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Best Alternatives to Air-Dry Clay

Air-dry clay is an amazing crafts medium that can be used to create sculptures by everyone without the need to fire the clay in a kiln. But there are a lot of drawbacks to using air-dry clay which is why I will take a closer look at some alternatives to air-dry clay that might be a better fit for your specific project.

As a whole, alternatives to air-dry clay include epoxy clay and polymer clay. Epoxy clay starts to harden as soon as the two compounds are mixed. It can be molded for a limited amount of time and is very durable. Polymer clay can be hardened by baking it in a regular oven.

The choice depends entirely on your project. I personally prefer polymer clay for most of my projects but for some more specific projects that need to be very durable epoxy clay might be a better choice. I will talk more about the pros and the cons of using each of the air-dry clay alternatives in the following section.

Alternatives to Air-Dry Clay

There are a few alternatives to air-dry clay but most of them are very similar to air-dry clay and they will share a lot of the downsides to using air-dry clay as well.

This is why I decided to look at alternatives that actually do something different and better than air-dry clay.

We are going to look at polymer clay and epoxy clay. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages and both can be used for a lot of different kinds of projects.

Polymer Clay

Polymer clay is a thermoplastic that can be hardened by baking it in your oven at home. It is perfect for smaller sculptures or for making jewelry with it.

Bake to hardenMore expensive than air-dry clay
Does not air dryBaking can be a little annoying
Easy to work withIt is plastic
Waterproof once it was baked
Available in lots of different colors
Doesn´t have to be sealed
Can easily be painted
Easy to store

It is a little bit more expensive than air-dry clay but it is much more durable and it is waterproof once it is baked.

Here is a video where I use polymer clay to make a diorama of Link.

While air-dry clay should be sealed after it has hardened to ensure its longevity, polymer clay does not need to be sealed.

I have written a whole article about sealing polymer clay where I explain when it makes sense to seal polymer clay and where I explain how to properly seal polymer clay as well.

Air-dry clay needs to be stored in an airtight container in order to keep it from drying out. Polymer clay, on the other hand, does not need to be stored in very specific ways because it won´t air dry.

Polymer clay can easily be stored in any container as long as it is kept away from any heat source.

Polymer clay is also waterproof once it has been baked. That doesn´t mean you should use polymer clay to build working vases or mugs but you don´t have to be careful to keep the finished sculpture dry.

The biggest downside to using polymer clay is really the price and the fact that baking polymer clay can be a little difficult at times.

This is also why I wrote an entire article on how to properly bake polymer clay without burning or breaking it, which will help you to bake your polymer clay successfully every time.

Epoxy Clay

Epoxy clay is a little bit different than most other clays and most of you might have never heard of it before. Epoxy clay works by mixing two compounds together. As soon as the two compounds are mixed the clay will begin to harden so you only have a limited time to model your sculpture.

Easy to work withLimited time to work with
Easy to storeCan´t be stored once mixed
Very durableQuite expensive
Can be sanded and carved after fully hardened
Can easily be painted

Epoxy clay is pretty easy to work with because it will be very easy to mold right out of the box without needing to condition it beforehand.

But the epoxy clay will also start to harden as soon as you mixed the two compounds so it will become harder and harder to mold as time goes on.

You only have a limited time to work with the clay and you can´t store the clay once the two compounds have been mixed. But it usually takes around 42 hours until the clay is fully set and you have around five to six hours of work time. SO it isn´t that bad.

Epoxy is, however, extremely durable once it has fully hardened. It will be waterproof and it can survive the elements. So you can simply put the epoxy clay sculpture outside and it will be able to survive in your garden for a very long time without any issues.

Epoxy clay does not have to be sealed except when you painted it with non-permanent or water-based paint.

I personally prefer using polymer clay for most of my projects because polymer clay is cheaper than epoxy clay and I don´t have to finish my sculpture in one sitting.

4 thoughts on “Best Alternatives to Air-Dry Clay”

  1. Is it possible to mold air dry clay to the outside of a cup and have it stick to it after its dried? So far it’s shrunk and fallen off. Which clay is best for this? The idea is to create a gnome on the outside of the cup.

    • Hi Sunshine,
      Air-dry clay won´t stick to a surface that can´t absorb water i.e. plastic or glass. You can sculpt the gnome and then glue it with contact cement to the cup. But even then you won´t be able to wash the cup. If air-dry clay gets in contact with water after it has dried it will get soft again. So I recommend using polymer clay to sculpt the gnome. Then harden the polymer clay in the oven according to the instructions and then finally glue it to the cup. Polymer clay will survive direct contact with water, unlike air-dry clay.


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