How to Paint Polymer Clay

How to Paint Polymer Clay – Complete Guide with Images

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Many types of home crafts exist for you to experiment and have fun with. One such art form is painting polymer clay and learning how to color polymer clay. Following your polymer painting, the clay is usually placed into the oven to set the paint. There are a multitude of items that you can create when you start learning to paint polymer clay; these may include items like ornaments, adornments, or jewelry pieces. There is a range of techniques for polymer painting that you can really explore and tap into your creativity.



A First Glance at Polymer Clay

This type of clay is a wonderful medium as it is easy to use and manipulate. You also only require a normal home oven to bake your clay creations, a kiln is not necessary. The ingredients of this man-made clay include resin, possible colorant, filler, and polymers. Painting polymer clay is perfect for any age or experience level, although obviously children should be supervised.

Polymer Painting Art

The clay does come in various colors and acrylic paint is suggested for polymer painting as they are good for fine work on your item. There are various other techniques that you can use, including coloring the polymer clay with powdered pigment, ink, or chalk and then texturing the surface by sanding or polishing the clay.



The Best Polymer Clay Paint

Often the best paint for polymer clay is not oil-based, so acrylics are a good option. It is not recommended to use watercolor paint however as it can possibly bubble if it goes into the clay before it gets baked, this is because it has more water in it than acrylics do. Aside from acrylics, you may also want to try out the following paints for painting clay.

  • Alcohol-based ink: These inks consist of colored dyes within an alcohol base. You can paint the unbaked clay or apply the ink afterward when the clay is set.
  • Oil paint: These paints would be used to paint polymer clay that is baked and then it needs to be baked a second time to ensure that the paint dries and sets. A marbling technique can also be used by adding the paint to unbaked clay.

It is always wise to test a small area of clay to see how best your paint for polymer clay works and the various effects you can create.


Our Recommendations for The Best Acrylic Paint for Polymer Painting

Finding the best polymer clay paint may be overwhelming with all the varieties of polymer and paint on the market. Water-based acrylics are commonly used as they are inexpensive, non-toxic, readily available, and easy to apply. For the best results, you should look to buy mid-range to fairly viscose paint for the good adherence qualities of thicker paint.

Acrylic Painting Polymer Clay


Best Artist Level Acrylic Paints: GOLDEN Acrylic Heavy Bodied Paint

Golden high viscosity acrylic paint is available in individual paint tubes in a variety of colors. They have a smooth and even texture with even coverage, no more than one coat should be necessary with these paints. The pigment level is high and these paints are quick-drying and with a simple application technique.

GOLDEN Heavy Body Acrylic Introductory Set
  • The introductory set contains 6 professional heavy body acrylic paints
  • The paint has high pigmentation and a smooth, buttery consistency
  • The high-quality paint offers very good lightfastness and permanency
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  • Brilliant colors
  • Smooth and even finish
  • Does not contain added fillers and dyes
  • Lightfast qualities


  • Artist-grade will cost more than crafters acrylic


Best Acrylic Paint for Beginners: DECOART Crafter’s Acrylic Value Pack

DecoArt Acrylic Paint is more of craft paint and is, therefore less expensive. This range offers a smooth and even finish with a variety of colors on offer. These acrylics are effective on numerous different surfaces such as metal, timber, wax candles, clay, and others. Colors mix easily and application, as well as cleaning, is simple.

DECOART Acrylic Paint Set
  • The set includes 12 foundational colors of good quality acrylic paint
  • Each tube contains 24 fluid ounces of paint for longevity
  • A great affordable option with vibrancy and good coverage
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  • Safe to use
  • Inexpensive
  • Smooth, even finish
  • Variety of uses on different surfaces
  • Simple, fast cleaning


  • The quality of coverage may be less


 Best Acrylic Paint Set: CRAFTS 4 ALL Acrylic Paint Set

This range from Crafts 4 All is good value for money and is useful for both professional artists and those new to crafts. They offer a good range of colors that are compatible with a variety of different surfaces. These are viscose paints that blend well and the kit also includes brushes.

CRAFTS 4 ALL Acrylic Paint Set
  • Set includes 12 tubes of vivid pigments and 3 bonus paintbrushes
  • Suitable for a range of surfaces, including clay, canvas, and wood
  • The paint has a buttery consistency for easy mixing and blending
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  • Vibrant color range
  • Safe to use
  • Good value
  • Quality product


  • Less coverage ability
  • Smaller paint tube



How to Color Polymer Clay Yourself

One can purchase clay that has already been colored for you; you can even mix different color clay for another shade of your own. Your other option is to color your own clay. As mentioned, acrylic paint in polymer clay is a good option. As it is water-based, it is important to allow the clay to dry sufficiently, which takes about three days. Only after that can it be baked. It really does depend on the type of paint that you use as to how the colors will end up when baked. Water and alcohol paints may come out lighter or less radiant than perhaps using more pure coloring methods.

Acrylic Paint on Polymer Clay

Colored mica powder gives you a good range of color options; even adding metallics and pearls to your creation. You would typically use these prior to baking the clay. You can also try out powdered makeup like a blusher for a similar effect. You can combine these in the clay or on the surface to give it sheen.

Chalk can also successfully be used when crushed into powder form and mixed with unbaked clay. It also works to make paint from the chalk. This can really work well on the outside of your project.

Painting clay is really so versatile and you can let your imagination run loose. You can add coloring inks; wax crayon shaved using a craft knife, metallic foil, glitter, or various art pens in your work. You can add a few different ideas together and just enjoy experimenting with the creative process. Below you will find a summary table of the different coloring agents that you can use to color polymer clay.



Baking Method







Mica Powder

Bake this clay normally as no liquid needs to evaporateMore expensiveUse the powder on the outside of the raw clay or mixed into it before you bake


Acrylic Paint


Allow the clay to dry for at least two or three full days before you bake

Various grades to choose from, these are available and easy on the pocket. Artist quality paint can become priceyYou can use acrylic paint on polymer clay either before or after it has been baked


Alcohol-based inks

Allow the alcohol to evaporate for three to four hours before bakingReadily available but are quite expensiveInks can be used successfully before  or after the baking process

Oil Paint Color


Paint your clay and to set the color bake it again for a short timeThis option is quite expensive 

This can be used for painting clay that is cured or mixed into the polymer before baking




How to Paint Polymer Clay Successfully

The best polymer clay paint to use for your projects is acrylic paint, the reason being that it is water-soluble and easy to use. Higher quality artists acrylic does the best job and offers a better quality finish but average quality crafting acrylics can also be used with good results. Avoid using products such as nail varnish as a coloring agent or medium of paint for polymer clay, as it corrodes and melts the clay, causing it to become sticky. Test your chosen paint method on a small amount of clay first as some polymer brands out there are not suitable for painting. Sculpey is a well-known and excellent brand to try out.

Polymer Painting Molding

Once you have applied your best polymer clay paint to your project, you can also use a sealant. If your clay is already colored then a sealer is not required as the clay already has durability. A seal will provide extra shine to the clay and is recommended should you have included additional materials or painted the polymer. Sealant options include waxes, epoxy, sealer for acrylic paint and varnishes. To create a sheen on a pre-colored polymer without using sealants, you need only sand the clay and then rub it with a soft, dry cloth.


Do You Paint Polymer Clay Before or After Baking It In the Oven?

Many people ask the question; do you paint polymer clay before or after baking it in the oven? You can really do either method, however, it seems most popular to paint the clay once it is baked. The reason for this is that there is often residual moisture in the paint, this can cause bubbling or imperfections in the baked polymer.

Should you decide to paint before baking your clay, allow the item to dry for two or three days to ensure that the paint is completely dry and contains no moisture.


Painting Polymer Before Baking

In the baking process, the clay does not change size or shape in any way, thus painting the item before baking is perfectly fine. In fact, the paint and clay may form better compatibility before oven baking. The best advice is to do a small test of your desired method first; this will give you an idea of how it will turn out. When heated, certain paints may also transform in color, this is another reason to do a test to ensure that you do not come out with an odd array of colors. Make sure that you adhere to any instructions on the products that you use.

Paint Polymer Clay Easily

Painting unbaked clay is a simple process, first mold your piece, proceed with painting the desired effects and then bake the item. Be aware of oven temperature to ensure that the clay does not burn. Keep an eye on the clay in the oven just to be sure.


Painting Polymer Clay After Baking

Once your clay has been baked in an oven you can still easily add some finishing touches to your project. The process is easy to follow with a little knowledge of suitable products and this will round off your stunning creations perfectly.

  • First of all form your desired piece from your polymer clay.
  • Make sure that the oven is preheated to a temperature of 320 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Consult the baking time recommendations on the clay packaging; these may differ depending on the brand. Then bake your polymer clay.
  • Remove from the oven and allow the clay to cool before touching or working with the item. If the clay is hot when you work with it, any paint will not stick to the surface.

Painting Clay Easily

  • Using a paintbrush, coat the clay with two thin applications of glaze, allowing a drying time of at least one hour between each sealant layer. Allow a further three-hour time period following this to ensure that the glaze is completely dry and set before you can apply any paint.
  • Carefully sand the clay surface using medium grit sandpaper, this will slightly roughen it and ensure that the paint adheres properly. Sand sparingly so as not to sand away the glaze that you have applied.
  • Gently wipe the clay to get rid of any dust particles left behind by the sanding process.
  • Begin using acrylic paint on polymer clay for your first layer.
  • Paint in thin coats, layering as you go, this will ensure that you do not leave brush marks.
  • Once again, as with the glaze, a two-hour drying time is required between layers and before you handle the clay.


Sealing Your Polymer Clay

The Sculpey Gloss Glaze offered by Polyform assists with sealing and a gloss finish once your polymer clay has been baked and sufficiently cooled down. This glaze is suitable to use with a variety of different paints such as oils, inks, and water-based acrylics. Should you choose not to make use of a glaze, simply use the sanding method as aforementioned, just without a glaze.

Once again, be aware of sanding too much as intricate detail can be lost. Should your work be very fine and delicate it would be worth looking into different types and brands of polymer in order to source the most suitable clay that will not require any sanding.

Once the clay is baked and cooled, it may occur that the paint is not able to adhere to the surface; this can happen if a thin layer of oil is creating a barrier between the polymer and the paint. This can easily be remedied with a little alcohol for rubbing used on a cloth; gently wipe the surface and this will remove any oily residue. Once the alcohol has evaporated you can begin painting even without any glazing or use of the sandpaper.


Experimenting with Various Clay Painting Effects

You can have lots of fun and be very creative and imaginative with polymer clay. You can create different surface effects and give the illusion of glass, ceramics, and even metals. You can also add elements to the polymer to incorporate mixed materials such as glass beads and glitters. Let us start by exploring various paint effect techniques for polymer clay.

Paint for Polymer Clay

  • With a light brush, you can add a little metallic color or powder into the polymer, then bake the clay and use a sealer.
  • If you paint a raised embellishment or area this will be highlighted above the plain surrounding area.
  • You can create an antiqued impression by painting an indented area and then removing the excess paint, some of the color will remain in the creases of the pattern.
  • To create a watercolor impression, use thin acrylic paint on a wet sponge, this works well on cured, white polymer.
  • To create a crackled surface, paint a flattened portion of the unbaked polymer and allow it to dry. Once dried put the clay through a pasta machine or other such method to crack the acrylic paint.
  • Interesting embellishments can be added with techniques such as dotting, which is simply creating images using painted dots, either raised for texture or flat. You can also do swirling, imprinting, and accentuating.



Possible Problems with Painting Clay

With all the techniques, products, and brands available for painting clay, unfortunately, a few tricky obstacles can also come up. You may just need to try different methods and experiment as you go to find the best option for your specific idea. In the meantime below are a few obstacles that other people have found themselves faced with.

How to Paint Polymer Clay Easily


Fading Hue

Remember that a medium that includes dye as a stain will not be lightfast, thus the color will fade with aging. The color in paint is far more durable and does last longer; it will however also begin to fade, particularly if it is in a sunny area.


Sticky Paint

Many types of paints are primarily designed for use on paper or variations of paper, such as canvas, therefore if they are used on different mediums a few issues may occur. Polymer clays are manufactured from vinyl that has been plasticized and is, therefore, a completely different material. The plastic in the clay may have a reaction with acrylics which renders them soft and sticky.

Glaze for Polymer Painting

You also need to be aware that there are various different brands of polymer and paints on the market. Some research and experimentation are required to see what clay and paint varieties are compatible. Should you find yourself with sticky paint, it can gently be removed with crafting alcohol, or else a sealer can be applied to try and conceal the problem.


Cracks, Bubbles, and Peeling

Polymer clay is non-absorbent; therefore paint is not immersed in this material as it would be with paper or canvas. The paint dries to the surface of the polymer and with time it may crack and start to peel. Some paints are better suited to maintaining surface coherence to certain types of suitable clay. To help improve cohesion, you can gently sand the clay to create a slightly rough surface. When asked, do you paint polymer clay before or after baking, with regard to this section, it may indeed prove better to paint the raw clay and then bake it as the paint should adhere more effectively.

When using water-soluble paints on raw clay, the paint may well bubble when heated due to the moisture content in the applied paint. To help to prevent this, ensure that your piece has dried for two or three before you bake it.


Color Coverage

Paints have different viscosities and therefore the coverage ability will differ on your project’s surface. Depending on whether the paint is thick or thinner, you may require a single coat or a few coats to achieve the desired effect. For ideal surface coverage and color, you should aim for products with a good quality make and proportion of pigment.

Painting Clay

That said, the higher the level of pigment the more you will pay. Artist-level acrylics for example will be more expensive than simply using crafters acrylics. Crafters acrylics may be used, but they will require several coats to achieve the desired color density and coverage.



Valuable Tips for Painting Clay

Using polymer as an art medium can be very creative and inspiring, lending itself to anything from sculpture to beads, buttons, bowls, and anything else you can imagine. As we know, a few minor issues may come up when working with clay and paint, below are some tips and tricks to help you avoid any unwanted problems.

  • To soften unbaked clay, knead it and pull it to make it more flexible for baking.
  • To help your paint adhere better to the clay surface, try gently sanding your clay.
  • For a longer-lasting and good-quality paint job, try double baking your piece.
  • Ensure that your piece is cooled completely after it is baked. If you paint the clay when it is still warm, the paint may not stick to the surface.
  • Choose to use quality acrylic paint that has a smooth consistency and will not fade.
  • This type of clay should not connect with any surface that may be in contact with food items. It is best to bake the polymer on a tray or baking sheet lined with tin foil.
  • Your clay will need to be absolutely dry before you bake it in the oven. To test if it is ready for baking, feel the clay with your hand. If the clay is still very cold it will require more time to dry.
  • Avoid dramatic temperature fluctuations when dealing with baked clay. Allow your clay piece to cool inside the oven when it is turned off, leaving the door open. By doing this the cooling process is slow and you will avoid cracks.
  • Use a quality paintbrush so as not to shed bristles or leave brush strokes.



Crafting with polymer clay is both satisfying and relatively straight-forward. With some simple tools and oodles of creativity, you can create beautiful and striking pieces of painted polymer clay art. Remember to always use the best quality paint you can afford, and follow our tips and tricks to make the painting process as smooth as possible.


View our Painting Polymer Clay web story here.



Frequently Asked Questions


Can I Use Food Coloring in Polymer Clay?

You can use food coloring in clay; however, it is always best to check the ingredients in the coloring as some additives may affect the processing procedure. You can also test this method on a small amount of clay to see what happens. Using paint methods is usually more popular.


Do You Paint Polymer Clay Before or After Baking It In the Oven?

You can effectively use both methods with acrylic colors. When painting unbaked clay be sure that the piece is thoroughly dry before putting it in the oven. Painting after baking helps the paint to adhere to the surface effectively.


Can I Color Clay Myself?

There are a variety of packs, kits, and individual colored polymers on the market but you can also easily make your own colored clay by using ink, acrylics, metallic powders, chalks, or flecks of wax crayon.


Must I Use a Sealer or Varnish?

You have the option of using various types of sealants for a smooth, shiny finish. These may include waxes, epoxy, glazes, varnishes, or acrylic sealers. You do not need to use a sealer; instead, you can lightly sand the clay and buff it up with a soft, dry cloth.


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