You can make great DIY clay paw prints (pawprints) with a few simple inexpensive supplies and a little patience. Making clay paw prints can be a fun way to celebrate new additions to the furfamily, special milestones, or other occasions during your life together. They’re also very special keepsakes as mementos of beloved pets after they pass. We created DIY clay pet paw prints with both of our dogs and our cat, and I know we’ll treasure them now and into the future. Here’s the scoop on how to make your own DIY pet paw prints using air dry clay.
Making DIY Clay Pet Paw Prints
Supplies and Materials
Not keen to craft your paw prints from scratch? Pre-packaged paw impression kits can be a nice option, especially if you’d like to make a special paw print and frame set. These are available from pet suppliers and large online retailers, or you could adapt a baby footprint/handprint kit for use with with pet. You can check out the clay paw print kits on Amazon (affiliate link) for some examples.
Alternatively, it’s easy and inexpensive to create your own custom clay pet paw prints with just a few simple and inexpensive supplies, like we did with our pets. I like using air dry modelling clay (affiliate link) for taking pet paw print impressions, and I’ll explain why in the post below.
To make DIY clay paw prints like the prints shown shown in this post, you’ll need a suitable small plate or tray, cling film (optional), clay, a rolling pin or substitute, a round biscuit cutter (optional), and some warm damp washcloths. You might also find it useful to have a toothpick or similar for removing any little bits of unwanted dirt, dust, or fur from the clay if/as required after you’ve taken the prints. I also recommend treats. Lots of treats. And lots of patience (not optional).
- Air dry clay (affiliate link)
- Plate or tray
- Cling film or suitable alternative
- Rolling pin or suitable alternative
- Biscuit cutter (optional for shaping the clay into a circle or other design)
Types of Clay for DIY Pet Paw Prints
As noted above, I like using air dry clay (affiliate link) for paw prints. It’s usually easy to work with, inexpensive, and versatile for finishing after dry; however, you can also take prints with other hard-setting smooth clays. Some clays are naturally denser or firmer than others, but most need to be worked by hand to soften up the clay before use. When you knead and massage the clay, it warms and softens, becoming more malleable, which is what we need for sculpting or taking impressions. Softer clay make it easier to take clear prints with minimal pressure.
Before preparing the blank base clay shapes for taking your paw prints, test whether the clay is soft enough to readily take an impression of your fingers with gentle pressure. That will help you gauge the state of you clay and the pressure it would take for making paw prints. You want it to be soft enough easy impressions. If you can’t get your clay to work for your fingers, it won’t work for paws. It may need more massaging to warm and soften, or there may be a problem with the clay (old, dry, etc).
Some people use homemade salt dough for DIY paw prints instead of clay. It isn’t as smooth or detailed as prints in sculpting clay, but it’s easy to make and can be very soft for easy impressions. With salt dough, it’s really important to ensure that your dog doesn’t lick or eat any during or afterwards. Although the kitchen pantry ingredients may seem harmless, the excessive salt would be very unhealthy and potentially toxic to your pet. The same caution applies if you’re making other types of salt dough crafts, like holiday ornaments. Careful, furfriends!
Paw Print Preparation Tips
Impressions are best taken when your pet is relaxed and in a cooperative mood. If you have a particularly active pet or one who dislikes having their paws handled, an extra human helper can go a long way towards keeping things controlled and calm during the process. A great thing about working with air dry clay is that you can just re-roll and start over if your impression attempt doesn’t go to plan.
There may be a bit of clay residue on the paw after you take the impression. Have a warm clean wash cloth at the ready and take your impressions somewhere with an easy-clean surface. An optional very light paw spritz or rub (paw massage) with coconut oil, olive oil, or similar can help with a cleaner impression and less mess if your pet has rough or furry bottoms on their paws.
Don’t wait until farewell. The best time to take paw prints is before you really want them, although last minute prints are still a treasure if you can get them. When things are fine and your pet is well, time is still on your side. No tears, no pressure. Not going to plan? You can stop and try again another time. Do overs? No worries. Want to take more sometime later for other projects or display? Sure thing!
Making DIY Pet Paw Print Impressions Using Air Dry Clay
Preparing a Clay Base:
- Work your clay in your hands until very soft and pliable. See above for more on clay softness.
- Optional: For ease of handling and clean-up, place a piece of cling film on a flat work surface. Place the prepared clay on top, and then another piece of cling film over the top.
- Roll the clay between the (optional) layers of cling film. Size and thickness will depend on the size of your pet/paw and whether you want any extra space around the finished print for writing. If you don’t have the option of rolling, you can hand-form some clay into a flat patty slightly larger than your pet’s paw.
- Remove the top layer of cling film and place aside.
- Lift the clay and base cling film onto a flat plate or tray for mobility.
- Ensure your pet has a clean paw using a light wipe with a warm washcloth, if needed.
Taking the Impression:
Using your best patient efforts and plenty of treats, get your pet’s cooperation to take an impression. Gently but firmly press the paw onto the clay. If things are a bit wiggly or (I’m looking at you, Tiger…) your pet escapes before you have a clean impression, you can rework your clay and try again. Be patient, and try to keep it fun for everyone. Our older dog was very cooperative, but taking our puppy’s print took several attempts. The cat ran for cover and safety under a bed. All in a day’s DIY exploits at the animal mad house! There are no pictures of the impression step of the process for our collage as I was working solo and my hands were more than full. Again, one more reason to take the prints when there’s no time pressure. You can try again or press pause (hehe) and wrap the clay for another day.
Return the clay to your work surface. Place the clingfilm back on top and trim using a biscuit cutter (or other shape of your choice). The clingfilm is optional, but this rounds the edges as the cutter presses through. A little clay crafting trick that helps give your finished pieces a very nice edge. It also keeps your cutter clean, which is extra important for some other types of clay, like polymers. Excess clay can be returned to the package and re-sealed for future projects.
You can dip a fingertip in water to smooth out the edges and any flaws in your clay, but don’t use it on the print. It will erase the texture of the paw impression. If you’ve picked up dirt or hair in the print, a toothpick or something similar can help with damage-free touch-ups if needed for a clean print. Alternatively, clay can be sanded or touched up with care after the print has dried.
Drying and Setting the Clay:
See the display ideas below for additional work you might like to do prior to setting the clay. Once your print is finished, air dry clay just needs time to do exactly that and air dry. Drying times will depend on your choice of clay and ambient conditions. They will feel touch dry before they’re dried all the way through, so be generous with dry time and wait before doing any painting or sealing. You can leave the print on the plate to dry and harden, it will lift easily from the cling film when dry. You may find it helpful to carefully move or (once hardened) flip the prints if they are thick so that the base gets good air exposure to ensure the print is totally dried out before display or storage.
DIY Clay Paw Print Finishing and Display Ideas
Finishing prior to drying: If you’re planning to hang the prints from a ribbon or string like a decoration (or for use as a Christmas ornament), you can use a skewer to carefully create a hole prior to drying, if you wish. If you’d like their names stamped into the clay, you can also do this before you dry.
Finishing after drying: Once completely dry, air dry clay will be firm and hard but it is still vulnerable to moisture and may be scratched, cracked, or damaged if roughly stored, handled, or dropped. Finishing options depend on the products (both clay and finish), but most types of air dry clay can be painted or sealed after they’ve been thoroughly dried. Check your chosen clay product details for any special instructions. If coating or painting, avoid applying anything opaque thickly, as it may obscure the detail of your prints. Spray painting is an easy option to minimise the risk of losing details to a thick paint or brush marks. An all-over single colour is easy to apply and can be very attractive, especially a gloss metallic which makes your prints look like metal.
Display options: What to do with your prints is completely up to you. Some owners like to display their pet prints while other like to tuck them safely away and a more private memento. One of the tricky things to keep in mind if you plan to display a paw print in a frame or similar is that unfinished air dry clay is often powdery and won’t hold well to adhesive strips. You’ll need to seal the back and/or choose a suitable glue for both clay and the surface to which you’re sticking.
Finishing Our Clay Paw Prints
I am planning to keep a set of each of our pets natural (unpainted) paw prints tucked away in safe storage. Since I’d taken multiples, I also painted a set. For painting, I opted for silver and black to match the vintage-style pegboard frames in our home office. My beasts are too big for their paws to be used as hanging ornaments (other than Tiger), and I like the idea of having them on display in my office year-round. The painting really makes the prints pop, but it wasn’t easy. The prints were spray painted silver, black on the backs, and then carefully hand painted on the edges and the front around the prints. It’s all a matter of personal preference of course, but I think I’d just use all over metallic if I was painting more paw prints in the future. That’s much easier and still very attractive.
A Pawnote on Our Pawprints
On a very sad note, it’s been years since we first shared this post and both Tiger and our sweet senior Oli have since crossed the rainbow bridge. We also did extra sets of clay paw prints as well as some ink paw prints with Oli in his final months. I am so glad that I have their prints from happier times. If I didn’t, I think I might have wanted to take a final print (clay and/or ink) before our last goodbye, if my heart could manage. Time is not always in our favour and not all furfamilies are lucky enough to have long years together. Some vets offer paw print taking for deceased pets or you can ask for a little time with your loved one to make your own set of prints. If the loss or illness of a pet is what has brought you to this post, I send you a giant virtual hug from one pet parent to another in your time of sorrow.