Best Clay for Sculpting

In some religions, it is claimed that humans were sculpted from the clay of the earth by the very gods, and then infused with life to roam free.

You might not be able to sculpt creatures into life, but sculpting can be one of the most therapeutic and calming activities. Perhaps it is that form of slow creation by hand, which can fill us with a steady purpose and a sense of satisfaction by the end of it.

Or perhaps it is simply that this art form has existed for a very, very long time, and it connects us to the past. Whatever explanation you wish to give it, there is no denying that many people enjoy sculpting with clay, whether it be professionally or as a fun hobby. 

Sculpting with clay is an artsy activity that can be enjoyed by absolutely anybody. It is suitable for all levels, and for all ages, with it being a great thing to try out with children!

Of course, the results of the clay creation will vary according to the level of talent or skill one has, as well as improving with experience and practice.

But another factor that can determine the success of your clay sculpting, is the clay itself. There are different types of clay that are sold in today’s market for the purpose of sculpting, and different types mean different results.

Finding the best possible clay for the project you have in mind can really make a difference to the outcome, so it’s worth doing a little bit of research to figure out which one to buy. If you don’t want to do the research, then that’s alright, because we’ve already done it for you!

We’ve compiled a list with our top five picks for the overall best clay for sculpting, based on the product descriptions and the customer reviews.

In a hurry?

Clay is a natural-occurring material that can be found and used, but there are different types that offer different results when sculpting. The ones that are sold are also improved and enhanced to offer certain types of results, so it really is a vast world of options. 

If inspiration has struck and you’re in a hurry to get sculpting, we recommend you go for our number one top pick, as we believe it is the best overall choice: the Crayola Air Dry Clay.

Crayola is a highly popular and recommended brand in the world of arts and crafts, and its clay products for sculpting are no different. This air dry clay is extremely easy to use and mold, and it is one of the easiest to clean up after use, as it’s mess-free.

It’s designed for ages 6 and above, suitable for all skill levels, and usable with traditional sculpting techniques. It’s a lot smoother, finer, and less sticky than other traditional clays, which is what allows it to be so easy to use.

As it self-hardens when left to air dry, there is no need for use of an oven or a kiln, making it an ideal choice for hobbyists or children.

This clay can also be reused as many times as you want, as it doesn’t dry out and it can be kept in the resealable bucket it comes in.

Safe and non-toxic, and it comes in a white color that could be easily painted over if you want to decorate your final design. 

Here are the main features:

  • Highly popular and recommended brand
  • Extremely easy to use and clean up
  • Comes in a resealable plastic bucket - easy storage
  • Smoother, finer, and less sticky than other clays
  • Self-hardens when left to air dry - no need for an oven or kiln
  • Reusable - it doesn’t dry out

OUR TOP PICK

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EDITORS CHOICE

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BEST VALUE

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OUR TOP PICK

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Crayola is a huge brand name in the world of arts and crafts, so it is no surprise that it is also at the top of our list when looking for the best sculpting clay.

Although usually associated with children’s arts and crafts, Crayola products are suitable for all levels of skill and are highly recommended by customers.

The Air Dry Clay is one of the easiest to use in molding and one of the easiest to clean up after you’re done. It comes in a resealable plastic bucket, so it’s safely stored when not in use.

The Crayola air dry clay is a lot smoother, finer, and less sticky than other traditional clays, making it very easy to use.

Once you’ve finished sculpting your project, you simply let it air dry, and it self-hardens without needing the use of an oven or kiln.

It can be sculpted and squished and reused as many times as you want, and the clay doesn’t dry out. This makes it an ideal option for those that want to play around with the clay, without keeping the final designs forever, to instead use them for a new idea.

The clay is safe and non-toxic and comes in a white color that can be easily painted if you ever want to. Designed for children aged 6 and over, for all skill levels, and proving to be one of the easiest and best clays to use. 

Pros

  • Highly popular and recommended brand
  • Extremely easy to use and clean up
  • Comes in a resealable plastic bucket
  • Smoother, finer, and less sticky
  • Self-hardens when left to air dry
  • Reusable without drying out

Cons

  • No downsides

EDITORS CHOICE

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The Polyform Sculpey Original Polymer Clay is an excellent choice for beginners, thanks to how easy it is to mold, and is ideal for all skill levels thanks to the high-quality results it achieves.

It’s been used for generations by children, hobbyists, and professionals. It’s very soft and pliable, making it easy to work with, and what makes it a great option is that it doesn’t dry out when left out in the air.

So if you feel like taking a break midway through your sculpting, there’s no danger of your clay self-hardening.

It’s especially good for molding smaller designs, such as jewelry pieces, as you can correct and play around with it for as long as needed.

That’s also why it’s ideal for children, as they can take as long as they need and the clay will remain completely pliable.

Once you’ve finished with your sculpting, the Sculpey clay needs to be baked in the oven in order to harden.

However, this means that once baked it will be a durable and resistant finished product that can be sanded, drilled, carved, and painted with ease!

Pros

  • Excellent for beginners and children
  • Very soft and pliable
  • Especially good for molding smaller designs
  • Once baked in the oven it is highly durable and resistant

Cons

  • Needs to be baked in the oven

BEST VALUE

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If you want a sculpting clay that ventures more into the professional territory, then the ACTIVA Plus Natural Self-Hardening Clay is the product you’re after.

It’s a premium-quality clay that self-hardens once the design is finished and is left out to air dry. It has exceptional plasticity and an ultra-fine grade that allows for it to sculpt in great detail, making it very versatile in its use.

The finished product also boasts of being very high-quality, as it has great strength and durability, with no crumbling apart and barely any shrinkage as it dries.

It can be molded by hand or with different sculpting tools, and it is completely safe and non-toxic to use.

Its consistency really allows it to be used by all skill levels to create a versatile range of designs, and until it dries, it is very pliable and easy to remold.

It’s recommended to be used with water, especially if you’re just taking it out of its packaging, as it will need a great deal of softening beforehand. 

Pros

  • Premium-quality clay
  • Self-hardens when air-dried
  • Exceptional plasticity 
  • Strong and durable once dry
  • Versatile use for all skill levels

Cons

  • The drying process might cause some cracks if the clay is thinned out

RUNNER UP

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If you’re looking for a clay that’s used by serious professionals, then the Monster Clay Premium Grade Modeling Clay is the best of the best.

In fact, it’s often used by special effect units to create props for movies, as well as sculpting masks and, yes, just as the name suggests, a monster or two.

It’s ideal for those that want to experiment with some advanced sculpting. It comes in an oven-safe container so that you can bake it once you’ve finished your design.

When you first start to use it you will have to soften it with heat, either by leaving it in a warm environment or by putting it in a microwave for a bit.

Once ready, it’’s an extremely pliable and moldable clay, as it is oil/wax-based and therefore has great plasticity.

It’s not as easy to use as other clays, but it achieves far more professional and detailed results. It’s reusable and extremely high quality, perfect for sci-fi or horror lovers that want to make some props of their own.

Pros

  • Used by professionals for special effects
  • Very pliable 
  • High plasticity - oil/wax-based
  • Reusable, with professional and detailed results
  • Ideal for advanced sculpting

Cons

  • Not as easy to use

RUNNER UP

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The AMACO Air Dry Clay is a great budget-friendly option, very easy to use, and with good results.

It’s ready to use right from the start for sculpting at all levels, and for all ages. It is very pliable and can easily be remolded over and over as you sculpt your design by trial and error.

Once you’re happy with your project, you simply leave it to air dry and it self-hardens.

Once hardened, you can seal it with shellac for extra strength and to make it waterproof, so that your result is more durable and longer-lasting.

The finish is very smooth, as it has been designed to dry evenly on all sides, to avoid cracking or crumbling.

Once dry you can paint over it with acrylic paint to add some color to your finished product. Overall, it’s a great and accessible option that covers all the basics for easy and small projects. 

Pros

  • Budget-friendly option
  • Pliable and easy to use
  • Self-hardening when left to air dry
  • Even drying on all sides

Cons

  • Not great for big creations

Best Clay for Sculpting Buying Guide

Sculpting with clay is an incredibly easy, relaxing, and fun activity to do. Apt for all ages and all skill levels, it can be a perfectly relaxing afternoon spent creating whatever figures your imagination comes up with. It’s also a great activity idea for children, as they tend to absolutely love it!

The results might not be the prettiest or best at first, but it’s all about improving at your own pace. Of course, having good clay can really help achieve better results easier, so you should be aiming to get the best possible clay to sculpt with. 

There are different factors to consider when choosing your clay, and different things you should look out for depending on what kind of sculpting project you’re planning, and what materials you have access to.

It’s also good to know the different types of clay, so you have a basic understanding that will help you choose better. We hope this small buyer’s guide can be of help!

Types of Clay

There are two big types of clay, natural and synthetic. There are then also some different clays within the synthetic clay group.

Which one you choose is down to your personal preference or the type of finish you are after with your sculpting project.

Natural Clay

Also known as air dry clay, it doesn’t need to be heated or put in an oven or kiln once the design is done. It just needs to be left out to air dry, and it will self-harden.

It’s the most convenient and easy to use, being highly pliable. It dries at room temperature and it can take up to a week to be fully hardened and ready to be painted over.

However, some small or thin bits can begin to harden quite fast, so you have to be wary of this if your sculpting design is going to take long. 

Synthetic Clay

  • Polymer Clay: This is a plastic-based clay that looks like normal clay but is far easier to use and mold into different shapes. It’s very popular for doing more detailed sculptures or smaller designs. It’s also a favorite to use with children, as it is extremely easy to shape and can be baked in the oven at home to achieve the finished result.
  • Oil/Wax-based Clay: This clay is oil and wax-based and is completely reusable. It’s usually used for temporary projects and figures and is very popular in stop-motion. It doesn’t dry out and it doesn’t harden. However, you can temporarily harden it in the freezer so that you’re able to paint it and add details.
  • Epoxy Clay: This is one of the most expensive types of clays, and it isn’t very common amongst average and standard clay sculpting. It comes in two different parts and it will only begin to harden when these two parts are mixed together. 

Considerations

If you’re a beginner starting out with clay sculpting, we recommend you start with air dry clay.

It’s the easiest to use and the most versatile. However, if you want your finished product to be durable and resistant, then we recommend you go with polymer clay, as it is equally easy to use and after baking it in the oven it’s effectively strengthened and can be painted over or altered. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What do I need for clay sculpting?

Clay sculpting is very easy and can be done with the bare minimum. What you need will vary according to the level of skill you have and the type of project you have in mind.

For beginners, you just need the very basics, which are:

  • Clay (there are different types, we recommend you check out our list of recommendations).
  • A good working surface (preferably something strong and hard, and something you don’t mind getting dirty).
  • Tools for sculpting (a lot of sculpting can be done by hand, but it’s always good to have an array of tools to help you sculpt the finer details or make use of specific techniques).

Why does my air dry clay keep cracking?

As the clay air dries, the water and moisture within it disappear, causing it to shrink. It is this shrinkage that can cause cracks to appear over the surface of the clay, ruining your design.

There are a few ways in which you can avoid your air dry clay from cracking. To start with, try using less water when sculpting with your clay so that there’s less shrinkage when it dries. While the clay is drying, if you spot a crack appearing you should quickly add some clay on top to cover and fill it in.

Cracks most often appear in areas of clay that have been joined together. Make sure you’re applying clay that is evenly dry because a heavy difference of moisture between two pieces of clay joined together can easily cause cracking. 

WonderStreet is not affiliated with any of the brands mentioned in this article. However, we sometimes receive a referral fee from online retailers when our readers buy on their website after clicking from our website to theirs. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases, which supports the operation of our blog and helps to keep all our content free for everyone. In any case, when we conduct our analysis, our intention and focus is to remain objective and unbiased at all times.

What’s your favourite clay for sculpting brand? We’d love to hear from you... Please leave your comments below.

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