Best Alternatives to Air-Dry Clay

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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 for 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 best alternatives for air dry clay are:

  • Polymer clay
  • Epoxy clay
  • Monster clay
  • Homemade clay

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.

Air dry has its disadvantages but there is a lot that you can do with it so before you search for alternatives consider reading my complete guide on how to work with air dry clay. Maybe it will help you.

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.

ProsCons
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.

I have a full guide on how to work with polymer clay for beginners that you can read right here.

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.

ProsCons
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
Waterproof
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.

Monster Clay

Monster clay is another good alternative for air dry clay but I would not recommend it for beginners for the sole reason that it never fully cures. A silicone mold has to be made from the final sculpture and then the model has to be cast in resin to get a long-lasting permanent sculpture.

ProsCons
Gets soft when heated up and rigid when cooled downIt can be difficult to condition the clay
Insane details can be added to monster clayMonster clay never fully hardens or cures
VFX artists use monster clay for sculpting, it’s that good
Almost infinitely reusable

Monster clay is one of my personal favorite types of clays but it is not a beginner’s clay by any means.

If you just want to learn how to sculpt and don´t care for a permanent sculpture then this is a great choice in the beginning.

But monster clay never fully cures or hardens so if the clay gets hot it will become soft again no matter how long you leave it to “dry”.

If you want a permanent sculpture then you have to make a silicone mold from your finished monster clay sculpture and then cast the mold in resin.

I have a full guide on how to make silicone mold that you can read right here if you want to know more.

But it is important to note that the clay sculpture often gets destroyed or gets damaged when making a mold. So if you mess the mold up then your sculpture will often be lost or badly damaged too.

Homemade Clay (Baking Soda Clay)

Finally, you can also simply make your own air dry clay at home. This kind of clay behaves very similar to air dry clay but it is harder to fix cracks if any appear and it sometimes molds if it gets wet for some reason.

To make your own air dry clay at home simply mix 4 cups of baking soda, 2 cups of cornstarch, and 2 1/2 cups of water in a pot. Heat the mixture up over medium heat while steering. The mixture will become thick after a short while. Remove the clay from the pot and let it cool down.

You will need:

  • 4 cups of baking soda
  • 2 cups of cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 cups of water

This is enough to make a pretty sizable amount of clay.

Here are the individual steps for making homemade clay:

  1. Mix 4 cups of baking soda, 2 cups of cornstarch, and 2 1/2 cups of water together
  2. Put everything in a pot
  3. Heat the mixture up over medium heat while constantly steering
  4. Steer until the mixture becomes a white paste
  5. Remove the mixture from the pot and let it cool down
  6. Knead the mixture until it is smooth and no longer sticky
  7. Make your sculpture and leave it to dry for two days

Homemade air dry clay is pretty awesome because it handles very similar to polymer clay but it dries on its own without the need to bake it just like air dry clay.

Homemade air dry clay is less likely to crack overall but it has to be kept away from moisture because it is much more likely to mold than air dry clay.

This kind of clay will also become sticky when it gets into contact with too much water so use water sparingly when working with your homemade air dry clay.

Valentin
Valentin
Hi, I am a passionate maker and professional prop maker for the entertainment industry. I use my woodworking, programming, electronics, and illustration know-how to create interactive props and puzzles for Escape Games and marketing agencies. And I share my knowledge and my experience on this blog with you so that you can become a maker yourself.

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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply

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