|There are several options
to finish the surface polymer clay objects after baking. You can:
- do nothing. honest.
- coat/seal the surface with an acrylic liquid (Future, Golden, Varathane
are some popular liquid brands)
- sand then coat/seal
- sand then buff with a wheel of fabric like very soft cotton or acrylic
polyester to create a glossy or semi-glossy finish
Which finish should I use?
It's strictly a personal preference and dependent
on what's going on on the surface. If you've done a nice smoothing job
prior to baking, you may not have to do anything after baking to finish
the surface. If the surface has a
dusting of Pearlex that you want to protect or a thin layer of paint,
sanding wouldn't be a good choice.
Why bother sanding?
A nicely sanded polymer clay surface is not at
all shiny but feels absolutely wonderful. And the combination of sanding
and buffing produces a nice shiny finish. Because of the more intimate
surface feel, sanding/buffing finishes are wonderful for polymer clay
Polymer clay takes on great seductive feel
when it's been well sanded. Over time it also takes on a
soft semi-glossy final luster, if it's rubbed and worn against
fabric (e.g. beads on a necklace).
The finish of a good hand sanding is still the ideal.
If you choose to hand sand, save that task for your most
precious items. The next best thing to hand sanding is
using power tools. Powered sanders, brushes and rock tumblers
can do the hard work and save your hands, wrists, etc.
Sanding can be a demanding task. It's really
not worth doing at all, if you don't plan to do it right.
Few like hand sanding for more than a few minutes. It
can be tedious and painful. It's been known to try one's
patience and aggravate tendons, ligaments and muscles.
It can also be challenging to find the right media and
the right progression of that media. Wet/dry sandpapers
and sponges are the hand tools of choice for polymer clay,
since you need to sand polymer clay while it's wet to trap
If you prefer to save your hands and sanity, etc., get a
powered tool. Rotary/vibrating sanders and rock tumblers
cost but not as much as the trying to repair any damage to
you caused by improper or prolonged hand sanding.
A great next step after sanding polymer clay
to produce a wonderful shine. With few exceptions, buffing
is completely dependent on having a well sanded surface.
When producing fauxes, like turquoise, jade, ivory, amber,
etc. buffing produces a wonderful and realistic finish that
a coated finish cannot touch. The surface can be shiny, but
recesses, nooks and crannies can remain matte; producing
a realistic appearance. A sanded and buffed surface is easy
to restore because it’s
not protected by a coating.
You can produce a semi-gloss shine by just rubbing on
a soft cloth like your jeans.
Click here to
learn more about buffing options.
Yet another finishing step and always requires
a power tool for a really shiny effect. Buffing won't work
too well if the surface isn't smooth enough. A high gloss
buff requires a high rpm power tool, special wheels for polymer
clay, a light touch which requires practice and focus (to
A different great step after
sanding. With the right material and application method,
coating does a great job for finishing and can protect the
clay’s surface from excessive wear, dirt or moisture.
There are several finishing options like there are in paints;
matte, semi gloss and gloss. Once applied, the finish tends
to hold that finish for a very long time, unlike a sanded/buffed
If not applied under the right circumstances,
can make the coated piece look “plastic-y” and
cheap. And you need to make sure to avoid creating bubbles.
Unlike a sanded/buffed surface, it can more involved to repair/restore
a damaged coated surface.
||a well conditioned pair of... um, hands
||sandpapers, micron papers, polishing papers, finising
|Battery powered appliances
battery powered toothbrush
||battery powered cleaning brushes (e.g. scumbuster, stain brush)
|High powered tools
||oscillating sanders (e.g. Mouse)
||a rotary rock tumbler
||a vibrating tumbler
Wet/Dry Sanding Sheet Sets
|standard or grade
|CAMI or C
|| 200s, 300s, 400, 600, 1000, ...
|FEPA or P
||200, 400, 800, 1200, 2000, ...
||400 (30m), 600 (15m), 1200 (9m), 4000, (3m), ...
||medium, fine, super fine, ultra fine, micro fine
Where do I get these sets?
Wet/dry sandpapers and sanding sponges can be found in many places. The
most common are hardware, woodworking, automotive repair and plastic
supply stores. The progression selection is, however, hit and
miss. If you live in a metro area and want the best range of grits,
seek out an automotive paint and body supplier. Those are the businesses
that sell supplies to auto body repair shops so they have a comprehensive
variety of wet/dry sandpapers. But they may not sell individual
sheets because they are a business to business supplier. Reputable
online suppliers are another great option.
coarser grits (lower numbers) are for grinding purposes - quick removal
of lots of material, removing defects, shaping a piece that's not quite
right. The higher the number, the finer the paper. The goal is to make
all of the scratches left by the previous sandings finer and finer so
they won't be visible, especially after buffing or after a coating is
applied. When sanding, start with the lowest grit you can get away with,
then step up higher. Up to 600C, it's best not to skip the grit values
in your set, otherwise you may not remove the scratches from the previous
easier for you if all your papers come from the same manufacturer
and they're the same standard or grade (CAMI, FEPA, or micron). If
you've got papers from different manufacturers, and/or have a mix of
standards, use this equivalent
table to keep your progression on track. For example,
a 450C = 800P.
Wet/dry silicon carbide paper is dark gray on the front. The standard
and grit value is usually printed on the back. Amazingly, some papers
do not have the standard printed on them at all. If you know the standard,
write that on the back. It's a pretty good assumption that 3M papers,
like the ones in the hardware stores, are CAMI. 3M does make FEPA papers,
but they will be marked with a "P". If you don't know the standard
nor the manufacturer, toss those sheets. They're not worth anything
if you can't fully identify the paper's ability.
Industrial Supply.com is
a good online source for the FEPA bulk sandpaper purchase.
Judge by outcome
600C, judge by outcome. If you've been sanding well through to 600C,
then jump to1500C and don't get a perfectly smooth glassy shine after
buffing, try using the 1000C then 1500C. Another thing to judge by
outcome - if you can see any scratches after buffing, your sanding
efforts didn't quite pay off. Somewhere along the way you either missed
a spot, or some of the coarser grit broke loose from the paper and
stayed in sanding water and ended up trapped between the paper and
the clay surface.
When should I stop sanding?
What's the final grit? When should you stop? That
depends entirely on you. If you plan to buff and want the shiniest gloss,
get well into the higher end. With a bit of practice and time, you'll
find the stopping points that's right for you and your specific application.
The silicon carbide papers and sponges don't go as high as the micron
papers. Although you can go much higher with those micron sheets, some
question whether it makes enough of a difference for a polymer clay