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What Is The Best Paint To Use For Air Dry Clay?

Did you recently just finish an awesome air dry clay project? But now you are stuck wondering what kind of paint to use on your air-dry clay. Adults and children of all ages love using all types of clay. Here are a few tips for painting air-dry clay.

hand holding air dry clay pinch pot painted with a rainbow.

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We recently just finished making air dry clay pinch pots at home. There are so many different pinch pot projects we plan to try next, so coming up with the best way to paint them was a must.

What is air dry clay?

Air dry clay is the perfect sculpting material for beginners due to how it hardens. Air-drying clay can be molded and shaped like traditional clay but will harden when exposed to air instead of needing to be fired in a kiln.

air dry clay in large plastic container.

2 Options To Add Color

The most basic way to add color to clay is to paint it once it has dried. However, you can also “dye” the air dry clay by adding paint to it while it is wet.

Types Of Paint

  • Acrylic Paint
  • Watercolor Paint
  • Gouache Paints
  • Tempera Paint
  • Spray Paint
  • Chalk Paint
  • Oil Paints (with caution)
  • Natural Materials

Pros And Cons

Acrylic Paints

  • Pros: Great color selections, vibrant colors, fast drying, good adhesion, easy clean-up, relatively inexpensive for craft paints
  • Cons: Can stain clothes, can be applied thickly, some colors may require extra layers of paint, can be expensive for professional acrylic paints

Watercolor/Gouache Paints

  • Pros: Ability to get different painterly effects, transparent, can blend easily, super easy clean-up
  • Cons: You have to be careful not to overwet the clay, may not cover well

Tempera Paints

  • Pros: Kid-friendly, variety of colors, very quick drying
  • Cons: May chip off projects, can be less durable

Spray Paints

  • Pros: Quick application, wide color selections and effects
  • Cons: Need ventilation, not meant for intricate details, not kid-friendly

Chalk Paints

  • Pros: Adheres well to porous surfaces, fun matte appearance
  • Cons: Can be expensive, might need a top coat for full protection

Natural Materials

  • Pros: Inexpensive
  • Cons: limited color palette

Best Paint To Use With Kids

Your best option is any water-based paint, but we actually avoid tempera on any 3-d projects. Yes, the pros of it being washable, non-toxic are great, but we have seen several art projects where the paint just chips off.

little girl holding air dry clay pinch pot painting red acrylic on it.

When appropriately monitored even young children can use acrylics. If choosing to watercolors on air dry clay with kids we would give them a small brush to avoid overwetting the clay.

How To Paint Air Dry Clay (kid edition)

While you are seeing a kid-friendly clay project, the same basic rules would apply to more advanced self-hardening clay creations.

Step 1: Dust Of Project

For best results, make sure your clay sculpture is completely clean. You do not want extra dust, fuzz, etc., getting stuck in your paints.

hand holding small white pinch pot with two small pinch pots in the background.

Step 2: Paint In Thin Layers

Let each layer completely dry before painting on top. Make sure to not have too much water mixed in with your acrylic colors.

brush on clay pinch pot adding red and orange paint on green table.

This young child was happy with the design she painted. She could have painted another layer to get rid of the white air-dry clay showing.

red, orange, yellow, green and blue painted air dry clay pot.

Step 3: Add A Clear Coat or Arcylic Sealer

There are a lot of different clear sealers for clay that can be applied to a regular or air dry clay item.

large brush applying translucent medium to painted pinch pot.

One of our favorite ways to give a kid’s art project a little pop is to use an iridescent medium. It adds just enough shimmer while also adding a little extra protection.

Other Sealers To Consider

  • Acrylic Sealers
  • Mod Podge: from glossy finish to glitter they have a finish for your clay surface.
  • Watered-Based Varnish
  • Epoxy Resin
Iridescent medium on clear food lid.

Tips

  • Don’t rush the drying process: This may be anywhere from 48-72 hours later. There are many factors that will affect dry time such as project size, the thickness of walls, the brand of air dry clay being used and your environment.
  • Flat surfaces will work best when trying to paint intricate details. You can fix any issues with extra fine sandpaper first before painting.
  • Embrace the texture of the air dry clay and use your paint to enhance the natural textures already created.
  • Apply the paint in thin coats
  • Set up your workspace: air dry clay and paint can be a little messy (especially when working with children) so always be cautious.
two pinch pots made by kids painted with bright colors.

Paint FAQs

Why does paint chip or crack on air dry clay?

The surface of the clay shrinks while drying. If you apply paint before your clay is completely dry, you may run into this problem.

What shouldn’t you use to add color to air dry clay?

Certain markers and even permanent markers may smear when a varnish is added to air dry clay. You can always experiment first to test your materials before beginning.

What clear coat is best for several projects?

If you need to seal several projects a spray acrylic sealer will save you a little time. You can get them in a glossy finish or matte finish.

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Related Ideas

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How To Paint Air Dry Clay

Discover which type of paint is best for painting your air dry clay sculpture or project.
Print Tutorial
two pinch pots made by kids painted with bright colors.

Equipment

  • Paint Brush

Supplies

  • Watercolor or Acyrlic Paint Set these are the two easiest paints to use
  • Air Dry Clay Project
  • Water
  • Clear Coat or Varnish

Instructions

  • Dust of project before beginning.
  • Paint in thin layers.
  • Let each layer completely dry before painting on top. Make sure to not have too much water in your brush.
  • Once completely dry, add a clear coat to the project.

Notes

  • Let your air dry clay dry fully: This may be anywhere from 48-72 hours later. There are many factors that will effect dry time such as: project size, the thickness of walls, the brand of air dry clay being used and your environment.
  • Flat surfaces will work best when trying to paint intricate details. You can fix any issues with extra fine sandpaper first before painting.
  • Embrace the texture of the air dry clay and use your paint to enhance the natural textures already created.
Author: Erin
Cost: under $5

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