I was wondering how you manage to keep your fingerprints out of your clay! no matter how much I smooth and flatten out my finished product I can always spot fingerprints in it! ~ GahBlah, DeviantArt
This is probably one of the most common questions amongst those who work with polymer clay, and I have decided to present you with TEN tips on how you can avoid or lessen fingerprints in your work. Of course, if you have your own tips, don't forget to comment and let everyone else know so that they may benefit from your knowledge, as well!
1) Start with smooth hands.
The more rough your hands are, the more likely you are to leave fingerprints in the clay. By exfoliating your hands on a regular basis and using a decent moisturizer will leave your hands (and fingers) soft and smooth. If you work with polymer clay on a regular basis, taking care of your hands is very important. Over time, the plasticizers in the clay, constant kneading, working, and sculpting and washing your hands will leave your hands quite dry, anyways, so it's good to keep them moisturized for more than a few reasons!
2) Work with a firm clay.
The more sticky and soft your clay is, the more likely it will be to leave fingerprints behind. There are certain brands that are notable for being firm, however any clay can be soft depending on how fresh it is. You may pick up a block of Premo and it's as tough as a brick, but another time you may pick up the same colour and find that it's as mushy as a tepid block of butter. If this is the case, leeching the clay is a valuable technique. Leeching gets rid of excess plasticizers and makes the clay much more firm. I often use this process in most of my metallic clay based work. Check out my blog entry on Sticky Soft Clay for pointers on how to leech polymer clay!
3) Keep it cool.
Keeping your polymer clay cool definitely makes it less likely to leave fingerprints behind. If you find that your clay is getting warm, set it down and walk away for a few minutes. You may also pop it into the fridge or freezer to cool it down for a few minutes. Another valuable tip is to keep your work surface cold. In the Summer months, I like to put my granite slab in the fridge or freezer or run it under ice cold water. If you have naturally warm hands, you may also dip your hands in cold water, as well.
4) Apply a delicate touch.
It is quite easy to really grab onto the clay as you work with it. You'll especially notice this when you are working on something completely three dimensional - as you work on one side, you may happen to squish the other. It took me a long time to develop a light touch, but if you think of your clay as something delicate and fragile, it may help. As you learn, it is a good idea to work closer to your work surface just in case the piece you are working on happens to fall because you're holding it so loosely. Holding the clay lightly will diminish fingerprints quite immensely.
5) Try finger cots.
One size doesn't always fit all. If you've ever tried wearing latex gloves as you work with clay, you might know what I mean. Sometimes latex gloves have a texture to them that may reflect onto the clay surface and the fingers aren't always the most snug fit, which will leave you awkwardly fumbling around with the clay. This is where finger cots come in. Think of them as finger gloves (or for those with minds in the gutter - finger condoms)! They fit quite snuggly, and are thin enough that you still have good control in your fingers. You can find these at almost any drug store in the first aid section.
6) Rolling and flattening it out.
Quite often you will roll the clay out with with your fingers or flatten it with your palm, but this quite often leads to many fingerprints. Try getting a piece of glass from an old picture frame or a square of acrylic to roll and flatten your clay. It is perfectly smooth, keeps the clay quite uniform, and you avoid fingerprints.
7) Keep some water on hand.
Quite simply smoothing the clay with cool water and your fingers will get rid of fingerprints in a pinch. Even if you don't use water, using your fingers to smooth the clay works wonders, as well. Yes, I know - using your fingers to get rid of fingerprints sounds a little ironic.
8) Smoothing with powders and solvents.
Most polymer clay artists have an old standby for the inevitable fingerprint. Powders can be things like talcum and corn starch. A little goes a long way - just dab a little bit on your finger or on a brush, apply to the clay and smooth it out with your finger. Notable solvents, which can be applied with your fingers, brush, or cotton swab are clay softener/diluent, rubbing alcohol, acetone, baby oil, vegetable oil, mineral oil, etc. Keep in mind - a little goes a long way! These methods are to be used after the piece is completely and ready to be baked. I wouldn't recommend trying to re-sculpt the clay after you do this. Another good tip is to keep alchol wipes on hand - they are great for smoothing out imperfections!
9) Sanding, buffing and polishing.
Sanding, buffing, and polishing your clay gives the final product an amazing shine and gets rid of any imperfections on your clay. If you'd like to learn, all it requires is a few materials and a little bit of time to get an amazing looking clay surface. Many polymer clay artists use this technique, and the result is very professional looking. Check out my blog entry on Sanding, Buffing, and Polishing Polymer Clay!
10) And, when all else fails...
Just make yourself a Fingerprint Pendant. Hah! :)