Can You Engrave Polymer Clay?

Pressing patterns into the clay before baking isn’t the only way to create unique raised textures on your pieces. 

Polymer clay can be engraved using traditional hand tools and even power tools like a Dremel. For example, you can use rubber stamp carving tools to create recessed patterns in baked polymer clay. The key to engraving polymer clay with a rotary tool is to make sure you are using a variable speed tool that allows you to work at very slow speeds. High speeds will melt the clay instead of carving it. 

Do you engrave polymer clay before or after baking?

Engraving is done after the polymer clay is baked. It can be a tricky process, which is why may clay enthusiasts choose to create the patterns before the project is baked. 

In general, the lines that are produced by patterns being pressed or sculpted into the clay prior to baking will be smoother than engraving after the clay is baked. Additionally, it’s possible to fix mistakes when the clay is still in an unbaked state. Once the clay is baked, care must be taken to avoid letting your hand slip while you are carving because mistakes can’t easily be fixed.

When you are engraving polymer clay, it’s very important to make sure that you are using high-quality tools that have sharp edges so that the tip cuts through the clay cleanly. 

Be extremely careful when engraving baked clay. If your tool slips you can hurt yourself really badly. So work slowly and patiently. Always cut away from yourself.

Place both of your hands on the work surface and use the little finger on your dominant hand as an anchor. Never engrave while holding your piece in the air for this greatly increases the chances of slipping. 

You can also achieve authentic-looking carving results without as much hassle if you engrave on half-baked clay. Put your piece in your clay oven for 10 minutes. Take it out and carve it while it’s still warm and somewhat soft. Then put it back and let it fully bake.

What tools do you need to engrave polymer clay?

You can use a variety of tools to engrave your clay piece. Virtually any sharp blade will do. However, tools with hollow needle-like points are better than flat ones because they remove clay while you are carving. A scalpel or an X-Acto knife only makes cuts on the surface. 

A set of tools for woodcarving will provide you with a variety of hollow cutters to work with. A linoleum cutting blade will also carve into polymer clay. I personally like using the carving tools that are meant for making DIY rubber stamps. 

If you want to create very fine carvings, then you may want to consider investing in specialized toolsets that provide tips as small as 1mm, like the Dockyard micro carving tools. 

Can you use a Dremel to engrave polymer clay?

A Dremel tool can help you engrave polymer clay, although, electric tools are not necessary as any blade will smoothly cut through unbaked clay. 

When you are using a Dremel, it’s important to remember that high speeds will melt the clay which means it is imperative to have a variable-speed tool. Make sure you are working slowly and wearing proper lung protection because baked clay will create a lot of dust. 

Ball burs (intended for metal jewelry making) work well for engraving polymer clay, and they come in many different sizes – I even have some as small as 0.5mm.

If you’re having a difficult time staying in the lines of the pattern that you drew, then try adjusting the pressure you are using or the type of cutting tool. Try going over the lines several times with lighter pressure, as opposed to pressing down hard in an attempt to carve the line in one pass. Pointed burs will not be easy to control. 

How do you mimic the look of engraved polymer clay?

Stamping is a very easy and rewarding technique if you want to mimic engravings. Rubber stamps are the easiest to find and produce the most refined results possible. All you need to do is press the stamp firmly on your unbaked clay.  You don’t need any type of ink for that. 

Stamps can be wood-mounted or unmounted, both will work just fine for impressing a pattern into clay and creating interesting textures.  

You can also create your own hand-made pattern stamps. All you need are some old buttons, corks, and a hot glue gun. Cut out a little slot at the top of the cork. Make sure the button’s shaft fits nicely there. Then simply stick them together with hot glue. And voilà, you’ve made your own reusable stamp. 

Wire can also be used for stamping. Bend it into your desired shape, hammer it flat and press it on the clay. Use pliers to slowly take it out afterward. 

How do you highlight carved patterns in polymer clay?

Mica powders are excellent if you want to highlight the carved patterns in your pieces. You can use them on raw as well as on baked clay. 

For raw clay, make sure the parts you’re highlighting will need minimal sanding later. If you have to use sandpaper later, you will just take the powder off again.

You can also mix mica powder with a clay-compatible varnish and apply it after your piece has been baked and sanded well. 

Paint is a good alternative too. Apply acrylic paint on your baked clay and sand the excess afterward. This will leave your carved areas well-colored and at the same time provide you with a smooth surface. 

Make sure you always check whether or not the paint is compatible with polymer clay before using it. Some aren’t suitable and will result in sticky clay. 

What type of polymer clay is best for engraving?

Any type of baked polymer clay can be engraved, even liquid clays. Firmer brands that don’t flex much after they are baked will be easier to carve fine details.

How thick should polymer clay be for engraving?

There isn’t a set thickness, however, you should make sure that your piece is at least several times thicker than the depth that you plan on carving. This is to prevent making the piece too thin. If you’re creating holes in the clay while you’re carving, then that means your surface is not thick enough.

A thick clay technique that produces eye-catching results is layering. Bake a flat sheet of polymer in the color of your choosing. Then add a raw one of a different color on top of it. Carve out the outer layer and bake the whole piece once again. This will make the inner one show through.  

You can do this with as many colors and layers as you want to. Choosing colors from the opposite ends of the spectrum gives the piece a nice contrast. 

Should you carve polymer clay freehand or use a pattern?

The technique you use will depend on the results you’re trying to achieve. It will be easier to engrave polymer clay using a pattern that you transfer or draw on the clay. However, a freehand carving can achieve unique results that will be hard to replicate. 

As a general rule of thumb, use a pattern if you want to create a uniform carving. Go freehand if your goal is a design with few repeating details. 

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