Crafters use countless methods when working with clay to add designs, patterns and visual interest to their projects. If you’re wondering what technique for clay detailing will work best for your project, we’re here to help!
This guide highlights several of the most popular polymer clay techniques you can use to add pizzazz to your creations. Read on to decide which methods would work best for your next project!
5 Tips for Working With Polymer Clay
Before diving into different polymer clay techniques, let’s cover some claying basics. Set yourself up for clay-crafting success by following these tips:
- Prevent clay contamination: Sticky polymer clay can pick up lint, dust, dirt and pet hair. Start with a clean workspace. Cover your work surface with aluminum foil or parchment paper and remove clay residue from your hands with baby wipes. Pro tip — roll a translucent scrap ball of clay in your hands before touching your project to pick up tiny contaminants!
- Condition your clay: Before you start shaping polymer clay, it must be conditioned. Conditioning clay is the process of warming up and kneading the material to make it softer and more pliable. Our Sculpey Tools™ Clay Conditioning Machine readies clay quickly and easily! Conditioned clay reduces the chance of air bubbles and cracks, resulting in a stronger project.
- Soften hard polymer clay: Old and poorly stored polymer clay can sometimes become hard and crumbly. Revitalize firm clay by mixing in a few drops of Sculpey® Liquid Clay Thinner & Softener. Even super-stiff clay can be made workable again! Cut clay into pieces, add to a plastic bag with softener and whack with a rolling pin. Leave clay in the bag for a few hours, then knead and condition.
- Gather clay tools: You don’t need a ton of tools to start clay crafting, just some to roll, shape and bake the clay. Household items like toothpicks are great for details. Our Sculpey Tools™ Clay Tool Starter Set has everything you need to pierce, detail, cut and smooth clay. Roll clay sheets with the Sculpey Tools™ 8-Inch Acrylic Clay Roller, and bake on our silicone Sculpey Tools™ Oven-Safe Work Mat.
- Avoid fingerprints in clay: Fingerprints are impossible to altogether avoid in clay — after all, our hands are our number-one tool! Prevent finger impressions by working with cooled clay, wearing latex gloves or dusting clay with cornstarch. Before baking, you can dip a makeup sponge in acetone to rub away fingerprint ridges, then remove any excess acetone with a clean sponge. After baking, remove fingerprints by sanding and buffing the clay.
Popular Polymer Clay Techniques
You may have seen clayers using some of these terms in polymer clay tutorials online. We’ll break down some of the most popular clay techniques crafters use to bring their clay projects to life.
Almost every polymer clay project involves some level of blending, whether it’s combining clays to make a specific color or smoothing the connection point between two pieces of clay:
- Blend clay colors: You can mix a wide range of new hues from just a few clay colors! Squish, knead and condition combined clay until it’s one uniform color.
- Blend clay pieces: Soft polymer clay sticks to itself easily. To join clay pieces, like a nose to a face, score a cross-hatched pattern into both parts and connect. Smooth seams with our Sculpey Tools™ Dual End Detail Tools Flexible Tip Shaper.
Make dimensional clay shapes for earrings, charms and embellishments with non-stick, oven-safe Sculpey® Polymer Clay Molds. Dust the mold with cornstarch to act as a mold release. Push small pieces of clay into the smallest and deepest details of the cavity. Continue to fill the mold with clay, then roll the back of the clay flat. You can even bake the clay right in the mold!
To add the uncured casting to another piece of raw clay, place the mold with clay in the freezer to chill for several minutes to prevent distortion when you pop the design out.
Marbled clay resembles variegated stone, with organic striations and wavy streaks of different colors. Get the look by rolling a few solid, metallic and translucent clay colors into ropes. Twist ropes into a log, then roll it up to make a lollipop spiral. Roll the clay flat, fold the sheet and repeat until you love the pattern. Don’t repeat too many times or the clay will blend into one color.
By combining — yet not fully blending — multiple colors, you can easily imitate faux stone and other effects in your projects, from granite to agate and more.
The Bargello claying technique is inspired by the pixelated, movement-filled patterns of Bargello embroidery and quilting. This method is great for using up leftover clay from other projects! While Bargello designs may look complicated, beginner clayers can easily complete this look:
- Roll cylinders of four to six different clays.
- Line up clay cylinders so they touch.
- Roll cylinders into a flat sheet to lengthen the color “stripes.”
- Cut thin, equal strips of clay that are perpendicular to the stripes.
- Make the Bargello pattern by offsetting each strip, placed slightly up or down.
- Gently roll to connect all strips into one smooth sheet, then cut your desired shape.
Make a dramatic Sculpey Premo™ bargello pendant in one afternoon with our step-by-step tutorial!
Jewelry crafters love the magical mica shift method because it creates an illusion of a raised pattern in smooth clay. The technique’s secret is found right in its name — tiny metallic disc-like mica powders embed a pattern when “shifted.” Try it out with these steps:
- Condition and roll a Sculpey® metallic polymer clay sheet in one direction so the mica particles lay flat.
- Press the clay onto a Sculpey Tools™ Texture Sheet and push it into the details using your fingers.
- Roll the back of the sheet smooth, then slowly peel clay off the stamp, placing it textured side up.
- Use one of our Sculpey Tools™ Clay Blades to shave off the top layer.
- The clay surface is now smooth with a revealed pattern!
The Skinner blend is a gradient-creating effect in clay, named after its creator, Judith Skinner. To create a two-part Skinner blend, get two different clay colors and the Sculpey Tools™ Clay Conditioning Machine:
- Create two different-colored clay sheet squares.
- Cut diagonally across the squares to make triangles.
- Connect triangles at the diagonal to create a square with two colors.
- Run the two-tone square through the conditioning machine.
- Fold the clay onto itself and pass it through the machine again.
- Repeat the folding and conditioning process at least 30 times to produce a smooth color gradient.
With practice, you can create more complex gradient blends using three or more different colors.
The Mokume-gane claying technique is inspired by the metalsmithing methods used to decorate swords in 17th-century Japan. To add organic Mokume-gane details like wood grain, stone striations or feathering, you’ll need:
- Black and white Sculpey® clay
- One or more additional colors of polymer clay
- Conditioning machine
- Tissue blade
- Tools, stamps or texture sheets
The Mokume-gane method repeats stacking, pressing, halving and restacking clay layers. Push details into the layered clay to create an impression, then slice the top clay layers away to reveal the pattern. Learn how to use this more advanced method with our Sculpey Premo™ Mokume Gane Jewelry Kit.
A clay cane is a long tube, or log, of clay with a built-up design inside that runs the entire length of the tube. Make designs by stacking different colors of thin clay ropes that reveal an image when sliced.
Decorate projects using different clay cane methods:
- Basic bull’s-eye cane: Concentric circle cane made by wrapping thin clay sheets around a clay rope
- Millefiori: Italian for “a thousand flowers,” a colorful floral cane used to decorate beads and vases
- Skinner blend plug cane: Gradient cane made by rolling up and compressing Skinner blend sheets of clay
- Jellyroll cane: Swirled clay cane created by layering two different colors of clay sheets, rolled into a pinwheel
With a wide variety of caning techniques, you can make any design you desire — checkerboards, stripes, mini pizzas, sushi rolls, mushrooms and countless other patterns.
Try These Techniques With Sculpey® Products
Which method will work best for your project? The one you like best! Choose claying techniques based on your style preference and desired project outcome.
With Sculpey® clays and tools, anyone can make a detailed craft on the first try, even with no claying experience. Use these tried-and-true techniques to add unique patterns, colors and designs to your next project.
Learn even more techniques with step-by-step tutorials on our How To project page. For product and technique questions, review our FAQs page or contact us today.