Polymer clay, an unusual topic for airbrush blog? Well, not that unusual for many artists doing sculpting. Painting on clay is not as simple as it might look like because you have to count with the material properties and clay has also to be baked to give it durability and permanency. I am not a professional in this area but to stay on top of our topic “airbrushing” I will try to describe everything I know about clay from applying paint on top of it, what type of paint you can use, what preparation you need and all around it. I collected all this information from my research and from friend for the past week.
Polymer Clay is usually available in many different colors but most of our projects require a use of many more colors and shades to give your sculpture a better or realistic look. Where to buy polymer clay? Good place to start is sculpey.com
Usually when someone asks me about certain use that I’m not familiar with I just say – test it. This is similar situation. If you have some special favorite paints not mentioned bellow – “JUST TEST THEM“. Why? Polymer Clay is very interesting material. Some of paints trigger a chemical reaction. For example enamel, clear coats, lacquers or classic oil paints don’t dry on clay and the surface is usually left sticky. Water based acrylic or oil paints are, on the other side, one of the best choices for clay. Some acrylic paints do not adhere to the clay as they should, then you have to prepare surface by using a primer and sand it for some time. You can use special acrylic primer or Gesso. Many of acrylic primers are available in spray cans (for example Krylon) but also for us airbrushists more known company Createx makes it too. Gesso is a special thick paint used as primer. It comes in white and black color. Because it is so thick it gives a great surface finish to paint on but on the other side it fills in all the small details (hair rendered on clay).
I hope that you have read my guide to airbrush colors, if you haven’t, have a look. If you want to give a bright colored clay different shade by mixing the paint into it I would not recommend to use acrylic paints for that. Better choice here is ink. Why?
Acrylic paint will be thinned with water and if you get water inside the clay, this water will try to evaporate during baking and you will end up with a porous uneven surface.
Also notice that acrylic paint become darker after they dry, so the result will be slightly different after you bake the clay. My only advice here is to make some experiments to see how the paints change colors just so you know what to expect. Another interesting tip: If you want to give your painted surface an old look then do not cover the whole art with paint. Create ‘stains’ with some parts not painted at all and then, very tenderly, slide over with a sponge or a napkin. To paint on Polymer clay I recommend to use artistic acrylic paint from Createx especially Auto Air or Wicked.
I’ve already said that baking mixed acrylic paint with polymer clay can cause very nasty defects. Oil paint however will not cause any trouble similar to that. Use of oil paint with polymer clay is practically similar to acrylic with one exception. Full drying time of oil paints can last half a year. Because of that they can’t be covered with clear coat otherwise they will not dry at all. This makes it impossible to use oil paint for Crackled Paint Technique. I’ve also found out that such property as slow drying is taken as a positive quality for some special techniques. Usually you can apply oil paint on already baked clay and they bake it again for few minutes just for paint hardening. Oil paint is good for technique called Mokume-Gane.
Other Types of Paints for Polymer Clay
I’m not going to get much into details as the most popular paint used for painting polymer clay is acrylic paint. According to statistics I have found accounts for around 70%. I still would like to mention the rest.
There is many types of ink with different pigments, some are transparent, some just translucent and some have even candy like effects. Also their characteristics depend on the brand you are using and it has huge impact on result when applying on polymer clay. The most common uses are for creating textures on non-baked clay, shading of liquid polymer clay, shading of translucent clay and many different approaches to make Mokume-Gane.
These are used for creating special effects and can be mixed with acrylic thinner, liquid polymer clay or applied directly on not yet baked clay. Powders with metallic effect are used for imitation of jewelry pieces. This also has to be coated with special sealer (Krylon or Testor’s).
What to Use for Airbrush?
I think that for every airbrush artist the closest topic is acrylic paint. Well-known brand like Createx is my first choice because I use it myself all the time. I do not work with polymer clay yet and don’t have equipment to test it but after I’ve received an email from one of my readers “Megan”, I decided to help her out and did my own research. Here is a small piece of her message:
First off, I found my niche in art about a year ago. I’ve always been artistic in one form or another but I’ve never tried sculpting before. I decided to give it a try and haven’t put the clay down since! I don’t have the capabilities to “fire” anything and have had lousy results with air dry clay and so the type I use that seems to be the best for someone working from their home is polymer clay. You cure the clay by simply baking it in an over at up to 250 degrees F.
Typically, most other polymer users recommend using a water based acrylic paint which is fine and dandy but what happens when you need a paint like no other and it’s NOT either of those available? I found out that you CAN’T paint polymer clay with Urethane paints because it will have a bad reaction with the clay (baked or not) causing it to break down the clay’s structure and basically it will “eat” the cured clay after a while. This is obviously not something I want to happen but I also REALLY wanted to use these paints and I already bought them. Most people who have experience with polymer clay don’t have experience with auto paints and those who use the paints have no experience with polymer clay! OMG! I have spent over two weeks now spending most of my time looking for the answer. I’ve started getting my hopes up when I got into reading more about Createx paints.
In particular, “Auto Air“. From what I have found, it’s a water based acrylic paint which is also safe for urethane paints. That’s when I stumbled upon your site…researching the auto air paints. So, my question…… What primer could I use if any is needed and could I use AutoAir paint as a base for the other urethane paints???
The paints I purchased are from a company called “Alsa”. Do you have any ideas for me???? I’ve really hit a dead end and I’d rather not start buying a bunch of paint all over again. I simply can’t afford to. I could buy one or two products that may be a solution but I’d rather not buy an entirely different paint collection from a different manufacturer.
As I’ve said I have never worked with polymer clay before but I always take emails from my audience seriously so I couldn’t just leave it unanswered. To get the best answer I decided to contact the big brands themselves. Why not? They should know better about their products and I was right.
Here is Createx reply:
All of our paints work onto polymer clay. Our best preforming and most durable paints are Auto Air Colors and Wicked Colors. They can be applied direct to the clay. Although not absolutely necessary for adhesion, we always recommend starting with Auto Air 4000 Series Sealers. Our sealers adhere excellent to most any substrate, dry quickly and create a very smooth surface to paint and tape on which does not have to be scuffed prior to painting. Auto Air and Wicked can be safely oven cured up to 250 – 350 degrees F. Both paints are safe for exposure up to 400 degrees F. They also can be inter-layered with solvent-based paints provided the solvent-based paint has flashed it excess solvent/ cured and then scuffed with 600 – 800 grit sandpaper.
And here is reply from AlsaCorp:
I am sure it will work, however I would advise testing it to be certain. These paints go on all kinds of substrates. I am not too familiar with polymer clay, but if acrylics work these should too.
Megan was very excited about using Alsa paints as they have very good shades of colors but no one can give her an exact and definitive answer to her question, the only and 100% answer is to use acrylic paints from Createx. But she decided to find it out herself and she is doing test samples at the moment. I’m sure that this article is going to grow with time not because of my interest but because of Megan’s enthusiasm.
She is working on one project right now and has sent me two snaps.
This particular sculpture is a “Kirin” or “QUILIN” which is sort of an Asian unicorn, or their version of one. It’s obviously a fantasy creature and so I’ve added my own idea’s to what a Kirin might look like. The things on its neck are abalone shells which will act as the “scales” of the creature. It will have more of them along its back. After it’s complete, it will have a Tibetan lamb hair mane and tail which is why it doesn’t have hair yet. Thank you Megan. I can’t wait to see the progress and the final sculpture and also the results of your experiment. Dear reader, if you have anything to add please leave a comment or send us an email. Otherwise don’t forget to spread the love and share.