How To Make Large Polymer Clay Beads without Using a Lot of Clay

Large Polymer Clay Bead with Tin Foil Center

Want to know how to make big beads that are light and use less clay?

One of the popular trends this year is really large chunky beads and pendants. When you are making oversized beads out of polymer clay, you run into a couple of problems. First the weight of the bead; and next the amount of clay it takes to make just a few beads. As well, because of the sheer size of the bead, it can be tricky to get it to cure properly without having to bake it for a really long time (2 hours plus).

Recently, several subscribers of my Polymer Clay Guest List have asked this common question in some form or another… "How do I make large polymer clay beads (tennis ball sized) without using too much clay?"  And… "What can I use to dummy out the inside and not add much weight to it?" Here’s a link to where you can see where questions like this and others have come up: Polymer Clay Instructions

One really neat way to solve this big bead problem is to wad up a piece of tin foil as a dummy bead. You could also use masking tape instead of tinfoil if you like. Compact it as tight as you can so it is really hard and so that it holds its shape. Cover the ball with a thick sheet of  polymer clay. You can then continue making your bead, adding canes, patterns, texture, etc.

It can be a little tricky to pierce the bead when there is foil or masking tape inside. Try using something strong and sharp like a darning needle or knitting needle since bamboo or wire won’t be strong enough. Once pierced, bake the bead as normal.

Make sure when you make beads like this that the outer clay layer is thick enough that it won’t wear thin when you are sanding it.

It is important when you are learning how to make polymer clay beads that you ask as many questions as you can. I know that many of you out there have lots of questions. Don’t wait to see if someone else speaks up first. Ask right now in the comments section below. I would love to hear from you. This blog and my beginner bead making course will become a much better resource for you if you do!

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Comments

  1. If you haven’t made a comment on my blog yet, ask yourself, "What have I got to lose?"

    Besides you could always use a fake name if you are a super secret person. I don’t mind. Or if you don’t want to feel embarrassed asking a newbie question, you could always use the fun approach where you say… "I have this friend…" :-)

    Seriously though, I love newbie questions. No need to be embarrassed or shy. So go ahead ask away…

    Cindy Lietz’s last blog post..Buy Courses on How to Make Polymer Clay Beads and Canes

  2. You are on top of things, Cindy! No question goes unaddressed. :) A do have a question further about this subject though. If you dummy it out with tinfoil, won’t the clay take on the irregular shape (i.e. all the lumps & bumps of the crumpling)? I’m thinking or making something along the line of an ornament, but I want to make a nice round shape.

  3. Yeah it can take a few layers of clay and a fair amount of clay to get rid of the bumps, but it is completely do-able. If you’re making an ornament, why don’t you just cover a glass ornament with clay? It can handle going into the oven no problem!

    Cindy Lietz’s last blog post..How to Bake Sculpey Polymer Clay

     

  4. Cindy, I want to create large polymer clay beads for a necklace. This will be my first try at polymer clay. In my research, I have learned that I need to use tin foil then cover it with the polymer clay (to eliminate using as much clay and to reduce the overall weight of the entire necklace). I understand I need to use a needle to create a hole through the bead, but how do I get a hole through the tin foil portion of the bead? I rolled up a piece of tin foil into a ball & it was virtually impossible to force the needle through it. Any suggestions?

  5. Hi Natalie! I used a sharp pointy tool with a handle to get a hole in the foil. If you are still having trouble you could try scrunching the foil around a skewer or needle, so that you start with a hole. Then you can pull it out to shape the bead better and then pierce it again where you started the hole. Hope that works for you!

    The tool I used is pictured in the post that is linked by my name.

  6. Cindy, A pointy tool with a handle sounds like it will work perfectly. My main problem with using the needle thru the tin foil was that my fingers just slipped off the needle each time I tried to apply enough pressure to get it thru the tin foil. A handle should remedy that situation completely. I cannot wait to get started. Thank you so much for the valuable information!!

  7. Probably not Billie. If they said hollow, there is probably just air inside. Hollow polymer clay beads are usually made in two parts and glued together after baking.

  8. Hi Ms. Lietz!

    My name is Jenn and I’m new to working with polymer clay. In high school I sculpted with clay that we had to heat in a kiln. I didn’t know what clay to start with when I was out of school so I bought sculpey, premo and fimo. And to test each one I made my first trial sculpture out of all three.

    I was wondering; since my sculpture is mostly sculpey clay with a bit of the others mixed in, will it look different when baked? I haven’t had the heart to bake it because I’m too scared!

    It’s about as tall as your wrist to your elbow and about as long. A picture of my sculpture is posted here: smg.photobucket.com/albums/v299/Rhalen/?action=view&current=mlsculpt.jpg

    It is all clay with no other elements inside. I think it has dust and cat hair on it too that might burn. Do you think it will shrink? I know you mostly work with jewelry and I know there are no guarantees so I hope I’m not wasting your time. I’m sorry if I am!

    Anyways, I appreciate all your tips on your site. It’s very very helpful! I was also wondering. have you ever used wire that people use for flower arrangements inside your clay? What wire works best inside clay? I like your tip about using the aluminum foil as filler instead of clay! Thanks so much for taking time to read my email and if you can’t help I totally understand!

    Thanks for your time.

  9. Hi Jenn – Welcome to the blog! I included your questions about sculpting and clay brands in the Q&A section of todays blog post. The link by my name will take you there. Thanks for being part of the community.

  10. Hi Cindy,

    This is Grace from Ethiopia, I am sure I must be the first person to comment on your blog from Ethiopia.

    First of all I would like to thank you for your cheerful attitude towards the newbies like me and your encouragement (which sounded very sincere to me, that is why I am writing :) ) to ask. I haven’t seen the videos yet, but I would like to. But the problem for me is I can’t pay directly from here, but can do it through family members in USA. The other issue is internet connection is a bit expensive here so it would be a double cost for me. So, if you have the instructions on the DVD that would be superb and helpful.

    Keep up the good work!

    • @Grace: Welcome, Grace! I hope you are able to join us, as this is a very friendly group of clay artists. It’s amazing being able to talk to people around the world about this wonderful medium, polymer clay. We have lots of regular members from N. America, Europe & Australia, as well as a few scattered in Asia, S. America, and someone from S. Africa just last week! But you are the first I’VE met from Ethiopia. I hope that you are able to join & watch the videos. Best of luck to you! ~Kat, California, USA

      • @Phaedrakat:

        Dear Kat,

        Thank you for welcoming me.

        I was pretty sure that there is no one from Ethiopia. Polymer clay is not known here. I came across to it few years a go while browsing the internet for “how to make beads”. I didn’t even see what polymer clay looks like until a very kind lady who came from Australia gave me the clay few weeks a go. I have tried it and immediately fall in love with it, I can’t think of anything else – only polymer clay and beads :) Now I am planning to buy more for now from UK. Can you advise me please which source is good to buy in UK? Someone from our office is over there now and I am planning to ask them to bring it with them, but I need to tell them from where. Online shop would be good.

        Yes, I will definitly be joining and watching the video, since I need to learn so much.

        Thanks!

        Grace

        • @Grace: I’m sorry, I just saw this comment. I posted a request on today’s article for someone from the UK to come see your request here and give you some advice. I know of two online UK shops:
          Clayaround.com & Polymerclaypit.co.uk.

          These shops have a good inventory as far as I can see. I hope you get some feedback from a UK clayer who will have further information. Best of luck, and hope to see more of you around here!

        • @Grace: Hi Grace! I’m in the UK, and I buy my clay from clayaround.com. Penny the owner is a friend of mine and she’s lovely – and it’s cheaper than polymerclaypit.

          Oh and also if you tell her I recommended you, and spend more than £30, you’ll get free UK postage and a 10% discount on your first order!

          I know I sound like an advert but I’ve had really good service from Clayaround and they have good stock too. Hope that helps…

          Anna…xxx

    • @Grace: Oh Grace Kat was so right this is such a friendly group of people and I also hope you can join and soon. You don’t want to miss out on a moment of learning here. Cindy and her husband Doug are a Dream Team and give their all and ask so little in return. So much for so very little. Not a selfish bone in this couples bodies. They know so much and share it all with us. If you have a question I promise you someone here will answer it for you. Everyone is so friendly. We are one big happy clay family. I for one am so grateful I found this group the only regret I have is I didn’t join the minute I found it. Wow Ethiopia how wonderful to be able to visit with people from all over the world and all have one thing in common well maybe 2 for me. The love for clay and the love for this clay family. Hope to hear much more from you in the very near future.

      Uuuuuggggs (the painless hug), Peggy – USA

  11. Welcome Grace,

    It is wonderful to have you as part of the community, all the way from Africa. Thank you for your sincere and kind words. To answer your questions…

    1) Paying through your family members in America will work. Please email me about this to discuss the details.

    2) In regards to having my videos on DVD, unfortunately this has not happened yet. Every time the request comes up, there is not a lot of support from others (see Polymer Clay Tutorials on DVD), so I have not gone that direction… not yet anyways. But if there is enough interest from others, I would consider making DVD’s available :-)

    In the meantime, click on the link by my name to go to a comment where someone else asked a related question that will be of interest to you. In the comment we talked about the very small size of my videos which makes them very inexpensive to watch, even in remote areas with high internet costs.

  12. Great green tip. Save and wash your old foil and set aside for armature work. It goes inside, so as long as it doesn’t stink……..

  13. I can’t resist replying to that lovely recommendation from Anna because, I, too, am one of ‘Cindy’s girls‘ – and yes, you can get 10% discount on your first order. And if you recommend someone else they can get 10% too. Oh, and Cindy’s latest Dichroic Glass video uses pearlex and I now have a full range of colours of Pearlex. Sorry about the advert!

    I continue to read all the comments. Its becoming quite a marathon because there are so many, especially for someone like me who is mildly dyslexic, but it is worth it because one picks up so much useful information. I am thrilled about Linda’s toothbrush sanding idea for instance.

  14. Is here a limitation on how large a polymer clay object can be? I am trying to make large polymer clay objects using a mold. For example a 12″ tall 5″ diamter cylinder mold (or shape) to which I would apply the clay. Can this be done? Will the clay get soft and slide off? Is there a limit in the size of a clay object? Everywhere I look people are making beads. I’m trying to do something else. The forms are expensive and I don’t want to invest if what I’m attempting is not possible. Thanks.

  15. Hi Jackie!

    I’ve never tried this myself but I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible. I know someone who made a life-sized man doll with polymer clay head, hands and feet – she had to borrow an industrial oven to cure the head!

    From personal experience, the clay doesn’t get soft or slide off anything. It just hardens as it heats, reaching full strength when it cools.

    Maybe try practising with a small form first? Something like an empty soda can would be good, then you could see how the clay reacts without too much investment.

    Hopefully someone else can give you more specific information. Good luck! xxx

  16. Thanks Silverleaf! My goodness this is a great community. I have asked that question to polymer clay manufacturers and not one has answered me. I appreciate the help. I’m going to test as you suggested. And I’m going to keep reading this blog!!

  17. My unmderstanding that to make large beads light you use ultralight clay by polyform – I stock it/use it and it is brilliant – it even floats!
    another possibility is to use polystyrene balls and then dig them out after baking.

  18. This is really exciting! I’m thinking of vessels. So if it was funnel shape form (plastic,, glass or steel) I could use a release agent to remove regular or ultralight from the form. If the form was tubular in shape with a flat open end could I do the same thing. The clay doesn’t shrink so would it release from a tubular shaped form, or would I need to use something like polystyrene balls. And if I did use the polystyrene to build the form, how do you achieve a smooth surface to apply the clay to. If a smooth surface is not attainable, the interior of the vessel would be textured and I would work with this (altough I’d like to have a choice of texture or smooth. but I would need the form to be symmetrical. Is it possible to create a symetrical form using corn starch or polystyrene? thank you.

    • @Jackie T: Hi Jackie…did you test out your vessels yet? I’m curious how your projects are turning out, especially since I haven’t tried to create large items such as those you’re talking about making. I also wanted to point out something about Sculpey Ultralight clay.

      If you haven’t worked with it before, there are some important tips you should read.

      If you type “Ultralight” into the search box up top on the left, you’ll find posts on the subject. The main thing? You have to pre-bake the Ultralight clay before covering with another type. It expands while baking, so if you covered it with Premo canes, for instance, the outer layer could crack and your vessel would be ruined.) In fact, one of the articles from the search deals with this very issue…called cracked heart beads.

      Anyway, good luck with your projects! Hope you have fun, and make some beautiful vessels and other great things! :D

  19. I wondered if you’d every had problems with the aluminum foil bead cores causing air bubbles after curing. I made a bunch of large beads with foil, covered and cured with liquid polymer clay, then added a thick layer of clay. After baking, many had large air bubbles that seem impossible to eliminate. Any suggestions?

    Thanks…

    • @Karen M: Hi Karen, so sorry about your “issues”. I’m commenting to “bump” this question back into the “Recent Comments” list…(haven’t tried using foil cores yet, myself…)
      Someone with more experience should help you soon!
      Best of luck! ~Kat

    • I don’t make those kind of beads often, but why don’t you try putting on a thin coat of scrap clay over the foil core then bake. If there are any bubbles you can just sand them a bit and the recover the bead with your final layer. That outside layer shouldn’t be as vulnerable to bubbling as the one next to the foil. I’m guessing the foil is trapping air and releasing it during the baking process.

      Hope that helps. If you do try it, come back and let us know how it went.

    • Hi Karen, I’m a few years late but this is what I do:

      I always make my large beads with a foil core – usually just rolling my used chocolate wrappers up into a very firm ball or ‘log’ while watching TV. Very therapeutic! I cover them with a medium layer of scrap clay or white if I want to use translucent later and then partially pierce them with a needle in a few places before baking to allow any trapped air in the foil or under the clay to escape.

      You can then remove any bumps with sandpaper before coating with liquid Sculpey or similar and re-covering with your chosen decorative sheet, cane slices or extruded ‘snakes’. I drill my beads right through with a little pin vise after the second baking.

      (I use a fan oven and polyester batting in the base of foil roasting tins covered in more foil to cook my beads.)

      Hope this helps you or anyone else searching this blog x

  20. Hello Cindy from Greece!

    You’re really doing an excellent job! I’ve watched many of your video and they really were very helpful! :))) Still, I need your help on a topic for which I’ve been searching the whole internet and until now I haven’t found any good solution for it. So, my problem is the following…if I want to bake f.e. a large vase covered with polymer clay in an oven…the vase as you understand does not fit into the oven! I have taken an experts advice who told me to use a heat gun (until now I haven’t tried the heat gun on a large piece), but how will I be sure if the whole surface of the vase is cured (it is a large surface and not a small piece of clay to cure) and also how much time should I heat the surface in order to be sure that it is completely baked (and of course to avoid a mistake of overheating it and finally burn it). Please, if you have any suggestions regarding my problem, it would be very helpful to me.

    I’m looking forward for your answer.

    Thank you in advance.
    Tina

    • Hi Tina, Your question is tricky… since you are kind of ‘breaking the rules’ as far as baking goes, you are going to have to experiment and hope for the best. I know there are people who have had success baking large projects with a heat gun but I am sure they have over cured and under cured many of their pieces until they got it right. You’ll need to be careful that you don’t hold the heat gun too close that you scorch your vase and you will need to make sure the heat has been on long enough to cure. I have heard of people setting up a turntable for the piece and having a gun in a holder so you don’t have to hold it for long periods of time. Something like this could take hours to do with a lot of care and maintenance. Also make sure not to run the gun for too long or you could over heat it. Basically anything that is too big for a regular oven is not an easy project. Not impossible… but not easy.

  21. Hi Tina!

    In addition to Cindy’s excellent response, I can think of another route for you to try. I read of one artist here in CT that created large and delicate work which would not fit into a regular kitchen oven or toaster oven (although some stand the toaster oven on it’s side to bake).

    They contacted local restaurants and commercial bake centers to use their equipment, which is much larger. I am sure you first have to make sure the oven is clean, and then test it carefully with several oven thermometers so that you know your piece will not be damaged. This person cautioned not to trust the staff, or the digital readings on the oven, lol.

    Hope this helps and all best.

  22. Thank you for this information! I am a subscriber of your YouTube channel and I love learning more about polymer clay.

    Right now, I am creating planets for a kid’s project so I was looking for a way to save on polymer clay. I tried the tin foil but I could not create a perfect round shape. Maybe my clay isn’t thick enough.

    So I have some questions. Can I cover a plastic ball with a thick layer of polymer clay and bake it? How about a covering regular clay with polymer clay? I just really want to create a near-perfect round shape.

    I hope you could help me. Thank you!

    • Hi Joseph, you can use whatever you want for a core to bake polymer clay on, as long as it is heat safe. Wooden balls, paper mache, plastic (you have to test bake first), some rubber balls (test first), glass bowls, steel bowls all can work. If you want the sphere to be hollow, then you could bake on a form like a wooden ball, cut along the equator, glue together and add another layer of polymer clay on top and bake again. Leave a small hole for the air to escape or you your piece will crack.

      Don’t use regular earthen clay unless it has been fired already, otherwise the moisture in the clay will crack your polymer clay when the steam tries to escape. As far as what to bake it on… set your planets in a bed of cornstarch or suspend them from the top rack in your oven to keep them from distorting while baking. There are tons of baking videos and articles on this site that you should do a search for, to learn more. Good luck!

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