How to Color Air Dry Clay

Three Methods:Coloring air dry clay prior to modelingUsing water-based markers for designs on cured clayUsing paint for designs on cured clay

Markers and paint can be used to improve the look of air dry clay and add a range of patterns and design features. Adding color external to the clay itself lets you make air dry figurines look more lively or realistic.

Method 1
Coloring air dry clay prior to modeling

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    Choose a suitable colorant for the clay. A lot of air-drying clay comes in white. To change white clay to any preferred color, mix small amounts of water-based paints, oil paints, acrylic paint (artist's quality), pastel chalks or poster paints with the clay before modeling. Food-grade colorants can be used too; for example, you can try cake coloring in paste or gel forms (not liquid), while colored drink mix is another option.
    • Always test a small piece of white clay first, to determine how the color will work and to get the hue you're after.
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    Knead the color through the clay. Soften the clay first by working with it, then add the colorant gradually while kneading. This will ensure that the color is distributed evenly throughout the whole piece of clay you'll be using, and by adding the colorant slowly, you can determine when enough color has been added.
    • Work on a surface that can either be disposed of or can be washed easily, such as a layer of wax paper over the counter-top or a plastic cutting board.

Method 2
Using water-based markers for designs on cured clay

This method provides a very easy way for younger artists to make great designs without having to fiddle with changing clay colors during modeling.

Preparing the air dry clay

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    Make the figurine using the air dry clay. White clay is the best for this artwork, as the watercolor markers will show much more clearly. However, you could also try drawing over paler colors.
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    Allow the clay to dry thoroughly before drawing on it. The figurines must be solid, to avoid accidentally breaking off anything that hasn't yet set. Wet clay might also cause the watercolors to run.
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    Always work with dry hands. This will prevent the marker ink from running on the clay background.
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    Allow the watercolor markings to dry fully before touching the figurine again.

Drawing designs

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    Draw clothing features. You can use the watercolor pens to add on typical clothing features, such as buttons, zippers, shoelaces, patches, hoodie toggles, etc.
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    Add patterns to clothing. Draw patterns to bring clothing to life. For example, stripes, spots, flowers, shapes, etc. can be drawn on clothing items to make the figurine more interesting.
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    Draw facial features. You can draw eyes, the mouth and nose using the watercolor marker.
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    Add patterns to animal fur. Use the watercolor markers to make fur features on animal figurines, such as black and white patches on a cow, spots on a leopard or tabby stripes on a cat.
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    Define specific features on objects made with air dry clay. For example, you could draw knobs and switches on machines, draw a scene for a dollhouse picture or TV set, draw pieces of food on a miniature plate or design a cover for a miniature clay book.
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    Seal in the designs. Use a varnish or other appropriate sealant as recommended by the manufacturer to create a protective layer over the top of the artwork.

Method 3
Using paint for designs on cured clay

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    Choose acrylic or tempera paints to color the air dry clay figurines. Select the exact color or mix colors to get the hue you want before painting on the designs.
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    Ensure that the clay is fully dry before adding the designs, to prevent breakage while handling the figurine.
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    Use a fine paintbrush to paint the colors and designs onto the air-dried clay figurines. See the method for watercolor markers above for suggestions on the types of designs to add.
    • Stamps, cookie cutters and the ends of pencils or the non-brush end of the paintbrush can also be used to make designs on clay with paint. Experiment with different objects to see what you can achieve.
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    Seal your creation. A waterproofing sealant can be added if needed; choose one that is suitable for the paint type used.


  • You might like to do a test run of coloring or designing on a blob of clay first, to get a feel for how it works, the color you're after, and in the case of drawing on designs, to see what you can draw successfully.
  • If making different colors of clay when coloring the whole clay, wash your hands and dry them between changes of clay to be colored, to prevent transference of the old color to the new one.
  • Some craft or online art supplies stores stock commercial colorants made for air dry clay. However, these may prove more expensive than the DIY options, or may simply take too long for the project you want to do "right now".


  • Be careful not to add water to the clay surface while working on the figurines with watercolor markers, or there is a risk that the colors will run.
  • Fabric dye is an option for changing the color of clay prior to modeling but it's very messy, so is not recommended.

Things You'll Need

  • Air dry clay
  • Colorants such as paint, chalk pastels or food coloring (for whole coloring)
  • Watercolor markers or water-based markers
  • Acrylic or tempera paint
  • Paintbrush
  • A clean work surface, including protection for it

Article Info

Categories: Clay Projects