Polymer clay is a very versatile material used by artists and crafters to create a wide variety of decorative and functional items. Unlike air-dry clays, polymer clay needs to be baked in the oven to cure and harden it. Many people like to color or dye their polymer clay pieces to achieve bold, vibrant colors or to get color effects like marbling or gradients. But what if you bake your clay and then decide you want to change the color or dye it differently? Is it possible to dye polymer clay after it has been cured?
The short answer is yes, you can absolutely dye or re-color polymer clay after baking it. While raw polymer clay is very pliable and easy to mix and shape, baked polymer clay is hardened and no longer pliable. This means you can’t just knead dye into it like you would with raw clay. However, there are several effective techniques you can use to penetrate the outer surface and dye baked polymer clay.
Can You Paint on Polymer Clay After Baking?
The easiest way to add color to cured polymer clay is to simply paint it. Acrylic paint works great for this. Be sure to use an acrylic paint that is designed for plastics, sometimes called acrylic craft paint. Regular acrylic paint may peel or chip off baked clay over time.
Painting works best on smooth clay surfaces. You can paint onto baked clay slabs, beads, buttons, and more. It’s also great for adding small details like dots, stripes, and designs. Use a fine brush and light coats, allowing the paint to fully dry between layers. Acrylic paint can tint the surface but doesn’t penetrate deep into the clay. Over time, painted colors may wear, fade, or chip off areas that get a lot of handling.
How to Dye Solid Clay Pieces
To infuse color deeper into solid clay, you’ll need to use penetrating dyes or inks. Here are some options that work:
– Alcohol inks – Alcohol inks contain intense, concentrated color pigments that easily soak into non-porous materials like polymer clay. Use drops or blots of alcohol ink on baked clay. Let it sit for a minute before wiping off excess from the surface.
– Rit Dyemore – This specialized dye by Rit can be used to dye synthetic fabrics and plastics. You can soak small clay pieces in dyed water or paint it on with a brush. Allow pieces to soak for an hour or more for maximum color saturation.
– Resin dye – Some artists use liquid resin dyes designed for tinting epoxy resin. Apply this with a brush and wipe off excess. The colors tend to be very vibrant.
– Ink pads – Rubbing baked clay over ink pads can transfer intense color onto the surface. This works best for small pieces like beads and buttons.
– Sprays – There are some airbrush and spray paints formulated for plastics that will adhere to polymer clay. Spray in light coats for even color.
How to Dye Mokume Gane Clay
Mokume gane is a polymer clay technique that results in a distinctive layered pattern when cured slices are cut from a block. The layered block is created by stacking and fusing thin sheets of different colored clays.
Dyeing finished mokume gane can enhance the pattern and create contrast between the colors. Alcohol inks work particularly well for bringing out the layers. Apply the inks directly onto the sliced surface. Let it sit briefly before wiping off the excess. The color will penetrate the clay just on the surface layer.
You can also paint thinned acrylics lightly over the surface to highlight the ridges and valleys of the pattern. Metallic acrylic paints look amazing on mokume gane. Just be sure to seal painted pieces with a finish like polyurethane or resin for protection.
How to Dye Clay Beads After Baking
Baked polymer clay beads are one of the easiest projects to dye. You can submerge them in Rit Dyemore or alcohol ink to penetrate the clay fully. For more control over the dye pattern, use a small paint brush to apply dye just to parts of the bead.
Another option is to layer acrylic paints over cured beads. Try making organic patterns by allowing dripped paints to blend together. For best results, finish beads with a protective sealer after painting.
You can also dust or dip dyed polymer clay beads in micas or glitter while the dye is still wet to create unique iridescent effects. The colors possibilities are endless!
How to Dye Polymer Clay Buttons
Like beads, polymer clay buttons can be easily dyed by submerging them in thinned dye or inking the surface. Rit Dyemore works great for homogenous color through the clay. Use alcohol inks or paint pens to add color patterns and details.
Paint pens with glitter or metallic finishes are perfect for adding accents to clay buttons. Dip buttons in Mod Podge first so the paint adheres better to the smooth clay surface.
You can also decorate baked buttons by rubbing them over ink pads or dragging the edge through acrylic paints to get a smeared effect. Add multiple colors for an abstract look.
How to Dye Liquid Polymer Clay After Curing
Liquid polymer clays like Sculpey Bake & Bend and Kato Polyclay are poured or drizzled to create flowing organic designs. You can dye cured pieces made from liquid clay using any of the methods above – inks, paints, dyes all work.
Because of the smooth glossy finish of liquid clay, paint pens and markers give great vibrant results. Let them fully dry before sealing to prevent smearing. Metallic rub-ons can also be applied to dyed liquid clay pieces for a unique iridescent effect.
How to Dye Crackled Polymer Clay
Crackle glazes over polymer clay create a network of cracks that expose the clay underneath, allowing for neat dyeing effects. After baking the clay with the crackle glaze per instructions, apply thinned acrylic paints lightly over the surface with a brush. The paint will soak into the cracks leaving the ridges in white.
For more drama, use a contrasting color like gold or black to make the cracks stand out. Alcohol inks can also be blotted over crackled pieces to seep into the cracks for added dimension. Just be sure to seal completed pieces with a clear finish like polyurethane.
How to Dye Clay with Chalk
Sidewalk chalk can also dye cured polymer clay! This kid-friendly method works well for chalking directly onto clay surfaces. To get the best color payoff, choose soft, decent quality chalk pastels.
Rub the tip of the chalk against the clay, pressing firmly but not so much that pieces start to crumble. Work in small sections. Let the chalk dust sit on the surface for a few minutes before wiping off with a paper towel. The pigment will soak in leaving a matte finish.
For more intense or uniform color, you can also shave chalk pastels into a fine powder and mix with a few drops of water to make a paint. Brush the chalk paint over the baked clay, let sit briefly, then wipe away excess.
How to Seal Dyed Polymer Clay
No matter what dyeing method you use, it’s important to seal colored polymer clay pieces once the dye is fully dry. This helps lock in the color and prevents it from wearing off over time with handling.
There are several good options for sealing dyed polymer clay:
– Polyurethane clear coat (water-based or oil-based)
– Epoxy resin
– Mod Podge or decoupage sealer
– Spray acrylic sealer
– Cyanoacrylate glue
Choose a sealer suitable for the piece. For items like jewelry, cyanoacrylate glue provides a tough protective coat. Small pieces can be dipped in epoxy resin for a glass-like finish. Paint decoupage medium over beads and buttons for a smooth seal.
Apply 2-3 thin, even coats of sealer, allowing each to fully dry before adding the next. This helps prevent clouding, runs, and drips in the finish. Once sealed, the colors should remain vibrant no matter how much handling the clay pieces get!
Tips for Dyeing Polymer Clay After Baking
– Test colors on scrap clay first to ensure you get the desired color results before dyeing your finished piece.
– Only dye clean clay with no residue. Wipe with alcohol first if needed.
– Apply dyes and paints in thin, even layers. Too much wet color at once can pool and create drips.
– Don’t saturate crackled pieces – just lightly brush color over the surface.
– Let pieces fully dry between coats when sealing for best clarity and durability.
– Not all clays dye the same, so results may vary between clay brands and finishes.
While polymer clay can be easily colored before baking, many artists want to dye or recolor finished pieces to alter them or add further decoration. As long as the clay has been properly cured, you can successfully dye baked polymer clay using a variety of materials like alcohol inks, acrylic paints, chalk, and more. The colors may not penetrate as deeply or look the same as dyeing raw clay, but you can still achieve gorgeous effects. Just be sure to seal the finished dyed pieces to protect and preserve the new colors. Dyeing opened up a whole new world of polymer clay jewelry, sculpture, and crafts waiting to be created!