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Water Tattoos and Polymer Clay

Application of Water Tattoos on Round Beads

With the offering of water tattoos I became curious whether they would be successful on round beads. I worked on a number of experiments with what appeared to be unusable results for the most part. Continuing with the experiments and posting to my clay group, I was able to combine shared suggestions and discovered a very successful method for application of these tattoos to round beads.

Supplies and Tools:

  • Clay (Sculpey is not recommended, as it's too soft)
  • Body art water tattoos
  • Corn starch
  • Large soft paintbrush
  • Sponge
  • Paper towels
  • Pencil or pen
  • Smoothing tool
  • Thin doll needle (or hole piercing tool of your choice)
  • Future floor polish or Flecto Varathane finish

1. Cut around the tattoo design keeping all layers of film attached, including the packaging film if possible, leaving a small edge and one longer corner to use as a pull tab. (there are 3 films, the outside packaging film, the clear cling film on the design side of the tattoo, and the paper backing) The outside packaging film will fall away after you cut the design.

2. Roll your clay into a round ball and determine where, and in what direction, you will lay the tattoo.

3. Keeping in mind the direction you will be placing the tattoo, carefully roll the cut design around a pen, pencil or your fingers, softening it and giving flexibility. If you are going to apply the tattoo at a diagonal, roll it in that direction. The actual tattoo design will be facing the pen or pencil. The design you see in the photo at the right is the back of the water tattoo. Some manufacturers print the design on the back, but not all.

4. Wet the sponge, put a generous application of cornstarch on a paper towel, and place both close to your work area.

5. Remove the clear protective sheet from the tattoo, trying not to touch the tacky design (use the corner tab left on the design from trimming).

6. Place the bead down on your working surface. Center the tattoo on the bead, using your finger (thumb was easiest for me) to gently hold it in place. The tattoo backing will remain stiff until water is applied.

Note: If you do not use enough water to completely wet the backing, the design will pull up in those specific areas not fully soaked. The water tattoo is actually a very fragile decal, not inked paper.

7. Wet the back of the tattoo thoroughly, ignoring any dripping water. Using your free hand, (still holding backing down) pat the backing from the center out to the edges. The backing should slip off easily once the transfer has adhered to the clay, (if it doesn't, then you need more water). Using the sponge, carefully pat down the design, using a light touch, removing the the slick residue. Gently blot the bead with a clean paper towel to remove the moisture and let it set for a minute (right).

8. Place the bead on the paper towel dusted with cornstarch and using the large soft paint brush, generously dust cornstarch on your hands and the bead. Gently roll the bead in your hands, smoothing and correcting any deformity, adding cornstarch as needed for easy handling and protection of the design.

9. Decide where you want placement of the hole, and using your preferred tool, pierce through the bead. You can easily correct any deformity once it is on the needle. The design will not move. (After curing, you may create the hole with a dremel tool if you wish.)

10. Check for bubbling on the tattoo, and if you find any, carefully smooth them out to the edge with your fingers or smoothing tool. During the entire pre-cure handling process, it's very important to keep the cornstarch application constant. It will not affect the sharpness of color. You cannot sand using this technique, so spend some time making sure you are satisified with the smoothing.

11. Cure the bead using the clay manufacturer's directions. Polyfiber is a good bed to cure it on, or your usual method. Don't be concerned if you find some small bubbles or lifting of the design edge after curing. The finishing application will correct it.

12. With the needle, pierce any remaining bubbles left on the tattoo design. Apply a light coat of Future with a paint brush. This will reseal any problem areas should they occur. Apply at least 3 coats of finish (more if you prefer a higher sheen), allowing each to dry thoroughly between applications.

Further Notes:

This application can also be used in the creation of cabochons.

Lynn Krucke was key to the success of this technique, as it was her suggestion to use corn starch, which allowed the necessary handling without disturbing the tattoo. Please visit Lynn's Inkjet printable body sticker tattoo tutorial. Her pins are breathtaking.

Suzanne Ivester also created a gorgeous pin and earrings set using water tattoos on blended clays. She prepared a combination of Fimo Soft Silver and Premo Pearl, mixing her gold color with a yellow ochre/gold using plain black water tattoos. You can see her wonderful creations here. This demonstrates the versatility of the water tattos on color blended clays and the unending creativity for its use.

Have Fun!!!

Donna Westfall
©2002 Text and Photos

We want to thank Donna for sharing this fascinating new technique with PCC! If you have a lesson or tutorial that you would like to share with PCC, please email or and we will help you prepare your project for the PCC Website.

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