The key difference between modeling clay and polymer clay is that modeling clay is an oil-based type of clay, whereas polymer clay is a plastic-based material.
Modeling clay and polymer clay are two types of clay available in the market in a variety of colors. They are produced by various brands.
What is Modeling Clay?
Modeling clay is a type of malleable clay we can use for sculpting and building. This type of clay is mainly used by children, art students, hobbyists, professional potters, as well as animators. The modeling clay can be shaped into any shape and can be used with tools that are used in sculpting, blending, thinning, scraping, poking, cutting, etc.
The use of modeling clay by artists is mainly due to its malleable properties. Typically, this type of clay has long-proved popularity in sculptures. It has the important property of non-drying attributes. These materials can be oils, waxes, and minerals. E.g. paraffin, beeswax, microcrystalline wax, petroleum jelly, palm oil, castor oil, etc.
In oil-based modeling clays, there are many different fillers used, such as gypsum, talc, sulfur, calcite, etc. These clays are typically designed to get malleability for a long time period, whereas other types of clays are malleable during the making of the artwork, followed by their hardening.
What is Polymer Clay?
Polymer clay is a type of modeling clay based on the plasticized polymer material PVC in combination with a filler. It can be described as a type of modeling clay that hardens. The major component is PVC (polyvinyl chloride), where there are no typically clay minerals. We can add a liquid to dry particles (similar to the mineral clay) and get a gel-like working status which is then shaped and hardened in an oven, giving a colloquial designation as clay. We can use this clay for arts and crafts items as well as in commercial applications for making decorative parts.
Polymer clay becomes a plastisol because of the presence of a liquid plasticizer. We can categorize it as a plastigel due to its rheological properties. Moreover, it has a high yield of thixotropic materials. Thereby, if we apply a sufficient force, this material yields a status of flowing liquid-like material until we remove the same force, which makes it return to its solid state.
Moreover, we can modify polymer clay base resin in different ways, such as the addition of mineral oil, lecithin, and also some odorless mineral spirits for the reduction of the viscosity and altering the working properties. There are some trace amounts of zinc oxide, kaolin, and other fillers to increase the opacity, elastic modulus, compression strength, etc. There are many colors of polymer clay, and we can mix in the creation of other colors and gradient blends.
What is the Difference Between Modeling Clay and Polymer Clay?
The key difference between modeling clay and polymer clay is that modeling clay is an oil-based type of clay, whereas polymer clay is a plastic-based material. Modeling clay does not harden easily, whereas polymer clay hardens easily.
The below infographic presents the differences between modeling clay and polymer clay in tabular form for side-by-side comparison.
Summary – Modeling Clay vs Polymer Clay
Modeling clay is a type of malleable clay we can use for sculpting and building, while polymer clay is a type of modeling clay that is designed to harden and is based on the plasticized polymer material PVC in combination with a filler. The key difference between modeling clay and polymer clay is that modeling clay is an oil-based type of clay, whereas polymer clay is a plastic-based material.
1. Cole, Margherita. “10 Best Modeling Clays for Sculptors of All Skill Levels.” My Modern Met, 8 Aug. 2022.
1. “Play, children, creativity, kindergarten, modelling, flavor, play dough, modeling clay” (CC0) via Pxhere
2. “Polymer clay examples” By Dan Bollinger – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia