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Best Varnish for Polymer Clay

Best Varnish for Polymer ClayWondering what the best polymer clay sealers are? Well, we have done the research to save you the headache.

In this article, we will look at what we consider to be the best polymer clay sealers on the market, why we feel the way we do, what you should look for and avoid in a polymer clay sealant, and answer a few questions pertinent to the subject.

On blanket statement before we dive in. The varnishes we will be discussing are all brush-on finishes. There are many aerosol glazes on the market and some may work perfectly well with any particular polymer clay. However, some may not.

Some clays react poorly when they come in contact with the propellants used in aerosols. It is impossible to cover every possible combination of clay and aerosol sealant on the market. Therefore, our recommendation is to avoid these products unless you have previous knowledge of a specific brand of varnish when combined with a particular clay.

Just looking for a quick overview without getting into all the differences between the various brands. Here we present as simple a breakdown of this complicated subject as we can. Here are our preferences in sealers for polymer clay by type.

Best Sealer for Polymer Clay

woman showing a clay bowl in handMost people will start looking for a polymer clay sealer with a particular look in mind. They have completed sculpting a project and have in their minds the finish they feel will work best.

Knowing this tendency, we will first break down our recommendations based on the sheen each choice delivers. This should make it easier for you to find the best polymer clay sealers for your project.

Matte Finishes

These are our top choices for gloss-free matte products for sealing polymer clay projects. All have sterling reputations and deliver superior results on most brands of polymer clays.

Pro tip: Be sure to mix matte varnishes well. There are tiny matte particles, usually mica powders, that break up the sheen of the sealers. You have to mix the varnish well enough for these to be evenly distributed throughout the sealer. If you use a quality matte finish on your polymer clay and it has glossy spots, you probably didn’t mix the varnish well enough

DecoArt Americana DuraClear Ultra Matte Varnish

DecoArt Americana DuraClear Ultra Matte Varnish, 8 fl.oz

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Americana DuraClear Ultra Matte Varnish from DecoArt is a polyurethane varnish that delivers an even dead matte finish with zero-sheen. It goes on smooth with brush strokes just seaming to disappear.

Beast of all even a light coat effectively protects your poly clay projects making them waterproof, and resistant to most solvents and oils including alcohol and skin oils.

Chroma’s Jo Sonja Water Based Polyurethane Varnish

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This water-based polyurethane from Chroma has a sterling reputation among crafters of all types. Designed for both indoor and outdoor use it creates a dead-matte finish that resists heat, and abrasion, and is waterproof and chemical resistant.

It is fairly thin for a varnish. This lets it flow smoothly and evenly without leaving brush marks. Its low viscosity also makes it ideal for applying with a sponge.

Golden Acrylic Polymer Varnishes

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Golden Acrylic Polymer Varnishes is formulated for indoor use only. They are thicker and heavier than most other poly-acrylics and are intended to be thinned before being used. This means that though they seem a little pricier, they are actually very cost-effective.

Once dried they are waterproof, flexible, and impact resistant. Golden Acrylic Polymer Varnishes are also resistant to most solvents, but ammonia will quickly degrade the finish.

Semi-Gloss or Satin Finishes

satin or semi-gloss varnishes aren’t really shiny but they do allow a slight bit of light play on their surface. This is by far the most popular type of finish used not only for polymer clay but crafts in general. It is matte enough to hide minor surface flaws but really dull in appearance.

Our top semi-gloss varnishes are:

Sculpey Satin Glaze

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We have found that Sculpey Satin Glaze not only works well with all of the polymer clays offered by the company but with most other popular brands as well. It gives you a nice lustrous finish without being shiny.

While not as water and chemical resistant as some other options, it is hard to beat Sculpey Glaze for versatility and overall appearance.

Minwax Polycrylic Clear Satin

1 qt Minwax 63333 Clear Polycrylic Water-Based Protective Finish Satin

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Minwax is better known in woodworking circles than among clay crafters but don’t let that make you shy about using their finishes.

Minwax Polycrylic Clear Satin is a fast-drying, ultra-tough, ultra-clear varnish that protects against scratches, spills, dirt, and more. It dries to a satiny smooth finish that is tough enough to be used on furniture so can handle almost anything your polymer clay creations are ever likely to encounter.

Its best feature, however, is the clarity that it dries to. Be warned though, it does highlight flaws instead of hiding them.

Varathane Polyurethane HP Diamond Semi-Gloss

RUST-OLEUM 200031 Waterborne Diamond Polyurethane Scratch and Stain Protection, 1-Gallon, Gloss

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Varathane HP Diamond Semi-Gloss is one of the toughest and most protective varnishes on the market. Whether you are coating polymer clay, wood, rattan, or any other suitable surface it stands the test of time.

Water-based, it works well on all polymer clays we have applied it to and is one of the most scratch-resistant coatings we have found. It is, of course, water-resistant and unaffected by most common household solvents.

Glossy Finishes

When you want your work to really shine and show just how perfect your surfaces are then a gloss finish is what you are looking for. Reflecting the maximum amount of light and ultra-smooth to the eye and touch, gloss varnishes are at the top of the heap when it comes to displaying perfection of form.

Sculpey Gloss Glaze

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We have already talked about Sulpey’s satin finish glaze. Sculpey Gloss Glaze is no less wonderful. Even with a light coating, these polymer clay glazes give you a deep lustrous finish that looks miles deep.

It works well on all polymer clay brands we have used it on but seems to give the pest results with Sculpey Premo and Sculpey Soufflé.

Minwax Clear Polycrylic Water-Based Protective Finish Gloss

1/2 pt Minwax 25555 Clear Polycrylic Water-Based Protective Finish Gloss

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Minwax’s Clear Polycrylic Water-Based High Gloss Protective Finish is a work of art in itself. Reasonably priced, it dries to the touch in as little as thirty minutes and items can be recoated in two hours.

When dry Minwax Clear Polycrylic is non-tacky so it won’t attract dust and dirt. It is also waterproof, and scratch-resistant, and most solvents will have little to no effect on its appearance.

Designed for both indoor and outdoor use this is one of the toughest varnishes on the market.

Vallejo Polyurethane Varnish

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Vallejo Polyurethane Varnish is a recently developed water-based polyurethane using a UV-resistant resin that is new to the market. This gives added protection to your polymer clay creations that may be near windows or under some bright lights.

Reasonably priced and easy to apply with a brush or sponge, this is a great polymer clay sealer for novice clay workers and experts alike.

Types of Varnishes for Polymer Clay

For more detailed recommendations you can scroll down to more specific sections.

1. Water-Based Polyurethane Varnish

coupe in building reading a bucket labelIn terms of bang for your buck, it is hard to beat polyurethane varnishes. They are available in almost any hardware or big box store, very reasonably priced and a little goes a long way.

You can generally find polyurethane varnish in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin finishes. This makes it easy to customize the looks of your polymer clay works and create the exact effect you are looking for.

Finally, polyurethane is tough. Once dry it is chemical resistant, waterproof, and even impact tolerant. One word of advice, be sure you buy WATER-BASED POLYURETHANE VARNISH.

There are oil and solvent Polyurethanes on the market. These can react negatively with polymer clay and ruin your work.

2. Epoxy Resin

Epoxy resins are undoubtedly the most durable and long-lasting sealants that you can use on your polymer clay creations. They are also the most expensive, hardest to work with, and unforgiving when not properly prepared and applied.

On the plus side, once epoxy finishes have cured they are almost completely impermeable to water and solvents alike. They are also, impact-resistant as they remain slightly rubbery even when they appear rock hard. Basically, once you have sealed your artwork in epoxy it is there for life.

Now for the negatives.

  • Epoxy resins must be properly mixed with a hardener or they will not cure properly.
  • Most of the time you will only be able to find high gloss finishes.
  • Epoxy resins are expensive compared to other polymer clay sealers.
  • You will not be able to add any embellishments to items sealed with epoxy resin.
  • Depending on the epoxy resin chosen you may have a very limited time frame to work with it.

man carefully mixing and looking at a cupTo be honest we love epoxy resin sealants. But and this is a big but, we have had years of experience working with epoxy adhesives, sealants, and coatings. We advise caution when you first start out with them.

3. Liquid Acrylic Paint

Acrylic sealant is basically just liquid acrylic paint minus the colored pigment and paintings are what it was originally developed for. The advantages that acrylic sealers bring to your polymer clay artworks are:

  • It really makes your colors pop and look bright.
  • It resists yellowing
  • Can be found in gloss, semi-gloss, satin and matte finishes.

Acrylic varnishes one big drawback is that it doesn’t stand up to moister or solvents as well as other sealants. If an item needs to be cleaned often, it is not an ideal choice.

4. Polymer Clay Brand Glazes

man holding paintbrush with a bucket of varnish in tableWe consider these a special group of varnishes because they can contain any number of different formulations. What really sets them apart though, is that a polymer clay company puts their name on them.

A prime example of why this is important is the Sculpey glaze. Sculpey is a company whose name is almost synonymous with polymer clay. They are one of the top brands and have spent years establishing its name as a provider of top-quality products.

A company that has invested this kind of time and effort in building a reputation is not likely to jeopardize it by marketing an inferior glaze. As a bonus, you can rest assured that it has been formulated to work well with its own clays.

If the brand of clay you are working with also offers a varnish, you can usually assume more than satisfactory results when using it.

5. Mod Podge

For all practical purposes, Mod Podge is a thin PVA or White Glue. It is a very versatile varnish for general crafting duty and does work reasonably well as a polymer clay sealer. It is also one of the most budgets friendly sealants on our list.

Mod Podge Plaid is the most common type found and it has a nice matte finish. There are glossy versions available but they are a little harder to find.

On the plus side, Mod Podge is safe to use around children and pets. On the negative, it is easily damaged by exposure to moister and can become tacky in humid conditions.

What to Consider When Buying Polymer Clay Sealer

There are a number of different things that you need to take into consideration when choosing a sealant for your poly clay artwork. Here are what we consider to be the five most important areas you need to consider when picking a polymer clay sealer.

Base Ingredient

polymer clay design in cupThis is probably the most important factor that you need to pay special attention to. All varnishes that you are going to use to seal polymer clay should be water-based.

Many sealants, including some acrylic and polyurethane varnish offerings, are oil or solvent-based. Instead of protecting your polymer clay projects, they can actually cause irreparable damage to them. Make sure you only use water-based sealants on a polymer clay piece.

Durability

The entire point of using a varnish on a polymer clay project is to increase its durability. If this wasn’t a concern there would be no need for varnish.

All of the types of sealants we listed in our quick summary will help protect your work from wear and tear. However, if you want the maximum protection for your poly clay creations, you will want to stick with polyurethane and epoxy resin varnishes.

This is especially true for items that will be cleaned often or jewelry that will come in contact with skin oils. Acrylic and PVA-based sealants are really too easily damaged by moister and oils to be ideal for this use. They are best reserved for statuary and other artworks that won’t be handled much and only dry dusted.

Items coated with epoxy resin and polyurethane finishes are also more impact resistant.

Finish

There are many different types of finishes available in polymer clay sealers. Depending on the type of sealant you choose you will see:

  • Ultra matte varnishes
  • Matte finish
  • Satin finish
  • Semi-glossy finish
  • True glossy finish
  • High glossy finish

Which of these is ideal for your project will depend on your personal taste and the nature of the work to be sealed. There are no ideal polymer clay varnishes that will work best on every polymer clay project.

Application Method

When it comes to sealing polymer clay, you really only have one correct option. That is brush on finishes.

using air spray gun on clay sculptureThe one possible exception to this might be some of the spray sealants offered by Polymer clay brands themselves. Even then you should only use them with the particular brand of clay as the sealant.

Other types of aerosol sealants like clear acrylic and polyurethane varnishes could possibly damage your polymer clay projects. Some of the propellants used can actually cause the deterioration of the clay itself.

An often overlooked option when applying water-based sealants is to then them slightly and apply them with a sponge. This is an excellent option if you are not comfortable using a brush to apply varnishes or have tiny cracks and crevices that need to be coated with sealant.

Price

Price is always a consideration especially if you are on a tight budget or producing a lot of polymer clay art.

In our opinion polyurethanes are the most cost-effective polymer clay sealers on the market. For the protection they provide and the cost per square inch of application they are hard to beat.

PVA and acrylic glazes are inexpensive to buy but don’t provide as much protection and the volume get for the price won’t generally be as large.

Polymer clay brand glazes are great but part of what you are paying for is the name. This means they often carry a higher price per application than the other options we have discussed.

Lastly, there are epoxy resin sealants. These may seem expensive but their strength and durability are well worth the cost. As the old saying goes you get what you pay for. Their price is also deceptive because they require a much lighter coat to achieve the same degree of protection as other sealants.

FAQ

Can you glaze polymer clay?

Yes, you can glaze polymer clay, after it is baked. The best sealants to use are water-based polyurethane varnishes. They don’t cloud with changes in the weather, turn yellow over time, or erode the clay itself.

woman using sponge on a clay plateIt is best to apply these glazes using a brush or sponge as the propellant used in some aerosols can degrade polymer clay.

Can you use nail polish to paint polymer clay?

It is not a good idea to apply nail polish to polymer clay. It may seem like a simple solution to avoiding buying paints and varnishes but it is not. The solvents and bases used in many nail polishes will literally eat away the surface of polymer clay.

Do I have to seal polymer clay?

To be honest, polymer clay does not have to be sealed, varnished, or glazed. Polymer clay is basically a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) base plastic material. Once baked it sets up very hard and flexible. Just like the PVC water pipes you likely have in your home.

shining pottery soup mug on tableHowever, applying a varnish does increase polymer clay’s durability, protects it from UV radiation, and makes them much easier to keep clean.

What is the difference between polymer clay and mineral clay?

The use of the word clay in Polymer clay is a colloquial adaptation. It actually contains no clay at all. Polymer clay is a blending of PVC particles and liquid to achieve a clay-like consistency.

Mineral clay is literally clay from the ground that has been harvested ground to fine dust and then mixed with liquids or waxes to be workable.