Paint, Ink And Wax.
Can They Be Used With Polymer Clay?

Acrylic paint and alcohol inks for Polymer clay

Paint, ink and wax can be used with polymer clay, and can be applied both on raw and cured clay. Both acrylics and oils can be used. Not all types are compatible with the clay, but if you stick to acrylics, heat set paints or water mixable oils, you should be on the safe side. Steer away from enamel, lacquers and traditional oils.

Unless you are a polymer clay sculptor or doll maker, the color is usually applied to raw clay. But some techniques like when you want to antique something or glaze with tinted glazes, are done on cured clay.

Since you most of the time work with colored clay when you make jewelry, the need to color it after curing is not of such importance, unless you want to create a special effect. But, it all depends on your project. Some make lovely three dimensional pendants or brooches using only one light colored clay, which they embellish and paint after curing. Other does not use extra coloring at all in their projects.

There are luckily no rules that say you have to do or not to do paint, in this or that way, so you are free to experiment on both raw and cured clay as much as you like.

Like I mentioned above not all brands are compatible with polymer clay. Some reacts with the plasticizers in the clay and slowly turns it into a sticky ruined mess. This may not be happening right away, but may take weeks, even month to reveal it self. One way to ensure that you always get oils- and acrylics that are compatible with polymer clay, is to buy them from a polymer clay supplier. They will have brands that are tested and found usable with the clay.

Oil paint:
If you use oil look for brands that use linseed oil as base or are mixable with water, not the the ones you need to dilute or clean up with turpentine, white sprite or other chemicals. They will slowly dissolve the clay and you will be left with a sticky mess.

Oils will dry slower than acrylics. Some say that they will not fully dry before 6 months, but that is only when it is applied impasto which means in thick layers. Thin layers of oils should dry within one or two weeks. But even that is a long time, so whether you should use oil paint or not is something you must consider according to what you are making, and how patient you are. I do not have the patience, so I prefer acrylics.

Acrylic paint:
Acrylics are water based and works well with polymer clay. I have however experienced that some types of cheap acrylics refuse to dry when applied to raw clay. Therefor you should always test a brand on a piece of cured clay and leave it for a few weeks to see what happens. If it dries and the piece does not get sticky it is alright. If you use acrylics on raw clay, they should dry within 30-40 minutes. If they don't they most likely will not dry at all, and should not be used on clay.

Mixing acrylics into clay can be done, but since they are water based, they may turn to steam trapped inside the clay when it is cured, causing it to bubble. But there is no rule without exceptions, and if you use small amounts, you actually can create some very nice effects by mixing acrylics into translucent clay.

Acrylic paint on a polymer clay bead

When acrylics are used on raw clay, like they have on this bead, they make a permanent bond with the clay when cured. You can of course not sand the piece after curing as you then will sand away the paint. And to protect it from wear and tear, you should seal it with a varnish just in case.

On cured clay acrylics can be applied as they are or as thin washes, where they are diluted. You should not dilute them with water though, but with an acrylic based thinner, or the stuff may not adhere to the clay.

You can also make lovely colored glaces with acrylics mixed into liquid polymer clay.

Polymer clay artists that make sculptures or dolls, usually add acrylic washes to their works after curing. They recommend that you use a thin layer of acrylic gesso or primer before adding the colors. You can add acrylic paint to tint the gesso, so you get the right shade for your next layer of color. Before adding gesso or primer, you should clean the surface with alcohol to remove oil from your fingers. There is no need to use gesso if you use paint to antique a piece or before glazing.

Rub on waxes:
Another type of infusion that you can use with polymer clay are Rub ons. These are normally used for scrap booking or card making. They are like small cakes with waxy pigment. You can rub them onto raw or cured clay with your fingers. metal wax and gold acrylic paint on polymer clay They cover beautifully, and give a better result than acrylics or oils, as they cover more even. You can see the difference on this picture.

You can not use them for crackle patterns. They remain elastic, following the clay, and will smear if you run them through the pasta machine. But for techniques where you want to apply paint on raised areas, they are very suitable. Since they are of a waxy substance you avoid getting paint running into the low areas of the stamped pattern, like sometimes happens when you have too much paint on your fingers.

Rub on waxes can be applied both to raw and cured clay. They normally come as metallic colors, but some brands also have a variety of non-metallic colors. They should be sealed with varnish for protection when cured.

You can see Rub-on wax used in this tutorial:
Swirl Beads - One Pattern, Three Techniques

Inks:
Inks are fun, you can use them in so many ways with polymer clay. You have to use alcohol inks though, not water subtle.

The two most used alcohol inks are Ranger Adirondack Alcohol Inks and Jacquard Susan Pickering Rothamel Pinata Colors

Both are transparent and comes in a wide range of colors. Inks can be mixed into the clay and since some of them have very strong pigmentation, you can get really spiky colored clay, that you can't achieve with paint or powders. Other colors have less pigmentation and color your clay into beautiful pastels.

Because of their transparency you can make lovely transparent colored clay if you mix them with translucent clay, a technique frequently used when making Mokume gane.

Inked metal leaf on polymer clay

Inks also give beautiful colors and patterns when used on top of metal leaf or foils, as you can see on the photo to the right. You can almost create dichroic effects if you use several colors of ink on the same sheet.

They can also be applied with a brush,a piece of cloth or baby wipe, onto raw clay, almost like on a canvas. They will bleed a bit before they dry, but if you are careful and do not add to much ink to your brush at the time, it can get pretty nice.You can paint details, or just dab ink all over the sheet
You can see this technique in this tutorial: Use A Paper Puncher To Create Lovely Inked Flower Beads

Like with acrylic and oil, you can make beautiful glazes using ink in liquid polymer clay. Add a drop at the time, or the colors may be to strong. You can always add more. If too strong, just add some more liquid clay.
See these tutorials about how you can use ink to create lovely beads:

Shaving Foam - Not Just For Shaving

Faux Plique-a-jour Earrings

Faux Ename With Liquid Polymer Clay and Mica Powder

Violet Inked Polymer Clay Beads

Beautiful Pastel Mokume Gane Beads







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