Can you use acrylic paint on polymer clay? Yes but there’s a catch!

In this post, we’ll be answering the question “Can you use acrylic paint on polymer clay?” that is asked by many artists getting into polymer clay art. Can you use acrylic paint with polymer clay? Yes you can use acrylic paint on polymer clay but the catch is you can use acrylic paints before you bake polymer clay and if you use acrylic paints after you bake polymer clay then you need to sand and seal the painted surface to protect it.

Can you use normal acrylic paint on clay?

Yes you can use any normal acrylic paints before you bake polymer clay (or any type of clay actually) and you can also use acrylic paints after you bake polymer clay.

Just make sure they contain more pigment than acrylic polymer as I had the worst experience using a cheap $2 acrylic paint bottle that was all bad smelling acrylic polymer and hardly any pigment.

Is polymer clay the same as sculpting clay?

No, polymer clay is not the same as normal clay because polymer clay is made from a mixture of polymers and can include many different ingredients and can be baked in a regular home oven (around 275 degrees Fahrenheit or 135 Celsius). It is basically a moldable plastic.

Sculpting clay contain a number of naturally occuring minerals and water. It is basically mud and not a plastic. I have a post that covers clay here.

This is the same polymer clay that we use at home

I buy this on Amazon as it’s cheap, just search for “Polymer clay” and you will see the tub pack.

polymer clay set

What kind of paint can be used on polymer clay?

Acrylic paint is the best to use, whether it is from a bottle or tub or tube. I have also used Posca paint pens to paint my polymer clay and the results were surprisingly good. I have also painted polymer clay with model paint.

The same enamel paints that you use to paint little model airplanes and cars (Testors, Revel, Tamiya etc) but I only used enamel paints AFTER I baked the polymer clay and not before. You can get these from all sorts of hobby stores or online.

testors model paint to paint polymer clay

What paint is compatible with polymer clay?

Any heavy bodied acrylic paint will work great on polymer clay and since I like heavy bodied acrylic paint then I go for something like Liquitex heavy body acrylic. The pigment and polymers used are fantastic and you’ll be happy with the final result.

As mentioned I have also used Posca pens but the surface needed a few layers of paint to be applied before I got the desired look.

The reason is I found the acrylic paint in Posca pens is more translucent than acrylic paint such as Liquitex heavy body acrylic.

Liquitex heavy body acrylic paint for use on polymer clay

How do you paint polymer clay with acrylic paint?

To use water-based paint, simply dilute acrylic paint or start with a thin layer. Wipe off any flaws on the surface with a clean cloth after applying a wash of paint.

If you find that your polymer clay is still a bit rough and you haven’t baked it hard yet then try to smooth the surface down as best as you can with your clay tools.

If on the other hand you have already baked the polymer clay and you are applying a coat of paint after it has cooled and hardened then I suggest a ver light sanding with some super fine sandpaper – a grit CAMI rating of 500 or higher.

The high the sandpaper grit rating the finer the sandpaper will be. Don’t apply too much pressure when sanding, just do a light rub to smooth down the surface. You do not want to be removing any other layers of paint or polymer clay colors.

Sand the surface

Once you have wiped or sanded the surface, ensure there is no residual dust on the surface and start to apply a coat of paint ensuring you have your painting surface or table protected from spills and splatters.

Let the paint dry

Let the first coat of paint dry. This is super important. Even if it takes hours, let it dry. The reason you must let each coat of paint dry before you apply a new one is that you want to prevent the paint from bubbling or creating weird pooling of paint or running.

Another sand and paint coat

Once the first coat is dry, give it a light sand and then apply another coat of paint.

I find that two or more coats of acrylic paint over polymer clay will give it a nice finish once the clay is baked hard.

Seal or varnish

If you are applying the paint after baking then still follow this process just described but I would then add a third coat of paint and finish it off with a sealant or varnish. I have even brushed on some resin to ensure the paint does not crack or peel.

How long does acrylic paint dry on polymer clay?

If you’re using water-based paint, such as acrylics, allow the colored clay to dry for at least two to three days before baking.

Can you paint colored polymer clay?

Yes, absolutely you can paint over colored polymer clay. I tested this when helping my daughter make her polymer clay Pokemon figurines. She didn’t have the right colored clays to mix into the shade she wanted so we created her figurines and then painted the surface with the shade of color she wanted and then baked the figurine. It worked out quite well.

Polymer Clay Pokemon - My daughter and I made these
Polymer Clay Pokemon – My daughter and I made these

Do I need to seal acrylic paint on polymer clay?

No you don’t have to seal polymer clay. After baking and fully curing polymer clay, it is water-resistant and has a natural semi-matte finish.

Only seal Polymer clay that has been painted after baking so that you can protect the paint from chipping or scratching or if you are going for a specific specific look.

What type of brushes can I use?

You can use any kind of brush for painting on polymer clay but if you plan to get into detail work then investing in some good quality fine tipped ones would be a great idea.

How long should you cook polymer clay?

In a normal fan forced or convection oven, bake for between 10 to 30 minutes. The smaller the polymer clay object is the less time it needs baking.

Thicker and larger pieces should be baked for an initial 15 minutes, then have a look to see that it isn’t burning and bake for another 5 minutes to 10 minutes.

It takes at least 15 minutes for the clay to cure fully which is usually the amount of time that it has also cooled down.

Can you bake or cook polymer clay in an airfryer?

Yes you can cook or bake polymer clay in an airfryer and let me explain what you need to do.

When I first suggested using our airfryer to bake our polymer clay figurines my wife and daughter looked at me like I was crazy.

The thing is an airfryer is actually a small fan forced oven and not an actual fryer.

So lay the polymer clay object down on some foil, and try to lay it down rather than standing upright where the forced air can knock it over.

Put it inside the airfryer and turn it to 350 deg fahrenheit (or 180 degrees celsius) for about 8 minutes. That is all you need.

Carefully remove the object by lifting the foil and place it on a surface to cool down.

How do you know when your polymer clay is done baking?

When the polymer is cured correctly, your cooled object can be marked by pressing a fingernail into it, but the nail won’t sink in but it will feel like it could if you applied enough pressure. It should also be difficult to break, but if it is thin, it might flex a little.

Once it is completely cool it should cool to a hard plastic feel. If you feel it has cooled and it is still soft or flexible then cook it a little longer.

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