There are so many brands of polymer clays on the market it can be confusing to decide which one to use or try. Here are some basics, followed by a comprehensive listing of why you would want to use each brand. Feel free to share this with your friends so they can learn too!
The Big Questions:
Yes, You CAN mix brands of clay together.
You usually bake at the lowest temperature for the longest time suggested by the manufacturer. Example: Mix Fimo (bake at 265 for 30 minutes per 1/4 inch) and Premo (bake at 275 for 15 minutes per 1/4 inch): so you would bake for 30 minutes at 265.
You can try, by making test strips, to experiment and find the baking time/temp combination that works best for what you are making. Just remember that the clay manufacturer knows best- clays are a combination of chemicals, and they “set” at the correct temp and time combo listed on their package- the risks are that you will either burn the clay (at too high a temperature) or that it will be brittle after baking (too little time.)
How Strong/Hot are your hands?
If you have weak or cold hands, you will want to start with a softer clay that responds well to conditioning with a pasta machine or roller. If your hands are strong and hot, soft clay will turn to mush and you are better off starting with a harder/firmer clay.
What are you making?
Wearable items, such as jewelry, buttons, zipper pulls, and the like, require strength. So do some home decor items that will get “used” or touched a lot, such as light switch covers, knobs for drawers and doors, fan pulls, and wine corks. However, if you are making art items that are meant to be set on a shelf and looked at, you can go with a clay that leans more toward “pretty” and less toward strength. You can also use a very basic clay like Sculpey original, and paint over it.
Are you comfortable purchasing online, or would you rather buy at a store?
Premo, Sculpey, Sculpey III, some kinds of Fimo and Cernit- these are available in most craft stores such as Michaels, Hobby Lobby, Joanne’s, Pearl Art Supply, and others. Kato, PuppenFimo, Cernit Doll, and other specialty types (and in many cases, expanded color choices) are only available online. Of course, if you want to buy clay at the store, you can also wait for a good sale- Michaels periodically sells blocks of clay 5 for $5 or 4 for $5, and you can also use a 40% off coupon at most stores to buy something bigger, like a variety pack of colors. Most online stores don’t offer that option. www.MunroCrafts.com offers 50% discount if you buy more than $200 worth of product- so give it a shot if you want to buy bulk.
Comes in white or terra cotta colors, is VERY soft out of the package. This clay is best used to work out your claying problems- keep some in the studio to make “mock-ups” of new ideas. It is a good choice for small art projects, items that you might want to paint with gesso, acrylic colors or sprays. Make little pieces to affix to a larger mixed-media wall hanging or sculpture. It is not a good choice for anything wearable, touchable, or needing strength, as it has almost none after baking and is very brittle. It also does not hold up well under it’s own weight, so don’t make any LARGE art projects with it. Great for quick projects with the kids.
Sculpey III is soft and easy to work with. Easy to condition by hand, and to push through clay guns. This clay is available in lots of colors. The colors blend easily, which is good for color mixing, however it is fairly soft and brittle after baking- especially when you make thin pieces. It is usually used as a children’s or school clay. Do not use it for jewelry, it is not professional enough for a wearable item (it could break). However, it works GREAT for art projects that won’t be touched much. Not good for cane work in our opinion but there are people who do have success with it, we don’t prefer it as it will mush together under pressure.
Beige or “flesh colored,” this clay is easy to condition and very firm when baked. It makes a great armature for a larger piece, great “bones” for dolls and creatures, and also makes a good baking support- for example, if you wanted to make a large item that needs to be propped during baking, you could make the “prop” from Super Sculpey and then use it while baking the large item. Dust it with cornstarch first so it doesn’t stick together.
Super Sculpey Firm
Comes in gray only, great for making a master of something you would like to mold. It is strong and holds details very well. So for example, you could create a beautiful sculpted object in SSF, bake it, and mold it to make duplicates. That is its intended use, and it is used by the guys who sculpt action figures.
This clay is extremely soft and easy to knead, and becomes very hard after baking. It is only available in white, but you can gesso it, color it with markers, paint it with acrylics, or even spray mist it with colored inks. You can carve into it too- it carves like butter when baked, making it a great choice for “faux wood” projects. It makes an excellent filler for larger polymer clay beads. Make your bead shape with a hole in it, bake it, and cover it with another kind of clay.
Seems a lot like colored Ultralight, although after baking it is incredibly hard and not flexible in any way. It is sold in project kits for kids, and that is a really great use for it as it is VERY soft, requires no conditioning, but it also has a “mushy” consistency and it is difficult to get it to hold any specific details. Not quite as lightweight as Ultralight when baked. Overall might be the best brand for making kids projects that will last for a long time- perhaps holiday ornaments, because it is not brittle after baking and projects made from it are pretty durable.
Bake and Bend & Eraser Clays by Polyform
Interesting clays for kids projects, they come in project kits. Some people have successfully mixed the Bake and Bend clay with regular Premo to create a mixture that can be bent without breaking, after baking. Imagine knitting or tying knots with ropes of it!
MoldMaker by Polyform
This is a white/ecru colored clay that can be used to create impressions or molds. You can also mix it with Premo to create a flexible clay, about 50% each. Molds or texture sheets made with MoldMaker will require a mold release (dust with cornstarch) to get clay out of them, because it WILL stick. Overall not really the best choice to make a mold with, you would be better off using a 2 part silicone molding putty like Amazing Mold Putty, but it’s good in a pinch or if it’s all you have available.
Living Doll by Sculpey
Comes in 4 multicultural skin tones and large bricks, has similar properties to Premo and PuppenFimo. Great for, you guessed it, doll-making!
Premo! Sculpey and Premo! Accents
Premo! Sculpey and Premo! Accents are softer than FIMO Classic, but stiffer than Sculpey III. Premo clays are fairly flexible after baking, making it less breakable even in thin pieces, and they are pretty strong because of this. The “Accents” line includes loads of sparkling and metallic mica and glitter colors, and the regular Premo colors come with traditional-style names such as Aquamarine or Cadmium Red. Premo is our preferred brand because it has a good mix of properties, colors, and is very workable and strong after baking. Ilysa has hot hands, Kira’s are cold, and they can both work with Premo just fine.
Fimo Classic is stiff and harder to condition, so it keeps the shapes and colors you want, making it a very good choice for cane-work but not a super choice if your hands are cold or weak. It takes a lot of conditioning in a pasta machine to get it moving, but don’t let that stop you- it has the same excellent mix of properties as Premo- good colors, excellent strength. Just harder to work with- literally.
Fimo Soft & Fimo Effect
Fimo Soft is very similar to Sculpey III in its properties. Lots of colors, soft to work with, not as strong in the finished product.
Comes in big 500 gram bricks, in 4 colors. Has very nice translucent properties, similar to the Cernit doll colors. Soft-ish in feel, has a very light color that is great for Fairy or baby dolls.
A doll clay, ProSculpt requires very little kneading, it seams together without showing the joining lines. Two of its most outstanding features are its malleability when it is uncured and it’s strength after it has been cured. Comes in a range of multicultural skin tones, in 1 pound bricks. This one is harder to find, but the doll suppliers on Ebay sell it.
Kato is the stiffest of all of polymer clays, but it is also the strongest when baked. The best way to condition it is to hit the closed package with a hammer HARD a few times to get it moving, then roll it through a pasta machine. It has a distinct plastic smell- when you open the package, it will smell like a plastic shower curtain. For this reason, we stay away from working with it, although it has great working properties. You must be able to deal with the smell, we warned you. It comes in basic, mixable colors, and also has a line of liquid pre-mixed color concentrates which are great for special effects.
Cernit comes in lots of colors- and has a full spectrum of multicultural doll-skin colors too. All of the colors (except the glamours, which are pearlized) have a translucent quality, making them a great choice for skin, scales, faux-glass effects, and more. This clay is easy to condition, but is susceptible to the heat of your hands and can become mushy if you overwork it. It is very strong after baking and is great for dolls, sculpture, and jewelry making. Not as easy to find in the stores, but available online.
Craft Smart is Michael’s store brand. It is very similar to Sculpey III in that it has lots of colors and is soft and easy to work with when you first open it. But it quickly dries out and becomes too hard and crumbly, which is not a feature of any other brand. Definitely not a good choice for any serious work, but a great cheaper choice if you just want to make a quick project with children and you don’t care if the end project will last forever (because it won’t).
Sculpey Bake Shop
Very similar to the Craft Smart brand above. If you want to do projects with the kids, try Sculpey III instead. This is more like playdough- fun for a minute, but won’t last.
If you can find Pardo, you might want to give it a try. It’s by a German brand called Viva-Decor, and we aren’t quite sure if it’s been discontinued or not because it has gotten hard to find. It comes in some beautiful colors including a spectrum of sparkling mica colors unrivaled in any other brand, it is easy to work with (softer feel) and fairly strong when baked. It has a VERY good translucent white color, one of the clearest translucent clays. It hasn’t been popular in US markets, possibly due to the fact that it is 2x as expensive as other clays, ounce for ounce. But worth trying if you like a soft feeling clay.
There are three major liquid clays on the market by Kato, Fimo, and Polyform.
Translucent Liquid Sculpey: the least translucent brand, it is milky-white when cured. It makes a great softener, mix some in to hard clay to help in the conditioning process. Also good as a “glue” when you need to make sure two pieces of unbaked clay will really stick together. Another use for it is as a topcoat for “skin.” You can brush it on, let is sit for a minute to self-level, and then bake- this will create a translucent top coat for creature or doll skin. Tint it with alcohol inks.
Fimo Gel and Kato Liquid: these are so similar the description is the same. The difference is that Fimo comes in a small container with a great pouring spout that you can control, but Kato you can get in a large 8 ounce jar. Very translucent glass-like effects can be created with these. The best way to use them is to bake them first, for the recommended time, and then blast them gently but quickly with your crafting heat gun. Watch the finish go from translucent to glossy- and then back off, because if you aren’t careful you will burn it. Practice makes perfect, so make a bunch of test tiles and practice with your heat gun before trying this with a finished piece. If you want a nice thick glassy coating, you will need to build up thin layers. You can also mix colorants into the liquid, such as alcohol ink, pearl powers, and acrylic inks. You can do convincing faux-enamels by using a combination of inks and pearl powders in the liquid.
In a Nutshell:
If you like soft clays, try Fimo Soft, Sculpey III, Cernit, Pardo and Original Sculpey.
If you want to cane, use Premo, Premo Accents, Fimo Classic or Kato Clay.
If you are playing with kids, use Sculpey III or Fimo Soft for colors, and Original or Terra Cotta Sculpey if you want to paint the baked items.
If you are doing mixed-media and want to gesso or paint your finished product and attach it to something else, use Ultralight or Original white Sculpey.
If you want a poured or glazed glassy finish, use Kato or Fimo Gel liquid clay.
If you are making dolls, use any of the brands advertised for doll making, they all work well and differ mostly in how soft they get when heated by your hands. In order of softness: Cernit, PuppenFimo, Living Doll, and ProSculpt.
For more information and tutorials on creating with polymer clay, please visit the community and join the Polymer Clay Crew group. Want even more polymer clay and mixed media instruction you can join the CraftyLinkers Club.
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