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How to paint air dry clay: Make a rainbow trinket dish with us!

Which paint should you be using on your air dry clay creations? Find out how to paint your air dry clay creations with our easy-to-follow guide!

rainbow trinket dish made from clay

Air dry clay is the perfect blank canvas for painting! As air dry clay comes in limited natural colours you can give it a pop of colour to brighten it up.

Painting air dry clay is easy and the colour possibilities are endless. Once air dry clay is completely dry then it’s ready to paint with an array of different mediums, depending on the look you wish to achieve.

How to prepare air dry clay for painting

Before you paint air dry clay items you need to allow them to dry completely to achieve the best results.

Small air dry items will be dry after about 24 hours whereas larger items may take up to 72 hours to dry thoroughly.

Once the items are completely dry you may wish to sand them lightly to achieve a smooth, flat surface to paint on.

Do I need to seal air dry clay before painting?

The surface of air dry clay is very porous once dry so you may wish to seal the item before painting. Applying one or two coats of gesso to the clay will help seal it and stop your chosen paint from soaking in too much.

What paint to use on air dry clay?

The best paints to use on air dry clay are acrylic paints. Small bottles or tubes of acrylic paint can be purchased cheaply in a huge array of colours. They’re also available in metallic finishes.

Acrylic paint for air dry clay

Acrylics are quite thick and therefore an even colour finish can be achieved, usually in two coats. Patterns, stripes etc can be painted on and once dry the acrylic paints offer a certain amount of water resistance.

This acrylic set from Kolour Kingdom contains 24 vibrant colours, a perfect beginner set.  Thanks to the high-colour pigment your clay creations will pop! And because you are not baking your designs, the colour will remain just as you’ve painted it.

Child-friendly paint for air dry clay

A more child-friendly paint option is water-based tempera paints. These provide good coverage and being water-soluble can easily be washed off surfaces and small hands. These come in an array of bright colours to create striking designs.

Kids will love this set! It includes 30 beautifully bright colours: 11 bottles of standard colours, 8 bottles of glitter, 6 bottles of neon and 5 bottles of metallic. Plenty of choice even for picky painters.

The joy in these paints is the kids can get messy and there’s no need to worry about the paints staining clothes or kitchen tables!

Watercolours for air dry clay

For a more subtle, translucent paint effect on air dry clay try watercolours, food colouring or even alcohol inks. Adding a little water to these mediums allows for varying degrees of colour. Avoid adding too much water to the air dry clay as it will soak up any liquid and may become soft again.

This compact set from Major Brushes contains 36 blocks of colour, so you won’t be short on designs for your clay. The great thing about this set is you will receive a set of 5 artists’ brushes, so you’ll be ready to paint as soon as it arrives!

Can you use nail varnish on air dry clay?

Yes! If you wish to add a splash of colour that also seals at the same time then try using nail varnish to add a design to the air dry clay.

For the best results, use good quality brushes to apply the paint and once the design is completely dry add one or two coats of sealant to help protect the design and prevent it from peeling off.

What materials will I need to paint air dry clay?

  • Fine sandpaper – Ideal to smooth away small lumps and bumps on the air dry clay.
  • Clear gesso – Apply one or two coats to the air dry clay to seal it and make it less porous.
  • Acrylic paints – Ideal for creating lots of designs. Gives a good, even colour finish.
  • Paint brushes – Smooth, flat brushes in varying shapes and sizes, perfect for creating a variety of designs.
  • Sealer – Protect the painted design with one or two coats to form a waterproof barrier.

How to paint air dry clay


You Will Need

  • Fine sandpaper
  • Clear gesso
  • Acrylic paints
  • Paint brushes
  • Sealer

Total time:

Step 1

Smooth The Surface

Use fine sandpaper to remove any jagged edges or small lumps and bumps on the surface of the clay then remove any dust.

sanding air dry clay

Step 2

Seal the Surface

Apply a layer of clear gesso with a small, flat paint brush then leave to dry. Add another coat if desired.

sealing the surface of the clay

Step 3

Draw The Design

Use a pencil to lightly draw out your chosen design on the air dry clay.

draw your design onto the clay

Step 4

Paint The Design

Choose the colours of acrylic paints you wish to use then use suitable paint brushes to apply the colours to the design. Allow to dry then apply another layer of paint on top if required.

painting your air dry clay with a rainbow design

Step 5

Sand The Edges

Use fine sandpaper to smooth off any stray bits of paint around the rim to neaten the finished design.

sand the edges of the pottery

Step 6

Seal The Painted Design

Once the paint on the air dry clay is completely dry, apply a layer of sealer to help protect the painted design. Leave to dry then apply at least one more layer on top.

seal the painted design on clay

Paint to your heart’s content

With just a few basic craft items you can create numerous designs, striking or simple on air dry clay items. The individual designs will be perfect for selling at craft fairs or simply giving as gifts.

Why not paint a loved-ones name on to add that personal touch. Get the kids involved too and they can create cool gifts for their friends or teachers. The painting possibilities are endless!

Want to carry on your air dry clay journey?

There are so many clever uses for air dry clay and it’s the perfect craft for adults and children alike. It’s amazing what you can create from just a ball of clay.

For heaps of inspiration check out these air dry clay ideas.

air dry clay ideas