How to Paint Air Dry Clay: Avoid Paint Chipping and Cracks

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Air-dry clay is an awesome, cheap, and easy-to-use crafting material, especially for kids. You don´t need a kiln or an oven to cure it and you can create great projects easily at home. But most of the time, the project isn´t done until it is painted so in this article I will tell you everything, that you need to know in order to color and paint your air-dry clay project.

To paint air-dry clay it is best to either use acrylic paint or acrylic markers. The paint can be applied directly to the dried air-dry clay. Sometimes it may need multiple layers of paint before the paint covers fully. Once the paint has dried an acrylic sealer can be applied to protect the paint.

How to paint air-dry clay step-by-step:

  1. Make sure that the air-dry clay is completely dry
  2. Apply the acrylic paint directly to the air-dry clay
  3. Apply another coat of paint if necessary
  4. Apply an acrylic sealer to the whole sculpture

If you want a more detailed guide then read on!

How to Paint Air-Dry Clay

There are two ways to color your air-dry clay. You can either paint directly on the clay or you can color the clay before drying it.

Both methods are quite simple and you can do both of these methods with cheap and easy-to-come-by crafting materials and paints.

To paint air dry-clay I would recommend using either Tempera Paint or Acrylic Paint. Both of these paints are great for their own reasons but Acrylic paints are easier to come by most of the time.

Tempera paint can be bought here on Amazon, not every crafts store will have it. Acrylic paint, on the other hand, can be bought at any hardware or arts and crafts store as well as here on Amazon.

1. Make Sure That the Air-Dry Clay is Completely Dry

Wait until your air-dry clay is completely dry before you start painting the sculpture.

If the air-dry clay is evenly colored and does not have any darker spots on it then it is completely dry.

But if you are unsure then let the clay sit for at least 72 hours before you start painting it.

I also have a full guide on how to properly dry air-dry clay without cracks appearing and I have a guide on how to dry air-dry clay faster but that one is not for beginners.

2. Apply the Acrylic Paint Directly to the Air-Dry Clay

I would suggest keeping the paints as they are and not mixing them with water if not necessary. You can mix them, however, with each other to get other colors.

The reason for that is, that if you introduce the dried clay to too much water then the clay might start to soften a little bit and it may even get cracks when it drys again. So do be careful or you might ruin your project.

There is a way to fix cracks in air-dry clay, however. You can read more about that in my guide on properly fixing cracks in air-dry clay.

You should also use good brushes, that don´t leave any hair behind and apply color evenly.

You can test your brush by slightly pulling on the hair if the hair comes out easily then don´t use this brush! A decent quality brush doesn´t have to be expensive and if you care for it correctly you will keep it for a very long time.

Apply the brush in thin even layers. If the paint does not cover with the first coat then simply let the paint dry and then apply another coat.

3. Apply another coat of paint if necessary

It can happen quite often that some or all of your acrylic paint does not cover properly after the first try.

This is especially the case with very bright colors such as bright yellow or bright green.

Don´t stress out about that, simply apply another coat of paint once the first has dried. You can apply as many coats as you need.

4. Apply an Acrylic Sealer to the Whole Sculpture

Once the paint is dried you have to seal it.

If you don´t seal it properly then the paint might peel off and water could damage the paint as well. So sealing it properly is really important.

I usually use either varnish or acrylic spray sealer for sealing my works.

Varnish is amazing because it is easy to come by and very easy to apply with a brush. Varnish will also seal your colors very well, especially from water and sun.

You can get varnish from any hardware store. Normally varnish is for sealing wood but you can seal a lot of different materials with it.

You can also buy gloss Varnish or even spray-on Varnish if you prefer that on Amazon by following the Links or at your local hardware store.

If you got varnish matt then try to only apply one layer of it, some brands of varnish matt can dry fogy if you apply multiple layers of it. So in order to get the best results for your projects you should only apply one layer of matt varnish.

You can also get gloss varnish, which will dry transparent and you can easily use multiple layers. I never had any issues with glossy varnish and I never heard of anyone having any issues when applying multiple layers of gloss varnish.

Only apply the varnish once the paint is completely dry.

Once the paint is dry simply apply the varnish and wait for it to dry. It can take up to a day before it is dried completely but once it is dry your project will be sealed and waterproof.

Acrylic sealer is another way to seal your air-dry clay after painting it. It is a little harder to come by but it is very simple to use once you have it.

You can buy my favorite acrylic sealer right here on Amazon.

Simply spray the whole surface of the clay sculpture with a thin coat of acrylic sealer and let it dry.

Then spray another coat of the sealer on the first layer until you are sure, that you covered every single part of the surface. Then let it dry and your color is sealed!

If you want to paint polymer clay, then you can check out my in-depth guide on how to color polymer clay right here.

Is It Possible to Paint Air Dry Clay Before it Drys?

This is a question, that I get a lot. Air-dry clay takes quite some time until it is completely dry, depending on the size of the project it could take more than two days until it is fully dried. so is it a good idea to paint air-dry clay before it is dry?

Can you paint air-dry clay before it drys? The short answer is no, you should not. If you paint air-dry clay before it is dry it can cause the clay to deform slightly in the area where you painted it. The paint can also lead to the clay not drying evenly which can in turn cause cracks if you are unlucky.

So I would wait until the clay is completely dry before I start painting it.

Most of the paints, that are commonly used for painting clay, like acrylic color, for example, are water-based meaning, they will introduce water when applied to the clay.

If the clay is still wet then the water will be absorbed by the clay in the area where you painted it. So now one area of the clay holds slightly more water within it than the other parts.

This can lead to cracks when the clay is drying and the finished paint job will look odd as the paint also dries unevenly.

The wet surface of the clay is also quite moldable while it is still wet, so when you paint the surface you can accidentally deform the sculpture.

I generally recommend waiting for the clay to be completely dry before I paint it. This way I will be sure, that I can paint the clay without the danger of damaging it in any way.

Coloring Air Dry Clay Before Drying

Another way of adding color to your clay project is by coloring the clay before molding and drying it. This is also a very common question, that I tend to get a lot.

So can you color air dry clay before drying it? The short answer is yes, you can. Simply add acrylic color to the still wet air-dry clay and knead it until the clay changes color. Try to knead it until the color is spread evenly. White clay is best for coloring because it will accept the color easier than other clay.

Coloring clay is surprisingly simple.

You can use any water-based color to color your clay.

I would not recommend using any oil-based or alcohol-based color as this may interfere with the drying process of the clay later on and your clay may end up being brittle after it has dried.

So simply use your water-based color, I usually use acrylic color, and add it to your clay. Then knead the clay until the color is spread evenly.

Once the clay is colored to your liking simply mold it and let it dry once you are done. The drying time may be a little longer than usual because of the water-based color but it will be just as hard when it is dry compared to regular clay.

If you want to color polymer clay then that is entirely possible as well, you can check this guide out, which will go more in-depth about coloring polymer clay.

Do You Have to Seal Air Dry Clay Before Painting?

Sealing air-dry clay before painting is not necessary. It will actually make it harder to paint the clay after sealing it. So Paint the clay with water-based color first and then seal it with acrylic sealer or varnish to protect the colors from water, sun, or scratches.

What Kind of Paint Is Best For Painting On Air Dry Clay?

Female potter painting bowl in pottery workshop

In short, the best paints for air-dry clay are water-based paints like acrylic paints or tempera. Water-based paint has to be sealed after they have dried, however. Enamels, latex, or spray paints can also be used and they don´t have to be sealed afterward.

I generally recommend using acrylic paints or other water-based paints. These paints are easy to work with, are quite cheap and you can get them at almost any crafts or art store.

Water-based color has to be sealed after they dried, however. If you don´t seal them they can chip off, peel off, or even wash off. That is the only downside to using them on air-dry clay.

If you don´t want to seal your sculpture after painting it, then you can use enamels, latex, or spray paints to paint your project. After these paints are dry they will naturally have a protective coat to them. Latex paint will have a rubber-like coat on it and enamels will have a clear coat to them, almost like varnish.

So you can use hard drying paints like enamels or latex as well but these paints are a little more expensive and a bit harder to work with than water-based paints are.

How to Seal Painted Air Dry Clay

There are a lot of different ways to seal air-dry clay and depending on the project or color you used underneath some may be better for that particular project than others. But most of the time I would simply go with the easiest way to seal air-dry clay.

How do you seal painted air-dry clay? There are several ways to seal air-dry clay. The easiest way is using varnish or acrylic sealer. For a more robust seal, you can also use liquid epoxy. All of these sealers will make the clay water-resistant and protect the color underneath if the clay is painted.

I have a complete guide on how to work with air dry clay that will help you to get started. You can read the whole article by following this link.

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.

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