September 19, 2011

How to make f'opals (faux opals)

Blog, I find it fascinating that lately we're getting thousands of visitors to the post we did about crazy homecoming mums, when I've never even made crazy homecoming mums. I have, however, made my own brand of faux opals which (thanks to my uberpal Martha's idea) I call f'opals. Why look, here's a f'opal I made now--check it out!

Our readers can make f'opals just like this, Blog! That is, of course, if they have the required items on this Required Items List:


  • translucent polymer clay (and the usual tools/equipment for working with same)
  • opal colors of clay, in metallic or pearl varieties (I used blue and green; peach, yellow, pink and purple would be good too)
  • Perfect Pearls metallic powder in opal colors (see above)
  • iridescent glitter
  • Dremel tool
  • bits for rough sanding, finer sanding, polishing and drilling
  • Future floor polish
  • Optional--iridescent or opal colors of thin foil


The general thing about making f'opals, Blog, is that you are trying to recreate the random, translucent, crystalline aspects of an opal. So start by making yourself some globs of translucent clay tinted into pastels, by mixing a bit of metallic or pearl color clay with translucent. Don't mix it too much...go for swirly.

When you have two to five colors, roll them into ropes of varying thickness. Then combine the ropes by twisting and smooching to produce a random, only slightly mixed ball of the various colors.

Get out your Perfect Pearls powders of choice, as well as your iridescent glitter. You can also prepare some tiny teeny snippets of foil if you want, but make them teeny. You can also take some metallic colored clay, roll it out very thin, and chop it into tiny bits...but remember if it is dark colored, you will get an effect not totally opalescent (but still interesting).


Slice the multi-tinted ball of clay into thin layers. Take a layer and paint with some daubs of Perfect Pearls, or sprinkle with some glitter, or top with a piece or two or three of foil or clay fragment. Top with another layer, and repeat. Continue in said fashion, going for random and multicolored.

When you've stacked and festooned all the layers, press together and form into a spheroid shape. Twisting a little is fine--just make sure all the layers are pressed together firmly.

Cut your f'opalescent glob into any number of smaller globs, the approximate size you want the ultimate f'opals to be. Gently roll each piece into a sphere.

Roll some plain translucent clay into the thinnest possible layer. Cover each sphere with this clay and then round into a ball again and make sure any seams are smoothed out.

Bake as usual for the type and size of clay (I did 20 minutes at 270 degrees).


So, Blog, up until this point my technique was not really different from other people's you can read about in online tutorials. But at this point things took a hard left turn onto Freaky Street.

In the oven, all my f'opals cracked. For whatever reason, the outer shells cracked and half came off, and some of the inner parts cracked as well. As it turned out, though, I think this is what made my technique end up to be really cool.

You will want to prepare a big bowl of ice water and set it near the stove. When it's time to remove the f'opal wreckage from the oven, dump everything at once into the ice water. This is what makes the clay go as clear as possible.

Now it may well be (highly likely, I'd say) that your f'opals don't crack in the oven. Not to worry. When they are cool, just dry them off. Lay some paper on a hard surface like your concrete basement floor, put on eye protection, and smack those suckers with a hammer. Gather up the resulting f'opal wreckage (some small pieces, some tiny) in a small plastic bag and you're good to go back to your claying area for the next step.


The little bits of f'opal wreckage have all kinds of fun crystal-like qualities. Choose a piece or two that you especially like, and then coat them once again with plain translucent clay and roll the result into a ball. If you can't exactly get a smooth ball, that's okay--you don't need to.

Re-bake, and re-plunge into fresh ice water. Your new and this-time-for-real faux opals will look like what you see in the photo.


Time to literally crank that Dremel tool, Blog. Don your mask and eye protection, and a smock or old clothes. Start with the rough sanding bit in your Dremel. Take a baked, cooled, dry f'opal.

Use the Dremel to sand, with two goals in mind: to shape the f'opal into its desired ultimate shape, and to expose some pretty areas. Under the plain outer shell, underneath you'll find really interesting colors and patterns and sparklies. The color, intensity, and shine of these will increase with the later steps. It's like digging for buried treasure!

When you have the basic shape you want, switch to the fine sanding bit and make the f'opal smoother all over.

Lastly, switch to the buffing bit and buff the heck out of that little guy. No doubt it will fly out of your hand a bunch of times (and shoot under the most cobwebby shelving in your basement, possibly), so keep a good grip if you can. Don't stop until it seems almost perfect.

Wash any dust off, dry, and get out the Future and a small paintbrush. Give the f'opal two coats of Future (one side at a time, so that's four steps total), allowing 20-30 minutes drying time in between coats. Now it will gleam just like a real opal!

Drill a hole through the f'opal if you wish to string it, and you're done! So here's the choker necklace I made with a few of my batch of f'opals...

Blog, I've wanted to make my own opals for a very long time...they are my favorite semi-precious stone. Now I have the next best thing at a fraction of the cost. That mother-of-all-f'opals focal-f'opal is my pride and joy!


  1. Diana, this is Erica. I couldn't comment on FB so I'm doing it here. This is so cool! The faux opals look amazing! Nicely done! Looks like a bit of a long process, but the end result is well worth it because wow!

  2. Beautiful! But too much work for me, lol! The F'OPAL WRECKAGE is surprisingly lovely in its own right. And floor polish for the shine, eh? How well does that last? Any odor?

  3. Thanks so much, Erica and CC! It is a long process, but fortunately a fun and largely relaxing one.

    CC, Future is the perfect glaze for polymer clay. It seems to wear well, and no odor at all. This summer I tried using it to shine up some art glass we keep on the patio, and it didn't last real long there...could be the elements and/or not a perfect affinity for glass. I guess, being acrylic, it's a similar substance to the PVC that makes up polyclay.

    And as for the "wreckage," I completely agree, and stayed tuned for what I do with that! ;-)

  4. Hi Diana! Thank you so very much for this tutorial! I love all the steps and futzing about. (like cooking all day). This is the best (and only f'opal) I've seen yet! Can't wait to try it. On step 4, do you take the bits and work them into trans clay then make balls? or just cover the bits with the thin sheet of trans? It looks like balls to me. I guess I'll experiment when I get to that stage. (the other posts were long ago so don't know if you'll even see this!)
    I really appreciate your generosity with this tute!!! On my way to the clay table! ;)

  5. Hi Amy--Either way will work, the trick is not to use too much trans clay, so you'll be able to see through it as much as possible. I'm glad you enjoyed the tutorial and I hope you have fun with your project!

  6. What fun!! Now following you, my Dear!

  7. Hi Diana,
    You probably won't see this since your article was so long ago. If you make a hole in the bead before baking or drill after baking, you can put a wire through the hole to give you something to hold on to when sanding. Or you could use a knitting needle and hold the bead with one finger while sanding. Much better than sanding your fingertips off. great tutorial.