Won’t it be nice to make clay earrings and Christmas ornaments without having to invest in a fire kiln? What if we said you can make professional-finish jewelry dishes, small beads, figurines, and other home decors with clay that doesn’t require any high heat baking?
Air-dry clay is like the fun sibling of traditional polymer clay. It can be used to make whatever a traditional clay is used to make but without the baking part. With air dry clay, you simply mold your clay into whatever form you want and leave it alone for two to three days to dry. The result is a hard solid form which, much like fired clay, can be drilled and sculpted on.
Now, there are a ton of air-dry clay brands out there. Each brand has its own highlights. In this review, we have handpicked the best ones in the market. You will read about popular brands such as Crayola and Das, some imported ones such as Hearty from Japan and Jovi Air dry Modeling clay from Spain. We have also included a low-flame clay by Amaco and the versatile air dry clay by Mont Marte — it’s good for both kids to play with and professional artists to model a sturdy bust with
Why should you buy air dry clay?
- Air-dry clay has many benefits. An important one is you need zero investment to make your clay-based project (besides the clay of course). You don’t need a fire kiln or an oven. Once you have molded your clay to the desired form, all you need to do is give it a 24 to 48-hour drying time. That sounds easy, doesn’t it?
- And if that’s not motivation enough, let’s talk about the ease of making sculptures with air dry clay. Unlike in oven-baked clay, in air-dried clay, you can use a variety of armatures to get different shapes. Armatures like wire gauge or styrofoam give support and strength to your sculpture and prevent it from cracking. You can’t use armatures in oven-baked clay as there is the risk that they will melt. You don’t have to worry about that when using air-dry clay.
- Air-dry clay is easier to work with than kiln-fired clay because, with the former, we can add mixed media pieces on the go, whereas with kiln-fired we have to plan in advance before firing the pieces in the kiln. Not happy with the final product? Simply mix some water and remold it to adjust the shape. The same cannot be done with traditional clay.
You know that you want one – so let’s get to the point of how to decide which one is the best for you. Some clays dry hard, and some dry soft. Some are better to make little figurines with intricate designs, and some are good for large sculptures. Once you know what your requirement is, our review will help you spot the right one for you.
A pack of clay usually weighs a minimum of two pounds. No one wants a two-pound clay that they won’t use. This review will help you put your money to the best use. So here goes.
1. Crayola Air-Dry Clay
This is a white natural earth clay that is easy to mold, easy to clean, and non-toxic. Kids can use this to make beads or hand imprints with ease. But hey, if you are a big craft enthusiast yourself, don’t hesitate to throw some of this on a pottery wheel. You won’t be disappointed.
- Made of natural earth
- Weighs 5 pounds
- Air dries to a hard solid in 24 to 48 hours
- White in color
- Comes in a resealable plastic bucket
- Ideal for adults, and kids above six years of age
- Easy to mold as it is finer and smoother than traditional clay
- Ideal for kids to use since it is non-toxic
- The resealable plastic bucket makes it easy to store after use
- Not harmful to the environment
- Cannot use armatures to mold
- Shrinks a little when dry
This natural earth white clay comes in a resealable plastic bucket which helps store the extra clay after use and prevents it from drying out. For kids, this product is a breeze to work with. It doesn’t have any odor or harmful chemicals that parents have to worry about.
You can use all the sculpting techniques that you use in traditional clay on Crayola’s clay as well. You can coil it, flatten it into a slab, pinch it, or attach two clay pieces together using the slip and score method – a very common method used in traditional sculpting. Once dry, you can color it using acrylic, marker, or even tempura. You can add embellishments using glue.
The only downside: the clay shrinks a little when dry. So if you are making large sculptures, there is a risk that it might crack. Use this clay for smaller 3D pieces. Unfortunately, this clay doesn’t stick to the armatures and tends to crack when made with the help of one.
2. DAS Air-Hardening Modeling Clay
DAS paper-based air dry clay gives a ceramic smooth finish to your projects. The clay can be molded to plaques, tiles, and small beads, and sculpted to make figurines with delicate features that pop.
- Paper-based air dry clay
- Available in white and terracotta colors
- Great for both classroom and studio use
- The clay air-dries rock hard in 24 hours
- Gives projects a smooth texture
- Weighs 2.2 pounds
- Made in Italy
- Doesn’t shrink much
- Great texture that gives a ceramic smooth finish
- Highly durable dries without the risk of breakage
- Dries quickly, has to be sprayed with water even as you use it
Das’s paper-based air dry clay dries to a hard solid and is stronger than the other brands. It doesn’t shrink much, and hence the chances of it cracking when dry is also minimal. Even the thinnest of pieces harden without cracking. This clay stands out for the ease at which you can create realistic intricate features using an Exacto knife. The sculpted lines come out smooth and neat.
When you start working with it, it might feel a little dry and lumpy. But spritz a little water, and you can knead it into a softball.
One thing to keep in mind while using this clay is that it dries quickly when out in the open, and even as you are working on your model, it tends to dry out. Keep spraying water in small amounts to keep it soft and moldable.
3. Jovi Air-Dry Modeling Clay
Jovi’s soft air dry clay is made of paper and polymer. It is easy to mold and free of gluten and allergens. Unlike other brands that only come in white, this is also available in grey and terracotta colors.
- Air-dries in 24 to 48 hours
- Made with paper and polymer
- Weighs two and a half pounds
- Products are non-toxic, CPSIA certified, and gluten-free
- Available in grey, terracotta, and white colors
- Odorless, gluten and allergen free
- Made in Spain
- Non-toxic and safe to use by those who are allergic to gluten
- Easy to knead and mold by all age groups
- Doesn’t leave any stain like traditional clays
- The packaging is not in English and can be difficult to interpret
- Challenging to stick together small pieces made out of this
For kids, this clay is a step up from Play-Doh. They can make simple 3D art projects that are sturdier than their Play-Doh while still having all the fun of molding and kneading the clay with ease. This clay also works as a great alternative to plaster of Paris. Use this clay to patch up the cracks on walls or broken sculptures.
Jovi’s air dry clay is fairly easy to clean after use. It does not stain or obsessively stick to any surface.
It is certified safe by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). It is also gluten and allergen-free, making it a more widely accepted craft item for kids and adults.
The only challenge with this product is that if you are making a project with several clay pieces, it might be a little hard to have them stick together. Your best bet is using hot glue in such cases. The packaging does not have instructions in English – this might be a challenge for those who are absolute beginners with clay.
4. AMACO Air Dry Clay
AMACO’s clay can be both air-dried and dried in a kiln. It comes in a large pack. If you are a beginner, there would be enough for you to play around with and gain some skills. And if you are an experienced clay sculptor, there is enough to make a life-size bust. Either way, it’s a good buy.
- Weighs 25 pounds
- Can be dried in a kiln at low flame
- Takes 20 to 30 hours to air dry
- White in color
- Can be sculpted, hand-modeled, or thrown on a pottery’s wheel
- Can be dried quickly in a fire kiln at low flame
- The clay is soft and easy to sculpt
- Since it comes in a 25 pound-pack, it is perfect for big projects
- Those who have a kiln have an advantage as it hardens better in low flame
- The color of the clay is a little different from that shown in the packaging
If you have a kiln, this clay is the best option out there. Though it can dry in the air, when you heat it in low flame, the result is even better. It can be fired to cone 04 (which is 1935 F) in a kiln to make it hard and durable. This product stands out from the others in the list for the fact that it is the only one that has the option of being dried quickly. All others can only be air-dried which takes at least a day.
Having said that, Amaco clay can also be dried in air. Once completely dry, it can be painted on, and sealed with shellac for extra strength. This clay is suitable for small figurines and jewelry.
Like Crayola air-dry clay, this one shrinks a little after frying. So if you are making a large sculpture, you have to take that change into account. The color, if fired in a kiln, turns bright white. The same effect is not seen when it is air-dried.
5. ACTIVA Hearty Clay
This polymer-based clay imported from Japan is a super lightweight clay that dries into a flexible yet firm final product. It can be used for intricate figurines and in your DIY slime.
- Weighs 5.25 pounds
- Made of polymer
- Bright white in color
- Works great with all push molds
- Air dries in 24 hours to a flexible yet firm consistency, not brittle
- ACMI Certified non-toxic, odorless
- Can be painted, stained, or sealed
- Imported from Japan
- Will stick to any armature but is not sticky in your hands
- Dries uniformly and is not brittle
- Its bright white color pops any color applied on it once dry
- Since it is lightweight, it is perfect for big school projects
- It can be added to the slime to make it fluffy
- Does not dry into a hard solid
This Japanese clay is suitable for creating jewelry, flowers, miniatures, dolls, and embellishments — anything that has a lot of intricate work on it. It can also be used for creating large sculptures as its lightweight will make it easy for the sculpture to be carried around. The clay has several unique characteristics: it does not stick to your hands, though it will efficiently stick to wood, glass, wire, paper, and plastic.
Once dry, it surprisingly doesn’t become hard but remains firm and flexible. The dried product can be painted and sealed. Though it can be carved on to bring out delicate designs, the soft texture makes the lines less distinct than how they come out in other clays. And it is not microwaved safely. If kept in an oven at low heat, it can form small bursts like popcorn.
6. Model Air Dry Modeling Clay
Model Air Dry clay can be used straight out of the package with very little kneading. It can be used to make different shapes using molds, and even paw and handprints, besides other school projects. It also does a great job of repairing chips in ceramics.
- Dries without an oven or a kiln
- Smooth and lightweight
- Takes 24 hours to air dry
- Lightweight and durable
- Easy to clean up
- Durable and does not crack when dry
- Needs little kneading before molding it into a sculpture
- Leaves no stain; easy to clean up after use
- The color is not pure white as mentioned on the package, but more towards the taupe
This is a fairly easy clay to use. It needs less kneading and less water to be kneaded into a soft base to make your desired shapes. With the help of molds, you can cut the clay into neat pieces that can be air-dried into rock-solid 3D forms. The product does not have any odor and leaves no mess or stain, and can be easily cleaned up.
It works beautifully when it comes to repairing the chips on ceramics. Mold the clay into the shape of the chip, and let it dry naturally in the air. Then sand lightly and paint over it, and your ceramic is good to go. The only drawback of this clay is the color, which unlike what’s mentioned in the packaging, is not white but taupe.
7. Mont Marte Air Hardening Modelling Clay
Mont Marte’s Air Dry clay is a pure white clay that hardens into a rock-solid, and presents a durable surface that can be sanded and drilled into. This clay is good for making items with intricate designs on them.
- It is smooth and pliable
- Comes in three packs, each pack weighing 1.2 pounds
- Air dries to hard solid in 24 hours
- Can be used with traditional pottery techniques
- Non-toxic and suitable for use by kids and adults
- Convenient to store as it comes in three packs of 1.2 pounds each
- Non-toxic, safe to use for children
- Makes highly detailed pieces
- A little challenging to mold straight off the packet
Once dry, Mont Marte air dry clay turns into a rock-solid form that can be sanded, drilled, painted, or varnished on. This hard consistency presents a good surface area to sculpt out, and carve intricate designs. It is a good craft item for beginners, students, and professionals.
Right off the package, it can seem a little dense and hard to manipulate but as soon as you add a little water and knead it, it softens. So it might be a little challenging for small kids to work without assistance. One pack has enough clay to make a small five to six-inch bust. Once the clay hardens you can refine and polish it to make smooth 3D sculptures. This clay also works great for repairing broken sculptures.
Here’s all that you need to consider before getting one for yourself:
1. Color options
Most air dry clays come in white color. They can be dried and painted over. But if you are particular that you need a colored clay to start off with, we have listed some options for you that are available in more colors than just white, like Jovi air-dry modeling clay.
2. Hard or soft finish?
Most air dry clays, just like traditional polymer clays, dry into a hard solid when left for 24 to 48 hours. However, there are clays that dry to a soft suede-like finish which you can use to make small pieces that can be attached to hard clay slabs.
Most brands sell around two pounds of clay. Though there are options of buying over 25 pounds as well.
4. Drying time
Most air dry clays take close to 24 hours to dry. If your project is really thick, it might even take 48 hours. If you are absolutely against waiting for a day or two – then there is also the low-flame clay option (AMACO air dry clay) that can give you your finished product in just minutes. Unless mentioned on the package, do not expose any air dry clay to heat in a microwave or an oven. It can dry out, crack, or turn brown.
5. Not waterproof
None of the air-dry clays is waterproof. Even after they dry to a hard solid, exposure to water can destroy their integrity. A good practice is to paint the finished product and apply a thick coat of sealant over it.
Now that we have covered all that there is to know about air clay, and given a round-up of the best-selling ones in the market today, you are ready to make your buy. Whether it is for your child’s school projects or for your studio work, we have you covered. Before deciding on one, it is important to know that air-dry clays might vary based on how they harden, their durability, and color options. As mentioned in the introduction, there are a bunch of advantages to using air-dry clay over polymer. A careful read through review of each would help you know exactly what you are looking for. Thanks for reading the article, and good luck making your decision! Let the sculpting begin.