How to Transfer An Image
Onto Polymer Clay
This page of instructions will show you how to take a laser-printed image and transfer it onto the surface of polymer clay. I will also show you how to then shape this clay into charms to use for making necklaces, earrings, keyrings and other decorative items.
I have written a step-by-step tutorial below, but if you would prefer to watch a video of the process instead, here it is:
What You Will Need:
- Images printed with a laser printer (not inkjet)
Print onto regular printer paper, and try to find images with strong black outlines for the best results. You must print a mirror image of what you want the final design to look like, since the transfer process involves reversing the printed image.
- Polymer Clay
I used white FIMO Soft clay for this demo.
Other types of clay would probably work too, but I have only tested polymer clay.
- Ceramic tile
To work with and bake the clay on
- Clingfilm (plastic wrap)
This gives you the domed finish on the clay charms. If you want a flat finish instead, you don't need clingfilm.
- Clay roller
This is for conditioning the clay and flattening it out into your chosen thickness. I'm using a simple acrylic roller but you can use your own preferred method for this (e.g. some people use a pasta roller).
- Clay cutting blade
You can buy these very cheap; I got mine on Ebay.
- Cookie cutters
Or whatever else you want to use to cut out the clay charm shapes. I used aluminium cookie cutters in a series of oval shapes for this demo.
- An oven
- Narrow drinking straws
To make the holes in your clay charms.
- Sandpaper/varnish/a clear protective spray coating, and any other products you want to use to add the final finish to your charms (optional)
F i n d P o l y m e r C l a y S u p p l i e s o n A m a z o n :
1) Cut your images out so that they easily fit inside your cookie cutters or whatever you're using to shape your charms.
I used 2 different sizes of cookie cutter, so I had to use 2 different image sizes (see above).
2) Condition the clay to make it more pliable and easy to work with. This involves kneading and rolling it for at least a few minutes. For more details on how to condition your clay, please click here, here, here and here to visit some excellent tutorials on other websites.
3) Roll the clay out on the ceramic tile to make a flat piece of clay the same thickness as you would like your charms to be.
Always make sure that your hands and any surfaces are clean whilst working with clay.
Note: The parchment paper in the photos is there because it stops the back of the clay from being shiny, but I would not use it again because I actually prefer the shiny back, and the paper is hard to work on. Also, sanding can be used to remove the shine anyway.
4) Take your cookie cutter and use it to make a faint imprint near the edge of the clay.
5) Cut at least a couple of mm around the outside of that imprint to separate that area of clay from the rest, as shown above. This is so that whilst shaping this piece of clay, none of the other clay is distorted/squashed accidentally.
6) Use a clean finger to slightly wet the surface of the clay. To do this I dipped my finger in water then lightly spread a few drops of water over the surface. Don't rub hard, or rub with a dry finger, because you'll end up marking the surface of the clay.
7) Carefully place one of the printed images face down on the slightly wet clay surface so that it lies flat and sits within the indent you made as a guide in step 4.
Once it is positioned, don't try and move it as this could result in a blurred image.
8) Use your finger to add a few drops of water to the top of the paper; just enough to saturate all of the paper, but not too wet because you don't want much excess water. Make sure all of the paper is in contact with the clay.
Use a dabbing motion with your finger rather than rubbing your finger across the paper so that you avoid causing the paper to slide.
9) Repeat steps 4-8 as many times as you wish. I made 8 clay charms for this demo but you can obviously make as many (or as few) as you want.
10) Leave the clay to one side until the paper dries; 1 or 2 hours usually, depending on the environment. Don't be tempted to leave the clay much longer than a couple of hours (especially not overnight) as I've found that this makes the paper difficult to remove.
11) Whilst the paper is still stuck on the clay, take a small piece of clingfilm and lay it flat over the top of one of the clay pieces. Make sure it is smooth and doesn't have wrinkles in.
(If you prefer not to use clingfilm you can skip this step.)
12) Take your cookie cutter and position it on top of the clingfilm, making sure it lines up with the indent you created in the clay earlier.
13) Press the cookie cutter down all of the way through the clay. If you're using clingfilm, you'll notice it stretch over the clay and create a domed effect.
14) Carefully remove the cutter from the clay by lifting it straight up.
15) Then slowly peel the clingfilm off the clay.
16) Make sure you don't have long nails for this bit; you don't want to leave nail marks in the clay!
Carefully peel the paper off the clay to reveal your lovely transferred image.
17) Repeat the above few steps for each charm until they are all cut out and shaped. Then you can remove the excess clay from around the charms so you can use it in other projects. (I didn't do this for some reason but that was a mistake!)
18) Push a drinking straw through the clay to create the hole. If you are making a cabochon or other item rather than a charm, you won't necessarily need to do this step.
You only get one shot at positioning the hole, so it might be worth marking the correct position faintly with a cocktail stick or similar before you use the straw.
Keep the straw vertical at all times so the hole is straight and not slanted or wonky.
19) After making the hole, some clay will be inside your straw. To use the straw again, cut across the straw just above the clay with scissors.
Make sure a) you cut straight across horizontally and don't leave a slanted end, b) you make sure the end of the straw returns to a circular shape before continuing, and c) when you cut the straw, the bit you're cutting off doesn't fly in your face/eye :)
20) Repeat steps 18-19 to put holes in all of the clay charms.
21) Put the ceramic tile in a pre-heated oven and bake the clay charms according to the instructions on the clay packet.
22) Once out of the oven, leave them to cool completely. When they are warm, they will still be flexible, but once they cool down they will go hard.
23) You can use the charms as they are or you can add some finishing touches. It is entirely up to you how you finish them.
I used fine sandpaper to sand around the edges of the charms, and on the backs to make them totally flat and smooth. I then removed the sanding dust from the charms with a damp cloth, left them to dry completely, and sprayed them with a protective coating.
The photo above shows the product I used for the protective coating. It gave a really nice matte finish...I highly recommend it! Just make sure you have plenty of ventilation and protect your work surfaces with newspaper before you use the spray.
And that's it...you've finished!
* * *
Trial & Error
As shown in this photo, I tried a few different images, shapes and methods before finding what worked...and what definitely didn't.
Below is a list of methods I tried that did not work (so you don't have to waste your time trying them yourself), and some mistakes I made along the way. I had fun experimenting!
- Clay that was too old: I had some old clay I'd had in my cupboard for years and it was a bit dry and crumbly. When I used this clay, the transfer process didn't work very well, and when I switched to newly-bought clay it worked really well!
(If you're used to working with polymer clay though, you may know how to refresh old clay - with clay softener for instance - and make it just like new.)
- Leaving the paper to dry for too long: At the stage where you put the paper image onto the clay, add water to it and then leave it to dry, only leave it until it dries... but not much longer than that. As I mentioned in the instructions, the paper became too difficult too remove when I left it overnight.
- Putting the clay into the oven with the paper on the surface: As an experiment, I put the clay into the oven after I had attached the paper image, thinking I could speed up or cut out the process of drying out the paper. But, as I suspected, it was impossible to remove the paper after taking the clay out of the oven.
- Removing the paper image when it's still wet: Removing the paper before it dries can create a blurred image or one with missing areas. The first method I ever tried was one I saw online where you gently rub the wet paper off the clay using your finger and more water. That definitely did not work!
- Shaping after removing the paper image: I initially removed the paper to reveal the transferred imaged before using the clingfilm and cookie cutter to shape the clay. The trouble with this was that laying clingfilm over the transferred image rubbed some of the image ink off and onto the clingfilm, which obviously damaged the transfer, and also there is more of a risk of distorting the clay and image this way.
Therefore, always do the shaping before removing the paper from the clay.
- Wrinkled clingfilm: If you don't lay the clingfilm flat onto the clay when shaping, any wrinkles in it can create unwanted patterning on the surface of the clay.
- Unclear or faint images: Even though any black pattern or image can be used in this method, an image with strong black lines looks the most effective. I used a couple of images that had quite faint lines and the result wasn't great.
As a final step, I added silver jump rings and earring hooks to turn the clay charms into earrings.
I think they look pretty cool, even if I do say so myself!