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Topic: What I learned about shrink plastic (tips and tricks)  (Read 28878 times)
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rabbit_sun
« on: April 24, 2008 08:48:40 AM »

So, you want to try shrink plastic?  
I have been working with shrink plastic for a little while now, experimenting with different mediums and techniques, and thought I would share what I had learned.  I am, by no means, an expert, but crafting is about sharing, and I thought I would share what I have learned thus far.

Where do I buy them?
I use two types, Shrinky Dinks and Poly Shrink.  I can buy Shrinky Dinks at Hobby Lobby.  They are pretty good at keeping the different types in stock, and even the dinks that you can run through a printer.  (the different types are frosted rough and ready, crystal clear, white, black, and the inkjet type)
My favorite is Poly Shrink, though.  For the same price, I get better shrinking results (no distortion or warping of the design).  You can purchase Poly Shrink through Amazon or The Lucky Squirrel (www.theluckysquirrel.com).  If you would like to find a local store that sells Poly Shrink in your area, use this link: http://www.luckysquirrel.com/findastore.html.  I found an independent stamp supply shop nearby that carries Poly Shrink this way.  Poly Shrink also comes in a variety of styles.
You can also get artist's grade shrink plastic from Dick Blick.
(Sorry if you are not in the US, but I only know US resources.  I know in the Shrinky Dinks sticky topic on this board, people have put resources for UK sellers of shrink plastic and I think Australian resources.  Do a search and check it out.  And I will be sure and post some non-US resources if I happen to run across them.)

Ok, I have them... Now what?
Here are some basic rules for shrinkies:
Shrinky Dinks require a higher oven temperature for shrinking than do Poly Shrinks.  I used 350 degree F for the dinks and 300 for the Poly Shrink.  You will know if the temperature is too high because the pieces will curl up and stick to themselves in a matter of seconds, and you are left swearing at the oven.  Wink 

Make a ruler!  This is my best piece of advice (and the best piece found in the instructions  Smiley).  Using an actual ruler, mark off one inch and half inch increments on a piece of shrink plastic with a permanent marker.  It can be as long as you want, but most sheets are 8x10 inches, so 10 inches is probably as long as you can go.  Now, shrink your ruler.  Now you have an accurate guide for shrinking. (I would recommend making a ruler from each different type of shrink plastic that you plan on using, especially if its a different brand.  Even the clear and frosted Shrinky Dinks had different shrinking proportions.)

Make a "color guide".  Clear shrink plastic is, in my opinion, the most difficult to use.  If your markers streak, the streaking will be very noticeable, also, the colors on unbaked shrink plastic seem very transparent and watery.  They DO get darker with baking.  So, if youre using a 24 pack of Sharpies, make a mark along a piece of plastic with each color, and then bake (Hey, you can stripe up your ruler!).

The best coloring medium is, of course, the Sharpie marker.  I buy mine at Wal-Mart where they are infinitely cheaper, although look for them on sale at office supply stores, too.  I also use Bic Mark-It markers.  These, too, can be found at Wal-Mart and are very good quality, and come in a variety of colors.  For the frosted shrinks, I like to use colored pencils.  Markers, any brand, have the tendency to bleed when used on the frosted side.  If I am going to make something that will only be one color, I will use the markers.  I draw the outline on the glossy smooth side and color on the rough side.  Even if the color bleeds outside of the outline, I just cut the excess off when I cut out the shape.  (Actually, you want this bleeding to occur.  During the baking process, the color shrinks within the outline, and you can be left with a ring of uncolored plastic within your outline.  So, color to the edges, underneath the outline.)
If you would like a more intricate design, colored pencils are the way to go.  I use plain old Crayola colored pencils, and have not had any problems.  I still do the outline trick with a Sharpie, because this seems to give the plastic a more dimensional look.  The only trick to colored pencil shrinks is that the plastic MUST be sealed after baking.  The pencil will eventually rub off.

If you find yourself all out of frosted shrinks and would like that nice matte white background (or want to use your colored pencils) sanding your clear plastic is an option.  I use a 3M super fine sanding sponge which makes quick work of sanding.  (I found mine at Home Depot, and any grit above 400 works well, I think mine is actually a bit higher, but I threw the package away, so I dont know exact grit.)  First, sand one side from side to side going across the width of the sheet, then sand from side to side going across the length of the sheet (only sanding one side) in a sort of cross hatch pattern.  With the sanding sponge, my plastic feels almost soft to the touch, if that makes sense.  It is not glossy smooth, but not rough, either.  Then I run the sheet under water on both sides to remove the sanding dust.  Blot dry with a paper towel.  If you see dark spots on your plastic, it just needs a little more sanding in that area.  Sand again, rinse, and dry. 

Templates are your best friend in shrink plastic.  Shrinks can be very unforgiving.  My advice is to make a template of your design.  First draw your design in pencil on a piece of paper.  I use cheap, medium weight sketch pad paper.  Once you are happy with your design, trace it using a permanent marker or pen.  Now you can tape your design to your plastic and trace away.  I am not always careful when tracing the outer edges, because I know I can cut it off later, but do be careful on any inner lines.  Templates are also the best way to get uniform pieces if you are making something that must be the same, like earrings. 
I like to color certain parts on the front of my plastic, and certain parts on the back of my plastic.  For example, if I want a leaf, I will trace the outline and the veins in one color on the front, and then color in the back in another shade of the same color.  It gives your shrinks a very 3D quality.

Oh!  If you want a hole in your shrink, punch it now.  I have found that a regular hole punch (like for notebook paper sized holes) works well, but you can experiment.  Holes shrink, too!

Ok, I am ready to bake!
I bake my shrinks on a piece of cardboard from the back of a sketch pad.  You can use the back of a legal pad, a cut-up cereal box, etc.  Or, you can use a baking/cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or cut up brown paper grocery bags.  (Dont use wax paper, aluminum foil, or bare metal!!!  You can use shrinks bare on a Teflon or non-stick pan, but cooling takes a bit longer.)

I covered oven temperatures earlier, so I wont repeat myself.  But do make sure the oven is pre-heated!

Ok, put your shrinks on your baking surface.  If you have done the outline method, put the outline side down on the baking surface with the most colored side up.  If you have done all coloring on one side, put this side up.  (For frosted or sanded plastic, almost always put the rough side up.  However, if you have only colored on the glossy side (like I did with my pandas, for example) put the glossy side up.)
I do only one or two at a time, in case there are any problems.  Ok, put them in the oven.  A toaster oven is awesome, but I use a conventional oven and it works fine (and mine doesnt even have a window Tongue).  If you can view your progress, youre lucky.  The dinks will start to curl up, forming a cup shape.  If yours curl up as soon as you close the oven door, your oven is TOO hot! 
Sometimes, the more intricate a shape is, the more likely it is to curl on itself and stick that way.  If you notice your piece wanting to stick to itself, you can open the oven and un-stick the piece (use gloves or soft wooden chopsticks, or be nutty like me, and use your bare hands AT YOUR OWN RISK).  Sometimes, the shrink seems as if it will stick to itself, then flattens itself out again.  Another solution to sticking pieces is to take the problem piece out of the oven and let it cool.  It will harden and look ugly and twisted, but I have had very few pieces that I had to sacrifice to the garbage gods because of sticking*.  Once the piece has cooled and hardened, pull the piece, gently, where it is stuck to itself until you hear a little snap sound.  Its not broken, you are just releasing the plastic from itself.  Now, put your piece back in the oven.  The piece should flatten on its own, it will just take a little bit longer than an unbaked piece.
(The only time I had to trash a piece, #1 my oven was too freaking hot, and #2 the piece curled up on itself in three places and there was no way to un-stick them all without breaking the plastic.)

By monitoring your shrinking process, you can pull the pieces out as soon as they uncurl and have flattened back out.  (I have no window, so I peek into the open oven door.)  Once I see the pieces flatten out, I count to thirty and then take them out of the oven.  If you are doing the parchment lined pan method, pick up the piece of parchment (with your shrinks) and set them flat on your work surface.  (The paper and shrinks are not hot enough to damage regular countertops, but I dont work on granite or marble, so, you could use a large wooden or poly cutting board.)  If you use cardboard, I simply take the cardboard out of the oven, place it on my counter top and then place a Pyrex baking dish on top of the shrinks.  This will help flatten your piece, because they do tend to sort of buckle in the middle when cooling.  You can use a flat-bottomed Pyrex baking dish, another sheet of cardboard weighted by a book, a phone book (this works well, but I tape a piece of parchment to the cover of mine, because I did have ink transfer from the cover to my plastic once).

My piece is done now, right?
Well, that is entirely up to you.  I like to embellish my pieces, for fun, and seal them, for durability.
I embellish my pieces with glitter glue.  I use glitter on the front of my piece (this is the side where you have outlined, or, the side that will face out if it will be a pendant, earring, etc.).  I experimented using the glitter on the other side, but the glue gets cloudy and is less glitter-y through the front.  It will still get cloudy, but now the cloudiness is on the back of your piece.  (Making sense yet?)  Most types of glitter glue work well.  I have used cheap stuff from the dollar store, some fine-tipped glue pens from Michaels (sorry no brand name for you, but they are the cheaper ones), and Rose Art.  Embellishment is entirely up to you.  Put as little or as much glitter as you want.  (Just do not glitter your shrink before baking, the glitter will flake off, bubble your plastic, and take the color with it. Live and learn.)
If you are using clear plastic, you can color the edges of your piece with a marker.  I use the side of the marker tip for this.  You can use the same color as your outline, but ink does get darker during baking, so it might not be an exact match, but it will make the piece seem more finished.
Now, let that sucker dry (the glitter and marker ink).  When glitter glue dries, it will flatten against the plastic.
After everything is dry, I like to dip my pieces into a bowl of water and blot dry with paper towels.  This gets rid of any dust or debris that might make its way into the sealer.
(Do it quickly for a glittered piece, but it should not hurt completely dried glitter glue.  Also, if any of your ink runs in this process, it will not withstand the sealer, and it means your ink is water-based, which does not work with shrink plastic.)
Now, you are ready to seal.  I dont have experience with spray sealers, but The Lucky Squirrel has a great table for suggested sealers that are both sprays and liquids.
I have been using DecoArt Triple Thick crystal glaze.  The crystal finish gives your piece a nice glass-like shine.  Satin finishes will be a little more on the matte side. 
I have found two methods that work best.  The first is to use a sponge brush that is almost as wide as your piece.  Dip the sponge into the sealer and let a nice fat blob sort of fall onto your piece, then roll your piece around to let the sealer run over and coat the piece.  I wipe my brush on the inside of my sealer jar and then use the brush to push the rest of the sealer to the edges.  Now, let it dry (I dry mine on wax or parchment paper so it wont stick if some runs through the hole you have punched or off the sides.)  Let dry over night, and, if needed, do a second thin coat.
The second method is one to use if you are afraid that the marker will smear*.  Using a wide sponge brush, paint a thin layer of sealer quickly over your piece. Let dry completely (this may take over an hour) and put another thicker coat.  Let dry over night.

*Honestly, the only problem marker I have is the black Sharpie.  It leaves a purple halo around things when the sealer hits it.  If you have made a color guide for your markers, as I suggested earlier, you should test your sealer(s) out on that.  Not all colors have the same reaction, obviously.

If you find a bit of leftover sealer stuck around the edges, gentle sanding will take it right off.  I then use a damp cloth to wipe away any sanding dust.  Just make sure your piece is COMPLETELY dry, not even tacky to the touch or you will end up with fingerprints in your glossy finish.  An un-bent paper clip is the perfect size for pushing sealer out of any holes that you have made in your piece (assuming you used a regular sized paper punch), or I use a straight pin.

(Make sure you check the Shrinky Dinks sticky topic for advice.  I know someone used a spray sealer that worked well, with no streaking.  It just took a few coats.)

After your pieces have dried, they are ready for jump rings, ribbon, etc.  Use your imagination.  

Ok, I think I will create a separate post for the double-bake method and I will have that up tomorrow.

Happy shrinking!  Grin
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« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2008 09:37:38 AM »

Wow.! You're a mind reader.!

I just bought a 10 sheet pack of shrink plastic.!

Thanks for the tips..!!!!
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« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2008 11:57:52 AM »

Awesome, awesome post!  You have no idea how helpful everything you've said here is to me!  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

*now hits the bookmark button!*  lol
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McJulie-O
« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2008 12:49:50 PM »

Very helpful!

THANK YOU!
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« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2008 05:40:08 PM »

Great info! Thanks so much! Smiley
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« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2008 08:14:06 PM »

YAY!!!!!  Great tute!!!  can't wait for the next on double baking!
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« Reply #6 on: April 24, 2008 09:10:29 PM »

I'm so glad you typed all of that out!! I never did shrinky dinks as a kid and I've been wanting to make some stuff out of them for so long! I've been too embarrassed to ask someone about them thinking EVERYONE knew how to use it. As soon as I get some extra crafting and shopping time I'll be trying it out.

I now have Shrink Courage!!
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« Reply #7 on: April 25, 2008 04:17:50 AM »

YAY!!!!!  Great tute!!!  can't wait for the next on double baking!

I was thinking the same thing...bring on the double baking!!!  Smiley
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sewcranberry
« Reply #8 on: April 25, 2008 04:27:42 PM »

Thank you SO much for this fantastic info, it's much appreciated!  Can't wait to try the pack I've had sitting around for who knows how long!  Grin
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« Reply #9 on: April 25, 2008 07:54:35 PM »

I have 4 new packs coming that I ordered today.  Two of the injet, 1 white, and one rough and ready!  WOO HOO!  I'm gonna be a shrinky-dinkin' fool!  LOL
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« Reply #10 on: April 26, 2008 12:57:36 PM »

Great tut!  I have been working with dink lately and you certainly do live and learn!  I have some great stuff I need to take some pics of and post.  I can't wait to find out about double baking!
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« Reply #11 on: August 04, 2008 08:22:50 PM »

Well, after screwing up two batches of shrinkies tonight, I finally sought help on Craftster (which should have been my first step, but there you go).  I'm tired of it, but next time I do it, I will have your tute handy.  THANK you!
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« Reply #12 on: August 24, 2008 09:04:13 PM »

Thank You for this, it's so nice of you to make this. I made notes Smiley
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msminnamouse
« Reply #13 on: February 14, 2012 11:38:44 PM »

I'm confused about something. When you bake them, they'll curl up? So you take them out of the oven and then put them back in and they then flatten all on their own?

Can you use acrylic ink instead of Sharpies? How about enamel paint?

What do you personally use for cutting out your shapes? If you don't have a cutting machine, would the thinnest Xacto blade be good for cutting?

I'm a newb.
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