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Arts & Crafts

Best Clay

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.

Kato Polyclay

While polymer clays are sometimes associated with children’s craft projects or younger students, Kato Polyclay is a professional artist’s brand, created specifically for art projects. This clay is known for its strength and durability after it’s been cured as well as retaining color during the baking. It has a firmer feel than most other brands and receives good ratings for holding its shape extremely well. Kato Polyclay comes in 21 basic colors, several concentrates for mixing with other clays and translucent versions for mixing with other colors to add depth perception. The brand’s website offers a helpful chart detailing how to mix colors to create any possible shade an artist could want.

Staedtler Fimo Classic 8000 Polymer Clay

Staedtler Fimo clay is a widely available, versatile brand offering something for everyone. Fimo Classic is a standard, firm polymer clay excellent for crafts and art designs. This clay holds its shape well and maintains color after baking. Fimo Classic is available in 24 colors which can be mixed to create a full spectrum of shades though it may be harder to blend colors than with softer clays. However, Fimo does come in a soft version with the same range of colors as Fimo Classic. There’s also several other varieties including a line designed specifically for children, one with skin tones for making dolls or figurines, and a special collection of translucent or metallic colors.

Cernit Modelling Clay

Cernit Clay is one of the strongest polymer clays available making it a popular choice among artists for making dolls, masks or other projects requiring a skin tone. This polymer clay has a clear, translucent finish, and available in a range of 70 colors including primary colors, flesh tones, metallic, and neon shades. This brand takes a fair amount of conditioning to make it soft enough to use but once ready, it’s well worth the time investment. Cernit Modeling Clay is manufactured in Belgium but since the current US distributor is dropping this product line it might be a little harder to find in stores. However, it’s still available online and well worth the effort to obtain.

Premo! Sculpey Modeling Clay

Premo! Sculpey clay is a strong, versatile clay excellent for craft projects and professional designers. It has a rubbery feel prior to curing and even after still retains a high degree of flexibility. This durable material is a good choice for small projects and while not the softest clay available, it’s still fairly pliable and holds its shape well. Premo! has over two dozen available colors in two ounce individual packages with select colors in  eight ounce or one pound packages.

Polyform Sculpey III Polymer Clay

Sculpey III was created as a basic modeling clay for children to use with an extra soft feel and a wide color palette. While original Sculpey is available in large bricks with only two colors, Sculpey III come in smaller packages in almost 30 colors. This clay is fairly soft compared with the other Sculpey brands and well suited for modeling projects, though it may not work well for detail-oriented work; it’s also not the best choice for color consistency or for projects requiring strong clay.

Sculpture House Roma Plastilina Modeling Material

Sculpture House Roma Plastilina is formulated with quality and reliability in mind. The clay is white to gray-green, available in four consistencies ranging from soft to extra-hard in packages weighing from 4 to 50 pounds. This soft clay is intended for large sculptures while harder varieties are for smaller projects or making models. Plastilina is not intended for permanent projects so it should be reserved for models rather than professional art projects. It’s also one of the most expensive brands, but many sculptors consider the quality worth the price.

Van Aken Plastilina Modeling Clay

Van Aken Plastilina Modeling Clay is a good choice for clay animations or general sculpting and holds small details well. Designed to keep its pliability, this oil-based clay can be reused multiple times without drying out or becoming brittle. This clay can be shaped by hand or manipulated using crafting tools. Available in either 1-pound or 4.5-pound bricks, this clay has a palette of 28 colors ranging from pastels to bright neon shades. The clay is moderately expensive but still very reasonable for high-quality modeling clay.

Sheffield Self-Hardening Clay

While some clay need to be oven-baked or dry fired in a kiln, the Sheffield Self-Hardening Clay simply needs enough time to slowly dry and harden on its own. This clay is dark brown in color, soft enough for children to work and dries well with minimal shrinkage. It’s a great choice for artists who struggle with cracking during the drying process or those who want to sand, paint, and finish a dried project. This clay comes in only one color but can be painted with acrylic or tempera paint once the clay is dry. Sheffield Self-Hardening Clay comes in bulk packs of 50 pounds and available at a low price point compared to other high-quality clays.

Laguna EM‑217 WED Clay

Laguna WED clay is a popular, air-drying clay with minimal shrinkage, making it less likely to crack during the drying process. Frequently used for larger modeling projects or film designs, it feels oil-based in texture but needs to be kept moist when you’re working with it. The clay is generally a light gray, unless it has been fired (while not especially formulated for kilns, it can be fired if you desire.) Laguna WED Clay comes in bulk packages which can be expensive to ship if ordered online but is fairly inexpensive otherwise.

Staedtler Fimo Classic 8000 Polymer Clay

Staedtler Fimo clay is a widely available, versatile brand offering something for everyone. Fimo Classic is a standard, firm polymer clay excellent for crafts and art designs. This clay holds its shape well and maintains color after baking. Fimo Classic is available in 24 colors which can be mixed to create a full spectrum of shades though it may be harder to blend colors than with softer clays. However, Fimo does come in a soft version with the same range of colors as Fimo Classic. There’s also several other varieties including a line designed specifically for children, one with skin tones for making dolls or figurines, and a special collection of translucent or metallic colors.

Amaco Versa Clay No. 20

Amazos Versa Clay No. 20 is one of the brand's most versatile options. Easy to work with, this clay is gray when moist but fires to a light, even-white. This clay stays moist for a long time in storage and has a wide firing range of Cone 4 to Cone 5. The color of the bisque ranges from white to cream depending on how it’s fired.

Amaco Versa Clay can be used for a wide range of techniques from hand building to wheel throwing. Great for extra-thin projects, it’s available in reasonably priced bulk packages and widely obtainable so even a local dealer is likely to stocks this clay.

Laguna WC-606, #50 Clay

Laguna WC-606, #50 Clay

This clay from Laguna is recommended for Cone 6 firing and works well for wheel throwing. The fired clay has a sandy color with a fine speckled texture which will show through the glaze and it’s a favorite among pottery artists looking for a stoneware look and feel. Laguna is one of the more common clay manufacturers with dozens of clays from both California and Ohio.

The company's catalogue offers comprehensive clay lists arranged by usage, source, and firing range. Laguna also offers sample kits of various types and colors of clays, so you can test several varieties at once and find the most suitable clay for a project.

Standard Ceramics #240 White Clay

Standard Ceramics #240 White Clay

Standard Ceramics (also known as Standard Clay) is a well-known distributor stocking dozens of clay types but this is one of the brand's better options for wheel throwing. This particular product is white stoneware clay with a high plasticity. It’s a high-fire clay body meant to be fired at Cone 6 and includes a fire clay blend to improve the overall texture.

Like other high fire clays, it has a high shrinkage rate so you’ll need to adjust to avoid damage during the drying or firing process. The company's distributors are limited to the eastern United States and a few international suppliers so this particular clay may be more difficult to find.

Aardvark Clays Coleman Porcelain

Aardvark Clays Coleman Porcelain

This is high-quality pottery clay created by well-known pottery artist Tom Coleman. This clay type is a grolleg, a blend of English china clays and it has a very low absorption rate making it a good choice for tableware. Unlike many other types of clay, it’s a good choice for large pieces and holds up well when thrown thin. The clay is white with a translucent look after it’s been fired; recommended for Cone 10, but can be used for Cone 8 through 11.

Aardvark Clay is a fairly popular brand with a fairly widespread distribution network though it can be harder to find an online source. The only real drawback to this clay is its fairly high price but for non-specialized projects, Aardvark offers a range of good clays at lower prices.

A.R.T. Moist Clay Brownstone I

Brownstone I is a medium firing clay good for smaller projects with a small firing range of Cone 5 to 6. The clay has a warm, sandy color with a reddish tint along with a good tooth combining fine mesh sand and grog for wheel throwing,. The second version, Brownstone II is slightly heavier, a better choice for large projects. While this brand doesn’t offer as many varieties of clay as others, it provides a good range of low, medium, and high fire clays.

Activa La Doll Premier Air Dry Clay

Activa is known for its La Doll clay, a premium air-drying clay used by sculptors for making dolls and figurines. This clay has a slightly firmer non-stick formula making it a great choice for creating fine, detailed projects. The clay can be kept moist for a long time if handled properly but once dry it’s very strong and light, with a white finish for easy painting. La Doll Premier Air Dry Clay also molds well around wire mesh, styrofoam, paper, and other materials sculptors use to construct a core.

Amaco - Cloud Clay

As the name suggests, Amaco Cloud Clay is light and pliable but it’s very durable once dry. Some sculptors find the clay feels sticky but this is because Cloudclay is formulated to be soft enough for children to use. The clay comes in ten bright colors, blends easily to form new pigments, and mixes with acrylic paints for an even wider color selection. It comes in 4-ounce packs for small projects but also available in bulk packages of white or assorted colors. Amaco Cloudclay is reasonably priced, making it a good choice for classroom projects.

Creative Paperclay for Modeling Compound

Although Creative Paperclay is not technically a clay, it behaves like it with a moist, pliable texture and durable finish once dry. This air-drying clay alternative is easy to keep moist until a project is finished. This paperclay comes in only white but sculptors can add water-based paints to the moist clay as well as decorating with any medium after drying. It’s available in packages from four ounces up to one pound and priced fair when compared with similar specialty clays. Unlike some other budget-priced counterparts, Creative Paperclay is made with all natural ingredients and has no smell.

Apoxie Sculpt

Apoxie Sculpt offers an air-drying epoxy-type material with properties similar to clay. The Apoxie Sculpt comes in two separate containers which are mixed to get a smooth, putty-like sculpting medium. Sculptors will need to work quickly since the material has a working time of 2-3 hours once mixed and cures completely in 24 hours. Apoxie Sculpt can be used to create models, repair broken projects and it adheres to a variety of materials with no shrinkage. Once dry, Apoxie Sculpt can be sanded, carved or painted like other cured clays. It comes in 12 colors with a good selection of bright or earth tones.

AMACO Mexican Self-Hardening Clay

Mexican Pottery Clay is a terra-cotta-style pottery clay which can be used for the pottery wheel, modeling, or sculptures. The clay’s name comes from the color’s similarity to the bright red of Mexican/Indian pottery. Once the project is finished, it can be air-dried to a hard finish with a vivid red color. As with other air-drying clays, sculptors will need to mist this clay or keep it covered with damp cloths while they’re working. Per pound, the clay may be a bit more expensive than similar air-drying clays but comes in 5 and 25-pound packages depending on your needs.

Buyer's Guide

 

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.

Clay Body

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.

Grog

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.

Cone

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).

Clay Types

Air-Drying Clay
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.

Polymer Clay
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.

Plasticine
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.

Ceramic Clay
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
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
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.

I am a writer, an artist, and a creator. Over the years, I have worked on numerous projects from afghans to watercolor paintings. I have taught art classes for students from 4 to 15 years-old, training students in watercolors, charcoal sketches, and oil pastels among other techniques. My favorite handcrafts include crocheting and knitting, using a wide variety of threads and yarns, but I also enjoy embroidery, cross-stitch, and the more obscure crafts such as tatting and hardanger. For me, the best part of my hobbies is when I learn something new and can pass it on to someone else.
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