What Is The Difference Between Polymer Clay And Air Dry Clay

Clay art is definitely fun and exciting especially when you can create almost anything from a slab of clay. In general there are 2 different types of clay which is the polymer clay and air dry clay, different types of clay can achieve different finishing, to help you understand more and get the best out of clay art, here’s a simple side by side comparison of what is the difference between polymer clay and air dry clay.

Polymer Clay Light Air Dry Clay
Oven bake clay Self-hardening – Dry in contact with air
Hard when newly open from package, needs conditioning to make clay easy to work with, after baked, the finish is hard and solid Soft and stretchy, when dried, the finish becomes solid, light and slightly spongy
Comes in Many vibrant colors, sold in pre-colored in small bars or in larger slabs Comes in many vibrant colors sealed in air tight bags
Capture more detail than light air dry clay Much easier to work with especially for kids as it’s softer and lighter
It is made based on the polymer polyvinyl chloride  (PVC) It is made with paper, resin, glue. Suitable for kids age above 3 years old.
Baking time matters on oven and thickness of the piece, usually around 130 °C for 10-15 mins. (Different polymer clay brands has different baking instructions) 1-2 days to completely dry depending on the thickness of the piece
Can touch up finishing with oil paint/acrylic because polymer is an oil base product. You can also use chalks or pastels or mica powders to color it. Can color with acrylic
You can mix the clay colors and make different shades (ex: red clay and yellow clay kneed together and you’ll get orange) For pre-colored air dry clay you can mix the clay colors and make different shades (ex: red clay and yellow clay kneed together and you’ll get orange)
More durable after bake, waterproof and long lasting Tends to dissolve in heat or water
Requires time to condition the clay before start Super light, feels softer, dry faster
Won’t shrink at all while hardening Shrink a little during the drying process
Can be make into almost anything from beads, charms, keychains, figurines, sculptures, miniatures and etc Can be make into almost anything but most often used to make toys, to use with woods, music box, walking wind up machine and etc as baking is not required
Can use baking liquid / baking glue for joints, or sticking eye pins to charms for stronger grip Light air dry clay are sticky before dry, however for making accessories or characters with joints, white glue is recommended.
Polymer clay has a few precautions with it The clay is child safe
Doesn’t need to be sealed, but can apply a layer of glaze for a glossy finishing Can be seal with glaze to make it more resistance to water
Other Types of clay that requires cooking : Pottery clay, eraser clay, Terra cotta clay and etc Other types of air dry clay : Air polymer clay, flower clay, Paper clay, Stone clay, ladoll clay, modena clay, wood clay and etc
Some of the popular Polymer clay Brands :  Malaysia Clay Art polymer clay, Cernit, Fimo Classic, Fimo Soft, Sulpey, Premo Sculpey, Pardo and etc Some of the popular Air-dry clay : Malaysia Clay Art light air dry clay, Crayola’s clay, AMACO, Makins, Hearty, Creative PaperClay

Sample polymer clay creations :

Sample light air dry clay creations:

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Hope this will give you an idea of what is the difference between polymer clay and air dry clay to help you in your clay making! Do you have any thoughts to help us understand clay more? Share with us at the comment section below!

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Comment 14 Replies

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  1. Purnita Reply

    Thanks a lot. For a novice like me this information was so useful. God bless you’ll and the company.

  2. ? :) hi Reply

    This was really helpful thank u soooo much

  3. Serena Reply

    Thank You so much but wish it was printer friendly..

  4. Well..... Reply

    This didn’t really answer my question. Can you use air dry clay when your supposed to use paper clay? Is air dry clay the same thing as paper clay?
    These days it’s so hard to find paper clay!

    • Well..... Reply

      Oh! Wait! I didn’t realize it was polymer clay vs. Air dry clay! Sorry! This was helpful!

      • Malaysia Clay Art Reply

        glad that it help!

  5. Jacky Reply

    Can air dry clay painted with chalks or pastels?

    • Malaysia Clay Art Reply

      Hi Jacky, I don’t think chalk/pastel will stick well on air dry clay, when air dry clay starts to dry the pastel might also starts to fall off.

  6. donna fairchild Reply

    which would work best with silicon molds to make seahorses

  7. Moon Reply

    What do you recommend for beginners?
    Polymer clay can be baked in the normal oven that we use for cooking?

    • Malaysia Clay Art Reply

      both are ok for beginners depending on which final outcome you’d like to archive.

      would be best to have separate oven for food and for baking clay.

  8. Miah Reply

    Hi I’m doing a science fair project about clay. Of the project I need to have a bibliography in order by last name. Is there a name that the author of this article goes by that I could use?

    • Malaysia Clay Art Reply

      Hi there, you can put “Malaysia Clay Art”

  9. Glo Reply


    If you seal cold porcelain item with a water and heat resistant varnish, will you item become water and heat resistant?

    Also, on a cold porcelain item, do you need to apply gesso before painting on it?