How Do You Smooth Polymer Clay Before and After Baking?

One of the most frustrating aspects of learning how to work with polymer clay is figuring out how to remove imperfections from your projects.

Most imperfections, like small scratches and fingerprints, can be removed from the polymer clay before and after baking. However, it’s best to avoid leaving them in the first place or attempt to remove them from the surface prior to baking. You will exert more effort trying to clean up a baked piece of clay. 

Is it easier to smooth polymer clay before or after baking?

Aim for making the surface as smooth as possible before baking your project. Treat the after baking state as a time for polishing rather than a time to fix things. 

Minor imperfections are easier to get rid of after baking, but this is the case only if there aren’t major ones visible. Any large scratches, grooves, or dents will be difficult to remove. 

Keep in mind that once your project is baked, it becomes more difficult to add clay back to it if you end up removing too much while trying to correct mistakes. Instead, it’s best to minimize the imperfections while the clay is still soft prior to baking.

How do you remove fingerprints from soft polymer clay?

It’s best to remove fingerprints from the clay before you bake the project. The task is much easier to accomplish at this time. That being said, if you learn how to avoid leaving marks on the clay altogether your workflow will improve!

To easily remove fingerprints from clay that has not yet been baked, all you need is a Q-tip and a few drops of rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol). Higher concentrations, like  91% isopropyl alcohol, will work better. Use the moistened cotton bud to lightly wipe away the imperfections on the clay. 

Keep in mind that rubbing alcohol is best used on single-colors. If you use this technique on a multi-colored object to smooth the fingerprints, then you will end up with smudged patterns. 

After the fingerprints have been removed using the rubbing alcohol, focus on smoothing the surface again. You can do this by dipping your finger in some cornstarch or baby powder, then lightly rubbing the clay with circular motions. 

Can you remove fingerprints from polymer clay that has been baked?

It’s possible to use a cotton bud dipped in 100% acetone to remove fingerprints and other imperfections from baked polymer clay. It works by melting the plastic, which makes it smooth again.

If you choose to use acetone, do so cautiously at your own risk. It is a toxic chemical that not only has strong fumes but it is also highly flammable. Always make sure you are working in a well-ventilated workspace, and observe proper safety precautions, like wearing safety glasses and avoid getting it on your skin. It must always be kept away from children and pets. 

To use the acetone, dip the cotton bud in the liquid so that it’s moist (but not dripping), then gently wipe it over the parts of the baked clay that you want to smooth. 

Don’t press down on the clay, or attempt to vigorously rub the fingerprints out. Doing so risks damaging the surface and losing the fine details. Like isopropyl alcohol, acetone is also best used on single-colored projects.

Do you have to use acetone to remove fingerprints from baked polymer clay?

If you prefer to keep chemicals out of your workspace, then you don’t have to use acetone to remove imperfections. You can still smooth baked clay that has visible fingerprints by sanding it using various grits of sandpaper. 

Additionally, you can use a scalpel or X-Acto knife to carefully peel away the top layer if the fingerprint is too deep. Smooth out the remaining unevenness using another method, like sanding, if necessary. 

How do you keep fingerprints off of unbaked polymer clay?

Use well-fitting gloves when you sculpt, like a pair of nitrile exam gloves. This is the easiest way to get a smooth, dust, and fingerprint-free surface. 

Avoid touching the parts you’re not currently working on. Get a rotating base to work on. Something as simple as a plate turned upside down that you manually move in circles works just fine for a smaller piece.

You can also create a little loop out of armature wire, stick it in the clay, and use it as a handle. Take it out when you’re ready and smooth the hole(s) before baking. 

If you don’t want to use wire, then you can also use extra clay to make a handle instead. Place it somewhere where the details are minimal so it will be easier to take out and fix it later if needed.

How do you minimize finger dents when you’re sculpting polymer clay?

The formula is simple – the softer the clay is, the more is it prone to finger dents. So try using harder clay. You can either buy a brand that’s firmer or put a softer one in the fridge for 10-15 minutes before sculpting. 

Alternatively, you can use a cold surface as a work base, like glass, porcelain, or marble. I like to keep an ice pack next to me that I can set clay on top of briefly if I need to firm it up while I’m working with it. 

Touching the clay with warm hands will cause it to soften. You can run your hands under cold water for a few seconds before you start to prevent squishing if necessary. 

Additionally, learn to lighten your touch. This will do wonders in terms of achieving smooth surfaces. Be heavy-handed only when sculpting the basic form. Smooth the details out by gently petting, stroking, and tapping rather than pressing firmly. In time your hands will learn the light pressure required.

You can put cornstarch or water on your palms or fingertips prior to sculpting. Moistening your tools will also help. Dip them in a glass of water and then shake them to get rid of the extra drops. It makes a difference. 

How do you sand baked polymer clay so that it’s smooth?

Get multiple sheets of wet-dry sandpaper grits. You can usually find them in hardware, automotive, or hobby stores. Try to get a range between 400 and 2000. Start sanding with the smallest number and work your way up to the highest grit. The higher the number the finer the grit.

Scratches are normal, especially in the early stages with the more coarse grits. They will even out later. 

Always wet your sandpaper when sanding. Using a dry one will leave scratches that can’t be fixed easily and you may end up ruining your work. Additionally, working with wet sandpaper keeps polymer clay dust out of the air (but still make sure you are always wearing a dust mask for all sanding projects, regardless). 

You can sand underwater. This will keep dust from clogging the paper or circulating in the air. A drop of dish soap can be added to the water to suspend the particles. 

If you are going to sand the project on your table, then put your clay work on the surface and sand with the paper on top of it. If you do it the other way around you will end up with an uneven surface because the paper is flat but your work probably isn’t.

Is there a way to make sanding polymer clay easier?

If you plan on doing a lot of bead work that requires sanding, or pieces that don’t have a lot of fine details, then you may want to consider investing in a vibratory tumbler.

I have one of these already because I also create silver and gold jewelry, and the time that it shaves off of smoothing surfaces is irreplacable for me when I’m working in batches.

I only sand pieces by hand now when I don’t have enough to justify running the tumbler, or if the piece has a lot of fine details that I don’t want removed by machine tumbling.

How do you buff polymer clay beads after sanding?

Always buff your beads after sanding if you want to avoid a white coat and scratches on your surface. 

To buff, simply rub your bead on a clean cloth made out of silk, cotton, or denim. The faster you rub and the more time you spend doing that the more polished it will look in the end. Try to maximize the friction. Keep in mind that this way you can achieve a great sheen but not a gloss.

If you don’t have a proper cloth you can use paper as well. A grocery bag or a couple of paper towels will do. 

You can also use an attachment for a flex shaft or a Dremel made specifically for buffing. They are rather cheap and save a lot of time and effort. Machine buffing always results in better shine than the hand alternative. 

Move the clay constantly while the wheel is spinning and try using minimal pressure. Use the wheel at the lowest speed at first to get used to it. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t buff correctly right away.

A benchtop buffer can also be used, but it will be less useful than a flex shaft or Dremel. The latter can be used for a variety of tasks, whereas a benchtop machine is more of a one-task tool. 

Wash the beads with apple cider vinegar after sanding. This will make them look even more polished. Leaving them to air-dry afterward will get rid of the smell. 

Do you have to sand polymer clay before glazing?

Projects should be sanded before adding a finishing coat of gloss. Glazing is used to even out any color differences or scratches left by sandpaper that couldn’t be removed by buffing. It also gives your work a properly finished and smooth look, be it shiny or matte one. Glazing without sanding will seal and accentuate the imperfections. 

Will sanding and buffing translucent polymer clay make it see-through? 

After baking, translucent polymer clay should be sanded and buffed to accentuate its glass-like properties. When you first take it out of the package, and even immediately after baking, translucent clay won’t look see-through. However, if you take the time to sand, buff, and polish it you will end up with a beautiful glasslike creation.

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