Buying crafting supplies is great fun. But when it comes to clay, it’s difficult to differentiate between the kind of clay that requires a full professional kiln and the kind that can easily dry on your windowsill. Although oven dry clay is an option, air dry is by far the easiest.
When you’re choosing clay for your art, how it will dry might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But it is important. The speed at which the clay dries, what color it will dry to, what preparation might be required, and the potential for shrinkage all need to be considered.
So, with all that in mind, which is the best air dry clay? You might think all clay is the same but there are some surprising (and important) differences.
But don’t worry, we’ve got it all covered here. Read on for the best air dry clays available. Plus a few tips and a guide for the buying process. Everything you need to know about buying air dry clay is right here.
Keen to get sculpting and don’t want to spend time browsing? No problem, skip the list and check out our top pick for the best air dry clay.
OUR TOP PICK
Our top pick for the best air dry clay is this very basic option from DAS. This is great for both beginners and more experienced creators.
It is affordable and easy to use. You have a choice of color and multiple size options.
For the price, you get a good amount of clay in this pack. Modeling clay is surprisingly expensive, so this is a great affordable option.
If you are thinking about taking up modeling or sculpting, you don’t want to spend a lot of money.
You don’t want to invest too much in something you’re just trying out. There is a surprisingly large range of modeling clay available.
It’s a good idea to try out different kinds so that you can find your style. So, you don’t want to be spending a lot of money on something you might not get on with.
Although the vast majority of modeling clay is white, the choice between white or terracotta clay is great.
Although most professional sculptures and potters will require a kiln or some form of industrial drying.
This air dry clay can be used by professionals in a studio, by students in a classroom, or by irregular hobbyists at home.
Overall, this is a super simple clay that is a great starting off point. But it’s also great for when you become more experienced. This is a very basic clay, but in the best way.
- Available in multiple colors and sizes
When it comes to crafting and getting creative, Crayola is definitely a name you can trust. In fact, Crayola is probably most people’s go-to brand.
So it’s no surprise that they ended up on this list. You probably associate Crayola with crayons or coloring pencils. But they produce a lot more than that.
Such as this excellent modeling clay. This clay is available in varying amounts. So you can choose just a small tub to get started.
Or you can invest in a big 25lb pack (but we only recommend this if you feel like you will really get into clay modeling).
This clay is available in a good range of colors (unsurprisingly for Crayola). Whereas most other clays are available in just white, with perhaps a chance of terracotta, Crayola offers a lot more. This clay is available in white, terracotta, bright multicolors, and neutrals.
This clay takes a little longer than others to dry. But only slightly. It will be dry to the touch after 24 hours (as is standard) but won’t be completely dry until it has sat for 72 hours.
This is a relatively long time to wait for your artwork to dry. But 72 hours isn’t very long when you consider that you will have this art for the rest of your life.
- Well-known and reliable brand
- Good range of sizes available
- Good range of colors available
- Takes 72 hours to dry completely
This clay is very basic but it still has everything you need. If all you want is a lump of clay that you can transform into whatever is in your imagination, then this is the option for you.
When buying clay, it can be difficult to differentiate between what is intended for professionals or hobbyists and what is for children.
This simple block of clay is definitely not designed to be bright and appealing for children. Available in either white or terracotta and in amounts of 5lbs, 10lbs, 25lbs, or 50lbs, this is ideal for bulk-ordering to a studio.
This is a great quality clay that is ideal for any project. Whether throwing pots or sculpting. It is soft and easy to use.
Plus, it is free from toxins so you won’t have to worry about what you might be breathing in as you hunch over it for hours, perfecting your artwork.
- Very simple
- Good range of sizes available
This natural clay is a little different from some other options available. Rather than white clay, this is a very natural gray.
This clay has not been artificially colored to appear brighter or as a better surface for painting.
This clay is ideal for throwing pots and for modeling. Despite its color, it will still be easy to paint. It will simply require an undercoat of white paint or a primer.
Do not be put off by the color. In fact, the color of this clay is the most standard and commonly used by professional potters and artists.
This clay is also very easy to use. You might assume that all clay will be easy to mold. But that isn’t the case. Some clay is very thick and difficult to manipulate.
Others, especially air dry clay, can begin to harden even while you’re working. But, this is the case for a lot of clay, so make sure to have some water next to you so you can be ready to soften it again.
- Available in multiple colors
- Only available in one size
Unlike some of the more natural options on this list, this clay is a polymer. This means that it’s made from PVC. (Read on or scroll down for more information on polymer clay in our FAQs section).
Polymer clay isn’t necessarily a bad option and don’t be put off by the fact that this is a plastic. It is still non toxic and ACMI certified.
The texture of this polymer clay is very different to more natural clays. Compared to other clays, this will be closer in consistency to Play-Doh.
It will be softer, smoother, and a little stretchier. This clay is much more suited for crafts or for children than it is for creating in a studio.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Compared to natural clays that are sticky and difficult to control, this clay is super easy to use. It won’t stick to your hands and is almost creamy in texture.
It’s a great choice if you’re just getting into clay modelling and don’t want to risk making a mess in your kitchen.
It will allow you to style your designs easily. And, because it’s so soft, it will also allow you to squash everything back down and start again if you go wrong.
This is a great clay for making models but not for pots or other crockery. Although you can use water to wet the clay as you create, it does dry out quite quickly.
This is great if you’re impatient and want your creations to set quickly. But not if you’re making something large.
- Ultra-light weight
- Easy to use
Best Air Dry Clay Buying Guide
Air Dry vs Oven Dry
The most popular alternative to air dry clay is oven dry or bake clay. (These are the same thing by different names).
The main reason why air dry clay is so popular is that it’s easier to simply leave something out to dry.
In the oven, you need to find a baking tray that you don’t mind potentially getting clay on, you need to be sure of the exact temperature, and you also need to be sure that no one else needs the oven and that you won’t be interfering with dinner.
One of the main downsides the air dry clay is that it takes longer than oven dry. Generally, air dry clay takes around 24 hours to dry. But, when you consider that you will likely have whatever you have created forever, this doesn’t seem a very long time to wait in comparison.
Another downside is that it can dry out by itself once the packing has been opened. But, this is easily dealt with and you can simply keep the clay in an airtight container or zip lock bag. Plus, even if it does dry out, all you need is a little water to make it soft and malleable again.
Overall, air dry clay is much simpler than oven dry clay. Oven dry clay can also pick up bits of dust and can even need to be kneaded before going into the oven. Air dry clay needs no such preparation.
White Clay vs Terracotta
When buying clay, you might have automatically assumed that you would be buying white. You might have thought that it would be the only kind available (other than perhaps some multi-colored clay intended for children). But it’s worth considering terracotta clay.
White clay and terracotta clay don’t have huge differences beyond the color. White clay will allow you more control over how you decorate your project. This is because, of course, white is a more neutral base. But terracotta might allow you to be more creative.
If you’re just starting out, then we suggest going for white clay. It is easier to see what you’re doing than with terracotta. Plus you can decorate it however you like.
But, if you have tried out a few different designs and want to move on to something a little different, then terracotta is a great choice. Terracotta pots and models have a great earthy, traditional look that will add something more to your home. (If you plan to display your creations).
Overall, the best option is to get both. Although white clay is more readily available, it isn’t difficult to find terracotta clay. There are some great options for it on this list. So, if you can’t decide and want to try out something new, get both and get creative!
Not all air dry clays will dry to the same level of hardness and some will take longer than others to dry. There will be times when your work seems to be drying quickly.
You might also experience the clay drying as you’re modeling. But most air dry clays will still take around 24 hours to dry completely.
But some will dry a little very quickly but take a long time, if not several days, to completely dry. So always make sure to read all of the information provided around drying time.
Some will claim to dry very quickly but this is only superficially. The model will appear dry but will still be soft and malleable. This means that your model could break or become misshapen if you touch it too soon.
Level of Hardness
Different clays will also dry to different degrees of hardness, depending on what they are made from. Whichever clay you choose, it’s always a good idea to paint over them or use some kind of sealant.
This will stop the clay from becoming wet and softening. This can happen if it is directly exposed to liquids. But it can also happen in humid environments.
So, some clays will dry rock hard whereas others will be a little softer. None will be particularly soft and malleable but it’s always a good idea to keep your creations somewhere safe.
The level of hardness will be determined by the contents of the clay. Not every clay has the same ingredients. So if you’re concerned about how hard your work will dry, make sure to do some research into the ingredients of different clays.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is air dry clay best used for?
Air dry clay is best used for modeling. Although it can be used for making pottery, it won’t fare that well on a potters’ wheel. Air dry clay is an easier option than the alternative which is oven dry clay. As mentioned above, oven dry clay has its positives and negatives, just as air dry clay does.
But, if you’re just getting into modeling and crafting with clay, then air dry is the best option. Just make sure to always have some water nearby so that your creations don’t dry out before they’re finished.
What is polymer clay?
Polymer clay is a plastic alternative to natural clay. Some of the clay included on this list is natural (i.e. comes from the ground) whereas some is man made.
Choosing between the two mostly comes down to whether you want to use something natural or synthetic. But the consistency and texture are also very different.
As you can imagine, the makeup of a polymer clay is much smoother and stretchier. Whereas a natural clay is stickier and can potentially be gritty. It is also much denser.
There is an argument for natural clay as it’s a good idea to try and reduce your plastic usage. So, unless you need polymer clay for something specific or you plan to create something that you hope to keep forever, it’s probably best to go with natural clay.
What do you use to seal air dry clay?
Now this is an important one. Air dry clay is great for ease of use as you don’t have to prep it before putting it in the oven or in a kiln. But that doesn’t mean that you should just simply leave it. As mentioned above, clays will dry to different levels of hardness. Some can also crumble.
So, it’s a good idea to seal your clay. Even if you have painted it. Mod Podge is one of the cheapest, most popular, and generally best options to use. There are other brands available but Mod Podge is a classic and a favorite of every crafter.
If you aren’t a fan of Mod Podge, or just can’t find any, use a water-based sealant. You can even use clear acrylic paint if you’re struggling to find anything else.
But, even if you have painted your work to decorate it, it’s still a good idea to paint clear paint over the top. This will keep it from crumbling, becoming wet, and from softening.