Friday, February 06, 2015

11 Common Misconceptions about Polymer Clay

Hello guys!

Today's blog centers around all of the common misconceptions about polymer clay that you may or may not have come across. I myself have believed in some of these in my early clay days, but hey, it can happen to anyone, right? :P

I Have No Idea What I'm Doing

And here they are:

1. Polymer clay is actually 'clay'

Well, it's not :D. Even though clay is in the name, polymer clay is a long way away from mineral clay. Polymer clay actually consists of the polymer polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and is basically a type of plastic, mixed together with various other chemical compounds, giving it its modelling properties.

2. You can make homemade polymer clay (and cheap!)

Unless you're a chemist with a home lab, you probably can't. There are many recipes about 'homemade polymer clay' floating round the internet, but they miss one major point – the 'polymer' part :D. These recipes are usually for some kind of air-dry clay or cold porcelain, but it is not 'polymer' clay in any case. These air-dry clays are usually white-ish, and you may end up having to spend more money on paints and more time painting your creations, than you would if you get store-bought polymer clay.

3. Polymer clay items are fragile

Even though polymer clay isn't as strong as, say, metal, that doesn't mean it's gonna break apart the moment you touch it. This seems to deter a lot of buyers from purchasing polymer clay items. If the polymer clay is conditioned well and baked properly and doesn't have any very thin and unsupported elements, it should withstand normal use without any problems.

4. Nail polish can be used to glaze or paint on polymer clay

Nail polish on polymer clay is probably not a good idea
Better not
Technically, you CAN. But it is not advised – here's the reason: nail polishes are not water-based, which is a no-no when applying any kind of paint or glaze on polymer clay. Polymer clay reacts with non-water-based substances and slowly starts to dissolve, which makes it sticky. If you've used nail polish on polymer clay, you probably have noticed that right after you apply it, it's nice and shiny, but as time goes by (days, weeks, months), it gets stickier and stickier. Yuck. So if you insist on using nail-polish, don't expect great results. It makes sense to invest in proper polymer clay-friendly paints and glazes in the long run.

5. Translucent clay becomes transparent like glass when cured

Unfortunately, this is not true as well. When cured, translucent clay usually becomes somewhat cloudy and with more depth than non-translucent clay and the result is far from glass. Translucent clay has many uses in combination with non-translucent clay, but if you're really set on the glassy look, there are other products you can use (e.g jewelry resin).

6. It is ok to bake polymer clay for 10 minutes at temperature below the recommended by the manufacturer

Oven thermometer is a polymer clay artist's best friend
An oven thermometer is a
polymer clay artist's best friend
This is perhaps one of the greatest offences in this list. Many artists have conducted polymer clay strength tests (a couple of examples – here and here), in which they compare the strength of clay pieces of similar thickness, baked for different lengths of time and different temperatures. All tests lead to the same conclusion – longer baking times (30+ minutes) at the correct temperature (not under or over it) even for the thinnest pieces yields much better results in terms of strength, than baking for only 10-15 minutes. Pieces which were baked for shorter times or at lower temperatures, were very brittle, and pieces which were baked at higher than the recommended temperature, were scorched. The recommended temperatures vary among different brands of polymer clay of course. So the next time someone tells you 10 minutes is enough, don't listen. If you want to be sure how your clay acts under different circumstances, you can perform a similar test yourself.

7. If you bake polymer clay for longer than the recommended time, it will melt/burn/scorch

This is somewhat relevant to the previous point. A very important thing to know here is that polymer clay doesn't melt when you bake it longer at the CORRECT temperature. It melts when you bake it for irrelevant amount of time (even 10-15 mins) at HIGHER than the recommended temperature. This is sometimes trickier to observe, because some ovens are prone to heat spikes, or bake at a completely different temperature than the one you've selected. To be on the safe side, invest in a simple oven thermometer to be sure at all times that the temperature inside is the desired one.

Scorching can occur when using some kinds of ovens, but there is an easy way to avoid this as well – bake your polymer clay items on a tray with a ceramic tile inside (it helps to redistribute the heat and guard against heat spikes) and cover the tray with a tent of regular tin foil.

8. Cernit is used only for dolls

That is, again, not entirely true. Cernit do have a nice selection of skin-toned colors and translucent-y feel to most of them, and are the preferred brand of many dollmakers. However, that doesn't mean that this brand of polymer clay can't be used for anything else, does it? :P

9. You need a lot of tools to get started with polymer clay

Embroidery Polymer Clay Pendant
An example of the embroidery
That depends a great deal on what you want to do with polymer clay. Some techniques, like working with canes, are more tool-demanding than others, such as polymer clay embroidery, which require only polymer clay and ... well, a toothpick :D

Color-wise, you don't need to invest in a lot of polymer clay colors up front. It is better to get just the basic colors in the beginning and mix from them all the other colors you need with the help of a color mixing wheel (these can be found on many polymer clay themed websites). Then over time you will see which other colors you use most and get packages of them.

10. Different brands of polymer clay shouldn't be mixed together

Different brands of polymer clay have very similar ingredients and nothing bad is going to happen if you mix them, especially if the brands have identical baking temperatures. I've even baked together 3 brands of clay in one pendant – Cernit, Fimo and Pardo (all of which have similar baking temperatures – 110-130°C / 230-265°F), and it turned out mighty fine. However, I haven't done any extensive testing on that and if you want to make sure that nothing goes wrong if you bake 2 or more brands together, test-bake a couple of pieces before the real thing, so that you make sure it works.

11. Polymer clay can be boiled or microwaved

No, just... no. All polymer clay manufacturers advise against microwaving polymer clay, and I am sure they have a good reason for that. As for boiling – boiling water reaches max 100°C/212°F, which is below the recommended temperature for most known polymer clay brands. Even if your pieces don't end up all wonky from the boiling without supporting surface, they will most likely be brittle or incompletely cured.

And these are all the myths that I've often spotted across internet communities and during random conversations with friends and acquaintances. I hope that this list helped clear a lot of confusion!

Have you encountered any misconceptions about polymer clay yourself? Share them in the comments :)

Till next time :) Stay sunny!



  1. Your website looks very interesting but is IMPOSSIBLE to read. Please, for the sake of interested readers, change it so that there is some kind of contrast between the background and the text.

    1. Thank you for the feedback! Could you send a screenshot so that I make sure it's not a browser issue and you're seeing it as intended?