10 Things to Know About Polymer Clay

10 Things to Know About Polymer Clay

Polymer clay is at the core of all of our pieces here at Olim Clay Co., so what is it really? Take a look at these 10 facts about polymer clay to learn more - you might be surprised at number 7!

1. Polymer clay needs to be CURED. The technical term for "baking" polymer clay is "curing". Unlike air dry clay, you do need to add heat to take polymer clay from malleable to hard. I like to cure my polymer clay pieces at 275 degrees Farenheit for around 45 - 48 minutes, but every polymer clay artist will have their own preferred temperatures and times. You can also place fully cured polymer clay back into the oven over and over and over again without damaging the piece. This is how we create inlaid designs like the ones below!

2. Polymer clay is LIGHTWEIGHT. It can be difficult to quantify just how lightweight it is - I have tried weighing tiny stud earrings just to have the scale read 0 ounces! Often I even forget that I am wearing earrings at all. This lightweight characteristic makes polymer clay a great material for wearable art. Below are a few weights for our bestselling products, and a comparison with a common household item.

3. Polymer clay is DURABLE. Despite its similarity in name and appearance to ceramic clay, this characteristic of polymer clay makes it stand out from the crowd. You can take a piece of cured polymer clay and bend it, drop it, even throw it on the ground. We don't suggest that you do these things...but below you can see the flexibility in action.

4. Polymer clay is WATERPROOF. You can submerge it in water, rinse it with water, and bring it out in the rain. You can wear polymer clay rings while washing your hands, you can wear studs in the shower, and you can wear a necklace while jogging. The one thing to keep in mind is that the metal parts of your jewelry do not like water as much as the polymer clay parts. Sterling silver and 14K gold-fill can tarnish over time if exposed to too much moisture. So although polymer clay is entirely waterproof on its own, it's best to limit the amount of time your jewelry spends in water. 

5. Polymer clay is COLORFUL. Unlike many other mediums, the colors of polymer clay are a part of the material itself. You don't add the color afterwards - it is an inherent part of the clay. This allows for more options in terms of creating patterns and designs, and it means that the color won't chip off, peel off, or wear off over time. You can also mix different colors of polymer clay together to create new ones, just like you mix paint colors! Take a look at some of our favorite custom-mixed colors.

6. Polymer clay comes in multiple FORMS. The standard form of polymer clay feels a bit like Play-Doh, and is manipulated in a similar way. But polymer clay also takes the form of liquid clay. Liquid clay feels a bit like white school glue, and hardens to the same final cured form as standard polymer clay, using the same baking methods. We use liquid clay to create the translucent water effect on our glacier pieces.

7. Polymer clay can be REUSED. Sometimes your cured clay just doesn't come out right. Although the hardened clay cannot be turned back into malleable clay, it can still be turned into something new. My favorite method for reusing already-cured clay is to chop it up into tiny pieces using a coffee grinder. Those pieces can be sprinkled on a slab of uncured clay and baked again to create a speckled texture, or they can be mixed into uncured clay to create a sand-like texture. We actually use chopped, fully hardened clay to create our Chaos Rings!

8. Polymer clay is EASY to work with. Compared to other clay materials like ceramic or porcelain, polymer clay is surprisingly easygoing. You don't need a fancy (and often unpredictable) kiln to bake it, the colors you see are the colors you get (rather than guessing at colors of glazes), and you can go from creating to baking immediately (instead of having to wait hours or days for the clay to dry out first). Polymer clay is found in most craft stores, which means last-minute supply shortages are a simple fix. Because polymer clay can be purchased in small quantities, you can test out new colors and designs without having to commit to a large batch. Polymer clay is also quite hardy - you can leave it out, uncovered, for days or weeks, and when you are finally ready to use it again you can simply condition it and go!

9. And polymer clay is HARD to work with. Despite all of the things that make polymer clay easy to work with, it has its difficulties as well! Polymer clay can quickly attract dust and lint, rendering an uncured piece unusable. It can distort in the oven if not supported properly, causing the finished piece to be misshapen. If not correctly conditioned, polymer clay can break and crack even after curing. Depending on the style and methods of creating it, polymer clay can require many finishing steps even after it is fully cured. It doesn't like being stored in temperatures that are too hot, which can cause it to partially harden. And not all brands of polymer clay are created equal! Each requires its own specific conditioning and baking technique which must be learned through trial and error.

10. Polymer clay is, at the end of the day, PLASTIC. A combination of PVC resin and a liquid plasticizer, polymer clay gets its "clay" designation from the fact that tiny dry particles, the PVC, are suspended in a liquid, the plasticizer. This fact about polymer clay is often the most surprising since it appears so similar to materials like porcelain, wood, or ceramic. Because of its nature as a plastic I work in small batches to minimize environmental impact and ensure that no polymer clay is wasted or thrown away.


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