Sculpting Clay: Should You Choose Polymer or Oil-Based Clay?

One of the issues with the use of the term “sculpting clay” is that it is nonspecific. Sculpting clay is not a grade of clay, or a chemical composition, but rather a designator of clay according to its intended use. Sculpting clay is, therefore, any clay that can be used for the purposes of sculpting.

Because of this, there are many different types of clay that can be used for the purposes of sculpting, including our Papa’s Polymer Clay and the Sculpture Pro oil-based clay that we sell here at Firefly Art supplies. Other types of clay, like natural clays, can also be used for sculpting.

For our purposes, determining which of our clays is most suitable for sculpting depends heavily on your intended purposes - chiefly, how you will use the sculpture and whether or not you intend for it to become permanent. The following is a quick primer on whether you should use polymer or oil-based clay as a sculpting medium for your next project.

Benefits of Polymer Clay: Polymer Clay Is Prime

One of our most popular products here at Firefly Art Supples is our Papa’s Clay, a unique blend of polymer clay that is available in a rainbow of unique colors and can be easily blended to create exactly the precise tint or shade you need.

Polymer clay, unlike natural clay, consists of a synthetic blend of polymers with a polyvinyl chloride (better known as PVC) base. Polymer clay is soft and pliable, and unlike natural clay, it does not harden in contact with air.

Because polymer clay stays soft, even when exposed to air, this makes it a favorite among some model makers because it is more flexible. If you’re working on a project that you need to set down, you can do that without worrying. There’s no race against the clock to finish a polymer clay creation before it hardens. - and another nice feature of our Papa’s Clay is the fact that it repels dust.

While polymer clay remains soft, unlike natural modeling clays, air-dry clays, and some water-based clays, it can be baked at home in order to harden it so that your sculptures and creations can take on a more permanent form. Best of all, it does not require the high temperatures of commercial or industrial kilns for firing. Large kilns that fire ceramic clay and pottery exceed 1,000℉. You can bake your polymer clay creations in your oven at home at around 265℉.

Polymer clay blends are not only desirable because they can be cured through at-home oven baking. They are also remarkably easy to use and can accept and represent fine details. They can be readily worked with your hands as well as with a variety of other simple, clay sculpting tools.

Oil-Based Clay: When Oil-Based Can Be Better

Similar to but not the same as polymer clay, oil-based clay can also be used for a variety of creative projects at home or in studios, and in some ways, it may even be preferable to polymer blends.

Oil-based clay is a blend of clay that is made with oil instead of water. Like polymer clay, it is a modeling material that will not dry out on contact with air. However, unlike polymer clay, oil-based clays cannot be fired, and will not harden even upon exposure to heat. In fact, oil-based clay should not be subjected to high temperatures because our oil-based clay can actually burn it.

The Sculpture Pro that we offer here will not only never harden - its consistency can be improved according to the needs of your project. You can change the consistency of Sculpture Pro with a clay conditioning oil or even a mineral oil like baby oil; simply add in a little bit at a time and work the clay until it has assumed the desired consistency. Remember, you can add more, but you can’t take it out. Although, it is very unlikely you will need to modify it because it is one of the easiest oil based clays to work with,

Because oil-based modeling clay like what we offer here, Sculpture Pro, will never harden, it can be used and reused over and over again, for therapeutic or artistic purposes or even for modeling prototypes or miniatures. Because our Sculpture Pro contains no sulfur, it can also be used to create molds. Simply sculpt and seal your mold, pour in your liquid medium and it will cure without any problems.

As you might assume from the name, Sculpture Pro is also an excellent sculpting clay. It readily adheres to armatures used in sculpting and it also holds detail very well, making it highly suitable for sculptures.

Which One Should You Use as Sculpting Clay?

Now it becomes a question of which clay is most suitable for your purposes as sculpting clay. Ultimately, it depends on the nature of your project and on the relative attributes of each of these different types of clay.

You should use Papa’s Polymer Clay for sculpting when:

  • You want to be able to fire your creation, making it permanent.
  • You need to be able to come back to it and don’t want to finish the whole project in one sitting.
  • Since our Papa’s Clay is available in so many different colors and blending is easy, it might also be a suitable choice if you’re making a very vibrant creation.
  • Your project involves making a mold for casting silicone or rubber and you want to keep the original.

You should use our Sculpture Pro oil-based clay for sculpting when:

  • You’re making a model or prototype that will be used for reference in finishing other creations but does not need to be fired.
  • You want to be able (or you will need to be able) to reuse the same amount of clay over and over again.
  • Your project does not need to be fired but does need to hold extremely fine detail.
  • Your project involves making a mold for casting silicone or rubber and you don’t want to keep the original.

For the most part, it comes down to whether or not you want to be able to bake your creation to make it permanent - in which case, polymer clay is the top choice.

Get in Touch with Us for More Information

While both polymer clay and oil-based clay can be used as sculpting clays, if you have any questions about our products, please feel free to reach out to us at 314-762-1434 and we would be more than happy to help.

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