How to Properly Condition Your Polymer Clay

Posted on 35 Comments
Polymer Clay on KatersAcres Blog

How to Condition Polymer Clay Blocks the Right Way on KatersAcres Blog

How to Condition Polymer Clay

There is a lot of information on the internet about how to condition polymer clay.  There are even people saying that there’s no need to condition clay if it is soft (gasp)!  2013 is going to bring lots of talk of polymer clay and all things sculpting to Kater’s Acres blog, the biggest of which is The Friesen Project.  Because of this, all during the month of January, I am going to talk about some of the basics of polymer clay.  With so much incorrect information on the web, it’s really hard to know what it correct.


What Is Polymer Clay:

How to Properly Condition Polymer Clay on KatersAcres BlogSo what is polymer clay?  Polymer clay in it’s basic form is an oven hardening modeling compound that is made from polymers of polyvinyl chloride.  To make polymer clay, liquid is added to a dry mix until is becomes a gel-like material.  This compound remains soft and pliable until it is baked in an oven between 250-285 degrees (depending on brand).

If you are a science person, you can read all about the properties of polymer clay and what it’s made from here.  But frankly, I don’t understand most of those big words…I’m just glad that clay is awesome!

Why Do You Have to Condition Polymer Clay:

Unconditioned clay, though it may be soft, does not have properly aligned particles.  While this may not seem to be a big deal, unconditioned clay that has been baked has a tendency to be very brittle and break easily.  It is very important that before you begin any project that you condition your clay.

What is Pre-Conditioning:

When polymer clay comes from the factory it comes in a block that has been mold injected to make it’s “shape.”  The polymers are not aligned in the block forms of clay off the store shelves.  If you are working on a project, you can precondition your clay.  This means that you condition all of your clay at the beginning of your working time.  By doing this, even if they clay sits for several hours, it takes just a minute to recondition it and begin to use it to sculpt.


How To Condition Polymer Clay:

By Hand & Roller:

For many people who make jewelry or miniatures, this is by far the easiest way to condition clay.  Why?  Because with small amount of clay, it is super easy to condition by hand.  All you do is cut off 1/4 of a block of clay and begin to roll it back and forth in your hands.  The first thing that happens is that the rectangle looses its sharp edges.  You will then notice that the clay begins to get warm.  When the clay is nicely warming, begin to roll that rectangle-loggy shape into a ball.  Then roll the ball into a snake.  And repeat as often as necessary.

When is the clay fully conditioned:?  The clay is fully conditioned when you make a snake and bend it in the middle.  If the clay does not split, crack, or break then your clay is conditioned.

By Pasta Machine:

How to Properly Condition Polymer Clay with a Pasta Machine on Kater's Acres BlogOkay, so while this picture isn’t of me preparing polymer clay, it’s the only one I had with clay in my Pasta Machine…it’s even from my OLD studio!  (In fact, this pictures is from a tutorial that isn’t yet completed….obviously a Klimt cane tutorial is in the works for you….more on that later…)

The process is very similar to the above mentioned process.  Only for this, you are going method you are going to cut off the portion of clay that you will use from your block.  This next part is very important: do NOT cut a section of clay wider than the widest setting of your pasta machine.  Jamming hard clay through your pasta machine can damage it!  Your going to put your clay through the pasta machine and roll it through. Then, when it comes out, fold it in half and put the fold side DOWN into your machine.  Keep doing this over and over.

How will I know when my clay is conditioned? Your clay is conditioned fully when it develops a slight sheen, bends in the middle without cracking or breaking, and has no “rough” edges on it!

Other Methods:

Easy Blend Polymer Clay Technique by KatersAcresYep, there are other methods to conditioning your clay…especially when your clay is rock hard.  One of them is described here.

You can also use a food processor to help condition your clay.

Color Blending Trick: Do you know the color blending trick?  If not, let me tell you.  You know when you take two colors of clay and combine them?  You know how it gets streaky and funky before combining into something beautiful?  Another way to know that your clay is fully conditioned is by blending two colors.  When you combine 2 colors to make one new color you are also conditioning your clay.  Your clay is conditioned when those two colors are completely merged and there are no streaks of either color remaining.  Easy huh?

35 thoughts on “How to Properly Condition Your Polymer Clay

  1. You mention that you can pre-condition your polymer clay. How long can you let conditioned clay sit before it needs to be re-conditioned?

    1. Generally when you pre-condition your clay it will be ready for the next several hours. However, after about 12 hours it will start to lose that conditioning (this is BRAND dependent too) … but with just three or four passes on your pasta machine, you will be good to go! If I have a big project, I condition all my clay up to a day before and get everything ready (from color mixing, palette, blends, etc). Then the next day when I go to start the project, just a few passes through the pasta machine and I’m ready to go!

  2. Ill try thank you so much

  3. i just began to work with polymer clay and I have some that I try and try to conditioned and it keeps breaking. what can i do ? or that clay don’t work anymore ?

    1. Add some liquid polymer clay to it and knead with you hands until soft. Or you can try this for hard crumbly clay:

  4. I just began with Polymer Clay not too long ago and still learning. I used to hand condition, which took for ever! When I obtained a Pasta Machine I changed my process. I hand condition, logs,ball,snake 3-4 times and then fold and roll ( as you instruct) in #7 5 times, #5 5 times, #1 5 times, and then repeat the handrolling and PM process until it is malleable and warm enough. If it still has air bubbles after the 2nd PM round, I do another round. It can be pretty meditative but I find this effective to get to the project/curing stage.

  5. Hope people realize how important Clay Conditioning is. After many years of claying, I still occasionally rush things a bit then wonder why my piece cracked in the oven.
    Your things to look for in properly conditioned clay are sure to be helpful for everyone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *