Polymer clay is a synthetic modeling clay that may be used for a variety of creative projects by artists and crafters of all skill levels. Natural clay minerals are not present in polymer clay. Instead, it is made up mostly of chlorinated hydrocarbon polymers (similar to those used in PVC pipes), coloring additives, fillers, and resin. It is like natural clay medium, must be combined with water before it can be molded. Polymer clay, like many natural clay kinds, can also be cured at high temperatures to form solid structures.
What is Polymer clay?
Polymer clay is a hardenable modeling clay that is made from the polymer polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It usually doesn’t contain any clay minerals, but like mineral clay, dry particles are wetted with a liquid until they develop gel-like working qualities.
Next, just like with mineral clay, the part is baked to a firm, giving it the nickname “clay.”
Polymer clay is a popular medium for the fabrication of jewelry, beads, charms, figurines, picture frames, and other handcrafted items. Polymer clay can be used to create almost anything you can imagine. It’s also fantastic for coating and decorating other glass, wood, metal, and plastic materials.
History of Polymer Clay
Polymer Clay has been around since the late 1930s in various forms. The concept originated in Germany, when Fifi Rehbinder, a doll manufacturer, was having difficulty acquiring her typical supplies owing to political unrest at the time. She was a creative woman who invented “Fifi Mosaik,” a plastic clay she used to mold doll heads. Rehbinder didn’t sell the formula to Eberhard Faber until 1964. The formula was adjusted into the Fimo brand of polymer clay, which was sold in toy stores in Europe as a toy for children or a medium for sculpting dolls and miniatures for use in doll houses.
The American Zenith Products Company (parent business of Polyform Products Company, which manufactures the clay) accidentally produced their polymer clay named “Polyform” in the 1960s—the original version of what is now sold as Sculpey. While white clay was introduced in 1967, it wasn’t until 1984 that its current line of colors and ranges became available.
Polymer clay’s popularity was clear by the 1990s, and other producers took notice. Premo clay was created in the mid-1990s after polymer clay artist Marie Segal informed the creators of Sculpey that there was a demand for higher-quality American-made clay. Kato Polyclay, the most recent form of polymer clay, was created in 2001 through the cooperation between artist Donna Kato and manufacturer Van Aken.
There are various brands of polymer clay available today, as well as specialty clays (liquid polymer clay, mica clays, glitter clays, glow-in-the-dark clays, etc.).This kin dog clay is becoming increasingly popular, and new techniques are being developed in this (relatively) new media.
What Is Polymer Clay Composed Of?
Polymer clay is a sort of man-made “clay” that is widely used in the creation of jewelry, models, and other crafts. This clay is a type of modeling clay that is synthetic. The main component is a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) base. To generate the completed product, fillers, colors, and flexible plasticizers are added.
Polymer clay is a synthetic substance made from a polyvinyl chloride plastic polymer foundation (PVC). PVC, one of the most frequently used plastics in the world, is found in everything from medical gadgets to children’s toys. It contains additional ingredients for malleability, softness, color, and texture, such as:
- Plasticizers that are flexible
- Fillers that enhance texture
- Vinyl chloride resins
- coloring substances
These elements combine to provide polymer clay with flexibility, texture, softness, and bright color. Polymer clay retains its pliability until it is cooked in an oven. Because polymer creations cure at a far lower temperature than natural clay, no kiln is required. The final product is stiff and hard.
Polymer clay comes in a variety of names, including Fimo, Sculpey, Kato, and Cernit, but all are PVC or polyvinyl chloride resin in a phthalate plasticizer base. The clay does not dry out in the air and must be set with heat. The base resin can be altered in a variety of ways. To lessen its viscosity or change its working qualities, mineral oil, lecithin, and odorless mineral spirits can be added. To boost opacity, elastic modulus, or compression strength, small amounts of zinc oxide, kaolin, or other fillers are sometimes added.
Polymer clay comes in a variety of colors that can be blended to create a wide spectrum of colors or gradient blends. Translucent, fluorescent, phosphorescent, and imitation “pearls,” “metallics,” and “stone” are examples of special-effect colors and composites.
Chemistry of Polymer Clay
Polymer clay is a polyvinyl chloride polymer that has been combined with a plasticizer for flexibility and a variety of additives for texture and color. PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is a rigid plastic that is utilized in a range of applications, including construction. The chemical procedure known as radical chain polymerization is used to create VC from its monomer (basic building block), vinyl chloride.
The reaction mechanism includes radical polymerization of chloroethene (vinyl chloride).
PVC is created using a chemical process known as “radical chain polymerization” from its monomer (basic building component), vinyl chloride. A plasticizer is a material that is added to PVC to soften it Plasticizers are classified into two types: phthalates and adipates, with the former being the most typically utilized in polymer clay. The reason plasticizers soften polymer clay is straightforward, and it has to do with how plasticizer molecules interact with PVC molecules. There are attraction and repulsive forces between molecules. The attractive forces attract the molecules, whereas the repulsive forces repel them. Intermolecular forces are the forces that exist between molecules.
Plasticizers soften PVC because their molecules fit in between the PVC molecules, preventing them from having a strong attraction to one another. The plasticizer molecule interferes with the strong electrostatic interactions that exist between individual PVC molecules, causing the PVC molecules to be less packed together. As a result, the PVC material as a whole is more flexible!
Application of Polymer Clay
The applications of this clay are as varied as the users’ imaginations. It is the foundation used to manufacture figurines and jewelry in the craft sector, which is possibly where we have seen it the most. Because of the wide range of colors available, this substance can be used as a binder as well as on an elementary basis. As a result, we can find jewelry created entirely of polymer clay, as well as figurines, miniatures, and dolls.
In addition to polymer clay, oven-hardenable PVC plastisol, also known as “liquid polymer clay,” can be used to add effects or act as an adhesive to join pieces together. Colored liquid clay can be made by mixing pigments, chalk pastels, and ordinary polymer clay. In addition, the liquid can be poured into molds to create cast pieces.
Indeed, the appearance of this clay is extremely similar to that of plasticine. This naturally creates a playful image, away from exclusive or more traditional applications. On the contrary, it has a very vivid finish that can be improved with varnishes or glossy or metallic clays. This has enabled the development of shapes that later luxury brands have imitated, such as miniatures of animals or fruits. You’ll recall a bag with some of these features in the closure or in bracelets or pendants.
They have a variety of applications, including
- Garden wall decor
- Keepsake containers
- Journal covers
How Can Polymer Clay Be Used?
Polymer clay is incredibly versatile and may be used for a wide range of projects. The possibilities are unlimited, from tiny earrings and ornaments to figurines and elegant vases. This clay comes in a variety of colors and textures, allowing you to make giant statement pieces or miniature sculptures with delicate detailing.
Mix and match: To achieve the required color, weight, or consistency, you can combine several clays. Mix a couple of colors thoroughly for a unique tint, or stop halfway for a marbled look. You may also stack different shapes and gently roll them together to make a beautiful pattern.
Paint your polymer clay: Painting your clay is a terrific method to add the finishing touches to your work. You can add minor details or a large design. Water-based acrylic paint is perfect for coloring clay in any case. Wait until your clay has been dried in the oven and thoroughly cooled before beginning to paint for the best effects.
Carve in the details: Another approach to add texture and detail to your polymer clay creation is to carve it. Rather than adding clay, you scrape it away to provide dimension. You can carve polymer clay while it is still soft, or you can wait until it has hardened for greater precision and control. Several tools can assist you in creating one-of-a-kind patterns and designs.
Polymer clay can be used to create a variety of ornamental and practical products such as jewelry, accessories, plates, and candle holders. Your imagination is the only limit!
Begin with easy polymer clay projects, such as marbled beads for pendant necklaces, as a novice.
Make utilitarian polymer clay creations like leather-effect bookmarks and terrazzo ring dishes next.
Practice your sculpting talents and build cute polymer clay animals and charms as you gain more skills.
Toxicity of Polymer clay
Polymer clay is safe to use and bake with because it has been tested and confirmed as non-toxic by the ACMI (Art and Creative Materials Institute). They only becomes harmful when baked at extremely high temperatures for extended periods. About polymer clay, the word “plasticizers” is often associated with great terror. To begin, a plasticizer is a chemical that is added to a substance to make it more “plastic,” or flexible and bendable.
When used as instructed, major brands of polymer clay have been tested and certified to be non-toxic.
Certain plasticizers used in vinyl production have been linked to health hazards, although polymer clay has been free of harmful chemicals for many years. Non-toxic plasticizers are currently used.
Polymer Clay and Health Impacts
While phthalate plasticizers soften and work the clay, they are also related with possible health hazards. Phthalates have been linked to birth deformities, reproductive issues, nerve system damage, and other harmful health impacts.
According to Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) studies, bake-able polymer clays sold under brand names such as Sculpey, Fimo, and Cernit contain high quantities of phthalates, a dangerous chemical.
Phthalates are a type of substance that is added to a wide range of products to improve fluidity and flexibility. They are used in cosmetics and soap to improve pourability and application ease, and many plastics use them to retain softness and bendability.
Exposure to phthalates is a major source of concern because these chemicals have been associated to a slew of health issues, including decreased fertility, reproductive abnormalities, liver damage, thyroid issues, miscarriage, birth defects, nerve damage, and cancer.
The presence of phthalates in modeling clays is concerning for these and other reasons, not the least of which being children’s increased susceptibility to environmental pollutants. The studied clays contained up to 14% phthalates by weight, according to the VPIRG study. These phthalates enter the bodies of children through hand-to-mouth contact and inhalation of fumes produced when clays are baked to form permanent sculptures. In fact, past study has discovered that phthalates easily transmit to persons who come into touch with materials.
Polymer Clay and Environmental Effect
There are numerous clays available on the market, but it is critical to understand which are regarded safe and which are possibly dangerous to children and the environment. Oil-based clays, water-based clays, and dough clays are all typically safe for the environment and children. They are poisonous and potentially hazardous to the environment.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a polymeric component used in polymer clays because of its hardening qualities. PVC, on the other hand, contains dioxin, a known carcinogen, as well as phthalates. Infertility, attention difficulties, autism, and cancer have all been related to phthalate exposure. PVC disposal is complicated by its lack of biodegradability, chemical component leaching, and dioxin emission after combustion. Recycling is also on the rise (PVC is represented by the number 3 in the recycling logo), but there are challenges in physically sorting the various types of plastic, as well as in separating the additives found in PVC products – polymer clay contains a variety of additives, including fillers and coloring agents. Furthermore, when PVC is wasted or enters our natural environment, it contributes to worldwide plastic pollution.
Storing Polymer Clay
There are only a few criteria for storing polymer clay so that it will survive for years. If you do the following, you will be able to enjoy your clay for a long time:
Utilize polypropylene containers: Keep clay in polypropylene plastic containers or bags. What is the best way to tell if a container is made of polypropylene? Check for the number 5 on the container’s bottom. These plastic containers are also a little foggy.
Keep in the proper location: Store clay in a dry, cool place where the temperature does not exceed 77 degrees Fahrenheit. To be safe, keep clay in the refrigerator or freezer.
Avoid the windows: Keep clay out of direct sunlight.
- Severs ET, Lebanon M, & Frechtling AC. (1956-07-03). “Composition comprising a gelling agent and a dispersion of a vinyl resin in a plasticizer”.
- FDA (2012). “Guidance for Industry Limiting the Use of Certain Phthalates as Excipients in CDER-Regulated Products”
- Miller S. (2012). “Health Impacts of Toxins in Polymer Clays”. Archived from the original