No matter your age or experience level, sculpting clay is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. Once you find the perfect clay for your project you can sculpt figurines, tiles, Christmas ornaments, and more. Your experience level or requirements for the project will affect which clay you need, here we review the best clay for sculpting, depending on those needs.
What are the Different Types of Sculpting Clay?
Water-based Sculpting Clay (Air-Dry Clay)
Water-based clays are typically the most inexpensive form of sculpting clay, they dry out by the water evaporating, therefore usually within 24 hours. Water-based clay needs to be kept moist to prevent hardening, this is ideally done with a spray bottle or damp towel. The downside of water-based clay is that they can crack during or after the air-drying process.
Oil and Wax Based Sculpting Clay
These are made from a combination of oils, waxes and clay minerals, these clays don’t dry out from water evaporating and can’t be fired. The oils are affected by temperature and change form when being worked with your hands, or put under direct heat. When sculpting with oil-based clay, it can be reused infinite times and therefore popular within animation.
Paper clay is also a popular option for sculpting, as you may guess it’s made from shredded paper, newspaper or other fibres. Despite what you may think when imagining a clay made from paper, paper clay has a smooth texture, and is strong and versatile.
Polymer clay is an alternative clay used for sculpting projects at home. It is typically colourful and has a similar consistency to plasticine, being soft and pliable.
Best Clay for Sculpting
Jovi Premium European Air Dry Modelling Clay
Jovi has been creating high-quality clay and craft products since 1939, known for the production of non-toxic and CPSIA-certified goods. This 3-pack of clay comes in white, grey and terracotta all of which are individually sealed so that they don’t dry out.
The clay itself is a high-quality air-drying clay which is easy to sculpt as it has a smooth texture, which can cover metal or wooden frames. The sculpting clay isn’t sticky and is very easy to work with, making it a great purchase for beginners.
Once fully dried, this clay can be painted and has an amazingly smooth finish for most types of paint. The clay does struggle when stretched into a thin shape and can become brittle, for this reason, it’s best to not be used for delicate projects.
This clay is not to be kiln-dried as it’s air-dry clay, and if you’re wanting the DIY project to be waterproof, simply use a waterproof clay sealant once it’s completely dried. The dry time is around 24 hours, depending on the size of the project.
Monster Clay - Premium Grade Modelling Clay
This is up there as one of the best clays for sculpting figures. It’s made by Monster Makers and has a medium consistency supplied in a 5lb tub. The clay is sulfur-free and oil/ wax-based, which means it stays moist and pliable.
The beauty of Monster sculpting clay is that it can be re-used and re-melted as many times as you need. It has a unique elasticity when warm, and melts easily into a pourable consistency. This pourable clay has many uses such as for life casts.
When straight out of the box the clay is hard to the touch, and it needs to heated. You can either pop it into a microwave for 20 seconds, work it with your hands or put it under a lamp. Whichever heating method you choose it’s personal preference, but all of these options will turn the hard clay into soft, clay. After you’re finished sculpting, you can leave the piece for as long as necessary, it will fully harden, you’ll then need to heat to reuse – and the cycle goes on like this.
Monster sculpting clay does not crack like water-based clay, even thin pieces will stiffen and hold their shape well. This is the best clay for sculpting figures and is very popular among professional-level or advanced clay sculptures.
Craftsmart Natural Air Dry Clay
This natural sculpting clay is great for those wanting to start a bigger project as you get a whopping 10lb’s! It’s a white clay which works as a great base for a sculpting project that eventually will be painted. It’s also very easy to protect this clay from the harshness of the outdoors – simply cover with a shellac coating to waterproof the project.
This clay can also be purchased (for the same price and quantity) in grey and terracotta, depending on your requirements. As with others in our review, no kiln is needed and the sculpting clay dries over time, usually 24 hours depending on the size.
You may find the clay to be quite hard and difficult to mold at first, slowly add some water to soften it. This is a versatile clay which can be used for sculpting, hand modelling or on a potter’s wheel. The clay is non-toxic and all-natural. It’s great for beginners, intermediate or advanced level sculptors.
Aurora Modelling Clay
This modelling clay by Aurora is pliable and often used by professional sculptors for special effects in motion pictures. That said, it sells for an extremely a reasonable price.
It’s another water-based clay which is smooth, soft and slow drying. The slow dry of this clay means that you can work on it over the day, without it being permanent to the sculpture. If you’re leaving it for longer than a few hours you ill need to cover it in a damp cloth or periodically spray it with water. Despite being a water-based clay it does have some of the beneficial properties of oil-based clay, such as its plasticity.
The blocks of grey clay are sold in either 5lb, 10lb, 25lb or 50lb – so you can get the exact amount you require. Be careful when moulding the clay and where you position it to dry, if it is too thin it can crack. Depending on your project this is an amazing clay to use for sculpting.
DAS Air-hardening Modelling Paper Clay
DAS is a popular go-to clay brand and this is another amazing air-dry clay for sculpting – this one comes in a smaller portion (either 2.2lb or 1.1lb) so it’s great for smaller projects. This clay is very pliable, dries completely in 24 hours and is suitable for children or for professional use.
This is paper clay and therefore made with paper fibres. It has an extremely smooth texture and finish, which can be moulded into a thin shape and remain strong. It works really well with metal clay tools and for a smoother finish, use wet fingers to massage it flat.
The sculpting clay dries into a hard consistency which doesn’t crack easily and can be painted, it’s great for creating a plaque, tiles or sculpting clay figures. It’s a high-quality product which therefore comes with a slightly higher price per lb, but you get what you pay for.
Rocky Mountain Clay
Rocky Mountain air-dry clay is great for sculpting or for a pottery wheel, it’s versatile and easy to use making it great sculpting clay for beginners or experts. This sculpting clay is amazing if you have a big project or need a large quantity for schoolchildren or art groups as the clay is available in different quantities, 5lb, 10lb, 25lb, 50lb, 500lb or 1000lb!
It’s a grey earthenware clay which has a smooth texture, good plasticity and can be air-dried. It has a standard 24-hour dry time and can be re-moistened with water and fully glazed when dry.
The clay arrives quite moist as to not dry out in transit, if you find it too soft for sculpting, it can simply be dried out before using. It’s also recommended that you wear gloves when sculpting with the Rocky Mountain clay as it can (not permanently) stain your hands.
Aves Apoxie Air Dry Clay for Professionals
Here is another clay that can be used as a sculpture mold. This clay combines the hardening and sculpting properties of standard sculpting clay and the adhesive features of epoxy. When sculpting, it permanently bonds to anything and can be worked on for 1-3 hours before hardening.
Apoxie clay is compatible with all types of textures and sculpting tools, it does not require baking and sets fully in around 24 hours.
Sargent Art Plastilina Modelling Clay
Plastilina modelling clay is an oil and wax-based modelling clay, which is a popular choice among professional sculptors. This mineral-based modelling clay is unlike any other in our review, in that it never hardens or dries out.
It’s a great sculpting clay for those who want to practice making figurines by reusing the clay over and over again. Because it doesn’t harden it’s not intended to be painted, or used as a ‘final product’.
Another use for this clay is to make a model, which can then be used to cast wax or porcelain. It comes for a really reasonable price considering it can be reused infinite times, and there is enough there to make a medium-sized project.
Crayola Air Dry Clay
Here is one of the best sculpting clay for kids, it’s a no-bake modelling clay available in white, brights or pastel. The price is reasonable for what you get and it’s available in different sized tubs, 2.5lb, 3 pack (1.5lb), 5 pack or 25lb.
The clay is easy to mould, has a smooth texture and dries to a hard solid. It’s an amazing clay for children because it’s not sticky, doesn’t need oven or kiln and can be cleaned up with a simple wipe down. Crayola clay can also be reused before it dries out and used for crafting pinch, Christmas ornaments, coil, slab, score-and-weld, beads and much more.
Once the clay is fully dry, it can be painted and you can use glue to add glitter or other accessories. This is a wonderful way to keep your children entertained for long periods of time, it’s recommended for children aged 6+.
It does, however, have a longer dry time than other modelling clays in our review, this isn’t a big issue, but kids can get impatient!
Ensure it is fully dry before adding paint or glitter.
Sculpey Sculpting Oven-Bake Clay
Here we have another great modelling clay for kids (also great for adults), which is an oven-bake clay. This clay stays soft and malleable whilst you sculpt with it and will not harden over time. You harden the clay by putting it in the oven. Best to be careful when you initially bring it out of the oven as it will not be fully firm until cooled, so treat it with care.
The clay is an off-white, and once you have oven-baked the clay, it is ready to be painted. You can let your creativity run wild with this product, it’s an excellent sculpting clay for making jewellery, tiles or anything that will fit in an oven! To protect your oven, try putting it in a ceramic dish with a lid or foil, this will create a more even cook and avoid scorch marks.
When out of the packet, the clay has a medium consistency which softens as you work with it. Because it has such a soft texture, it can be difficult to create small delicate shapes.
Are Air-dry Clays Waterproof?
No, air-dry clays are not waterproof and will need sealing if being used outdoors or in places with high humidity. Without being completely sealed, water or moisture will get to the clay and begin to soften and ultimately dissolve the structure.
How to Know if a Clay can be used for Sculpting?
Using the wrong clay for sculpting will likely lead to cracks and break-offs when you’re drying it out or painting it. As written in this article, it’s easy to know if your clay will be suitable for sculpting, simply form a cylinder of clay and bend it in your hands. If you notice cracks then it is too dry and requires more water, if it bends smoothly without showing sand or rock particles, it’s good to go!
If you’re looking for an even greater DIY project, why not make your own paper clay out of a newspaper or shredded paper? Here is a great video showing you the whole process and recipe from start to finish.
A Round-up: The Best Clay for Sculpting
We find the best modelling clay for kids to be the Crayola Air Dry Clay, this is a versatile sculpting clay which would be perfect for any art project or Sunday afternoon craft session. It’s available in a range of quantities and colors and can be re-used (before it’s dry) and painted (after it’s dry). The price is reasonable and the quality is great. Kids can get so disheartened when the modelling clay cracks when dry, this one holds it’s shaping really well – even with the heavy hand of a child!
In our opinion, the best clay for sculpting figures for those who are intermediate or advanced is the Monster Clay – Premium Grade Modelling Clay. Monster clay is amazing for creating detailed figures and can be worked around metal frames. With heat, it can be reused infinitely and is easy to work with and has a smooth finish.
Thank you for reading our review of the Best Clay for Sculpting, we hope you have learnt something new and found a clay to suit your project. If you have any recommendations or questions, please leave us a comment so we can upcycle and craft together!