Polymer Clay Techniques | Is Conditioning Really that Important?

Conditioning Polymer Clay

Hmmmm… Let Me See… YESSSSS!!!

When you work with polymer clay, especially when making canes, it is very important that you first condition all of your clay to the same consistency. If one of your pieces is soft and mushy, while another is hard and crumbly, you are going to run into a whole bunch of frustrating problems.

There are so many things that can affect the condition of polymer clay at any given time… including:

  • Brand (formulas vary widely)
  • Manufacturers Date (consistency can vary from batch to batch)
  • Color (pigments all behave differently)
  • Age (plasticizers leach out over time)
  • Temperature (cooler clay will always be firmer than warm clay)
  • How the Clay Was Stored (cool, warm, dark, damp, dry)
  • Was Clay Wrapped In Plastic (…properly wrapped?)
  • Last Time the Clay was Worked (brand new vs used)
  • Whether You Live On Top of Mountain or at Sea Level (OK maybe this last point is a stretch… but hey, you never know!)

Anywho… here are a few tips on conditioning polymer clay that may be helpful for you:

1) You can tell if your clay is conditioned, when it comes out as a nice smooth sheet from your pasta machine. Little or no cracking along the edges. Note that some super firm brands like Fimo Classic and Kato Polyclay may still have a bit of cracking along the edges… but the main surface will be shiny, flexible and smooth. A rolled up ball of well conditioned clay should feel about the same as when you push your right thumb into the palm of your left hand. Firm but still with a bit of give.

2) If your clay is quite firm, cut thin slices from your block and run them through your pasta machine one at a time to get started. If the clay remains crumbly after repeated passes, you may need to add a softener such as Fimo Mix Quick, Sculpey Diluent, mineral oil or baby oil.

3) Food processors work great for doing the initial conditioning of really tough pieces of clay. Here’s a separate article on this topic: Polymer Clay Tools for Softening Clay Quickly

4) If the clay is very soft and sticky than there may be too much plasticizer in it. You can leach some of these plasticizers out by setting the clay on a piece of office paper or by using the technique described in this article: Polymer Clay Pasta Machine – How To Firm Up Soft Clay

5) Be careful not to trap air pockets in your clay while conditioning it. The bubbles can surface later during the baking process and ruin your piece. When using a pasta machine, the best way to avoid trapping air is to feed your clay into the rollers with the folded edge going in first. More on this in the following article: Conditioning Polymer Clay without Trapping Air Bubbles

Cindy Lietz SignaturePolymer Clay Tutor

  1. Cindy Lietz, 17 April, 2009

    Warming up a very firm clay can help speed up the conditioning process. Setting some wrapped clay on a hot water bottle is a speedy way to accomplish this, without the risk of accidentally curing it!

  2. Kris, 21 April, 2009

    Hi Cindy,

    I just had a quick question. Last month I came across a page that showed a spring flower recipe colors that said was coming out in March but I never saw it and I can’t find it anywhere. I’ve seen some other spring flowers that you’ve had on your website previously but not the one that I’d seen. Do you know at all which one I’m talking about? It had soft colors, green and a coral color were in there.

    I’m really enjoying your website and have learned alot!

    Thank you!

  3. Cindy Lietz, 21 April, 2009

    Hi Kris,

    So glad to hear you are enjoying the blog and the members library.

    In regards to the color recipes you are looking for, if you are sure they were scheduled for postings in March, then it would be the Pearl Hydrangea Color Palette that you are looking for. Follow the link by my name above to see the photo.

    To download these Pearl Hydrangea Recipe Cards, log into your library account and navigate to the Weekly Color Recipes in the Table of Contents. Once there you will see links to the Volume-010 A-Series Color Recipes.

    For future reference, another great way to find archived content is to use the Polymer Clay Newsletter link at the top of every page here at the blog.

    Also you could use the 09: Color Recipes link in the “Topic Categories” list in the left side bar of every page here at the blog.

    Plus… I will soon be adding a visual picture reference page in the library, with all of the color palette photos for both the A-Series and the B-Series all in one place.

    Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.


  4. Jocelyn, 27 May, 2009

    Check your electric set up, and if it meets the right code, purchase a couple of rheostats. These devices monitor the amount of energy being passed to the powered object, and can assist in turning down temps to a “non-baking” level for use with polymer clay.

    I dragged mine out from the “stained glass” box and use it on a heating pad (covered with a small folded tea towel), so that I can keep the temp low, without spikes.

    The nite before, I pull out the clay and canes I want to work with, and by the time I get up, everything is the perfect temperature and consistency, and ready to roll.

  5. Cindy Lietz, 12 October, 2009

    Thanks for the rheostat tip Jocelyn.

Copyright © Polymer Clay Tutor Bead and Jewelry Making Tutorials