Veni, Vidi, Ventus --
The randomly chaotic and crafty scribblings of a deranged, wannabe artist allowed too many colours in her Crayon box.

Surgeon General's Warning: Some content of "From Pooka's Crayon" may not be suitable for: work, blue-haired little old ladies, the politically-correct, rabid moonbats, uptight mothers, priests, chronic idiots, insurance claims agents, Democrats, children, small furry quadropeds from Alpha Centauri, or your sanity.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Weekender -- The Great Shink!

Shrink plastic -- it's not just for kids!

For those of you that haven't played with the stuff since you were a child, you'd be amazed at what all is out now. Shrinky Dinks is no longer the only company producing it, and frosted white is no longer the only colour you can get, oh no.

There's now black, completely clear, a very white white, and even some earth toned shrink plastic.

And you don't have to use an oven anymore, not with heat guns being sold everywhere. They're faster, more efficient, and make it easier for the plastic to still be warm enough to shape and mold as you like.

You can use your laser or ink-jet printers on shrink plastic! There are, however, a few tricks to doing it (unless you spend more money on printer-friendly plastic):

-- Use a very fine sandpaper, and working in only one direction, sand the slick back of the plastic, otherwise, it won't feed into your printer.
-- Make SURE you put it in the right direction -- if it prints on that slick back, it will never dry and will rub right off, making cutting it out impossible.
-- All colours intensify when the plastic shrinks, so you need to alter chosen images in a program like Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop. Increase the brightness of the image and lighten it, or the end result after shrinking is mud. Try to avoid overly complicated images for the same reason.
-- Make sure you let it dry after coming out of the printer, and do not touch it for a while, or it will smear.

One thing to remember when working with shrink plastic is to always read the instructions. Each brand shrinks a bit differently, so for some, you may have up to 75% shrinkage, others only 50%. This can affect your final piece. If you aren't sure, you can make your own scale to determine the final size. Take a ruler, and copy the marks out onto a strip of shrink plastic -- make sure you get inches and half-inches. Then shrink the strip, and use that against the original ruler to figure out your size.

Another important detail is corners. Sharp corners get even sharper once it has shrunk, which can make for uncomfortable jewelry. Try to round all corners, even slightly, to prevent this. When cutting your piece, make sure that you cut evenly and smoothly -- any tears or angled cuts will be overly obvious after shrinkage, and some will even become dangerous if you aren't careful.

And if you plan to string it in any way, PUNCH YOUR STRINGING HOLES BEFORE YOU SHRINK IT! Yes, you can TRY to drill holes afterwards, but chances are the piece will just shatter or crack. The hole will shrink as well, so use a larger punch to make the hole.

Cutting can be done with scissors, or you can use large punches (remember, they shrink), and even some die-cut machines to cut your shapes. I don't recommend a craft knife, because of the potential for tearing and slippage. Shrink plastic definitely cuts differently than paper.

Can't find shrink plastic locally? You can actually make your own. Many clear plastic take-out containers (especially from salad bars) that have a 2 code on the bottom can be used to create shrink plastic shapes. However, because of the plastic fumes, I do NOT recommend doing this in any oven not dedicated to crafting, and you have to work in a very well ventilated area. A heat gun used outside is far safer.

More Tips for using shrink plastic:

-- Always work on a heat-proof surface (I have a huge marble tile I picked up cheap at a home improvement store that I use for my heat gun, soldering, and even torch work on PMC), because these things get HOT.
-- If you sand the slick side, it will help prevent sticking. You can also use cornstarch or baby powder. Big pieces do have a tendency to stick, but most of the time, if you just keep heating it down, it will even out.
--You can get creative and make a frame that will stop any of the flipping around by taking some metal screen mesh, attaching it to a frame of cardboard, and cover the cardboard edges with aluminum foil. Make sure you have a thick layer of cardboard around the frame, two pieces thick is perfect, and just place that over your piece and heat it through the mesh. There won't be any flipping around. Me, I just make a small aluminum foil "box" and heat it in there -- the foil makes it shrink faster, and the sides of the box keeps the piece from flipping around all over the work surface.
-- Do not use a metal tool, like an embossing stylus, to hold the piece still through the hole. The metal will get hot, distort the hole, and the plastic will stick to it. Also, do not use a large tool, like a thick paintbrush, because the hole will shrink around it and be impossible to remove without distortion.
-- If you heavily sand the slick side, you can easily colour both sides to match, creating a more even look in the final piece.

I've tried just about every method possible to colour shrink plastic. Some work better than others.

-- Permanent inks will dry, making it easier to cut the piece out without smearing.
-- Pigment and dye inks don't like to dry, but if you give them a VERY quick and gentle heating, from a distance, it should dry it enough for you to cut them out without a problem.
-- Alcohol inks work great on shrink plastic! This looks particularly nice with pieces that have been die-cut.
-- Markers work, but again, permanent markers are best for a speedy dry that won't smear.
-- Coloured pencils are always your friend. Even watercolour pencils will work. However, metallic pencils can end up with a muddy look, so use sparingly.
-- Paint pens generally work well, and a white fine-tip pen is great for adding detail over coloured areas, but paints that will bubble with heat can cause a nasty look on the final piece -- test first.
-- I have some permanent pearlescent liquid acrylic calligraphy inks that work nicely on shrink plastic.
-- You can even use mica powders/pigments like Pearl-Ex or Perfect Pearls dusted over the plastic. Colours do intensify, so you don't have to really slather the stuff on heavily.

Now, while you can rubber stamp onto the surface BEFORE shrinking, did you know you can do it afterwards while the plastic is still very hot, and get a look similar to stamping into embossing powder? Yep! The look is more subtle on shrink plastic (and looks fabulous on black), but you can rub metallic rubons over the raised areas to bring the image out further.

Colouring books and clip art books make great sources for images to trace onto the plastic. Embroidery pattern books work well. If you are feeling really brave, or have the patience, some clip art books of large, intricate ornaments can be absolutely stunning.

Shrink plastic images make great custom dimensional charms for scrapbook pages, cards, and ATCs. They make fantastic custom buttons, not only for paper projects, but for use on purses, bags, and clothing. Once shrunk, they are really quite sturdy, and even work as pet tags on collars -- and then you can make another for the pet's pages!

You can also make some creative, custom jewelry using shrink plastic and some imagination -- and planning. Charm bracelets, earrings, pendants -- there's no limit, and multiple pieces can be glued together (I use E6000 or two-part epoxy) for layered effects that make gorgeous pendants.

The Project -- Spiral Earrings


Shrink plastic
Heat gun
Rubber stamps, or images of choice (optional for this project)
Coloured pencils, markers, mica pigments
2 jump rings
2 earring hooks or posts with loops
A thick-handled paintbrush, or mandrel


1. Cut two long strips of shrink plastic, approximately 1 1/2" wide, and 6-8" long.

2. Colour as desired -- keep in mind that the final piece will be a spiral.

3. Punch a hole in the top of each strip.

4. Work with only one strip at a time -- you can't do this well in an oven, I recommend a heat gun, because once the piece has shrunk, you have to work fast.

5. Unless you have asbestos fingertips like I do (from years of wire-work and working with hot glue guns, PMC, polymer clay, and soldering), some sort of heat-resistant glove will be helpful. Keep the heat gun on the piece (you can't over-shrink it) until you are ready to wrap.

6. Leaving the very top with the hole slightly above the end of your chosen mandrel, QUICKLY wrap the rest of the strip around the mandrel. It must be still hot to do this -- but you can always use the heat gun to soften it again if it cools too much while you're wrapping.

7. Repeat with the other strip.

8. If desired, use a metal leafing pen to gild the edges of the spiral (try to match the metal of the earring findings, or get creative and do gradations of metal colour down the edges).

9. Attach a jump ring through the hole on each piece, and attach to the earring finding.

This same project can be done with strips of metal (copper is nice, especially if you suspend it over ammonia for a while to change the colour, or use heat to alter the copper's surface), or even polymer clay, but shrink plastic makes a very fun custom spiral.

You can do this project with your kids -- have them do the colouring, you handle the shrinking and wrapping -- and let them have a great handmade pair of earrings. This is a lot of fun at girls birthday parties, and gives them something they made to take home.

If you haven't played with shrink plastic in years, I hope this inspires you to give it a try again!

1 comment:

trisha too said...

Get well soon!