Using Resin with Polymer Clay

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The word resin is a general term that refers to viscous liquids that can permanently harden. But in the crafting world, we are generally referring to a thick, clear liquid that cures to create a crystal-clear layer. Youll recognize brand names such asEasy CastEnvirotex LiteLisa Pavelkas Magic Glos, andSolarez. You might have seen this type of material coating tables in restaurants or coating small pendants. Its also poured or cast into molds to create resin items such as paperweights, jewelry, or tiny figurines. But increasingly were using this material as a coating on polymer clay.

A note about the links. Ive linked to an Amazon listing for the items in this article so that you can see what Im talking about. Doing this saves me from having to take a photo. Obviously, shop around and order from whatever supplier makes sense where you live. If youre outside the US, dont order from ! The links to Amazon, btw, are affiliate links which means theyll pay me a little bit if you do order from them. But please dont feel that its necessary. Buy from your favorite retailer!

Two main types of resin are used with polymer clay. Both are used as a coating to protect the finish and give a thick, glossy shine. One is UV resin, and the other is epoxy resin. Both types of resin contain a plastic compound that will undergo a chemical reaction and become hard. The difference is what causes, or catalyzes, that chemical reaction.

UV resin uses ultraviolet light to trigger, or catalyze, the chemical reaction that causes the resin to become hard. You can use a light with a special ultraviolet bulb, such as anail lamporan ultraviolet flashlight. Because the sun also emits ultraviolet light, you can use the sun to cure your UV resin as well. I have theLisa Pavelka UV Lightand it works well.

UV resin usually hardens with five or ten minutes of light exposure. The stronger the light source, the faster the UV resin will cure. While sunlight will work, be aware that weak winter light and cloudy days can mean a slow or incomplete cure. Using sunlight to cure UV resin means youll have to go outside. Be aware that transporting your resin-coated pieces can be tricky. Also, its often just windy enough outside that you risk your lightweight polymer clay pieces being flipped over, ruining the resin.

Dont pour your UV resin while sitting near a sunny window or even with strong light. Even ambient light has some ability to begin the cure process. UV Resin should always be kept in a dark cabinet and preferably in a dark bottle because strong light can cause it to cure, especially over time.

Common brands of UV resin areLisa Pavelkas Magic Glosandthis really fast-curing resin from China(their branding needs some work, but we all recognize that label design). Many people also love to useUltraDomeresin, but Ive not tried it.

Epoxy resin has two parts, one part being the resin material and the other part being the hardener (the catalyst). When the two parts (typically labeled A and B) are mixed in the correct proportions, the chemical reaction is catalyzed, and hardening begins.

Epoxy resin usually takes from 12 to 36 hours to cure. This is somewhat temperature dependent, and your pieces will cure faster in a warm room. But dont assume that more heat is always better. You cant speed-cure in an oven, for example.

For many processes with polymer clay, it would be great to be able to add more polymer clay after youve used resin and bake it once again. Can you do that? Sort of. Some brands of UV resin do have some heat tolerance, and you can give them a short, cool-ish bake. But you risk the resin turning yellow or even cracking and degrading. You should never bake epoxy resin.

Common brands of epoxy resin areEnvirotex LiteEasy CastAmazing Clear CastLittle Windows, andICE Resin.

Youll notice these terms are often applied to various brands of resin. Let me be clear. These are merely labels that describe how a resin behaves. These names dont refer to chemical categories. For example,Easy Cast (a casting resin)andEnvirotex Lite (a coating resin)have the same ingredients. There is also much overlap within these broad categories. You can easily use a doming resin to make small casts or use a casting resin as a coating. But there are some general points to be aware of.

(Note: there are many types of casting resins such as PMMA, acetal resin, and polyester resin, but theyre entirely different chemicals and usually used for completely different purposes than epoxy and UV resins.)

As resin hardens, it contracts and shrinks. This allows a thick coating of resin to sort of hump up as it cures, causing a doming effect. Some brands of resin have a stronger shrinkage factor than others. Resin with a strong shrink factor will produce a stronger doming effect.

A drawback of the doming effect is that some resins will pull away from the edges of what youre coating. Theyll contract and bead up, even to the point of looking like drops of water on a freshly waxed car. If this happens, youll often need to apply several coats of resin to get even coverage.

Both doming and coating resins contract during the curing process and some brands are worse than others at giving poor coating coverage. If youre frustrated with one brand, try another. Also be aware that some brands of polymer clay will be better at grabbing the resin than others. Doming resin can also cause thin polymer clay pieces to curl upward.

TheseHolo Effect cutter ornamentswere coated with the Chinese UV resin mentioned above. The strong contracting effect cause the thin polymer clay to curve upward.

The reason this distinction is sometimes made is because resin cures with an exothermic reaction. This means that one of the chemical by-products is heat. If a particular resin formulation is strongly exothermic, it cannot be used as a casting resin. Doing so means theres too much heat in one space and youll get massive amounts of bubbles as the resin degrades while it cures. If you need to create a large casting, make sure to use a resin thats specifically intended for casting.

While some resins are very thick and are formulated for casting, others are thin and intended to be used as a brush-on coating. Nail salons have been using UV resin for years. You can use UV-cure nail polish on polymer clay, in fact.Clear UV-cure topcoatsare a great way to get a clear coating on polymer clay.

Another source of this type of brush-on resin is sold by Teresa Salgado in herTiny Pandorashop. Teresa calls thisDeep Shine. This is a UV cure resin thats thin enough to brush on with a brush.

While resin is an excellent clear coating, it does have some rather substantial drawbacks. Aside from being expensive and its messy to work with, here are some other issues.

Both epoxy and UV resins have a short shelf life, typically a year or less. Older resin turns yellow while in the bottle and if its old enough, might not cure completely.

Speaking of yellowing, uncured epoxy resin tends to turn yellow in the bottle with time. This doesnt matter much when using resin over dark items. But the yellowing of resin will be very apparent over white polymer clay. After curing, ALL epoxy and UV resin will eventually take on a yellow color. This will happen much faster if the cured resin is exposed to high heat or UV light. Keep resin materials out of sunlight.

I made thisHolo Effect pendantsix years ago. Its been kept in a box. You can see how much the resin has yellowed. I used Envirotex Lite for this project.

If the resin material doesnt cure properly (either due to age or improper mixing ratio), it will never fully harden and even can be sticky. Once that happens, its difficult or impossible to remove without ruining your item. If the item is only just a tiny bit sticky, you can sometimes make a new batch of resin and give it a thin coat on the surface. Be aware, however, that this layer can sometimes peel off in the future. (Adding a second coat to well-cured resin doesnt seem to have the problem, however.)

To get a complete cure with epoxy resin, you need to thoroughly mix perfect proportions. Youll have less error if you mix up larger volumes. So save up several items so you can pour them all at once. Everyone has their own favorite ways to work with a material, but here are some tips that have worked for me.

Measure the two parts into amarked medicine cup. Dont dump out the first part before adding part two. Just add it to the top, using the correct lines on the cup. (eg. pour part A to the 10ml marking, then add part B to reach the 20ml mark) Try to use measuring cups that dont have little tabs around the inside bottom. That makes it hard to scrape out the resin.

Pour the cups contents into a clean disposable cup.Paper or plastic Dixie cupswork nicely for this. (But buy them at the grocery, not Amazonwhoa theyre pricey there!) Use a stir stick to scrape as much out of the medicine cup as possible. Rather than popsicle sticks,use wooden coffee stirrers. They have a square bottom.

Mix the resin together in a scooping motion, taking care to avoid whipping bubbles into the mix.

Pour this mixture into another Dixie cup, scraping as much out of the previous cup as possible.

Using a new stir stick, mix this resin mixture thoroughly. Doing this second cup and stick solves most mixing errors.

Resin is messy. Its the kind of thing that you want to do in a dedicated space where children and pets have no access. It also takes a bit of concentration, so you dont want to be interrupted while dealing with resin. Make sure to have a clean box to put over your epoxy-resin-coated items to keep dust from falling onto them during the 24-hour cure.

Resin flows like syrup, and if your surface isnt level, the resin will spill over and make a mess. Make sure the table youre pouring onto is level.

While spills clean up easily withrubbing alcohol, its easy to miss little spills because its clear. Wear an apron while you work with resin. It can get messy fast.

Due to the mixing process of epoxy resin or just due to the act of pouring itself, its common for resin to have lots of small bubbles. These need to be popped before you cure the resin. The best way Ive found to remove bubbles is as follows:

Get a pair of magnifying glasses so you can see up close.

Let the piece sit for a few minutes so the resin can self-level, and the bubbles can rise to the surface.

Use a heat gun or acandle lighter (the long type)and pass quickly over the surface. This will pop most of the bubbles. You can also use your breath through a straw. Youll see bubbles pop that you didnt even know were there. Be careful that you dont make the resin overflow by blowing it around.

Inspect again with the magnifying glasses. Look for any bubbles that are lodged down in crevices or textures. Use a needle tool to encourage them to surface.

Let self-level for a few minutes. Then cure.

Neither epoxy nor UV resin is acutely toxic. Respirators are not required, and although the materials tend to smell bad, the fumes will not poison you. But you should minimize skin exposure and use proper ventilation when mixing and pouring resin. This is because the material tends to create hypersensitivity reactions in some people. In other words, its not toxic, but you can become very sensitive or allergic to it.

Two brands of epoxy resin,Little Windows Brilliant Resinand another one calledArt Resinboth advertise that theyre non-toxic. Theyre not made from something particularly unique. Theyre both made of the same general ingredients as the other brands of epoxy resin.

You can mix mica powders into resin to make a beautiful shimmer. Powdered chalks or pigments can color resin as well, but can be grainy. Alcohol ink can be used to color resin. Most of the resin pigments that you see advertisedon online marketplaces (such as this)are actually just packets of mica and pigment powder.

If you color UV resin with any powders or pigments, you might block the lights ability to reach the resin and cure it.

Speaking of powdershave you seen my new Guide to using Powders with Polymer Clay?

Are you getting the most out of your little jars of powders?

Learn to use mica powders, pigments, metal powders, and dye powders with your polymer clay in this 90 page comprehensive eBook!

Because some materials like varnishes, paints, and glues can be softened by the plasticizers in polymer clay, compatibility with polymer clay is a common concern for clayers. Rest assured, both UV and epoxy resin work perfectly well on cured polymer clay. There are no short or long term interactions.

Resin is best used when a thick, glassy layer is desired. Adding resin has somewhat of a magnifying effect and can make shimmery, sparkly polymer clay projects appear even brighter. Its the perfect coating for theHolo Effect Technique. Resin also works well to fill shallow depressions to give the appearance of water in fairy gardens or to make dewdrops on leaves and petals.

Resin can make a good shiny coating, but if your item has a lot of texture, youll be happier using a varnish for this. Even light-bodied resin is still quite viscous and can make subtle texture disappear.

If your item is fairly smooth and you want a glass-like shine, any resin can give you this effect. Thin coats of brushed-on resin work well for this, too, but only if you have already removed the surface flaws. Brushing resin over bumpy work will just accentuate the bumps.

For alternatives to resin, check out my article onUnderstanding Clearcoats with Polymer Clay. You can also sand and buff smooth surfaces. While resin is faster, it has a very different effect. Sanding and buffing is only hard and time-consuming if youre doing it wrong. Luckily, I have aSanding and Buffing eBookthat can help turn that around. I sand and buff some things and I resin coat others. Theyre not interchangeable alternatives. Either way, youll love using resin with your polymer clay projects.

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Just an additional comment. There are thousands of resin artists who use acrylic paint in resin. The rule is to never use more than 10% of any paint in your resin. Some resin artists even use oil paints! I have not had good luck with oil paint and stay away from mixing acrylic paints into my resin directly. I do however drop acrylic paints onto partially cured resin. There is no problem with curing in this technique. Now many resin manufacturers are producing their own paints to be used in their resins. Some also make powdered pigments that work well. Resin has become the art material of the decade with at least 30 new manufacturers popping up everywheremuch like the pouring mediums are so popular for the acrylic pours. I think the large number of resin manufacturers is due to all the acrylic pouring that is so popular now. Resin can enhance the colors that were so vibrant when the acrylics were wet, but then dried flatter, and the resin brings back that original vibrancy of the colors.

Thanks Jeannie, Ive amended the article to take that out. I wonder if there are different types of paint/resin combos because mine didnt work. Yes, the world of acrylic and resin pouring is HUGE. I hesitated writing this article because I knew I could not be comprehensive enough for all the ways resin is used in the art world. So I tried to focus on just clearing up the confusion and helping polymer clayers take the step into working with resin for the first time. My apologies that I missed (more than a few) points!

Thanks for this article, Ginger! I find that there is a lot of confusion, especially for people who have not used either UV or 2-part. This article gives clear, concise information about the pros, cons and versitility of the common resins we all love to hate (sometimes)! I have experienced yellowing, especially in thick applications like water in a koi pond. I do keep my UV resin refrigerated because according to one site that sells it, this will extend the shelf life.

Good tip. I have been surprised at how fast it yellows.

Thanks for another wonderful article! I have used resin but was confused by the different kinds. This helped a lot!

You missed Ultra-dome UV resin, in my opinion, the best on the market, I have been using it for many years now.

I had heard they were out of business, but I will look into it and add it to the article. Thanks for the reminder.

Great article Ginger! May I add that if you want to cure quickly resin -and you dont have UV lamp you can put the item in your kitchen or clay oven for about an hour at 50-70C. Resin will harden during this time and the temperature is not too high even for plastic items. After an hour resin is hard enough to touch, remove it from a mold etc. This way you keep your piece safe of dust and lint as well while curing. I do this trick all the time and I am very pleased with the results.

Wow, I had not heard of this. Though, I did know that some UV resins can set up without UV light. Youve given us all something more to think about. Thanks!

I love the Chinese UV resin it is fantastic!

I must be weird as I love the smell of it!

As usual, Ginger, your post on resin is useful and clear. Thanks for all the work you do to research and write these posts.

I have wondered about differences related to pouring. I always coat a number of items at the same time. After curing, Ive noticed that some items have areas where the resin has pulled away and some have trapped bubbles. Ive wondered if these effects are related to which items I coated right after mixing, when the resin is most fluid, and items I coated last when the resin is starting to thicken. Worth further study!

Hi. I have a cleopatre 2 part resin. I dont know if it still sells. Mine is probably 2 years old. Maybe a little yelow in the bottle, but works good for me. I have got two small bottles that pour drop by drop. I filled with the two components and do very small mixes of 5 drops A and 10 drops af B. Just in case somebody wants to do small volumes.

I have noticed that Deep Shine may start to set up even before you get it into the UV lamp. I was waiting a few minutes for bubbles to rise before using the light and it started to form a skin just in my desk lights. I would suggest if you are going to wait a while for bubbles, to do it in a dark place or cover with something to block out the ambient light.

Thats a really good point, Bette, and I forgot to mention it. Ill go back and add that info. Thanks for the reminder.

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