that is) is made with a black Fimo base. I know it seems illogical that a darker color would take pigment powders better than a lighter one, but it really does work phenomenally well (perhaps because black is the absence of color?). And a bonus is, if your paint or pigments chip off, it just makes the piece look slightly aged rather than chipped and funky. One warning, the black clay will stain your hands. Be prepared to scrub them after working with this product!


· Cernit is also incredibly strong, but fires to a waxier finish. It is more often used for doll making than jewelry making since it is easy to duplicate the look of porcelain in Cernit, but fairly difficult to create a really high shine.


· Although Amaco is really better known for the clay tools and molds, they do also produce a polymer clay that they sell in blocks and pre-made canes. Their pre-made canes are very nice, and fairly inexpensive, making them a good alternative to trying to create your own. Their block clay, in my personal experience, seems to “dry out” as it gets older and become more crumbly and harder to condition. I have found that adding a few drops of liquid polymer clay to the solid clay during conditioning helps it get its texture back.

Mixing Brands:

Although the manufacturer’s would have you believe otherwise, you can mix the different brands without any problems. In fact I will often mix colors of other brands in with the original Sculpey to make it stronger. And the aforementioned Fimo turquoise? I mix with a little Sculpey III green when I make faux turquoise stone. So go ahead and experiment! Mix and blend and use the brands that work best for you…and if it turns our REALLY bad, you can always use the weird scrap clay leftovers for molds instead!

11 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you for this. I found it very interesting

Comment by A Stubborn Woman

Very interesting results! I suspect there is less binders in the Original Sculpey to hold onto the mica powder than was in the Fimo. It is probably also why it breaks easier!

Comment by Cindy Lietz, Polymer Clay Tutor

I can’t find the type of clay I need – I got dissapointed with Sculpey – it cracks and it breaks:O( sometimes…(makes me sad)I mostly do polymer clay flowers and usually some leaves, petals break:O(; Fimo seems to me too strong to work with…delicate flowers…Have no idea what else to choose….(?)

Comment by Olga

With Sculpey III ….I mean:O)

Comment by Olga

Have yo tried Premo (it’s made by Sculpey)? Also, if you don’t mind an air-dry clay I realy like Amaco’s porcelain clay as well!

Comment by arteesvida

This is really useful. I have had very bad luck using original sculpey since it is very brittle. but I never realized you could mix the different brands. I may have to try that.

Comment by Donna

do you know anything about an polymer clay named MODELYNE

Comment by loulou

Great information. I am looking for the type of polymer clay in a jar.

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