How To Guide

How to Smooth Polymer Clay: A Comprehensive Guide to Smoothing Techniques

Polymer clay is a versatile medium popular with artists and hobbyists alike for its flexibility, bright colors, and the fact that it can be hardened in a home oven. However, One challenge many creators face when working with polymer clay is achieving a smooth finish. Fingerprints, dust, and minor imperfections can easily mar the surface.

What is Polymer Clay?

Polymer clay is a modeling clay based on the polymer polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Its malleable nature makes it ideal for detailed work, but also prone to attracting dust and showing fingerprints. It remains soft and workable at room temperature until baked in an oven, where it hardens to a durable finish.

Conditioning Polymer Clay for Smoothness

Conditioning polymer clay is a key step in ensuring it’s ready for use, and it greatly contributes to the smoothness of the finished piece. Conditioning is the process of kneading the clay to make it pliable and to evenly distribute the plasticizers. It improves the workability and reduces the risk of cracking when baked.

  • Using a Pasta Machine: A pasta machine can be used to condition polymer clay more quickly and efficiently. By passing the clay through the machine at different settings, you can achieve a uniformly soft, workable consistency.
  • Manual Conditioning: Start by warming the clay in your hands and then kneading it. It may take some time, especially if the clay is somewhat hard or crumbly at first.

Pre-Baking Smoothing Techniques

Before baking, there are several ways to smooth your polymer clay piece. These methods mainly involve the careful use of tools and the application of certain substances.

  • Finger Smoothing: One of the simplest ways to smooth polymer clay is by using your fingers. Dampen your fingers slightly and gently rub the surface of the clay.
  • Tool Smoothing: You can use various tools to smooth polymer clay. Silicone-tipped tools, often used in sculpting, are perfect for smoothing out wrinkles and creases in your clay piece.
  • Using a Roller or Brayer: If you’re working on a larger surface or flat piece, a roller or brayer can be used to smooth the clay.
  • Diluent or Clay Softener: A small amount of diluent or clay softener can be applied to the clay surface to smooth it.

Post-Baking Smoothing Techniques

After baking, polymer clay hardens and becomes more resilient. At this stage, more aggressive smoothing techniques can be used without fear of distorting your piece.

  • Sanding: Sanding is one of the most common ways to smooth polymer clay after baking. Starting with a coarse grit sandpaper to remove major imperfections, and then gradually moving to finer grits will create a smooth surface.
  • Buffing: After sanding, buffing the piece with a soft cloth or a buffing wheel can bring out a nice sheen and further smooth the surface.

Applying a Finish to Polymer Clay

In addition to smoothing, you might want to add a finish to your polymer clay piece. There are a variety of finishes available, from matte to high gloss, which can enhance the colors of your piece and give it a professional look.

  • Acrylic Sealer: Acrylic sealers can be applied to baked polymer clay to give a smooth, glossy finish.
  • Wax: A layer of wax can be buffed onto the surface to give a subtle, satin sheen.
  • Resin: For a high-gloss, glass-like finish, a resin coating can be applied. This is a more advanced technique and requires careful application and curing.

Tips for Keeping Polymer Clay Smooth

So now you have smoothened your polymer clay. Here are some additional tips to help you maintain a smooth surface when working with polymer clay:

  • Clean Your Workspace: Polymer clay can pick up dust and debris very easily. Work on a clean, smooth surface and wash your hands frequently to avoid introducing dirt into your clay. Consider using a craft mat or a sheet of glass as your workspace to minimize dust and lint pick-up.
  • Work Slowly: Rushing can lead to mistakes and imperfections. Take your time when working with polymer clay. Patience is key in ensuring a smooth finish.
  • Chill Your Clay: If your clay is too soft and sticky, consider chilling it for a few minutes in the refrigerator. This can make it easier to handle and less prone to fingerprints and deformations. However, be careful not to over-chill as it may make the clay too brittle and difficult to work with.
  • Use a Roller or Pasta Machine: Rollers or pasta machines help to condition the clay and achieve an even thickness, which is crucial for a smooth finish. When using these tools, ensure they are clean to avoid introducing unwanted particles into your clay.
  • Sand and Buff: After baking, you can sand your piece with wet/dry sandpaper to eliminate any remaining imperfections. Start with a coarser grit and work your way up to a finer one for the best results. After sanding, buff the piece either by hand or with a machine to achieve a smooth, shiny finish.
  • Use Clay Softener or Baby Oil: If your clay is too hard to work with, you can add a few drops of clay softener or baby oil. This can help condition the clay, making it easier to smooth and shape.
  • Avoid Overworking the Clay: Overworking the clay can introduce air bubbles or cause the clay to become too soft and sticky. Handle the clay as little as possible once it’s conditioned and smooth.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you smooth polymer clay after baking?

Yes, you can smooth polymer clay after baking by sanding and buffing it.

What can I use to smooth out polymer clay?

You can use various tools, such as silicone-tipped tools, rollers, or brayers. Your fingers, a bit of water, or clay softener can also help smooth out polymer clay.

How do I get a high gloss on polymer clay?

To get a high gloss on polymer clay, you can apply an acrylic sealer or use a resin coating after the clay has been baked and sanded.

Can you use nail polish on polymer clay?

Nail polish is not recommended for polymer clay as it can remain sticky or may react with the clay over time. It’s better to use a finish designed for polymer clay, such as an acrylic sealer or wax.

What's the easiest way to smooth polymer clay?

The easiest way to smooth polymer clay is by conditioning it properly, then using your hands or a tool like a roller or brayer to smooth it.

Can I use water to smooth polymer clay?

Yes, a little bit of water can be used to smooth the surface of polymer clay.


Achieving a smooth finish with polymer clay requires patience, practice, and a few handy techniques. From proper conditioning to careful sanding and buffing, there are many steps you can take to ensure your finished piece is as smooth as possible. Remember that each piece is unique, and small imperfections can add to the charm and individuality of your creation. Happy crafting!

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