Air-dry clay is wonderful to work with for novices and experts alike. Many of the techniques you can use with it easily transfer over to working with ceramics and pottery. This makes it an ideal introductory medium for people just starting to explore working with clay. It also makes air-dry clay an inexpensive way for experienced crafters to perfect their skills.
The one major drawback with air-dry clay is that it is easily damaged by moister and some brands can be quite brittle. Luckily both of these issues can be mitigated by applying a sealer or varnish to your clay projects.
In this article, we will explore:
- The best sealers for air-dry clay
- What you should consider before buying products to waterproof air dry clay.
- How to seal air dry clay?
- Answer some of the most commonly asked questions related to air-dry clay varnishes.
Want to get a short answer to what varnish will work best for your air-dry creation? Here is a quick summary of what we feel are the best sealants to use on air-dry clay.
|Product Name||Why We Picked It|
|EnviroTex Lite Epoxy Resin||FDA 21 CFR 175.300 compliant for food safety, EnviroTex Lite Epoxy Resin is ideal for creating air-dry clay candy dishes and similar projects. It is self-leveling, water-proof, and has a very high gloss.|
|Lascaux UV Protect Spray Varnish||A poly-acrylic coating that dries quickly can be overpainted, and will never yellow even when exposed to bright sunlight.|
|Vallejo Polyurethane Varnish||An excellent sealant and varnish for a wide variety of crafting applications, Vallejo Polyurethane Varnish is water-resistant, provides UV protection, and has a beautiful finish. Comes in gloss, matte, and satin formulas.|
|Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic Coating||We love Krylon Crystal Clear because of its ease of application and the fact it is more water-resistant and resists clouding better than most other acrylic varnishes.|
|Dishwasher-Safe Mod Podge||The only Mod Podge sealant to make our list, Dishwasher Safe Mod Podge is a completely unique formula that deserves to be recognized. It is top-rack dishwasher safe and very durable even in damp conditions.|
Best Glaze for Air Dry Clay
Air-dry clay offers more glazing options than polymer clay or traditional clay that you would use for pottery or ceramics. Unlike, polymer clay, air-dry clay is not sensitive to the components used in aerosols, or oil-based varnishes.
EnviroTex Lite Epoxy Resin
Nothing provides better protection to your air-dry clay projects than epoxy resin varnish and we consider EnviroTex Lite to be the best of the best. It can be poured onto flat surfaces or spread with a brush or sponge. Self-leveling, water-proof, and food safe it is one of the most versatile sealants you can have in your arsenal.
The only drawback to this wonderful glaze is that it is only available in a high gloss finish.
Lascaux UV Protect Spray Varnish
UV absorbent, Lascaux UV Protect Spray Varnish is also water-resistant, lightfast, age-resistant, and non-yellowing. It has a proprietary spray nozzle that makes it easy to achieve professional-level coatings even for novices. It can be used as an undercoat for pieces to be painted or a topcoat for projects that have already been decorated.
Lascaux UV Protect Spray Varnish comes in matte, semi-matte, and gloss finishes. The one thing you need to be cautious about with this sealant is that you must apply multiple thin coats if you want a deep finish. We have found that thick coats have a tendency to cloud or look milky.
Vallejo Polyurethane Varnish
Available in gloss, matte, and satin formulas Vallejo Polyurethane Varnish is a water-based finish of superior purity. When dry it is UV and water-resistant and goes on very smoothly. It can be brushed or sponged with ease and provides a crystal clear finish that will not yellow or cloud with exposure to sunlight or damp conditions.
Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic Coating
One of the most versatile sealants on the market, Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic Coating can be used on just about anything from air-dry clay to dried flowers. It is easy to apply in very light coats and provides a deep color-enhancing finish when built up.
Having a fast drying process items can be recoated in as little as fifteen minutes and are safe to handle in two hours. The only negatives that we have found about this sealant are those shared by acrylics in general. They can tend to cloud in damp conditions and can turn yellow over time if exposed to direct sunlight.
Dishwasher-Safe Mod Podge
Water-based and non-toxic Dishwasher Safe Mod Podge is safe for kids and pets making it an ideal sealant to use in school and home settings. It has a very high gloss and provides above-average waterproof characteristics.
As the name implies items properly sealed with this varnish can be washed and placed outdoors. As a bonus, it can be used as an adhesive as well as a glaze making it great for découpage and other crafts.
What to Consider When Buying Air Dry Clay Glaze
While air-dry clay doesn’t have to be glazed unless it is going to be in a moist environment or exposed to the elements, There are several reasons you might want to apply a varnish to your air-dry clay projects.
If you want your air-dry clay waterproof, it is a must. Air-dry clay has a natural chalky appearance when dry you may not care for it. Perhaps you simply want to strengthen and better preserve your artwork.
Regardless, here are the primary concerns you need to keep in mind when buying varnishes to seal air dry clay.
The first thing you should consider when picking a glaze for air-dry clay is where and how the piece will be used. If the piece is going to be outdoors, then you really only have two options; polyurethane or epoxy resin.
They are both considered waterproof and stand up to weathering well. All other types like PVA, acrylic, and Mod Podge can be sensitive to moister. Even outdoor acrylic paint can cloud or deteriorate when exposed to wet conditions or UV radiation.
Of the two options, epoxy resins are by far the most durable.
For indoor use or display, you can have your pick, but keep in mind that PVA glues and Mod Podge coated items should not even be cleaned with a damp cloth. They should only be dry dusted.
Our next consideration is the look that you want pieces to have. Sealants come in a variety of finishes with;
- Semi-gloss (Satin)
- Semi-Matte Finish
being the most popular and common.
There are also opaque and tinted sealants available or you can create them on your own by blending clear sealants and paints.
Only you can decide what finish will provide the perfect look for your creations. Thankfully there are many options available to glaze air dry clay.
Another thing to think about is how you will apply the finish to your projects. The three most commonly used methods for sealing air dry clay are by spraying, brushing, or with a sponge.
All three have their pro and cons, and it is more a matter of taste than anything else.
When we are varnishing flat pieces, our choice is most often spraying. It is quick and easy once you develop the knack for it, and provides a nice even coating.
The secret is using long sweeping strokes.
Whether polyurethane, acrylic paint, or other types of sealants sponging them on is a great option. We use it regularly when working on pieces that have flowing lines and an organic feel to them. You sponge much as you would brush, but many people find it easier to get a smooth finish.
One word of caution here. It is best to only use a sponge with thinner sealants that are self-smoothing. Thicker finishes can hold the sponge marks that mar the surface.
Brushing is the most versatile way of applying a glaze to air-dry clay. It is also the most detail-oriented. Once you learn to pick the appropriate brush for your different varnishes, you can cover large areas very quickly, and at the same time, you can provide adequate coverage to very finely detailed works without worrying about leaving thin spots.
If you are pinching pennies, then thinned white craft glue is the cheapest way to seal and add some strength to your clay projects. Its drawback is that it does little to make your clay water-resistant. This finish must, of course, be brushed or sponged on as it doesn’t come in a spray.
Next in line in terms of price would be polyurethane and acrylics. Poly is slightly more expensive but not by much and provides a much more resilient finish. Both can be had as liquids or in sprays, and come in a wide variety of finishes.
The most expensive coatings to use on air-dry clay are epoxy resin. In fact, depending on the brand they can be quite a bit higher. The thing is, you get what you pay for.
Epoxy sealants provide more flexibility, impact resistance, and durability than any other type. They are also the only varnishes that provide a true water-repellant coating. Epoxy coatings must be brushed on or thinned before sponging.
How to Seal Clay
Sealing air-dry clay is a simple process. To help you achieve sterling results applying varnish to your air-dry clay projects, we offer this simple guide to success.
- Make sure your creation is completely dry. Never seal wet clay. We recommend letting it rest for the recommended drying time on your clay’s packaging and then giving it an extra day to be sure.
- Inspect your work and sand smooth any edges or areas that are rough. many sealants will highlight rather than hide surface imperfections. Remove any dust you have created from the surface of your clay.
- Use popsicle sticks, coins, or some other methods to slightly elevate your clay creation from your work surface. It is very frustrating to varnish a project and realize you glued it to your work surface.
- Now, apply your initial coat of sealant. If you are using polyurethane or acrylic paints less is more at this point. You should only apply a thick coat if working with an epoxy resin. Completely cover your work with this first coat. Its primary purpose is to seal the pores of the clay.
- Allow your glaze to dry according to the varnish’s directions and inspect for any problem areas before proceeding further.
- If you find areas that are still blemished correct them before proceeding.
- If satisfied with the appearance of your project after the initial coat of sealer, apply further coats to achieve the look you are looking for.
- Adding 2 to 3 layers will help achieve a deeper finish that looks better and is more protective.
- Leave your work in a warm room that is not exposed to too much sunlight and has as little dust as possible.
Remember that multiple thin coats provide a better look and more protection than a single thick coat. The one exception to this is epoxy resins. Most of these will have to be completely sealed in a single coat. Luckily with these varnishes, one coat is generally more than enough
Can you glaze air-dry clay?
Whether you can glaze air-dry clay depends on how you think of glazing. If you mean, can you apply a sealant or coating to improve its durability and alter its appearance, then yes you can. If you are thinking of glazing air-dry clay as you would ceramics or pottery then no you can’t. Air-dry clay is mainly made of cornstarch, resins, glues, and other additives. Most of these are flammable and will literally burn up if fired like ceramics.
Do you need to seal clay?
The short answer is no, you do not need to seal your clay. Air-dry clay is fine left uncoated as long as it is kept dry and in a location with relatively low humidity. Poly clays when baked are in essence plastic and very durable, and ceramic clays, once fired, basically turn to stone.
Keeping that in mind, if you want your clay waterproof, colored other than its natural color or with a specific finish you will want to apply a sealant or varnish to it.
What can I use to make my air dry clay shiny?
There are a number of options available to make your air-dry clay pots or other creations shiny. You can choose between epoxy resins, polyurethane varnishes, acrylics, and PVA coatings. All are available in a variety of finishes ranging from high-gloss to flat-matte.