I can answer all those questions, and also direct you to my polymer clay "encyclopedia" site for loads of info on all aspects of working with polymer clay (be back in 20 min or so with all that).
But wanted to say quickly that the most active board for polymer clay here at Craftster is the Completed Projects
Occasional questions and discussions happen on this sub-board but it doesn't have nearly as many posts. Be aware though that at Craftster it's mostly sculpts that are shown and discussed, and only a few of the many other things that polymer clay can do (there are other boards/groups I can direct you to for those).
Okay, back now with your answers:
First, check out the summary I wrote re characteristics of the various brands and lines
of polymer clay in my answer over at YahooAnswers:http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=Ah3TmxMH1b9StHBwtkaivEIW53NG;_ylv=3?qid=20091225104704AAIDebT
...and maybe this one at Craftster though it's a bit older:http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=366723.msg4307846#msg4307846
(Note too that there are *2* lines of Fimo these days, and they're pretty different. I'm assuming you have the newer FimoSoft, not FimoClassic.)
As you'll read, the "best" two remaining brands/lines of polymer clay on the market these days are Kato Polyclay and FimoClassic, though many clayers are also happy with Premo and Cernit
I wouldn't bother with the others, except perhaps for specialty ones if needed, if you're serious about doing all kinds of polymer clay on a somewhat higher level. Kato Polyclay
is more used than FimoClassic now that the manufacturers of Fimo have started focusing on their FimoSoft line and also moved most of their colors to the FS line or dropped them altogether. FC can be a bit harder in the package too, though not always, but good conditioning techniques can take care of that.
....Kato Polyclay does have a slight odor that a few clayers have found objectionable, described as sort of a "new vinyl doll" odor (unless that's changed), so you might want to check out some of the Kato clay to see how you get used to that before committing completely.
....Kato also has only 8 main colors (plus translucent and metallics/pearl, as well as liquid clays, etc), so unless you're okay with being limited to only the 8 spectral colors, you'd be mixing your own colors (most more-advanced clayers do that anyway though--with a pasta machine). Kato colors are easy to mix though because they're very pure colors (Premo is better at that too).
....Donna (Kato) has a particular way of conditioning her clay which you can read about on the Conditioning page of my site, but basically like all the better/firmer clays you'll just want to use a pasta machine and put in only thinner slabs of clay to begin with. Like any firm raw polymer clay, it will also become softer from beating on it, using warming devices or even food processors, and adding thinners if ever necessary. http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120505080320AAJyCe8
As for buying Kato Polyclay
, you might just use Donna's shop site and she often has discounts too if you sign up there:http://prairiecraft.com
You can also find it online at polymerclayexpress.com and probably other sites. Locally, it's usually carried at Hobby Lobby and some other craft/hobby stores (but not Michaels).
Most all polymer clay will be cheaper online (except for the 99 cent sales on Sculpey III), but prices for Kato Polyclay are especially good because it's kind of a one-person venture and the manufacturer VanAken hasn't really put a lot of money behind it.
You might also want to check out the info in my answer here about strategies for doing polymer clay more cheaply
, one of which will be to buy online and also perhaps buy the larger bricks of clay rather than the small ones especially for some colors: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120116075155AAlfxEl
This answer has more on mixing your own colors
too (...btw, an entire palette of colors can be created from just 5 colors--red, blue, yellow, black, lots of white...plus translucent or one of the metallics for more possibilities):http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120825165031AATl9C0
(Kato concentrates can be good for some things, but would be a lot of work to get all your color from mixing those into white/etc.)
Btw, don't toss out your old Sculpey III or FimoSoft. Those can be mixed with other clays for color or characteristics adjustments, or be baked and used as cores, etc, etc.
You might want also to check out this page at my site for info about the various kinds of "metallic" colors
the various brands/lines have (some are mica-based and will do great special effects) since you mentioned a gold:http://glassattic.com/polymer/mica.htm
There's loads more info/tips/lessons/equipment/etc re all aspects of working with polymer clay
at my site, GlassAttic.
Here's a link to the Table of Contents
page there which is really best for finding *where* the topic you're interested in would be located! You can just browse all the way down the page, or you can do Ctrl + F searches for your topic, then use the alphabetical navigation bar to go to the category page you want. http://glassattic.com/polymer/contents.htm
...You might also want to check out the category pages for beads
(as well as for jewelry and pendants) and vessels
since you mentioned those items.
(Note that I haven't maintained the site for several years and lots of links have been broken by their owners, but there's still loads of helpful info/links there.)
P.S. Your Snarky forums look really interesting! Will be checking them out.