Hi all, in this post we’re going to look at how to color your clay, including and especially polymer. Yes, it’s true that polymer clay comes in lots of awesome colors (and pearlescent too, for good measure, like Sculpey Premo) but let’s just say you are trying to achieve special color transitions or effects on your projects, like jewelry parts.
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Knowing how to add color effectively, and which products to use, as well as how much, can help you to create some truly spectacular pieces of work! In this post I’ll also go over good and not as good ways to color your clay, so you can have the straight dope on both.
What’s the BEST Way to Color Clay?
First and foremost I think powders are the best way to go. This includes mica powder, chalk pastels, and powdered pigments such as that with temperas. The reason powders are the best option is because they don’t introduce trapped moisture into the raw clay, which can produce steam in the oven and possibly hamper the quality of the project, making it more prone to breakage.
As you know polymer clay is oil based and as you learned in science class, oil and water do not mix! Another thing that’s really cool about powdered pigments is that you can combine like colors, like blue and green, and get eye-catching mottled effects, rather than just one color.
Now we’ll look at alcohol inks. Alcohol inks are excellent, even though they are a liquid – as alcohol will evaporate from raw clay much faster than water as long as you let it set out for a little while before baking. Start with a few drops and knead as you normally would; then check the resulting shade and see if it passes muster before adding a little more.
Here are some examples of good quality alcohol inks. These are also used for stamping and cards, they’re not that cheap but if you could find a sampler pack, or a few colors to experiment with, that should be good.
Before baking, I would give it about 3-5 hours. To check to see if it has fully evaporated, touch it to see if it has reached room temperature yet – a sure sign. If it’s still cool to the touch, leave it be and let it set out a little longer.
Are you claying on a shoestring? No problem! You could also DIY your own alcohol inks using something like Rit dye (most retailers carry this – the laundry products aisle is where you’ll usually find these) and some high volume rubbing alcohol like you’ll find in the health/first aid section of most stores…try to get 91% if you can. Rubbing alcohol tends to have different concentrations, like 30, 50, 70, etc.
If you could mix a dab of Rit dye alone into the clay, I wonder if you could try that instead? Since powders are more preferable – I’ve worked with fabric dye before and I know a little goes a long way; it is pretty potent stuff.
Also, you may be familiar with alcohol ink based markers, trouble is you’d have to be able to locate a refiller or similar to make this work..
Many clay artists recommend alcohol inks. For translucent clay that you want to give a tinted effect to, kind of like the way suncatchers or stained glass look, the use of alcohol inks are highly recommended.
Using Chalk Pastels
This is another great way to create interesting color transitions and blends. I’ve written a post about it and I must say it’s a great way to get those special effects into your clay components, whether you are looking to make beads, jewelry parts like pendants or necklaces, All you need, in addition to the chalks, is a good knife and some white clay. Experiment with a few colors – it’s best to start with a few (like 2-3) so you won’t have muddy looking results.
I have always been drawn to the look of semi-transparent natural gemstones, like rose quartz – so I experimented with some translucent Sculpey to see what kinds of effects I would end up with. I was not disappointed – they do kind of have the look of quartz. On the left is an example of chalk-colored beads I made from pure white Sculpey, and the right, are the translucent beads:
Personally, I think acrylic paints are best saved for the finished project, due to the issue with water and moisture that can get trapped in the raw clay. If you insist on doing it this way, be prepared to leave it out a day or two to be sure the moisture has fully evaporated from the clay using the test above.
What About Food Coloring?
I wouldn’t, if I were you I’d save that for your homemade clays instead, I did this once and if you stick to experimenting with your own household ingredient recipes, you’ll be fine. I would not use it in polymer clay, though, due to the makeup of water and sweet fillers like propylene glycol, the chemical composition of both can hinder the baking process.
So there you have it….Dry tempera pigments, mica powders, chalk pastel shavings….excellent choice and the best option. Alcohol inks, also great as long as you let it evaporate from the kneaded clay in a timely manner. Acrylic paints and other water based dyes,, not such a good idea.
Hope this helps…do you have any experience mixing colors in raw clay, and if you did, how did it go? Let me know in the comments.