Sculpting is a fun, creative, and often therapeutic art form that allows artists to bring their imaginings to life in 3 dimensions.
Unfortunately, using the wrong kind of clay for sculpting can seriously hinder the final results of your work.
As a sculptor, there’s almost nothing more devastating than completing a project only for Daffy Duck’s head to fall off and go rolling across the workbench at the slightest touch. Similarly, nobody wants their labor of love to melt into a puddle halfway through firing.
Thankfully, all of the above nightmares can be avoided by selecting high-quality clay formulated specifically for sculpting.
Today, we’ll be reviewing the top 5 clay products for sculpting on the market. We’ve also put together a comprehensive buyer’s guide and FAQ section full of useful information pertaining to the selection process, so remember to stick around until the end!
Best Clay Brands for Sculpting
Best Overall: Craftsmart Natural Air-Dry Clay
If we had to recommend just one clay product to all sculptors, regardless of ability, it would have to be the Craftsmart Natural Air-Dry Clay.
This all-natural clay is both eco-friendly and, due to its non-toxic status, dermatologically safe. These are both huge bonuses for people with sensitive skin or those who are conscious of the environmental impact of their art.
Craftsmart’s Natural Air-Dry Clay is, of course, air-drying. This means that you don’t need any kind of oven or kiln to harden your finished project – just leave it out on a suitable surface and let the air solidify the clay.
Don’t worry: the clay has been treated for freshness, so your clay won’t dry out prematurely.
Even after your clay creation has dried, you can soften it again by adding water. This allows you to correct any mistakes or imperfections after the fact, making the Craftsmart clay a great beginner-friendly option.
Like many types of air-drying clay, however, this clay is relatively fragile once it has dried. This means that you might need to apply a coat of shellac of waterproof varnish to your creation after drying to ensure its longevity.
- All-natural – Eco-friendly
- Air-hardening – No firing needed
- Non-toxic – Dermatologically safe
- Treated for freshness – No premature drying
- Softenable – Correct mistakes with water
- Fragile once dried – Varnishing may be required
- Natural Clay – This 10Lb Block Of White Clay Will Help You Bring Your Creative Ideas To Life
- No Kiln Needed – Slowly And Evenly Air-Dry Clay Creations On All Sides For Best Results. If Dry Before You’Re Finished Designing, Add Water To Soften. Treated To Ensure Freshness
- Variety Of Uses – You Can Use This Air Hardening Clay For Sculpting, Hand Modeling Or Throwing On A Potter’S Wheel. Fragile When Dry, Seal With Shellac To Waterproof
- Non-Toxic Clay – Whether You Need Clay For Students, Professionals, Or Home Use, Craftsmart Natural Clay Is An Ideal Choice
Second Place: Rocky Mountain Pottery Clay
In second place, the Rocky Mountain Pottery Clay is an excellent choice for any clay-based project, whether you’re a professional or a beginner.
Rocky Mountain’s Pottery Clay is extremely versatile. Of course, it can be used for sculpting purposes, but it can also be thrown on the wheel for pottery or built up by hand.
Thanks to its smooth texture, the Rocky Mountain clay yields a perfect finish and can easily be used to execute fine details without worrying about graininess.
This is a low-fire clay, which means that it is resistant to shrinking and warping when heated, and because it has been de-aired, no wedging is needed before throwing. This makes the clay easier and quicker to work with.
Once the clay has dried, you can finish it with any type of commercial glaze. This flexibility in terms of decoration is a great bonus, especially if you already have glazing agents at home that you want to use up.
Please bear in mind, however, that the Rocky Mountain clay does become dry very quickly when exposed to air (although it needs to be heated to set properly), so make sure that you keep it tightly and properly packaged between uses.
- Smooth texture – Flawless finish
- Glaze-compatible – Easy to decorate
- Low-fire – Minimal shrinking and warping
- De-aired – No wedging required
- Versatile – For wheel, sculpting, and building use
- Dries quickly – May become unusable when exposed to air
- 10 Pounds of Moist de-Aired Pottery Clay
- Great for hand building, throwing on the wheel, and sculpting. Easy to use.
- Versatile clay: Great for beginners and advanced potters
- Great for school clay, safe for kids and water based
- Low fire cone 06 white clay
Runner-Up: Sargent Art Plastilina Modeling Clay
Our runner-up pick is the Sargent Art Plastilina Modeling Clay, which is the product we would recommend if you want to be able to reuse your clay over and over.
This is a mineral-based clay formula, which means that it is natural and eco-friendly. It is also confirmed to be non-toxic, so those with sensitive skin or respiratory issues can rest assured that this clay is safe for use.
Something that sets this clay apart from other products is the fact that it is non-hardening, which means that you can reuse it indefinitely! This clay is great for making temporary models and experimenting with sculpture designs.
However, the downside to the clay being non-hardening is that it can’t be properly dried either by air or heat, so if you primarily want to make permanent sculptures, this won’t be the clay for you.
The Sargent Art Plastilina Modeling Clay comes in a variety of colors, including white, gray, brown, cream, terracotta, and green, so you don’t have to be constrained by a single color. Moreover, the colors can be blended together to create your own ideal colors.
- Mineral-based – Natural formula
- Non-hardening – Reusable
- Multiple color options – White, cream, brown, gray, green, and terracotta
- Color blendable – Create your own colors
- Non-toxic – Dermatologically safe
- Not for drying – Not suitable for permanent projects
- Easy Cleanup - This modeling dough will not crumble or stain and can be easily cleaned up with soap and water. Shape and mold this high-density clay into any design your mind can envision! It holds any crevice, notch, knot, or shape you mold into it! Fills silicon molds easily!
- Simple to Use – These pack of modeling dough is conveniently packaged for easy use and kids will be able to easily play and experiment. Ideal for modeling, sculpting, prototypes, claymation, and more!
- Easy to Keep Fresh – Simply leave them in the individual wrapping or put in a resealable bag will ensure the dough stays fresh, void of air to harden it.
- Safe & Non-Toxic: AP Certified, Non-toxicity and safe for children. Our modeling dough does contain wheat/gluten but is free from most common allergens: Latex, dairy, casein, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, and soy.
- Multipurpose: Ideal for modeling, sculpting, prototypes, claymation and more. Use the wide array of our colors for mixing and blending!
Best Value: Laguna Modeling Clay
Value for money should always be on your radar when it comes to purchasing art supplies, including clay. However, if an affordable price for large quantities and good quality is your top priority, the Laguna Modeling Clay should be first on your list.
The Laguna Modeling Clay is a premium, professional-grade product, meaning that it can be used in a commercial capacity.
This is an air-drying clay type, so you don’t need to own an oven or kiln in order to set your clay creations. The air-drying process is slow, which can be a problem if you’re working to time constraints, but the benefit is that your unused clay won’t dry out prematurely.
Thanks to the water-based nature of the Laguna clay, the formula is both pliable and smooth, so it’s easy to work with and produces flawless results.
You can use this clay for various purposes, including sculpting, hand building, and pottery. At 25 lbs per purchase for a very reasonable price, you can’t go wrong with Laguna.
- Professional-grade – Suitable for commercial use
- Air-drying – No kiln or oven required
- Water-based – Smooth and pliable
- Versatile – Multiple potential applications
- 25 lbs per purchase – Excellent value
- Not suitable for firing – Air-dry only
- Pro-Grade WED clay is extremely pliable sculpture clay used for modeling and molding professionally in special effects (FX) sets and the motion picture studios
- Great hardening clay for hand building, replicas, taxidermy, clay art therapy and studio pieces
- Effective for casting masks with wax or clay sculpting tools
- Color is Gray. Not formulated to be fired.
- Not intended for children under 12
Highly Commended: Aurora Pottery Premium Air Dry Sculpting Clay
Aurora Pottery’s Premium Air Dry Sculpting Clay is another clay product we would highly recommend to sculptors everywhere.
As a premium-grade formula, this clay is proven to be high-quality and suitable for use by beginners and professionals alike.
Something else we like about this clay is that it’s water-based, which makes for a soft and smooth formula that is also safe for sensitive skin.
Although the Aurora Pottery Premium Air Dry Sculpting Clay is primarily marketed as a clay type for sculpting, it’s also suitable for modeling, pottery, and other craft projects, making it a versatile option for artists.
The Aurora Pottery clay dries slowly when exposed to air. This means that once you’ve completed your design, you can simply leave your project out to dry.
It won’t dry out too quickly, so you won’t have to worry about premature drying or leftover clay becoming unusable as long as it is kept moist and packaged properly.
You can’t fire this clay in a kiln or oven, though, so if you do choose the Aurora Pottery clay, you’ll need to be prepared to wait for it to air-dry.
- Premium – High-quality formula
- Water-based – Slow-drying, soft, and smooth
- Multipurpose – For sculpting, modeling, and pottery
- Air-hardening – Easy drying process
- Not for kiln or oven use – Cannot be fired
- great for prototyping
- Excellent for DIY CHristmas Ornaments
- Not intended for children under 12
Buyer’s Guide: Choosing the Best Clay for Sculpting
You could be forgiven for thinking that choosing the best clay for sculpting is as simple as picking the best-reviewed sculpting clay on the market.
However, there are actually a variety of features you should think about before buying to make sure that your purchase is suitable for your specific project(s).
First thing’s first: there are different types of clay, and each type has its own set of advantages and drawbacks. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand what type of clay you’re buying before you finalize your purchase, as well as what your chosen clay type means for your work.
For sculpting purposes, we recommend either mineral-based or water-based clay, although you can also find oil-based and wax-based clay types.
Water-based clay is very pliable and smooth and won’t dry out too quickly given its high moisture content. If you’re looking for a clay type that can be left to air-dry but won’t dry prematurely and will also be easy to work with, water-based clay may be your best option.
Mineral-based clay can actually refer to multiple specific clay types. Mineral clays can be oil-based and are often referred to as earthenware clay.
These clay types are very malleable, making them ideal for detailed sculpting, and can harden at lower temperatures, meaning you won’t necessarily need a kiln or oven to set your creations.
Generally speaking, air-drying clay types tend to have a coarser, grainier texture. As you can see from the products we have chosen to review in today’s article, however, it is entirely possible to find air-drying clay that produces smooth, perfect results.
It’s important to note that non-hardening clay is also very popular on the market, and it’s easy to confuse with other types of clay.
Non-hardening clay is best for modeling or experimenting. This type of clay allows you to reuse your clay indefinitely, so if you’re just sculpting for therapeutic purposes, it’s a great option.
If you want to create sculptures that stand the test of time, you will need to ensure that your chosen clay is strong enough.
Now, something to bear in mind about air-drying clays is that the final dried result is likely to be more fragile than sculptures that you have fired in a kiln.
However, the good news is that this can often be rectified by applying a coat of waterproof varnish such as shellac.
With that being said, not all air-dry clay types are compatible with varnishes or paints, so make sure that your chosen clay can be varnished if this is your plan.
While we certainly prioritize all-natural clay formulas for health reasons (more on this below), there are some treatments that can improve how your clay handles and sets.
Freshness treatments will prevent your air-drying clay from hardening too quickly when exposed to air.
If you want to be able to harden your clay with air alone, freshness-treated clay will be your best bet in terms of prolonging the longevity of your clay supply.
In the absence of a freshness treatment, you should keep your clay as moist as possible by introducing small amounts of water to the formula when you notice it getting dry and making sure it is stored in an airtight container or wrap.
Working with clay can be a lot of fun, but for people with dermatological or respiratory conditions, certain clay formulas can be a recipe for disaster.
Ideally, you will want your chosen clay to be safe for sensitive skin and non-toxic when it comes to particle inhalation.
All-natural, mineral, and water-based clay will generally be the safest option. Always check the product information to see whether a clay product meets national safety standards since this will be your best indication of non-toxicity.
Of course, if you’ve clicked on this article, it’s because you’re looking specifically for clay that is suitable for sculpting.
With that being said, sculpting clay can often also be used for a variety of other artistic purposes, from pottery (including throwing on the wheel) and modeling to taxidermy.
The potential uses for any form of clay will usually be stated in the product information, so read this carefully to make sure you understand the extent of your clay’s versatility.
Another area pertaining to clay versatility is the ability to soften clay once this has hardened. This is usually a property of air-drying clay, which can often be softened after setting by adding water.
Finally, you will also need to verify how much clay a single purchase will get you. This varies from brand to brand.
Clay comes in many different quantities, although some brands will have more options available than others.
Clay quantities are usually expressed by the pound, so you’ll need to work out how much clay you need in terms of weight.
Some common quantities that clay is sold in include 5 lbs, 10 lbs, 15 lbs, 20 lbs, and 25 lbs. However, some brands sell quantities of clay up to 1,000 lbs.
Remember to compare prices per quantity between brands if you want to make sure that you’re getting the best value for your money.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I put air-drying clay in a kiln?
The majority of clay products that are marketed as air-drying won’t be suitable for firing in a kiln or oven.
Air-drying clay is likely to form cracks when exposed to extreme temperatures, such as those found in kilns and ovens, because it has a lesser moisture content.
For this reason, if you want to fire your clay in an oven or kiln (thus speeding up the drying process), we would strongly recommend that you choose a clay that is specifically marketed as suitable for firing.
Can I use pottery clay for sculpting?
Yes, you can use pottery clay for sculpting as long as it has the right qualities and properties.
Pottery clay is usually referred to as earthenware, and because it’s a low-fire type of clay, it is smooth and easy to work with. This makes it ideal for sculpting and modeling.
This is the reason why many of the products in our list of top sculpting clays are actually marketed as pottery clay.
These types of clay are very versatile and pleasant to work with, so not only can you use pottery clay for sculpting, but we actually recommend it if you want an easy sculpting process with flawless results.
Does polymer clay crack?
Polymer clay should not crack under the right conditions but maintaining the perfect conditions to prevent cracking takes some planning.
Firstly, if you’re going to be firing your polymer clay, you’ll need to ensure that your oven doesn’t have any cracks or gaps in it. Cracks in your oven or kiln can cause temperature fluctuations, which is one of the main causes of clay cracking.
It also helps to condition your clay first (expose it to oven-grade temperatures) so that it won’t react badly to the heat during firing.
Air bubbles are also major culprits when it comes to polymer clay cracking, so you’ll want to make sure that there are no air bubbles in your clay prior to firing. Any air bubbles can usually be released simply by stretching or tearing the clay.