Modeling Clay vs. Polymer Clay

What's the Difference?

Modeling clay and polymer clay are both popular choices for sculpting and crafting projects, but they have some key differences. Modeling clay is a non-drying clay that remains soft and pliable, making it easy to shape and manipulate. It is typically used for temporary creations or for practicing sculpting techniques. On the other hand, polymer clay is a type of oven-bake clay that hardens when baked at a low temperature. It is available in a wide range of colors and finishes, and once baked, it becomes durable and long-lasting. Polymer clay is often used for creating jewelry, figurines, and other permanent crafts. While modeling clay offers immediate flexibility and easy reworking, polymer clay provides a more permanent and professional finish.


AttributeModeling ClayPolymer Clay
CompositionNon-hardening clay made from natural materials like oil-based clay, wax, or earth clay.Non-hardening clay made from a mixture of PVC resin, plasticizers, and pigments.
Curing ProcessDoes not require curing or baking, remains pliable indefinitely.Requires baking in an oven or curing with heat to harden and set the clay.
HardnessRemains soft and pliable, does not harden or become rigid.Hardens after curing, becoming durable and rigid.
Color OptionsAvailable in a wide range of colors, including primary and secondary colors.Available in a vast array of colors, including metallic and translucent options.
TextureGenerally smooth and easy to manipulate, can be easily blended or shaped.Smooth and malleable, can be textured or sculpted with various tools.
UsageCommonly used for sculpting, prototyping, and creating temporary models.Popular for sculpting, jewelry making, and creating permanent models or crafts.
Drying TimeDoes not dry out, remains workable indefinitely.Requires baking or curing to harden, typically within a specific time frame.
AvailabilityWidely available in craft stores, art supply shops, and online.Readily available in craft stores, specialty polymer clay shops, and online.

Further Detail


When it comes to creating sculptures, crafts, or other artistic projects, choosing the right type of clay is essential. Two popular options that artists often consider are modeling clay and polymer clay. While both types of clay have their own unique characteristics and advantages, understanding their attributes can help artists make an informed decision. In this article, we will compare the attributes of modeling clay and polymer clay, exploring their differences and similarities.


Modeling clay, also known as plasticine or oil-based clay, is primarily composed of oil, wax, and clay minerals. It is a non-drying clay, meaning it does not harden when exposed to air. This characteristic allows artists to work with modeling clay for extended periods without worrying about it drying out. On the other hand, polymer clay is made from a PVC (polyvinyl chloride) base combined with plasticizers, pigments, and other additives. Polymer clay is a synthetic clay that hardens when baked in an oven, making it a popular choice for creating durable and long-lasting sculptures.

Texture and Consistency

Modeling clay has a soft and pliable texture, making it easy to mold and shape. It is often preferred by artists who enjoy the tactile experience of working with clay. The consistency of modeling clay allows for smooth blending and sculpting, making it suitable for creating intricate details. On the other hand, polymer clay has a firmer and more elastic texture. It requires some conditioning before it becomes pliable, usually achieved by kneading or rolling it between the hands. Polymer clay offers excellent flexibility and can be easily manipulated to achieve desired shapes and forms.

Color Options

Modeling clay is typically available in a limited range of colors, often in basic primary and secondary colors. Artists using modeling clay often mix different colors together to create new shades and hues. Additionally, modeling clay can be painted or coated with various finishes once the sculpture is complete. On the other hand, polymer clay offers a wide variety of pre-mixed colors, including metallic and translucent options. Polymer clay can also be blended to create custom colors, allowing artists to achieve precise color combinations without the need for additional painting or finishing.

Hardening Process

One of the significant differences between modeling clay and polymer clay is the hardening process. Modeling clay remains pliable and never hardens on its own. This characteristic allows artists to make changes or modifications to their sculptures even after extended periods. However, if artists wish to preserve their modeling clay creations permanently, they need to create a mold and cast it in a more durable material. On the other hand, polymer clay hardens when baked at a specific temperature, usually between 230°F (110°C) and 275°F (135°C), depending on the brand. Once baked, polymer clay becomes solid and durable, making it suitable for various applications, including jewelry making and figurine crafting.

Tools and Techniques

Both modeling clay and polymer clay can be shaped and manipulated using similar tools and techniques. Sculpting tools, such as wire loops, knives, and shaping tools, are commonly used to carve and refine the clay's surface. However, due to the different textures and consistencies, some techniques may be more suitable for one type of clay over the other. For example, modeling clay is often preferred for free-form sculpting and creating organic shapes, while polymer clay is well-suited for detailed work and achieving precise forms. Additionally, polymer clay can be cured in layers, allowing artists to add intricate details without worrying about the clay distorting or losing its shape.

Finished Appearance

When it comes to the finished appearance, modeling clay sculptures often have a softer and more organic look. The clay's texture and the ability to blend colors seamlessly contribute to a natural and handcrafted appearance. However, since modeling clay does not harden, it may be more prone to damage or deformation over time. On the other hand, polymer clay sculptures have a more polished and refined appearance due to the clay's ability to hold intricate details and its durable nature. Polymer clay can be sanded, buffed, and polished to achieve a smooth and professional finish, resembling various materials like stone, metal, or porcelain.

Safety Considerations

When working with any type of clay, it is essential to consider safety precautions. Modeling clay, being oil-based, can leave residue on hands and surfaces. Artists should be cautious not to stain clothing or accidentally transfer the clay to other materials. Additionally, some modeling clays may contain harmful chemicals, so it is crucial to read the product labels and follow safety guidelines. On the other hand, polymer clay is generally considered safe to handle. However, it is recommended to work in a well-ventilated area when baking polymer clay to avoid inhaling any fumes that may be released during the curing process.


Modeling clay and polymer clay each have their own unique attributes and advantages. While modeling clay offers a soft and pliable texture, allowing for easy manipulation and extended work time, polymer clay provides durability and the ability to create intricate details. The choice between the two depends on the artist's preferences, project requirements, and desired finished appearance. Whether it's the tactile experience of modeling clay or the versatility of polymer clay, both types of clay offer endless possibilities for artistic expression.

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