How To Paint Air Dry Clay (5 Easy Steps)

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How To Paint Air Dry ClayIn this article, we’ll explain exactly how to prep and paint your clay creation. Although it’s the easiest type of clay to use, it does come with a lot of rules.

If you want to know the best way to paint it so that your project turns out wonderfully on the first try, read on.

Can You Paint Air-Dry Clay?

Clay, once dried, has a chalk-like surface that’s very easy to paint on, so you definitely can. There are some simple rules you have to follow before you start though, the first being to make sure your clay has completely dried first and foremost.

The Vital Rule of Painting Air-Dry Clay

water based paint drops in paper

Due to the fact that most, if not all, paints are water-based, your clay will absorb the paint if it’s still wet. This is great if you want to colour your clay, but not so great if you want to just paint it. Eventually, as it absorbs the water, it will end up becoming misshapen or just falling apart altogether.

So now that we know the most vital rule when it comes to painting your clay, let’s get on to how to actually do it.

How to Paint Air-Dry Clay

1. Prep Your Work Table

messy color bottles in table

If you’ve worked with paint before you know how messy it can get. Dirty paint brushes can lead to mistakes and a cluttered work table can create chaos.

You want to avoid spills or having to repaint wet sections over and over again when working with air-dry clay. This is because, even though the clay may be dry, it absorbs moisture easily, which can create problems down the line if you’re constantly repainting.

This leads us to our next point.

2. Choose Your Paint Carefully

Acrylic paint is the most recommended for air-dry clay. It dries quickly, which means you can put on multiple coats without having to wait hours in between, and it sticks the best to clay.

You can use other types as well, of course, like watercolour paint, or you could even use markers. These will show up just as well, however, watercolours may need multiple layers, and the paint itself tends to be very wet.

If you want to avoid waiting for ages in between layers, we recommend acrylic/tempera paint. Acrylic paint is also known to slightly seal air-dry clay because of its plastic properties too. It won’t make it waterproof, but it will help it become water-resistant.

3. Sanding Uneven Sections

For some projects, you might find that your clay isn’t perfectly level. This is completely normal, especially for a novice.

When this happens, you only need some sanding paper (or a nail file). Find the section on your dried clay that’s rough or bumpy, and very gently use the sanding paper to smooth the surface down.

Doing this will give your sculpture an even surface to paint on.

4. Prep Your Clay

paint in cup and brush

This step is completely optional. Some clay professionals recommend that you grab a bottle of ‘Gesso’ and prime your dry clay before you paint it.

As we mentioned earlier, your clay can still absorb moisture from your paint even if it’s fully dry. Priming it with Gesso beforehand can help to create a ‘moisture barrier’, which can allow you to paint freely with less worry.

If you’re considering using watercolours or oil-based paint on your clay, then Gesso is a great option. It will also encourage even distribution, so you won’t have any random off coloured spots that dry strangely.

Alternatively, you could also use Mod Podge or PVA glue. It’s a lot cheaper and more affordable.

5. Painting Your Clay

Once you’re all prepared you’re ready to paint your project! Do your best not to rush this process. It can be exciting, especially when you’re so close to finishing it, but you don’t want to make mistakes.

Once it’s completely dried and you’re happy with the final results, you can go on to sealing it.


What Kind of Paint Do You Use On Air-Dry Clay?

You can use any kind of paint you like, but acrylic paint is the most highly recommended. It’s the most affordable, gives you the most coverage, and gives your clay a water-resistant surface.

How Do You Paint Air-Dry Clay Without Peeling?

If this is a problem for you then you should consider buying a primer for your clay. Gesso is the best option for this, but if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative then a very thin layer of Mod Podge or PVA glue is a good bet.

Can You Paint Air-Dry Clay?

Definitely. You just need to make sure that your clay is dry, that you’ve properly prepped it, and that you have the right tools and materials.