- Best Air Drying Clay
- Best Polymer Clay
- Best Sculpting Clay
- Best Clay for Pottery
Despite the generic term, clay can be made from highly diverse materials. Polymer clay, for example, is a compound designed to be molded like clay but remains soft and malleable until oven dried. Similarly, plasticine compounds are clay-like material used extensively in models for stop-gap animation since they’ll never dry out. Even traditional clay is often formed from different types of material to create the ideal texture or to improve its strength. Whether you’re creating models, throwing vases, or looking for a basic clay for your children, these lists will show you where to start. Be sure to check out our buyer’s guide provided below if you need help interpreting the terms used in our best pick reviews.
Best Air Drying Clay:
Don’t worry if you don’t have a pottery kiln because not all clay needs to be fired. As its name implies, this clay type dries on its own to a hard, sturdy finish, making it a great choice for student classrooms or artists without access to a kiln. Air-drying clay comes in multiple forms, whether classic children’s clay or artist-quality pottery clay.
These best air-drying clays represent the different types available. They’ve all been selected as the best based on their high-quality appropriate for all levels of creative work, non-stick formulas which , very pliable for easy sculpting, and specialized non-toxic formulas making them safe for all artists of all ages.
Please note, this clay isn’t recommended for tableware or any type of container meant to hold liquids but it’s suitable for sculptures, decorative dishes, and many other creative projects.
This air-drying clay by Activa is perfect for creating dolls and figurines. It’s non-stick formula makes the clay easy to use, works well for detail work and adheres well to a wide variety of materials. Read Full Review
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Extra-light and pliable, Amaco Cloud Clay is a great choice for children’s art projects. It’s made soft for children to use though it has a sticky feel. Clouclay comes in either small packs or bulk packages intended for classroom projects. Read Full Review
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Creative Paperclay has the same moist, pliable texture as air-drying clays. It’s easy to use, durable once dried, and fairly inexpensive. While it only comes in white, sculptors can color the moist clay with watercolors or acrylics and decorate the finished, dried project as they wish. Read Full Review
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Apoxie Sculpt is a popular variation on air-drying clay. This putty-like material has a working window of just 2-3 hours after mixing but it’s versatile enough for either modeling projects or repair work. Read Full Review
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Best Polymer Clay:
Polymer clay is a fun alternative to traditional clay for art projects such as sculptures, figurines, beads, and much more. This type of clay is easy to control, soft on the hands, and often brightly colored. Polymer clay doesn’t dry out easily and is simple to cure when heated to the right temperature.
While some polymer brands are significantly stronger and more reliable than others, finding the best one really depends on the individual artists’ preference. Some people prefer working with very stiff clay while others enjoy using a softer, more pliable material. Soft clays tend to be easier for children to use but less reliable for professional artists, since the clay might sag or bend while it is curing. Firm clays on the other hand are far more reliable and easy to use if properly conditioned.
These best polymer clays encompass the various textures available and were chosen for this list based on the number of colors offered in their palette, their overall reliability to maintain shape and detail while sculpting, as well as their strength after they’ve been cured.
Designed by an artist for artists, Kato Polyclay is well known for its strength, durability, and color selection. This brand has a firm feel and holds its shape well even when it’s still wet. Read Full Review
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An all-around quality product available in 24 colors, Fimo Classic is great polymer clay suitable for many types of creative projects, While this is a fairly firm clay, a softer version is available as well as a selection of specialty clays. Read Full Review
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Cernit Clay is one of the most popular choices for making dolls or other skin tone-related projects requiring a skin tone. The clay comes in an extra-wide palette of 70 colors, making it easy to get the right shade without needing to blend colors. Read Full Review
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Some Sculpey clays are known for their soft, almost gooey feel, but Premo! is one of their firmer offerings. It has a fairly high degree of flexibility after it’s been baked making it a good choice for small projects. Read Full Review
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Some artists find Sculpey III too soft for their tastes, but others consider it a great choice for blending colors or modeling designs. Since it’s soft, it’s a great choice for children as well, or anyone who wants to experiment with basic clay techniques. Read Full Review
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Best Sculpting Clay:
Sculpting clay as a general category encompasses a wide variety of materials including air-drying clays, polymer clays with an oil-base, and plasticine clays with a base combining both wax and oil. Since plasticine clays don’t dry out in the air, they’re frequently used for stop-motion figurines. They’re also great for artists who want to develop a model slowly without worrying about the clay drying out.
Air-drying clays on the other hand, are water-based and require regular moistening to prevent them from drying before a project is completed. These best sculpting clays were selected based on their smooth consistency for ease of sculpting, their reliability for holding shapes well, and their ability to dry without cracking.
Roma Plastilina is considered one of the top brands of plastiline ranging from soft to extra-hard, making it easy to get the right consistency for a project. While it’s expensive compared with other brands, its high-quality and reliable to work with. Read Full Review
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Plastilina Modeling Clay is often used for clay animations and models because of its pliability. While moderately expensive, this clay is available in a decent palette of 28 colors. Read Full Review
Sheffield Self-Hardening clay is a dark brown clay, soft for kids but strong enough for professional sculptors. This clay has minimal shrinkage to avoid cracks while also a good bulk option, coming in 50-pound bricks at a reasonable price. Read Full Review
WED clay is a popular choice among sculptors for large projects and will stay pliable for a long time if kept properly moistened. This clay is one of the less expensive types available, though shipping can be expensive since it’s typically packed in bulk. Read Full Review
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Fimo Classic is well known as a firm, high-quality clay which can be oven-baked for a hard, permanent sculpture or design. This clay's strength reduces the risk of cracks during the baking process and is also available in 24 colors and specialty palettes. Read Full Review
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Best Clay for Pottery:
There are dozens of high-quality clays available for pottery, but this list of best clays presented an offering of a range of colors, styles, as well as low or high-firing clays. We’ve selected clays which are non-toxic in their moist form; however, it is important to check any clay's safety information and avoid inhaling dry powder from any clay. These brands offer dozens of options for specialized projects and even offer resources to help pottery artists select the best type of clay for their work. Each of these clays are formulated to have a pliable, plastic-like texture good for most basic pottery projects.
This clay has a wide firing range and sturdy enough for a wide variety of projects from throwing thin-walled vases to hand building sculptures. The clay is light gray when moist, but fires to a light cream or white finish. Read Full Review
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A versatile clay body, Laguna WC-606 is a favorite choice for stoneware projects. It’s sturdy, high firing clay, recommended for Cone 6, with a sandy color with a fine speckled pattern which will show through the glaze post-firing. Read Full Review
Great clay for wheel throwing, White Clay #240 is stoneware blended with a fire clay to improve the texture and firing. The clay has high plasticity and a high firing range, and it is intended to be fired at Cone 6. Read Full Review
While porcelain might be a little more daunting to work with, this is high-quality clay made from a blend of English China clay. It fires at high temperatures from Cone 8 to Cone 11 meaning it can be used for tableware plus it’s a good choice for larger pieces. Read Full Review
This is a basic clay with a firing range of Cone 5 to 6. The lighter Brownstone I and heavier alternative Brownstone II both have a sandy color with a reddish tint. Overall this clay has a great texture for throwing and works well for a variety of small and large projects. Read Full Review
Clay Buyer's Guide
If you ever try to buy clay in an art store, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the options. Despite the generic term, clay can be any one of several highly diverse materials. Traditional clay is earth-based while polymer clay and plasticine are synthetic compounds. Even traditional clay is often formed from different types of material to create the ideal texture or to improve its strength, and there are all the other little details to figure out; firm, soft, tooth, clay-body, air-drying, ceramic, low-firing, and so on. The categories here are a good place to start, with suggestions for finding the best brands of air-drying clay, polymer clay, sculpting clay, and pottery clay.
The term clay body describes how the clay itself feels and acts. Some clay is firmer, making it a good choice for large, upright projects such vases. Some clay has a very smooth grit and is ideal for using on a wheel. Other clay is rougher, with a sandy grit which might make the clay painful to work with on a wheel, but great for modeling projects or sculptures. Even when you’re looking at a specific category of clay such as pottery clay, be sure to check the materials description to make sure it has a suitable clay body.
Clay often has a gritty material called “grog” added to it. Because clay is a very dense material, the porous grog stabilizes it, making the clay easier to work with. Clay with heavy grog shrinks less when it’s drying, but can also be gritty and should not be used on a pottery wheel.
This only applies to clay you plan to fire in a kiln. The cone can refer either to the general temperature at which clay is fired or to specific types of clay, designating the range of temperatures the clay can be fired. Roughly speaking, the overall range of temperatures can be broken into low-firing (earthenware, around cone 6), mid-firing (stoneware, about cone 5), and high-firing (porcelain, cone 10 and above).
For beginning potters, this type of clay is a good, basic choice. It takes much less equipment and a lower learning curve than regular pottery clay since you don’t need a kiln to fire the clay. You may still need to experiment with it though, since any clay can crack during drying if it isn’t shaped or handled correctly.
This is a synthetic formula created to act just like clay. The softer brands are a great choice for kids to play with since polymer won’t dry out like regular clay. Firmer clay tends to work best for professionals, though, since it holds its shape better. Either type can be cured in an oven.
Like polymer clay, plasticine is synthetic clay. Unlike either clay or polymer clay, however, this clay type is oil-based so it doesn’t dry out but it definitely can’t be fired. Because it’s a permanently soft mixture, it’s a great choice for kids to play with and popular for making clay figures featured in stop-motion animations.
This is the traditional clay widely used for pottery as well as industrial models. It can be kiln-fired using a variety of glazes although some clays are valued for their own natural coloring; in fact, earthenware and porcelain are two of the most common ceramic clays in pottery. Be sure to check both the color of the fired clay and the type and consistency of the grog, before deciding on a clay.
Sculpting clay is a broader category of clay that can be either traditional or synthetic. It tends to have a coarse grain as opposed to other pottery clay, but in reality you can use any clay that will work well with your sculpting methods. For large sculptures you’ll want to look for a sturdy clay, while slow-drying clays will work better for you if you plan to build your project slowly over several days or even weeks.
Paper clay is made by adding cellulose fibers to a basic clay compound. Like grog, the fiber tends to absorb water better and can make the final product stronger. Paper clay requires more care when working with it, especially when it’s being thrown on a pottery wheel.