What are clay beads made out of

Clay beads have been used to create jewelry and adornments for thousands of years across many cultures. But what exactly are these popular craft components made out of? Clay beads can be made from a variety of different materials, ranging from natural earthen clays to modern polymer compounds.


Ensure quality and consistency

At their most basic level, clay beads are made out of clay - an abundant natural material composed of fine-grained minerals. Clay can be dug straight from the earth and shaped into beads. Most jewelry-grade clays used today are specially processed to ensure quality and consistency. Natural earthen clays like terracotta or earthenware tend to be porous and fragile after firing, making them less suitable for frequent wear. Still, skilled artisans can transform basic air-dried clay into beautiful ornaments.


Natural colors and textures from the firing 

In many parts of the world, locally sourced clay remains a common material for handcrafting beads. Natural clay beads lend themselves to ethnographic and tribal designs. Wood-fired clay beads also take on natural colors and textures from the firing process. However, unfired clay is quite fragile and requires protective coatings if worn regularly. Most artisans use glazes, paints, or sealants to stabilize natural clay beads.

For consistency and durability, many commercially produced clay beads are made from ceramic compounds. Ceramic clays feature finely tuned particle sizes, compositions, and firing characteristics. Uniform ceramic beads are ideal for stringing as jewelry or incorporating into other craft elements like lampwork glass beads. The firing process vitrified and hardens the clay into a rock-like state. Glazes and colored stains can be used to add vibrant, lasting colors. Common ceramics used include red earthenware, white porcelain, and smooth stoneware clays.


Texture of clay beads

In recent decades, polymer-based compounds have become a popular material for creating arts and crafts items like beads. Polymer clays feature plasticizers, fillers, coloring agents and other additives blended with a PVC resin base. When baked at relatively low oven temperatures, polymer ingredients bind together permanently through a curing process. Polymer clay products feel stiff and durable compared to air-dried clays. Their flexibility, bright colors, and ease of use make polymer clay beads ideal for homemade jewelry or kids’ crafts.

Popular brands like Fimo, Sculpey and Kato Polyclay offer an array of pre-colored and specialty polymer modeling compounds. By mixing colors and patterns, creative beadmakers can achieve handcrafted works of “art clay” jewelry. Leftover clay can be stored nearly indefinitely and reused later. The versatility of polymer means clay bead shapes are limited only by the crafter’s imagination. Smooth round beads, detailed beads with base relief designs, odd shaped beads, and long glass-like lentil beads are all possible. Textures and faux materials can be mimicked as well.

Nowadays epoxy clay has also grown popular for creating detailed clay bead designs rapidly. Epoxy putties cure at room temperature by mixing separate resin and hardener compounds. 


Sculpt intricate beads

Jewelry makers sculpt intricate beads, focal pieces or cabochons from colored epoxy. Resin dyes and pigments add dramatic visual effects. The fast curing time means molded pieces can be handled again quickly. Epoxy also makes an exceptional adhesive for ornament assembly or attaching clay beads to other materials.

Acrylic polymers share some similarities with clay in their moldability and curing process, but tend to produce harder, more plastic-like beads. Liquid or pellet acrylic plastics can be shaped with molds or lathes then hardened through heat or chemical reaction. Acrylic beads offer bright permanent colors but lack natural textures. Various acrylic mediums have uses in nail art, painting, bonding, and fabricating custom clay bead tools.

So whether you’re firing natural clay, kneading soft polymer, or mixing quick-drying epoxy, rest assured clay beads have been bringing creative visions to life since ancient times. With myriad modern and traditional materials to explore, clay and clay-like arts offer endless options for innovating handcrafted jewelry, keepsakes and decorative objects. The timeless medium permits endless tweaks, reinventions and new self-expressions using one of humanity’s oldest and most versatile substances – clay.

Back to blog