What Gloss Is Used For Clay?

Gloss refers to the shininess or sheen of a surface finish. When working with polymer or air-dry clay, a gloss can be applied to give the clay piece a shiny, glossy look.

Applying a gloss is an optional final step when creating clay pieces. It creates a smooth, polished effect and enhances the visual appeal. Gloss also seals and protects the clay surface.

There are several types of gloss that can be used, ranging from high shine to matte. This article provides an overview of the common gloss options for clay and discusses tips for choosing, applying, and caring for glossy clay pieces.

Types of Gloss

There are three main types of gloss that are commonly used with polymer clay:

High Gloss

A high gloss finish gives clay a shiny, reflective surface that looks like glass or plastic. High gloss is achieved by buffing the baked clay pieces with a soft cloth or fine grit sandpaper. The friction polishes the surface to a smooth, mirror-like finish. High gloss works well for jewelry, figurines, and decorative objects where maximum shine is desired.


Satin or semi-gloss clay has a soft sheen that is not overly shiny. It provides a smooth, lightly reflective surface. Satin finishes are created by lightly buffing or sanding after baking. Less polishing keeps some of the natural texture. Satin gloss is often used for faux finishes, home décor items, and craft projects where a subtle luster is preferred.

Matte Gloss

Matte or flat gloss gives clay a non-reflective, velvety finish without any shine. Matte is achieved by not buffing or polishing the baked clay. The surface retains a natural, muted appearance. Matte gloss allows the clay’s color and texture to show without distraction from shine. It’s commonly used for realistic effects, nature sculptures, and anywhere a glare-free look is desired.

High Gloss

High gloss is a very shiny, reflective finish for clay. It gives clay a wet, glass-like appearance. High gloss is achieved by applying multiple thin coats of a clear glaze or varnish to bisque fired or air-dry clay.

High gloss is commonly used:

  • For porcelain dolls – High gloss resembles real skin and brings out facial features.
  • As a finishing glaze on pottery – It makes colors vibrant and gives a smooth surface.
  • For jewelry pieces – Adds shine and brilliance to pendants, beads, and cabochons.

To apply high gloss:

  1. Ensure the clay is completely dry and free of dust.
  2. Apply thin coats of glaze, allowing each coat to dry completely between applications. Too thick of a coat may crack or bubble.
  3. Allow the final coat to cure according to package directions, usually at least 24 hours.
  4. Buff gently with a soft cloth to increase shine.

Multiple coats are necessary for an ultra-reflective, glassy finish. At least 3-5 coats are recommended, some artists apply 10 or more coats. Be patient and allow proper drying time between coats. The finished high gloss surface is durable and water-resistant.


Satin or semi-gloss glazes have a medium sheen that falls between high gloss and matte finishes. Semi-gloss glazes are smooth and reflect some light, giving clay pieces a soft glow without being too shiny.

Semi-gloss glazes are versatile and work well on a variety of clay bodies and pieces. The moderate sheen highlights textures and details nicely. Semi-gloss glazes are commonly used for:

  • Sculptural pieces
  • Decorative bowls, vases, pots
  • Mugs, cups, plates
  • Figurines
  • Wall art

To apply a semi-gloss glaze:

  1. Make sure the clay piece is completely dry and free of debris.
  2. Apply 1-2 thin, even coats of the glaze using a brush, sponge, or spraying.
  3. Allow each coat to dry before adding another.
  4. Fire the piece according to the glaze manufacturer’s instructions.

Semi-gloss glazes flow nicely and have good suspension properties. They adhere well to bisqueware and fire to an attractive satin sheen.

Matte Gloss

Matte gloss has a dull, non-reflective finish. It absorbs light rather than reflecting it, creating a flatter, understated look.

Matte gloss is often used for:

  • Sculptures and figures meant for display. The matte finish adds realism and a lifelike quality.
  • Functional pieces like mugs and bowls. Matte finishes hide fingerprints and feel smooth to the touch.
  • Art pieces where the sculptor wants the focus on form rather than surface shine.

To achieve a matte look:

  1. Allow the clay piece to fully dry and harden.
  2. Lightly sand the surface with fine grit sandpaper to smooth any rough areas.
  3. Apply 1-2 thin, even coats of matte varnish, allowing to dry between coats.
  4. Avoid over-brushing as too thick a coat can create uneven dull spots.

Matte varnish brings out the natural color of the clay. For added protection, apply a matte acrylic sealer after the varnish has fully cured.

Choosing a Gloss

When choosing a gloss for clay, there are several key factors to consider:

Finish – The type of gloss will determine the final look and shine of the clay. High gloss gives an ultra shiny, glass-like finish. Satin or semi-gloss is moderately shiny with some sheen. Matte is non-reflective and smooth.

Durability – Gloss helps protect the clay surface. High gloss offers the most durability and is ideal for pieces that will be frequently handled or exposed to elements. Satin gloss is moderately protective. Matte offers minimal durability.

Cost – High gloss glazes or finishes tend to be more expensive than lower sheen options. However, the high gloss may be worth the extra cost for valuable pieces. Matte sprays and paints are generally the most budget-friendly.

Consider the desired look, intended use, and lifespan of the clay piece. High traffic or outdoor pieces may warrant the splurge on a durable high gloss. Delicate items that won’t be touched often can get by with a satin or matte gloss. Test different glosses to see which creates your preferred finish within budget.

Applying Gloss

Once you’ve chosen the right type of gloss for your clay project, it’s time to apply it. Properly applying gloss requires having the right tools and techniques to get an even, smooth finish.

Most clayers recommend using a soft brush to apply gloss. Look for a brush with synthetic bristles rather than stiff hog bristle brushes. The softer bristles will help the gloss glide onto the surface smoothly without leaving brush marks. Choose a brush in a size suitable for your project – a wider brush will be faster for covering larger surfaces.

Before starting, make sure your clay is clean and free of dust. Apply the gloss in thin, even coats allowing each coat to dry fully before adding another. 2-3 thin coats is ideal for achieving a high gloss finish. If brush strokes are visible, gently sand with fine grit sandpaper between coats. Always work in a dust-free area since specks can get trapped in the gloss.

Take your time and don’t overload the brush – a light touch is best for avoiding drips or uneven patches. If you do end up with drips, wait until the coat is fully dry then carefully sand them smooth before applying the next coat.

Work methodically checking for full coverage and watching for pooling at edges and crevices. If needed, gently blot excess gloss with a lint-free cloth. Maintain clean lines by using masking tape around borders and edges.

Allow the final coat to dry fully, which can take 24-48 hours. Then gently buff with a microfiber cloth to bring up an incredible shine.


Despite best efforts, sometimes things can go wrong when applying gloss to clay. Here are some of the most common issues and how to resolve them:


If the gloss appears blotchy or uneven, the clay likely wasn’t smoothed enough before applying the gloss. Try sanding the baked clay piece with fine grit sandpaper before reapplying the gloss.

Visible Brush Strokes

Brush strokes may show through the gloss if the coats are too thin. Apply more even coats of gloss, allowing each coat to fully dry before adding the next. Thin coats are better than thick.


Bubbles in the gloss are typically caused by applying the gloss too thickly or not allowing sufficient drying time between coats. Gently sand any bubbles and reapply thinner coats.


If the gloss cracks as the clay piece bends, the clay may have been under-baked. Ensure clay is fully cured before applying gloss to avoid cracks forming.

Gloss Rubbing Off

If the gloss rubs off over time, the clay likely wasn’t properly cleaned before applying gloss. Make sure baked clay is free of any dust or residue before adding gloss.

Yellowing Over Time

Some gloss can yellow with age, exposure to sunlight, or due to cheap ingredients. Use high-quality gloss and avoid storing pieces in direct sunlight to prevent yellowing.

Caring for Glossy Clay

Taking proper care of your glossy clay creations will help keep them looking their best for years to come. Here are some tips for cleaning, storing, and preventing damage to glossy clay projects:


Use a soft cloth to gently dust glossy clay pieces. For more thorough cleaning, use a mild soap and water solution and a soft cloth or sponge. Avoid abrasive cleaners or scrubbing pads, as they can scratch the finish.


Keep glossy clay items out of direct sunlight, as UV rays can cause fading over time. Store pieces in a cool, dry place away from heat and humidity. Place soft cloth between stacked items to prevent scratches or sticking.

Preventing Damage

Handle glossy clay gently, as drops or bumps can chip the finish. Use display stands or risers to avoid contact between the piece and table surfaces. Consider spraying with a sealant like varnish or polyurethane for an extra protective barrier. Avoid exposure to oils, solvents, or other chemicals that could react with the clay.


In summary, choosing the right type of gloss for clay pieces is an important part of the ceramic creation process. The gloss seals the clay and gives it an attractive, finished look. High gloss is shiny and reflective, satin/semi-gloss provides a soft sheen, and matte gloss has no shine. Make sure to apply gloss properly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Using the right tools and techniques will help avoid issues like cracking or peeling. Proper care of glossy pieces, like avoiding extreme temperatures, abrasives, and moisture, helps preserve their beauty. With some knowledge and practice, you can achieve stunning glossy finishes on your clay art and ceramics.

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