Paw prints are a great way to celebrate new additions to the furfamily, special milestones or occasions during life together, as well as to hold on to mementos of beloved pets after they pass. We created these DIY clay paw prints with both of our dogs and our cat during good times. I know we will treasure them in the inevitable sad times to come. Here’s the scoop on how to make simple DIY clay pet paw prints using air dry clay.
Making Clay Pet Paw Prints
Supplies and Materials
You can buy pre-packaged paw impression kits (which can be a nice option if you’d like a paw and frame set). Alternatively, it’s easy to create your own custom clay pet prints with a few simple craft supplies, like we did with our pets.
To make a DIY impression paw print like those shown shown in this post, you will need a suitable small plate or tray, cling film (optional), clay (a non-toxic air dry clay works well), a rolling pin or substitute, a round biscuit cutter (optional), and warm damp washcloths. You might also find it useful to have a toothpick or similar for removing dirt, dust, or fur from the clay print if/as required. I also recommend treats. Lots of treats… And patience (not optional).
- Air dry clay
- Plate or tray
- Cling film or suitable alternative
- Rolling pin or suitable alternative
- Biscuit cutter (optional)
Types of Clay for Pet Paw Prints
I like air dry clay 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 clays. Some clays are naturally denser or firmer than others, but most need to be worked-over by hand to soften 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.
Before preparing your clay rounds for trying to take impressions with your pet, 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. If you can’t get your clay to work for your fingers, it won’t work for paws. It may need more massaging or there may be a problem with the clay (old, dry, etc).
Some people use homemade salt dough for prints instead of clay, which isn’t as smooth or detailed a print as with clay, but is easy to make and can be very soft for easy impressions. With salt dough, make sure that your dog doesn’t 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.
Paw Print Preparation Tips
Impressions are best undertaken 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. The nice thing about creating with air dry clay is that you can always just re-roll and start over if your impression attempt doesn’t quite go to plan.
There may be a bit of clay residue after you take the impression, so 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.
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.
Making 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 you pet escapes before you have a clean impression, 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 in the far recesses under a bed. All in a day’s DIY exploits at the animal mad house! No pictures of that step – I was working solo and my hands were more than full.
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, of course, 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 (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. The 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 your print on the plate to dry and harden as 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.
Finishing and Display Ideas
Finishing prior to drying: If you’re planning to hang the prints (like a decoration or 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. 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 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. Just because! I opted for silver and black to match my vintage-style pegboard frames. 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. I think I’d use all over metallic if painting in the future. Much easier and still very attractive.
A Pawnote on Our Pawprints
On a very sad note, our senior cat, Tiger, has since passed away. I am so very glad that I have these prints from happier times. I think if I didn’t have these, I might have wanted to take a final print (clay and/or ink) before our last goodbye. If my heart could manage. Some vets offer paw print taking for deceased pets or you can ask to make your own. 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.