This all depends on the type of finish you want. A lot of polymer artists prefer their pieces to be natural and unglazed. We prefer that at times ourselves -- it all depends on the individual piece and the finished look we are aiming for. You can get a nice sheen by buffing with a soft cloth or towel and you can also get a high shine if you buff with some sort of buffing wheel. If you are aiming for this... your piece needs to have a very smooth finish. This involves sanding your work with different grits of wet/dry sandpaper. I have also found that the smoother your clay is before baking, the less sanding you will have to do afterwards. Some people finish with 1000 grit sandpaper, others go up to 1500 or 2000. I have found that there isn't too much difference in smoothness or shine above 800 grit so it is all a matter of what clay you are working with and your own preference.
Then there is the type of buffing wheels to use. Dave and I were on a hunt some time ago looking for just the right buffing tool that wouldn't break the bank. Some of our clay colleagues had fabulous buffing machines that were to drool over but we decided to go simply and make more use of the tools like our dremel, we already had. I read up on Desiree McCrory's site about her new buffing pad and so we went on a hunt to find the right fabric to make our own. It is a simple concept but does a beautiful job and leaves a really high sheen! We use a drill press stand so it frees both hands to buff making it easier and safer to use. If you are interested in buffing pads already made, I have them available for sale here.
To Glaze ..... the How and Why.....
So if you prefer to glaze your pieces, many have asked which one do you use and what works best. This is something that is a little different for everyone but I will share with you what we have learned from our past experiences.
Some polymer clay techniques using inks, mica powders or chalks, require some sort of glaze finish in order to protect them from wearing off. One of the newest type of glazes that polymer clay artists have discovered is the PYM11 (Preserve Your Memories 11). This is amazing stuff and works well as a sealing agent, especially if you are using inks or mica powders. It leaves a soft matte finish so if you prefer your piece to be glossy, you can use PYM11 as a sealer and then coat with Future acrylic afterwards.
PYM11 is only available as an aerosol spray so is a more difficult to use on smaller type beads. It also has a very strong odor so you will want to use this outdoors in the fresh air so you do not breathe in the fumes.
How to Use: Lay your pieces out onto a paper lined tray. Spray your pieces very lightly. Allow to dry (a few minutes) and then turn your tray around so you are spraying from the opposite direction and give a light spray again. Turn your pieces over and repeat for the other side.
Type of Finish: soft matte
The Diamond by Flecto is available in glossy, semi-gloss and satin finishes. It is also available in an aerosol spray which is great for larger type surfaces. In many of our pieces like our animal prints, we prefer to use semi-gloss as it actually gives more of a soft satin gloss look and isn't overly shiny. I fill a small jar to use from instead of using it straight from the can. If it gets a little too thick, you can add a little water to thin it out and it will apply much easier.
How to use: A good quality clean soft paintbrush is the key. If you do not use a good brush or have too much varathane on your brush, it will cause streaks. Apply several very thin coats, allowing to dry thoroughly in between. You might still notice a bit of streaking after the first coat but that will eventually lesson after each application. After your pieces are dry, you can harden your finish a little more by baking your pieces at 200 F for 12-15 minutes. This also helps get rid of any small streaks that might still be showing.
Pro: Dries very quickly between coats and leaves a nice finish.
Con: Not so good on items with a lot of mica powder, chalks or inks as a sealer.
Type of Finish: semi-gloss to satin
The other type of glaze we use is Future -- which is now called Pledge with Future. You can see by the photo that I still have the old style bottle and how little we've used over the past 5 years or so! A little of this goes a long ways and one bottle will seem to last forever!
This is our preference when we want our pieces to have a permanent high shine. We especially prefer to use it on pieces that require more wear and tear like pens or mirror compacts. If our pieces have mica powders, inks or chalks applied, we generally spray them first with the PYM11 and then coat with Future to add the shine and add a little more protection.
How to use: You can use a clean soft dry paintbrush or some people like to use q-tips. Both work good but I prefer a brush. Apply several thin coats, allowing to dry thoroughly in between. Future takes a little longer to dry so takes a little more patience. I found that if you apply the next coat too soon, it leaves a lot of streaks so I have to wash it off or sand it and start all over so is best to allow to dry completely between coats.
You can also harden your finish more by baking again afterwards at 200 F for 12-15 minutes. This also helps to bring out a little more shine.
Pro: Makes a good hard finish and works well for sealing pieces when using mica powders, chalks, etc. as well as long wearing items such as pens (see note below). Should also mention that it has a very nice and pleasant smell.
Con: Very time consuming as several coats need to be applied with lots of drying time between coats.
Type of Finish: glossy to super glossy
Note: Working with mica powder pigments
If you are using mica powders to your piece, they must be applied on raw clay before baking or they will not stick. Rub the powders into the clay with your finger rather than just "dusting" them on with a brush to make them "stick".
After baking, wipe off any excess powders with a soft dry cloth. If there are any loose mica powders on the piece they can prevent it from being sealed.
You can then continue with applying your favorite sealant. If you want it to be more durable, spray with PYM11 first, allow to dry and then apply several coats of Future Acrylic or Varathane.
If you are using the brand "Pearlex", you do not have to seal as they contain a resin, however, if you apply future acrylic or varathane afterwards, the colors will "pop" more.
I hope this helps answer some questions you might have regarding finishing your pieces. Feel free to ask any questions or leave other tips and tricks in the comments here.