Thursday, October 1, 2009

What is air-dry clay and how is it different from polymer clay?

by Mary in Oregon


Let me start by saying there's a huge variety of no-bake, air-dry, self-hardening clays!  Because of this variety, making a generalized comparison to polymer clay is difficult.

There are basically 3 types of clays for the home hobbyist... oven-cured, self-hardening and non-curing.... BUT..... the clays could also be grouped as oil-based, wax-based, resin-based, water-based, stone and cellulose-based.* (see Wikipedia definitions for more detail)    Polymer clays are not actually "clay" and must be heated to cure.  Although there are some air-dry & self-hardening clays containing polymers they are usually not referred to as "polymer" clay.  Oil and wax-based clays are the Plasticine clays often used to create clay animations.  This type of clay stays flexible (re-positionable) and it never hardens.  If heated, it will melt.

The no-bake, self-hardening clays are often water-based but some are polymer-based. Most will air-dry to cure but some cure with a chemical reaction. Hundreds of new brands and new formulas of no-bake clays have recently become available and this "new clay" is increasing in popularity every day.  The Air-Dry-Clay Yahoo Group and The New Clay News are all about this type of new clay.

*Note:  Clays that require a kiln to be cured aren't included in this discussion.  These are often referred to as earthen clay, ceramic or porcelain.  There is also a kiln-fired paper clay  (used by potters and ceramic artists)  which should not be confused with air-dry "Creative Paperclay".    


What are the most popular brand names of the new clays?


For purposes of  the New Clay News, we consider air-dry clay to include all the commercial brands of self-hardening, no-bake clays plus homemade clay recipes such as cold porcelain and papier mache. This includes brands such as Creative Paperclay, Delight, Makin's Clay, LaDoll, Hearty Clay, Deco ClayCraft, DAS Pronto, Apoxie Sculpt, Lyra, Artista, Angel, Aves, FormoFit, Darwi, Flumo, Lumina, Celluclay, Sculptamold, Cold Porcelain, Crayola Model Magic, Crayola Air Dry Clay, Sculpt It, Paverpol, Alley Stone and many more brands.


What's the difference between polymer clay and air-dry clay?


Oven-cured polymer clay will be plastic like, waterproof and durable if cured properly. The finer quality brands of air-dry-clay harden to a matte, smooth and very durable finish but must be top-coated and sealed because most no-bake clay is not water-resistant (there's a few exceptions). Some of the softer brands of air-dry clay will cure to a soft or flexible finish rather than the smooth, hard finish.

You can drill and sand cured polymer clay. You can also drill and sand many of the air-dry-clay brands such as Creative Paperclay or LaDoll, however, there are a few brands that dry too brittle for drilling and will crack. The majority of air-dry clays are non-toxic and child-safe whereas polymer clay has a few precautions with it.

Polymer clay is available in hundreds of colors but most air-dry clay is available in white only and must be pre-tinted or painted after curing. There are, however, a few air-dry clay brands available in colors.  Most of those are the softer air-dry clays. With polymer clay you have to be careful to keep it covered because it picks up every bit of dust in the air. That's not a problem with air-dry clay, however, you must keep unused clay covered to keep it from drying out!

Which clay is better?

Neither is "better" than the other...it just depends on which is better for you and what you like to create!   It takes a bit of experimenting to find the brand of clay that suits you and your sculpting needs the best. Unlike polymer clay, where the clay characteristics are generally similar from brand to brand, the characteristics and quality of air-dry clays can vary drastically. Some clays are soft and marshmallow-like, some are stiff. Some are very durable when dried while some actually stay soft when fully cured and are easily dented or scratched. Some air-dry clays are made with a natural stone based formula, some are paper based, some are even polymer based. Their self-hardening formulas are the main thing they have in common. The quality varies from brand to brand also. Everything from 'school grade' to fine-textured artist's grade. Be wary of brands marketed to young children. That probably means the clay will not be suitable for fine art.

Are no-bake clays easy to use?

Most polymer clays must be kneaded prior to use, however, the majority of air-dry clays need very little, if any, kneading and conditioning. The resin and polymer-based air-dry clays are usually the softest clays and easiest to use.  However, the soft clays are not very suitable for fine detail sculpting but are very popular for creating clay flowers. Softer air-dry clays are often available in a variety of colors where other brands are white only (some off-white or gray, some terra cotta). There are a few natural stone-based clays that are nearly as stiff as polymer clay and take fine detail beautifully. These type of clays are very popular with doll makers.

How can I learn which clay would be better for my own art?

Because there's so many different brands and types of self-hardening clays, there is an awful lot to learn. If you are used to working with polymer clay, it will take some practice and some experimenting before you find the no-bake clay that's just right for you. The best way to learn is to join our Air-Dry-Clay Yahoo Group, where we have many generous members willing to share their expertise and experience.  We also have a page here at New Clay News devoted to describing the characteristics of each brand.  If we've missed listing your favorite brand, please let us know!

Mary in Oregon

50 comments:

  1. Do you know what material DAS Pronto is made of? Does it contain any polymers? I'm trying to avoid polymers right now (pregnant) and looking for alternatives. Found DAS in the local toy store.

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  2. Hi Kristie, Sorry, I can't answer that. I don't really know much about DAS other than it's made in Italy. The manufacturer doesn't appear to have a website, at least I haven't found it. You might ask your supplier if they have information.

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  3. I just want to no. If this clay can handle more then 2000 degree temperatures or more without explodeing when. Its done drying for a day or two or. If. the clay would melt at that point releasing toxic chemicals. I want more information this information. Is not what. I am looking for people use clay. In fire even air dry clay might be exposed to very hot surfaces. I just want to no how well. It can handle the heat. please. If you can figure. It out that would be helpful.Thanks

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    Replies
    1. Your questions are not clear. For specific technical information please contact the manufacturer of the brand of clay you are interested in. Not all air-dry clay is the same.

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  4. Hey, amazing work making this information available!
    I have a couple of questions about the types of Air Dry Clay you use and its durability.

    First though, I think I should describe my project.
    I am working on a craft for my friends who smoke. I live in a nice gated apartment complex and I didn't like seeing all the cigarette buds in the grass near my place, so I decided to make my own "smokers outpost".
    A picture of a commercial one can be seen here: Common Commercial Smokers Outpost
    I used a large sangria bottle, fitted a spare plastic shelf tube that I lined it with aluminum foil to it, and used a large empty prescription bottle to make the the top.
    You can see a picture of its current state here: Homemade Smoker's Outpost WIP
    As you can see, the top is kind of an eyesore and I would like to change that. I figured that using some type of clay to sculpt around it would be the best and it would have a cleaner look (I would like to leave the bottle there and use it as a base still). I would also like to create a small "tray" for the top of it where I plan to use my small rubber stamp set to write out "Narrow Pole. | Please Squish Your Bud."

    OK, now the questions...
    What Air Dry Clay do you think would be ideal for this type of project?
    Would it withstand high heat, freezing cold, terrible humidity, snow, ice, and rain?*
    Will any of the above cause it to crack or turn to mush after it has hardened?

    I have been reading about several air dry clays. It seems I made a mistake in buying the 2.5lb tub of Crayola White Air Dry Clay. Luckily I have not opened it and I plan to return it to Michael's later today.

    ANY advice and/or tips for this would be great!
    Thank you! :)

    *I live in Missouri US and the Mid-West can be all sorts of extreme (Tornado Ally and what not). -_-

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    Replies
    1. Interesting project RandomGuy! Which clay to use depends a lot on how much detail you'll be sculpting or adding to the pill bottle cover. However, NONE of the air-dry clays are weatherproof. Only kiln-fired clay will stand up to every kind of weather. Some epoxy clays are weather-resisant and so is Paverpol. You could still use an air-dry clay and seal it well with polyurethane or something and maybe it will last a while. Maybe even a year or more for this application....I just don't know. All you can do is experiment. For a simple, textured covering of the pill bottle, the Crayola ADC will work OK. Creative Paperclay is a better quality and very popular. Check here for descriptions: http://newclaynews.blogspot.com/p/adc-brands.html

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  5. Hello
    I am looking for an alternative to oven bake clays. I have used Super Sculpey and Super Sculpey Firm, and I really loved the feel of those clays. However, I don't like the idea of baking the clay in an oven. Air drying clays are much more practical for me.
    Do you know of any air drying clays that could be compared to the oven bake clays I mentioned above? I want something that can take detail very well.
    Thanks a lot

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Look thru our page of clay brands http://newclaynews.blogspot.com/p/adc-brands.html for one that is described as firm and takes detail. LaDoll is very firm and holds detail well. If you like something a little bit softer, you can get lots of detail with Creative Paperclay. Other brands work well also. Tip: I have the best luck by working in layers or stages. Don't try to do everything at once. Let clay dry and then add more clay by moistening the dry part so it'll bond with the new clay. (This works with most brands of ADC but not all.)

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  6. Hi.. Do you know about Thai clay and Luna clay... can jewellery be made with these air dry clay.. would it last long ... i have used normal earthen clay to make jewellery ... but i need air dry clay which does not require baking.. please reply in detail.. thank u ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thai clay and Luna clay are probably quite suitable for jewelry, depending on what exactly you're making. Both of those clays are reported to be durable. To get more specific answers about how long a finished project would last, I'd contact the manufacturer(and maybe do some experimenting on your own).

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  7. Hi do you know if I can print onto air dry clay? And if so how?

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    Replies
    1. Sure. Just about any of the image transfer methods that work with polymer clay or wood should work with air dry clay. I would avoid those methods that would soak the clay with water.

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  8. Hi, have you ever used Jovi brand air-dry clay?
    I'm thinking about geting small pack of it soon but cannot find any good describtion of its features anywhere. I'm a beginner and that would be my firs air-dry clay sculpting attempt ever, so I'm probably not going to do anything too complex. I'm just curious what do you think about that brand.

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    Replies
    1. No, I have never used Jovi clay. Sorry I can't tell you about any first hand experience. I couldn't find any detailed descriptions of it either. The photo on the package looks just like the one on DAS clay and so I thought they might be the same formula. I find DAS too dense and too heavy to work with. Not pliable enough for me. Before you buy Jovi, feel the clay as much as you can within the package. Compare the weight of the package to other brands your store carries. Does it feel light and pliable? Is it promoted as a children's clay? (usually a lower quality) For a first time user of air-dry clay, I recommend Creative Paperclay.

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    2. I have used one for my sculptures. THey are heavy (the white one) But i like that it's nice and very workable with water.

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  9. I want to start making figures in cold porcelain and have found a recipe to make it. I would also like to know - what is the most similar readymade product to buy that is lightweight like cold porcelain? Thank you

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  10. Hi, I would like to make a small lampshade for my bedlamp, using Darwi air dry clay. Will it be able to withstand the heat from a energy saving globe?

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  11. I am so confused. What type of air dry clay would be good for large pieces and small detail pieces. It needs to be able to last a long time and be able to clean it off. I need clay to make vase or bowl and than be able to stick small details to it. Need very smooth and easy to color with water base gels.

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  12. hi i'm looking for an air dry clay that will stay very flexible almost like plastic i saw it in many russian blogs used in life like flowers and i asked what it was but got no answer can you please help me ?

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  13. Hi I want to know the clay which is eco-friendly and easy to use. I want to do small projects like fridge magnet. Pl reply in detail

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  14. how durable is makin's clay when dried? like making a 4inch figure

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  15. I'm making diffuser pendants for necklaces.. I would love to be able to use the polymer colored clay and sometimes I find people using it. But mostly I read that the terracotta must be used because it is porous and the polymer color clay is not??

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  16. hi! is air dry clay advisable to use when making miniatures? I can't really use polymer clay because I have no oven :(

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    Replies
    1. Sure, just about any kind of mini...food, flowers, furniture...can be made with ADC. I'd suggest trying one of the soft, pre-colored brands like Makins, Claycraft or Model Magic or homemade cold porcelain. If you want to make bricks and stones, something like Crayola Air Dry Clay would have more texture. There's a few tutes here http://airdryclay.blogspot.com/search/label/Miniatures

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  17. hi i want to know if homemade air dry clay can be used for making bowls and if they need to be put in the oven once made? if baking is required, please let me know at what temperature and for how long?

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  18. please also let me know if these bowls tend to get moldy during rains as i live close to the sea. and what can be done to prevent mold

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  19. When we are done sculpting the clay do we need to put it in water to make it more softer?because last time when i am sculpting the clay cracks when i leave it in a few days.. Whats the problem? I would be very thankful if someone answers this question. Thank you

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  20. Hey, I'm newbie to this. Can you suggest me any clay material that hardens to stone hard in a small time when it comes in contact with water or any other chemical substance. I need a material to just capture foot prints etc. Idea is to make a ready-made shape on which we add impression and apply the substance so that it hardens immediately.

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  21. I had recently used creative air dry clay. Its air dry and smashy and good like normal clay.

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  22. I had recently used creative air dry clay. Its air dry and smashy and good like normal clay.

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  23. hi does Jovi contain Sulphur
    as i want to use it to make a mold from silicone
    seans@silveray.co.za
    Sean

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  24. I have a piece of art that I purchased many years ago made from Creative Paper clay. I have noticed that over the years it has become very brittle and showing stress cracks. How can this be resolved? It is looks like the artist did not seal it and that could be part of the problem. Any suggestions to add moisture back into the piece to be able to seal it. Any input would be appreciate. It is a valuable piece and cannot be shipped back to the artist because it would not make it in one piece. Right now it is still together but I need to do something with it.

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  25. hi! which high heat sealer is best for unfired clay? something that would also keep oil from seeping in? this is my first clay project and would like to make more essence oil burner! i would appreciate any suggestions please :)

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  26. I only have a domestic over so wanted to use air dry clay to make models for a faerie garden, but I see this is not weather resistant - I live in Ireland! Can you recommend anything that is weather resistant that can be baked in a domestic over, or and air dry clay resistant covering that will last, I don't want to be making these figures forever! Thanks

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  27. Good job I didn't put my surname - Fone that would have gone into spam!

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  28. I want to make Idol of god which we amerce in water. Does Air dry clay eco friendly and dissolve in water? I want material which can dissolve in water (like Paper Mache).

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  29. I want to make some Fairy Doors for our garden so I'm looking for an air-dry clay that is waterproof and weather resistant when dried. I will be painting the models, and could varnish them as well for extra protection, but in our damp (and sometimes icy) climate here in the UK I would like to start with a waterproof clay. Any suggestions welcome please.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi CraftyGran, Most air dry clays are not weatherPROOF. Many are water soluble….They are designed that way for ease of crafting. When completely cured, finished pieces are hard and durable but not waterproof. However, there are a few brands that claim to be waterproof...they are Lumina Clay, Mermaid Puffy from Padico, and Modena from Padico Apoxie Sculpt is suppose to be weather resistant. It is not an air dry clay, it is a 2 Part epoxy modeling compound, self-hardening. There is also a product called Paverpol that is designed for using outdoors but probably not suitable for making fairy doors. You could experiment...make a fairy door with your favorite air-dry clay and seal it really, really good, many coats, and see how long it lasts.

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  30. My apologies to those who have posted a question here and never received an answer. I've had some serious health problems the past couple years and my websites have suffered from inattention. If you still have your question unanswered, please post it again and I'll try to find you an answer.

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  31. I want to buy clay
    Which should I buy air dry or oven dry clay which can also be cured by using a hair dryer or by boiling.
    Plus
    I don't have an oven.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Hiii,
    I am very much interested in making necklace and earrings with terracotta clay. I was searching for air dry clay as it could be dried and no need to bake. I tried out crayola air dry clay which I found in Michaels however after making some necklaces I found my necklace paint is peeling off. I am very disappointed with the clay. Can u suggest me some air dry clay which could be used for jewellery making and which has more durability.
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  33. Hiii,
    I am very much interested in making necklace and earrings with terracotta clay. I was searching for air dry clay as it could be dried and no need to bake. I tried out crayola air dry clay which I found in Michaels however after making some necklaces I found my necklace paint is peeling off. I am very disappointed with the clay. Can u suggest me some air dry clay which could be used for jewellery making and which has more durability.
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  34. Hiii,
    I am very much interested in making necklace and earrings with terracotta clay. I was searching for air dry clay as it could be dried and no need to bake. I tried out crayola air dry clay which I found in Michaels however after making some necklaces I found my necklace paint is peeling off. I am very disappointed with the clay. Can u suggest me some air dry clay which could be used for jewellery making and which has more durability.
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  35. Hiii,
    I am very much interested in making necklace and earrings with terracotta clay. I was searching for air dry clay as it could be dried and no need to bake. I tried out crayola air dry clay which I found in Michaels however after making some necklaces I found my necklace paint is peeling off. I am very disappointed with the clay. Can u suggest me some air dry clay which could be used for jewellery making and which has more durability.
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  36. I'm very confused, I bought a pack of Crayola air-dry clay. After I finish sculpting do I put it in water? If so for how long?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely not. Do not put it in water unless you want it to dissolve! After it has cured...air-dried...you can seal with a clear finish to protect.

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  37. Hi I was wondering if I make something with the air dry clay, then later place outdoors would it be safe? Or would the rain make it go weak?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Air-dry clay is not waterproof. Although some brands claim to be water resistant, such as Lumina and Paverpol. I'm a little slow at replying to your question and I'm wondering if you went ahead and tried putting your project outdoors and what happened? You could try sealing it with a waterproof coating but I can't tell you how well that would work. It depends on your clay, coating, your location and just how wet the object is getting.

      Delete
  38. Hi!

    I would like to know if anyone of you knows if Wood Formo is safe for children once dried. Can they chew on it? and IF they would swallow a piece would it do any (toxic) harm?

    THANKS!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wood Formo is made with coarsely-ground chip wood and natural clay. Air dries hard and durable but I would not give it to any child or animal who's going to chew on it. I do not know what the exact ingredients are or what wood is used. You could try contacting Padico and see if they will tell you about the toxicity. http://www.padicoshop.net/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1_16&products_id=43

      Delete

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