Something about molding clay with your bare hands is very therapeutic. This is probably because of the fact that molding clay is among the oldest ceramic techniques invented by man. Perhaps working with clay reminds us of our roots in the distant past.
Whatever motivation you have to be looking for the best clay for sculpting, you should know that clay is relatively easy for beginners to experiment with. This is also why so many young children love molding clay into three-dimensional mystical or action figures.
In this post, we are going to review 13 products that are critically acclaimed to be the best clay for sculpting. If you’re confused and have no clue how to pick the best among these top picks, you can skip on over to our buyer’s guide. Here you will find some of the top considerations of picking clay products and product recommendations in some categories.
If You Are Short Of Time, Here Is Our List of The Best Clay for Sculpting:
- Sculpey III Oven Bake Clay <<Best Polymer Clay
- Polyform SuperSculpey Original Polymer Clay
- Sculpey S8 Original Polymer Clay
- Van Aken Plastalina
- Sargent Sculpture Clay
- Sargent Art Plastilina Modeling Clay
- Amaco Number 20 Versa Clay
- Aurora Pottery | Ceramic Clay – Pottery Clay for Potters Best Mix Plus Cone 10 <<Best For Kiln Firing
- Crayola Air Dry Clay <<Best For Air Dry and Beginners
- AMACO Darice STONEX Clay 5 LB AIR Dry White
- ACTIVA Plus Natural Self-Hardening Clay
- Ifergoo 36 Colors Air Dry Modeling Clay
- Temoning Polymer Clay, 50 Colors Oven Bake Clay
- AMACO Air Dry Clay
- Van Aken International Claytoon Non-Hardening Modeling Clay
- ACTIVA Blackjack Low Fire Clay
Best Clay for Sculpting Reviews
There are many different factors that will contribute to your final choice of best clay for sculpting. Whether you intend to use the final object for eating (then you will need clay manufactured to be fired and glazed clay in a kiln) or if you want to use an oven to dry the finished clay sculpt hard or if you prefer to have air-dried clay, there are many options to select from.
In addition, if you are sculpting for casting and plan to make a mold of your clay sculpture, you will want a clay that doesn’t dry at all, and remains pliable so that it can be pried out of the plaster mold.
If you think you will enjoy an air-drying clay, please our thorough review article here of air drying clays.
Picking the best clay for sculpting makes a huge difference in your success
1. Sculpey III Oven Bake Clay Sampler Set <<Best Polymer Clay
Sculpey is a brand that is trusted by experienced sculptors who especially love working with bright and vibrant colors. Both professional and beginner artists will appreciate their large variety of vivid hues and how their products can be used to make vases, gifts, home decor, jewelry, and so much more. Once fully baked in an oven and cured, it can be drilled, sanded, painted and carved! Polymer clays are stiff out of the package, and soften up as you knead them in your hands. Sculpey will hold it’s shape well and retain fine details until baked.
- Very soft and extremely pliable when shaped by hand, not suitable for a pottery wheel
- Can blend these colors together to get unique color blends
- Appropriate for children aged 8+
- Stays soft and pliable until baked
- 30 one-ounce bars
- Can be blended to make custom colors such as violet, emerald, etc.
Here is another Sculpey product that has been trusted for many years. It has superior firmness for a firmer sculpting process. This clay will not dry up as soon as it is exposed to air. Once baked in an oven, and it has cooled off, it can easily be drilled, carved, sanded, or molded into finish straight out of your imagination. Created to maintain tiny details, this firm polymer clay is shatter and chip resistant when baked. Because of the extra-firm feel, this clay is best for teens and adults.
- Extra-Firm texture
- Grey color
- Highly rated by users
- Holds its own weight nicely as you work
- Best for fine details
This particular Sculpey product has been termed the pioneer of polymer-clay and has been around for so long that experienced sculptors find it hard to use alternatives. This 8-pound clay model is sold in only 2 colors – terracotta and white, and its rustic surface resembles earthy sand.
The S8 Original was the first clay product that needed to be baked in an oven to dry it out. This also means that you will never have to worry about it hardening before you’re done with your final touches.
- Comes in two earthy colors
- Completely insusceptible to forming cracks or shattering
- Ideal for lengthy and detailed sculpting projects
This oil-based modeling compound is favored by sculptors who create molds for model makers and animators. It remains pliable and plastic and is non-drying. Because it is no-bake clay, it is perfect for using for stop-motion animation or for non-permanent sculpts.
- Available in 1 lb and 4 lb blocks
- Available in many colors
- Model with fine tools or by hand
From the manufacturer of professional artist materials comes this professional grade of sculpting clay by Sargent. It is an oil-based modeling compound that is very workable and yet sturdy enough for carving and fine detail work. It works well as a base for silicon or plaster mold creations.
- Available in grey or terracotta
This mineral-based clay is sold as 5 lbs packs that are initially stark white in color. The clay brick is already divided into easy to break sections so you can easily break some off for smaller projects. Also, since this is a water-based clay, this product will not harden easily and can be reused by adding a little water over into the mix. A good choice for classrooms where the finished product does not need to be preserved, or for making molds for castings.
- Free from gluten, sulfur and toxic compounds
- It will not harden or dry up easily
- New colors can be easily infused with this clay to achieve your desired blends
This clay is a de-aired clay that is extremely versatile. It is a low-fire temperature clay that comes out of the kiln white in appearance. Because of its extreme pliability, it is ideal for throwing on a wheel and all kinds of building techniques. Follow directions on the package for perfect kiln firing conditions and settings.
- Wonderfully pliable for wheel throwing
- Pure white finish after firing
- Highly rated by users
8. Aurora Pottery | Ceramic Clay – Pottery Clay for Potters Best Mix Plus Cone 10 <<Best For Fired Finish
Premium white porcelain clay ideal for tableware, jars, wall tile, wind chimes and dozens of other uses. This clay is going to be very moist, and best for small to medium hand building. Follow firing specifications and raise the temperature of the kiln very slowly for best results.
- Smooth texture
- Gives excellent results with glazes
- Highly rated by users
- Best results are to heat very slowly
- Needs firing for maximum durability
9. Crayola Air Dry Clay <<Great For Beginners
Crayola is a well-known brand among the arts and crafts community, and it is known for producing high-end products for children. For this reason, this air-dry clay is sold in a resealable bucket (sold in different sizes). The white clay inside the bucket is perfect for traditional sculpting techniques such as slab, coil, and pinch. Keep it pliable in the bucket or let it air dry for solidity.
Additionally, it doesn’t need an oven or a kiln to dry because it can dry naturally one you’re done.
- Handy bucket for easy storage
- 100% mess-free
- Available in 2.5 lb., 5 lb. and value packs of 25 lb.
- Very highly rated by users
- Great for beginners and children
As soon as you open the Amaco Stonex Clay, you will find a white slab that is already moist and ready for sculpting. Since this product is an air-dry clay, you might have to keep adding a tiny bit of water to keep it malleable. Once you’re done, and it has thoroughly air dried, you can easily finish off by applying acrylic paints, tempera, liquid crayons, school paints, or even Rub n Buff.
- Always ready to use
- Naturally hardens when exposed to air
- Great plasticity
- 5 lb. box
Activa’s self-hardening clay closely resembles air-dry clay. However, it feels like a premium product and is still sold for a very affordable price. The 2.2 lbs clay slab has exceptional durability and strength and still manages to over very high plasticity. For this reason, this product is considered to be one of the best products for beginner sculptors.
- Premium quality clay
- High plasticity and durability
- Self-hardening and resembles air-dry clay
12. Ifergoo 36 Colors Air Dry Modeling Clay <<Fun For Kids Of All Ages
This air-dry clay excites and tantalizes children and beginner sculptors because of the huge selection of colors. You can choose between 48, 36, and 24 neatly packed kits, and each of these unique colors can be easily designed with 3 modeling tools (included). Also included are 14 molds for jewelry designs and a rolling pin.
- Air-dry clay
- Elastic texture for fun stretching
- Complies with the ASTM D-4236 and CE (EN-71) standards for safe non-toxic play
- Interesting activity booklets and sculpting tools are provided
- Also sold with a carrying case for the convenience of traveling children or sculptors
We added Temoning’s Polymer Clay to our list of best clay for sculpting projects because it has a whopping 50 colors to choose from. Each clay pebble is wrapped in cute little bars and stacked one above the other – making it a great gift option. Also, it is very easy to quick-fix finished models even though they don’t easily form cracks. The set is small-sized mini-blocks though, smaller than Sculpey individual blocks, so this is more of a sampler set, rather than a huge set with large volumes of clay.
- Largest variety of colors on this list
- Incredible pliable and reusable
- Chipped or cracked pieces can be easily fixed
- Wonderful selection of pastels colors
- Tools and jewelry accessories included
If you loved playing in the mud as a child, then you would love Amaco’s air-dry clay as an art major or a professional sculptor. This product has been sourced from 100% natural ingredients, which is why it has a gray, earthly color. Also, the 25 lbs brick is hefty enough to provide for lengthy or tall sculptures without drying up too easily.
- The clay can be easily painted over once it is dry
- Even though it isn’t necessary, you can also choose to treat it in an oven or kiln
- The 25 lbs block is more than enough for the most lengthy projects
Van Aken is a smooth and non-hardening clay that is sold as three packs of 12 neutral tones, including hues of purple, blue, green, orange, yellow, red, cream, white, brown, and black. Moreover, this beginner clay comes wrapped in cellophane to keep it fresh and moist right out of the factory.
- Ready to use as soon as its cellophane cover is removed
- Will never expire or start forming lumps beneath the surface
- Completely non-toxic and easy to clean up
Even though low-fire clay is a very rare type of sculpting clay, it has the same consistency as oven-baked synthetic clay. Reviewers of this product have used it for sculpture modeling, crafts projects, wheel-throwing, and so much more. Additionally, its high plasticity and ability to model without heating make it perfect for both beginners and professionals.
- Superior for wheel-throwing and pottery
- Great plasticity and smoothness
- Not oil-based but resembles mineral-based and synthetic clay products
- Can be dried naturally and with the help of a kiln or an oven
Buying Debates: Buying the Best Clay for Sculpting
Different Types of Clay
Natural clays are also known as ‘air-dry’ clays and are usually used to describe water-based clay products. These products tend to dry naturally, which may be ideal if you don’t already own a kiln or an oven to bake your completed sculptures in. Also, natural clay products are very easy to reuse.
The downside of natural clay products is that you need to keep it moist to make sure it is malleable throughout your sculpting process. As soon as it’s water runs out, it will dry naturally and it also commonly shrinks when it is completely dry. Natural clays need to be fired for maximum strength and durability.
Synthetic clay is the name given to all oil-based products, and they have many subcategories. These include plasticine-type clay, epoxy, and polymer clay.
Each type of clay mentioned above wouldn’t naturally dry out in the air. On the contrary, these clays need to be warmed up to make them pliable before you can start sculpting with them. Even if you aren’t done with your sculpture, you could just leave it be and continue working on them on some other day,
A few types of synthetic clay need to be baked in a kiln or an oven. Of course, these categories of products are only reserved for people who are very experienced sculptors and are working on expert molding projects.
The best clay for sculpting will mold easily and take details well
How to Pick the Best Clay for Sculpting
1. Ease of Use
When clay products are advertised as ‘easy to use,’ it simply means that they can be easily molded to your liking. Pliable clay products can be shaped into any kind of sculpture without any kind of struggle.
If your project involves bending or folding the clay, you should go for a product that has been proven to be highly pliable. Your personal technique of sculpting will dictate which clay that will work best for you. If you enjoy working tiny, with small details like miniature figurines, then a polymer clay will work great for you. If you enjoy larger sculpts and want to carve or create something as true to life as a head bust, then wet natural clay will work well.
It is also important to find out how strong a clay product is once it has completely dried. The heaviest clay bodies tend to be more fragile when they are dry, and this usually means that they crack easily.
Clay products that require air-drying are the best choice for pottery and are commonly used to form earthenware materials. Even though these clays are the easiest to work with, they are known to become very heavy and fragile until kiln fired.
3. Slow or Fast Dry
If you plan on teaching children or have a small-scale project, then we would highly recommend a clay product that dries up quickly. For instance, if you’re planning on sculpting ornaments or accessories, you might enjoy choosing quick-dry clay products.
For all other purposes, slow-drying clay products tend to be the way to go. The basic advantage of these products is that no part of your sculpture will have dried up before you were done with its final touches. In other words, you will have a lot more room to make final adjustments if your sculpture needs improvements.
4. Workable with Tools or Hands
Ideally, the clay product you choose should be moldable by both tools and hands. This is because of the fact that some sculptors prefer using specialist tools, whereas most beginners and children prefer working with their bare hands.
In either case, the clay product you choose should be able to maintain its shape and texture when it has dried up, without collapsing in on itself or cracking or peeling as it dries.
Sculpting sometimes requires molding different shapes separately and joining them together to make a larger and more detailed structure. For this reason, it is essential to look for clay products that easily stick together.
In addition to this, the stickiness of clay is also an important deciding factor because some sculptors plan on sticking their figurines to supports or armatures and too dry clays will fight this.
6. Air dry vs. kiln fired vs. oven dried
Air dry clays will be more fragile than oven baked or kiln fired clays. They are great for kids who don’t need a finished sculpture to last decades or for projects that won’t take a lot of abuse, like jewelry and figurines.
Oven dried clays are hard when finished and are the best of both world of air dry and oven fired. A limitation of oven dried clays is that they are not suitable for food or beverages.
Kiln fired clays need to be kept moist while sculpting in order to stay pliable. Once air dried, these clays should be kiln fired if longevity is desired. Any sculpt created to serve food or beverages should always be kiln fired and glazed for safety.
Clays that never dry out or harden are perfect for repeated uses over and over or for sculptors who intend to make molds of their creations for multiple casting in silicone, bronze or metals.
Choosing the best clay for sculpting projects depends mostly upon which type of sculpting method suits your purposes (each type of clay models differently), what kind of budget you’re working with, your access to a kiln or oven, the amount of detail you want to use and how long you wish your finished products to last ( or how much abuse they will take, like wind chimes, for example).
If, after reading our buyer’s guide, you’re planning on sticking to air-dry clay products, then our list has quite a few decent products to choose from. Our favorite air-dry clay is Crayola Air Dry Clay. For a more premium air-dry product, we would suggest using ACTIVA Plus Natural Self-Hardening Clay.
However, if you’re leaning more towards synthetic clay products, you will soon find that the Sculpey III Oven Bake Clay is a very tried and trusted choice among expert sculptors.
Finally, we would like to wish you the best of luck for your clay creations and hope our guide helped you find the best clay for sculpting projects.
Is Air-Dry Clay Easy to Use for Sculpting?
Yes, air-dry clay products are easier to use in that they allow for much more freedom to work with as compared to semi-dried and synthetic models. Air-dry clay allows users to make adjustments once their project has completed, and you can even use sharp tools to carve over them.
Which Clay Should Beginner Sculptors Use?
Both air-dry and synthetic oven-baked clay products are easy to use and can be used to learn how to sculpt figures. Both of these types of clay can be reused or kneaded if the need arises. All of these characteristics are perfect for beginners learning how to sculpt without wasting too much time or energy. Natural clays are wonderful for beginners, but they do require access to a kiln and glazing, which takes time and additional money to complete.
Tutorials and Inspirations
How to scupt life like animals in polymer clay:
Sculpting faces and characters in clay:
Making polymer clay beads:
All the tools you’ll need for your creations at a great price:
Sculpting a female head in clay:
Tips and tricks using air dry clay: