Both paper clay and air-dry clay are wonderful mediums to work with, but they are very different from each other. Those who work with clay will have their favorite medium to work with, but if you are starting out or looking to try something new, it would pay off to know the difference between paper clay and air-dry clay.
To help you better understand the two types of clays, what is the difference between paper clay and air-dry clay? Paper clay is a type of clay that is mixed with shredded paper or other fibers, which creates a strong and versatile, yet lightweight clay. It is suited to build ceramics of any size but works well with larger pieces which would be heavy with standard clay. Air-dry clay is becoming more popular, as it can be used very similarly to normal clay, but it does not need to be fired in a kiln to set, and it can be painted and decorated much the same once dry.
Get to know the differences between paper clay and air-dry clay to decide which one you would prefer to work with, or which one would suit your project best.
Reasons to Use Paper Clay
Paper clay is very versatile, and you can either choose to purchase ready-mixed paper clay, or you can choose to make it yourself.
Made with shredded paper and clay, paper clay is very strong and very lightweight. It allows you to create larger pieces that you might not have been able to make with heavy clay.
Paper clay is popularly used for hand-building. While you can throw paper clay, it doesn’t have as much stretch as regular clay. You can adjust this by adding in scraps of leftover clay.
Here are all the benefits and features of working with paper clay:
- Extra Strength – The paper fibers in the paper pulp used to make paper clay give it a very strong structure, and this helps to transfer moisture evenly throughout the clay.
- Paper clay can be made by using a variety of different clays, including porcelain, earthenware, terracotta, and stoneware. Paper clay is most commonly made with paper pulp, however, it can be made with other cellulose fibers to create the same clay effect.
- Making your own paper clay means you have control over the amount of fiber you add in, so you can achieve your desired strength. You can experiment with this to find the perfect strength for you.
- Better Structure – Paper clay is the perfect option if you are making a large structure, or for thinner, delicate work. The internal strength added by the paper fibers means the object can support itself. Not only does this make it more stable, but it allows it to be easier to transport as well.
- Repairable – You can easily make repairs to cracks and joints when using paper clay. Paper clay is also popular to use to patch up other clay works, as it is easy to mold and it is very strong.
- Quick Drying – Paper clay dries quicker than normal clay because the moisture evaporates quicker. However, some potters choose to force dry paper clay as it dries the work quicker, and reduces any chances of cracking.
- Firing and Glazing – You will not have to amend your normal firing and glazing process for paper clay, as it can be done much the same as regular clay. However, in some cases, paper clay does need to be fired at a higher temperature.
Reasons to Use Air-Dry Clay
Using air-dry clay means you don’t have to worry about having a kiln, or spending time firing your work.
It is great to use for those who do not have a studio or the right tools available, and for those who are looking to try out something new and different.
You can easily find air-dry clay at your local craft store or online. You can see our favorite air-dry clay here.
These are the reasons why people would choose to work with air-dry clay:
- Handbuilding With Air-Dry Clay – Air-dry clay works well with hand-building techniques such as slab constructions, coiling, and sculpting. You are able to use a variety of armatures with air-dry clay as well, as the clay isn’t going to be placed in the kiln, so there is no chance of the armatures melting or burning. However, air-dry clay can be fragile to work with, and small additions such as legs and fingers can break off easily.
- To combat this, you can use wire and pipe cleaners in the clay, and not risk them burning in the kiln.
- Air-Dry Clay Is Decorative – Air-dry clay is wonderful to use to make decorative pieces, but it is important to remember that it is not food safe. Regular clay used with food-safe glaze can be used to make functional bowls and plates, but it is not true for air-dry clay. You can use it to make decorative pieces, and it does push creativity to create different pieces that aren’t used for eating!
- No Kiln Issues – With air-dry clay, you never have to risk your work breaking or exploding in a kiln. You never have to risk your hours of work come crumbling down in the kiln, as leaving it out to air-dry is perfectly safe. You can cut the time it takes to complete a project by using air-dry clay, but you still need to pay attention to how fast it is drying to ensure that no crack forms.
- Decorating Air-Dry Clay – You are able to add color to air-dry clay just the way you would with regular clay, just without the use of glazing. While not using glazing saves money, you will not be able to do some of the effects you would be able to with glazing. You can experiment with different mediums on air-dry clay, such as markers, tempera paint, acrylic, watercolor, ink, and colored pencils.
The Difference Between Paper Clay and Air-Dry Clay
Paper clay and air-dry clay, while both considered clay, are very different, and they have their own uses and qualities which should help you determine which one you should use for your project.
If you are looking for a strong structure, and are wanting to make a larger structure without it being too heavy, then paper clay is ideal for you. You will, however, have to fire the paper clay in a kiln, so be sure to make provisions for that. It is easy enough to make your own paper clay, or you can purchase it ready-made.
Air-dry clay, on the other hand, does not need to be fired in a kiln. As the name suggests, it dries on its own when in contact with air. This saves quite a bit of time and effort when creating pieces, and saves you money with not having to glaze your work either.
Thinner pieces of air-dry clay can be fragile, but as you don’t need to place it in a kiln, you can use wire and pipe cleaners to strengthen your work.
Can you re-wet paper clay?
Yes you can. Re-wetting paper clay is quicker than re-wetting pure clay, as the paper fibers pull the water into the clay quicker. The dampened sections can then be joined easily. You can also accelerate the drying of paper clay, which results in less cracking and warping compared to drying regular clay.
Does air-dry clay break easily?
Air-dry clay can be very fragile. Thinner additions to the clay structure such as legs and fingers can break off very easily. Adding too much water to the clay can cause cracking, so make sure not to add in too much water as you work the air-dry clay.
Which is the best clay for beginners?
Polymer clay is best to use for beginners.
It is soft and pliable, and it won’t dry if it is left sitting out. This is great as beginners can take their time working with the clay without the pressure of rushing to finish the sculpture or project before it begins drying out.
Once you have mastered polymer clay, you can then go on to paper clay or air-dry clay and see which works for you from there.
Paper Clay Vs Air-Dry Clay: Conclusion
There are substantial differences between paper clay and air-dry clay, and each should be used for different purposes.
Understanding the differences between the two types of clays will help you determine which is the best option for you and your project, and which clay will suit the different tools you have in your studio or home.
If you prefer to use a kiln to fire clay, then paper clay is a good option, or if you want a dry-on-its-own, easier option, then air-dry clay is what you should use!
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