Margaret Schindel is a jewelry artist and internationally known expert on metal clay techniques. PMC certified in 2006 by Celie Fago.
The Ultimate Metal Clay Texture Techniques Guide
This comprehensive guide includes dozens of ways to texture metal clay with a huge variety of DIY and purchased tools, texture mats, molds and stamps, found objects from nature, your sewing box, kitchen, garage or junk drawer, and more.
Learn how to create your own unique stamps, molds, carving, texture mats, tear-away textures, etched copper or brass sheets, 3D dimensional paint sheets, appliqué with silver clay paper, and many other texturing methods, materials, tools and equipment.
Many of these methods, materials, tools and techniques also can be used or adapted to add surface interest to your polymer jewelry, sculptures and other creations.
Enjoy this wide array of methods using found objects, purchased texture plates, sheets, mats or rubber stamps and your own original, one-of-a-kind textures.
Why Metal Clay Is Great for Applying Texture
One of metal clay's most important attributes is its ability to accept texture readily, quickly and easily.
Most of the texturing techniques in this guide can be used to create metal textures that would be much more difficult or, in many cases, impossible to create with milled sheet metal or cast metal.
And, of course, sculpting and carving directly in milled metal are not options, but both techniques are commonly used with the malleable form of metal, metal clay.
Almost Anything Can Be Used to Texture Metal Clay
If you develop the habit of always keeping an eye out for interesting textures you'll start to look at even the most mundane objects through new eyes.
- Household items and found objects, anything from a ridged toothpaste cap to a textured meat tenderizing mallet, from charms and trinkets to carved or molded antique buttons, from rubber shoe treads to ornate silverware handles can be used to texture your metal clay designs.
- Organic materials such as leaves are extremely popular for texturing metal clay, but many other organic materials including food can create even more interesting and unusual textures.
- You can texture metal clay with a wide array of commercial metal stamps, rubber stamps and texture sheets.
- You also can make your own unique texture sheets to create truly one-of-a-kind jewelry designs. Examples of homemade textures include carved sheets of cured polymer clay, photopolymer plates (PPP), tear-away textures, and Scratch-Foam texture plates "carved" by hand or with the Silhouette CAMEO, Portrait or Curio electronic cutting tool fitted with a gel pen, small ball-tip burnisher, or other stylus.
- Dried metal clay that hasn't been fired yet, also called metal clay greenware, can be textured with water etching, filing, sawing, drilling, and/or carving or by using an appliqué technique to apply cut-outs from thin sheets of flexible metal clay greenware or commercial silver metal clay paper or sheet.
- And fired metal clay that has been sintered fully (and properly annealed, if appropriate) can be textured with traditional metal working techniques such as filing, sawing, drilling, stamping, etc.
Textured Metal Clay Jewelry Examples
Textures Appear More Detailed After Firing
Because metal clay shrinks 8%–30% during the sintering process (depending on the type and formula of metal clay used), the texture of a piece is more pronounced after firing.
Higher Metal Clay Shrinkage = Sharper Texture Details
The higher the shinkage rate, the more detailed the texture appears. In other words, if you impress the same texture on two sheets of metal clay with different shrinkage rates, the texture will appear to be more detailed in the sheet made from the higher shrinkage formula, although the identical amount of detail was impressed into both sheets.
Metal Clay Shrinkage Rate Chart
|Brand / Formula||Shrinkage Rate (Approximate)|
Hadar's Clay One-fire White Bronze, One-Fire Flex White Bronze
minimal shrinkage; use with other clays
Prometheus Bronze, White Bronze, Copper
Art Clay Silver
FS999 fine silver - pre 2018 discontinued formula
Goldie Sculptor's Bronze
less than 10%
FYI Bronze, Copper
Art Clay Copper
Hadar's Clay White Bronze
EZ960 Sterling silver
Aussie Metal Clay .999, .960, .960 SuperFlex
Aussie Metal Clay base metal clays (all metals)
Goldie Roman Bronze
Hadar's Clay Rose Bronze, Quick-Fire Copper
MCP .999 silver metal clay powder
Zab's Sol Bronze, Rojo Bronze
Goldie de la Rosa Bronze
Zab's Luna Bronze
PMC 22k Gold
Five Star Bronze, Copper, White, Red and Light Bronze
FS999 new formula
Art Clay Gold
Hadar's Friendly Brilliant Bronze, Quick-Fire Bronze
PMC Sterling and PMC OneFire (AKA One-Fire) Sterling
PMC Pro (discontinued)
Hadar's Clay Bronze XT
Goldie Snow Bronze
Metal Adventures BRONZclay
FYI Silver .999 and .960
Cyprus Copper Clay
Metal Adventures COPPRclay
Metal Adventures White COPPRclay
Hadar's Smart/Brilliant Bronze
Hadar's Clay Friendly Copper, Low-Shrinkage Steel XT
MetalMagic Silver Clay (.999)
Hadar's Traditional/Flex Copper, Rose Bronze
Hadar's Traditional/Flex Bronze, Brilliant Bronze, PG Steel XT
PMC Standard/Original (discont'd)
Hadar's Clay White Satin, Champagne Bronze
Part I: Using Ordinary Household Items to Texture Metal Clay
Interesting textures are everywhere!
Read More From Feltmagnet
Once you start working with metal clay, you learn to look at even the most mundane objects—indoors or out, from your backyard to your refrigerator—as a potential metal clay texture! Use your imagination and you can find a nearly endless variety of textures for metal clay just sitting around your kitchen, bathroom, office, or garage.
Polymer clay artist Natalia García De Leaniz has a wonderful free online class called "Textures Everywhere!" that used to be on Donna Kato's wonderful CraftArtEdu site (that, sadly, closed in 2017) but is still available in the archived classes on Vimeo. Natalia shares many creative ideas for using ordinary household items to create textures. Although the class is geared toward polymer clay, most of her tips apply equally to metal clay.
Texturing With Kitchen Tools and Supplies
There's no end to what your kitchen can provide for texturing metal clay. Here are just a few ideas to spark your imagination:
- Plastic scouring mesh
- Plastic mesh netting from bagged onions or garlic, covering citrus fruit crates, etc.
- Interesting or ornately patterned silverware handles
- Inexpensive plastic cutlery or old, unused stainless steel knives, forks and spoons for impressing metal clay with lines, evenly spaced perforations, fish scale patterns (using the tip of a spoon), etc.
- Canape or aspic cutters (impress them no more than one-third the depth of the clay in separate or overlapping patterns)
- Drinking straws and cocktail straws or stirrers
- Embossed vinyl placemats, coasters or textured vinyl shelf paper
- Meat tenderizing mallet with at least one textured face
- Former PMC Guild Executive Director, author and teacher CeCe Wire made a famous metal clay ring whose top she textured with a deeply patterned meat mallet
When choosing texture tools from your kitchen, avoid those made of aluminum if you think you might ever use them with silver clay. I've heard some artists say they apply clear acrylic lacquer to aluminum items to prevent the aluminum from coming into direct contact with silver metal clay. However a coating of lacquer will at least craze if not actually crack or flake off eventually, and silver clay is too expensive to waste unnecessarily. So I advise staying away from aluminum tools for this purpose and thereby avoiding any risk that the silver clay might react badly with it at some point.
Important: Avoid Cross-Contamination!
Once you use an item with metal clay, don't allow it to come into contact with food from that point on. Dedicate it to crafting use only!
Hardware / Garage Items
Your stash of hardware, tools and automotive items offers a treasure trove of texture possibilities:
- Broken reflector lamps from cars or bicycles
- Bicycle tire treads
- Pieces of torn window screening or screen patches
Leftover building materials often have interesting surfaces that can be captured with two-part molding compound to make reusable texture mats, e.g.:
- Vinyl siding scraps
- Scrap lumber with interesting grain patterns
Health and Beauty Tools and Supplies
Your bathroom and/or makeup vanity can be full of textural treasures just waiting to be noticed:
- Old pocket combs to impress straight or wavy parallel lines in metal clay
- Ridged screw-on caps from toothpaste or other tubes, jars or bottles
- Tip: Drill a hole through the center of a ridged cap, thread it into a pin tool, skewer or round toothpick, center it on you chosen "axle" and hold both ends of the rod with your fingertips to steady the cap as you roll it across the surface of a metal clay sheet.
- Old or extra toothbrushes or mascara wands / brushes to stipple the surface of metal clay
- Coarse facial sponges
- Rubber eyelash curler pads to make curved impressions
Fabric and Textiles
Fabrics and other textiles, whether woven or knitted, can be sealed with a waterproofing spray like Scotchgard Outdoor Water Shield and use to texture metal clay. Any of the following work well:
- Coarse or open weaves like burlap or cheesecloth
- Dimensional surface textures like slubbed polyester dupioni or faux silk shantung
- Grosgrain ribbon
- Reembroidered lace
- Lace appliqués
- Lace medallions
- Crocheted doilies
- Knitted ribbed trim cut off from the necks, wrists and bottom edges of old cotton sweaters Cotton sweaters or crew socks
Vintage and Antique Lace Make Beautiful Clay Textures
Antique or vintage lace can be sealed with a waterproof spray sealer and then impressed directly into metal clay. You also can make a reusable silicone mold of old or new lace, as I did to create the lace texture on the asymmetrical earrings shown.
High quality lace, especially vintage or antique lace, can be expensive. Damaged, torn or stained lace or remnants generally are significantly less expensive than pieces in pristine condition. A piece that contains even just a few undamaged inches is fine for this purpose. And, of course, stained lace makes just as good a texture impression on metal clay as a piece that hasn't discolored.
Seal Fabric and Other Porous Textures With a Waterproof Sealant
Porous materials will stick to metal clay, ruining the impression and wasting valuable clay. So if the item you want to use as a metal clay texture has a porous surface you will need to apply a waterproof sealer.
- To seal uncoated wood, textured paper, or similar porous surfaces, apply 3–4 light, even coats of a waterproof clear acrylic spray, allowing each coat to dry thoroughly.
- To seal fabric, lace, trim, knitted cotton ribbing or other textiles so you can impress them directly into the surface of moist metal clay, apply a waterproof fabric sealer (e.g., Scotchgard Outdoor Water Shield) and allow it to dry thoroughly before using the textile to texture metal clay.
Patterned Rubber Treads from Sneakers / Tennis Shoes / Trainers and Bedroom Slippers
Thin rubber treads can have some really fun and interesting patterns. Cut them off the bottom of sneakers or house slippers to make wonderful texture sheets that create deep impressions. Thanks to Celie Fago for this idea.
Adult sneakers and bedroom slippers provide the largest textured rubber surface area. But depending on the scale of tread pattern you might find that it's better to buy a particular pair of trainers or house slippers in baby, toddler or young children's sizes, whose treads usually have smaller scale patterns that are better suited to jewelry making. Also, because children outgrow their clothing so quickly, the treads on inexpensive second-hand kids' sneakers are often in good condition.
Many bedroom slippers also have outsoles with rubber treads that tend to be thinner and more flexible than tennis shoe treads and often have more delicate patterns.
- A clean typewriter ball is great for impressing individual letters and numbers on clay, although you have to be very careful when you use it. If it is a used typewriter ball, make sure to clean it very thoroughly before using it with metal clay. You can sometimes find unused (or used) IBM Selectric typewriter balls on eBay.
- Changeable date/message stamps are much easier to use than typewriter balls, especially the new magnetic ones. Make sure to clean it thoroughly before using it with metal clay.
- Take apart and clean an old, cheap ballpoint pen and use the barrel, the tip, the end, even the pocket clip, if it has one, to impress textures into your clay.
Jewelry and Jewelry Making Supplies
- Charms, vintage or reproduction vintage filigree stampings, gallery wire, pressed glass or molded resin new or vintage cabochons, and strands of chain or tiny beads are just some of the jewelry pieces and jewelry making supplies that can be impressed pressed directly into metal clay or molded with two-part silicone molding compound.
- Create a changeable rolling texture tool by lightly oiling a bead with a great surface texture, sliding it onto a needle tool or skewer and rolling it across the surface of your clay, keeping the needle tool or skewer perfectly horizontal. Or try artist, instructor and author Patrik Kusek's method for creating a simple craft wire handle to turn a textured bead into a rolling texture tool by folding and shaping a piece of craft wire and bending the tips to fit into the bead holes.
Turn Bits and Bobs Into Texture Stamps by Adding Polymer Clay Handles
Make custom tools by adding polymer clay handles for Phillips head screws, washers, beads, filigree bead caps, stampings, charms, coins, buttons, icing tips, etc. using this tutorial from Polymer Clay Web.
Metalsmithing, Leather Tooling and Ceramic or Polymer Clay Tools
Check out the tools you already own to see whether they can be re-purposed for texturing metal clay.
- Steel stamps and leather embossing stamps can be pressed into soft metal clay.
- Ball stylus tips make wonderful texture tools, as do burnishers, blades, paintbrush handles and just about anything else in your metalsmithing, leather embossing and/or clay toolkit.
- Stippling fresh clay with a lightly oiled ball-tipped burnisher is an easy way to create an attractive surface texture. Stippling slowly and evenly with several sizes of ball burnishers can simulate a hammered metal texture.
Embroidery, Knitting and Crochet Tools and Supplies
If you or someone you know enjoys needlework, you can repurpose unused tools and supplies.
- Plastic canvas pressed directly into the clay creates an embossed grid pattern. Mold it to create a raised grid pattern.
- Use knitting needles to emboss lines or stripes in the clay, or use a molding material to create a texture with raised lines or stripes. You can also use the pointed tips to emboss conical depressions or make molds to create a pattern of raised cones.
- Make swirl patterns with the head of a crochet hook. You can make a row of them that look a bit like cresting waves.
This is the most fun part of finding texturing opportunities. Buttons, carved figurines, dollhouse-scale miniature trims and moldings, carved boxes, thimbles, wire mesh, plastic needlepoint canvas, knobs, finials, molded or textured glass—nearly anything has the potential to be used as a metal clay texture.
Start looking around your home—and at the world—through a different lens and you'll never be at a loss for texturing ideas.
Make Your Own New or Vintage Button Molds
Lovely antique button molds can be purchased from Cool Tools and from Etsy sellers like MoldMuse and monaledwin. But you can also make your own molds from detailed, dimensional, nonporous buttons using two-part silicone molding compound.
Look for nonporous buttons with well-defined details for this purpose; e.g., molded glass or resin, cast metal, carved mother-of-pearl or celluloid.
Part 2: Texture Metal Clay With Organic Materials to Capture the Beauty of Nature
Tree bark, leaves, twigs, nutshells, pine needles, pine cones and seashells you find on a leisurely stroll are some of the many natural textures you can capture in metal clay, either by pressing them directly into the clay or by making reusable molds from them. Even food makes wonderful textures!
Sea Shells, Urchins, Starfish, and Sea Horses
Use small seashells you pick up on the beach (or purchase a bag of shells in a craft store).
Depending on the size and shape of the shell and how you plan to use it, you can either impress the shell into prepared silicone two-part molding compound to make a simple mold or create a two-sided mold you can use to replicate the entire shell from all angles, like the seashell pendant I made from bronze clay shown above.
The photo below shows my bronze beach scene charm with tiny seashells that I formed by packing metal clay into molds I made using two-part silicone molding compound.
Impressed or Molded Leaves
Covering leaves with layers of metal clay slip is very popular. The key to this approach is patience, thin layers and air-drying each layer very thoroughly before applying the next. Don't expect to apply all the layers in one day! However, this is using the leaf as a burn-out core, not as a texture.
To impress the texture of a leaf, select one or more fairly small leaves with very well-defined veins on the back. Roll out metal clay just slightly thicker than the desired thickness after texturing. (A good way to do this is to roll out the clay just slightly wider than you need, putting the rolling spacers close to the clay and using a light touch with the clay roller.) Lightly oil the back of the leaf (where the veins are most prominent) and place it face-up on the clay sheet. Press the leaf it into the clay very lightly so it's less likely to move when you roll across it. Rotate the work surface 90 degrees, re-position the rolling spacers normally, and roll across the clay to impress the leaf evenly. Use a fine clay pick or the pointed tip of a sharp craft knife or scalpel to slightly lift the stem of the leaf (or the lower edge of the leaf, if there is no stem), taking care not to mar the impression, and then peel away the leaf carefully. Use a scalpel, craft knife or sharp needle tool to cut around the impression. If desired, you can drape the cut-out leaf over a support to give it a curved shape.
You can also mold a leaf with two-part silicone molding compound and use it to make multiple impressions or two-sided metal clay leaf components. Metal Clay Artist Magazine Volume 2, Issue 3 contains a tutorial by well-known jewelry artist Un-Roen Manarata from Belgium on how to make a two-part mold for molding two-sided leaves.
How to Impress a Leaf Texture in Metal Clay
Metal Clay Twigs
CeCe Wire's book Creative Metal Clay Jewelry: Techniques, Projects, Inspiration included a metal clay Twig and Leaf Condiment Spoon project that was reprinted in a 2005 issue of Studio PMC magazine and is now available as a free PDF from Rio Grande. It includes very good step-by-step instructions for coating a twig in many thin coats of diluted metal clay slip, sometimes called paste.
Painting slip on a twig will only capture the surface texture on the inside of the hollow metal tube after the wood burns out during firing. If you want to recreate the surface texture as well as the shape, I suggest either making a two-part mold of the twig and filling it with metal clay to create an exact replica (which will shrink during firing) or rolling out clay snakes in different sizes, using the largest one as the main portion of the twig, attaching smaller ones as branches, and texturing the surface either by applying thick slip or paste with a palette knife or by carving it with micro carving tools to resemble bark.
Food and Edibles
Edibles from dried pasta to citrus peel to fresh or dried herbs and seeds can be used to texture metal clay. I shaped the flower-like silver blossom earrings shown here with a silicone mold I made of the blossom end of a tangerine.
Look beyond the obvious. Breakfast cereal, corn husks, even oiled gummy candies can be used to impress textures fun and unusual patterns in moist clay. Food items that will burn away without leaving a residue, like dried pasta or rice, can remain impressed into the clay during firing and left to burn out in the kiln. The rest, including the gummy candies, should be oiled, pressed into the clay and removed, or you can make molds from them and then use the molds with your metal clay.
Part 3: Make Your Own One-of-a-Kind Textures
There is a mind-boggling selection of commercial texture mats, molds, stamps, etc, available for purchase, and many of them are extraordinary. But since purchased textures also are available to any other artist who chooses to buy them, there's always the risk that someone else will end up making a piece of metal clay jewelry or objet d'art that looks very similar to one of your designs.
The only way to guarantee that each of your metal clay jewelry designs is unique is to create them with custom textures and molds that you design and create yourself.
Here are some of the most popular materials and methods for creating your own metal clay texture tools as well as some lesser known but equally interesting texturing techniques and materials for making one-of-a-kind jewelry.
There are several reasons why you might want to create a custom clay mold. Here are just a few:
- To recreate the original, raised texture in metal clay rather than embossing the clay so that the raised areas and depressions are reversed.
- To reproduce a complete 3D replica of an item, front and back.
- To create a custom texture sheet by impressing objects into the molding material in a unique pattern.
- To create a reusable mold of a fragile texture, such as antique lace.
- To create a reusable mold of a valuable or borrowed item, such as a piece of jewelry.
Depending on your budget, how finely detailed you want your mold or sheet to be and whether and how often you plan to reuse it will influence the molding material you choose.
How to Make Molds With Two-Part Silicone Molding Compound
Mix together Part A and Part B of the molding compound according to directions (generally with silicone molding putty, you mix equal amounts of Part A and Part B until marbled or, in some cases, until the mixture achieves a uniform color) and press the item you want to mold into the mixture. Note: I've had better luck when I mix the two compounds to a uniform color even when the directions say you don't need to, but it's essential to do it quickly and press your item into the mold before the mixture starts to set up.
As when mixing 2-part epoxy, proportions matter! I use a set of plastic measuring spoons (dedicated to craft use) to measure out precisely equal amounts of each part. If you have to eyeball the amounts, try rolling each part separately into a ball and add or subtract amounts until both balls are the same size before you mix them together.
After waiting for the curing time recommended by the manufacturer, test the mold by pressing your fingernail into the outside of the mold. If the molding material springs back immediately without leaving a dent, the mold has cured properly and you can remove your item. Each compound is a little different, so follow the detailed instructions on the packaging.
Many smooth-surfaced items don't need to be coated in a release before moulding, but matte items may stick unless you first coat them with a thin layer of mold release. Spray porous objects with thin coats of acrylic spray lacquer (such as Krylon Crystal Clear) and let each coat dry thoroughly, then apply mold release before making molds.
Making Silicone Molds With Flat Backs
Talented polymer clay artist and teacher Ginger Davis Altman of The Blue Bottle Tree wrote an excellent tutorial on How to Make Silicone Molds from Charms that also could be used to create flat-back molds of other objects, such as brass stampings or buttons with metal shanks.
The Best Way to Fill a Mold With Metal Clay
Start by rolling a small, smooth ball of metal clay and flattening it into a fairly thin patty slightly smaller than the mold you want to fill. Place this patty on the mold and, using the pad of your finger, press the clay firmly into the mold. Start in the center and work your way out to the edges to avoid trapping air between the clay and the mold. Make sure that this initial clay patty isn't too small to avoid having any seam lines in the surface of the clay. If you need to add more clay to make the molded piece thicker, add it to the center of the previous layer and work it out to the edges with the pad of your fingertip. When the mold is packed to the desired thickness, gently roll the edges of the clay back toward the center with the pad of your fingertip so that the edges of the molded clay will be clean. The following video from Cool Tools demonstrates the technique visually.
How to Make a Two-Piece Mold Using Two-Part Silicone Molding Compound
Making a 360-degree mold of an object is more difficult than molding just the front or back. The mold must be made in two pieces so that the original model can be removed and so that the mold can be filled with clay and then unmolded.
One side of the object is embedded in an even slab of prepared two-part silicone molding putty. Then alignment keys (the equivalent of registration marks for two-dimensional layers) must be created so that after both halves of the mold have been made they can be properly aligned when the mold is opened and closed. An easy way to create alignment keys is to partially embed groups of small beads in the lower part of the mold, grouping them in different numbers and arrangements so that no two groups are alike. Instead of small beads, you can also use short segments of narrow wood dowel that have been sealed with spray acrylic, dried thoroughly, and then coated with a thin layer of petroleum jelly just before embedding them into the molding putty. If you are molding a completely symmetrical object, you can put just one alignment key in each corner.
After the lower half of the mold has cured, the partially embedded beads or dowels are removed, leaving depressions in the mold. The top surface and the depressions are coated with a commercial mold release (or melted petroleum jelly). The mold release prevents the upper half of the mold from bonding to the lower half of the mold. Freshly prepared molding compound is added to mold the top half of the object and fill the alignment key depressions. When the upper half of the mold has cured, the halves of the mold are separated and the model is removed.
Using a Clay Bed For Making a Two-Piece Silicone Mold
For some molds, it may be preferable to embed the model halfway into a bed of non-hardening modeling clay along with the alignment keys and then form the first half of the mold on top of that clay bed. Do not use modeling clay containing sulfur! Make Your Own Molds has a helpful tutorial for how to embed a model in clay for making a two-piece mold. (Safe-D-Clay is the company's own brand of modeling clay and Release-Dit is its brand of mold release.) Once the first half of the mold has cured, peel away the clay, remove the alignment keys, apply mold release to the newly exposed surface of the mold, and then add freshly made molding compound to mold the other half of the model.
Making a Two-Piece Mold With Pourable Liquid Silicone Rubber
Pourable liquid silicone molding material may be a better choice for making two-piece molds of very detailed objects. The following video from Smooth-On provides an excellent demonstration of how to make a two-piece mold using pourable silicone.
Recommended Molding Materials
There are many different types, brands and formulas of mold-making material that is suitable for making molds and texture sheets for use with metal clay.