Shrinking Plastic Techniques

Shrinking Plastic Techniques
Shrinking plastic has a long history as a child’s craft, but it gaining popularity and sophistication as artists are realizing this materials diversity and charm. While some do-it-yourselfers will recycle #6 plastic from take out containers or even use plastic from soda bottles, plastic can easily be purchased with several different qualities. Black plastic will melt the fastest, frosted plastic will have one side presanded, and white plastic will be good for sharp colors. As with many art forms, the health risk of heating plastic does seem questionable, but manufacturers claim shrink plastic is non toxic even when heated.

First, decide what you would like to make. It can be a piece of jewelry, luggage tag, bookmark, scrap booking embellishment, key ring or cell phone charm, etc.

It is recommended that most plastic be sanded with fine sandpaper for better color adhesion. The plastic can then be stamped using permanent ink such as ZimInk, Versamagic, Stazon, and Brilliance, and can be colored with chalks or colored pencils. Fabric paint, glass paint, waterproof inks, permanent markers, and felt tip pens can also be used to color your images. You can apply color direct from the pad, but don’t put too much on since the color will get darker when the plastic shrinks. Wax crayons or water-soluble markers are not recommended. Outline the edges with a metallic marker will give your piece a finished look.

The plastic can then be cut into the shape that you want. There are so many choices! There are templates available specifically for shrinking plastic. A fun template is available for a guitar pick, as well as holiday icons. If you wish to make your plastic into a jewelry charm, now is a good time to punch a hole with a standard hole punch, and it should shrink down to a reasonable sized hole for a jump ring.

Now it’s time to shrink the plastic! Put the plastic on cardboard covered in aluminum. This can be done in a preheated toaster or regular oven, but not in a microwave oven. The temperature should be at 275 degrees, but all oven temperatures vary, so you should test some plastic before you begin. The cardboard covered in aluminum and preheating the oven is to prevent uneven heating. A heat gun may be used instead of the oven, but you will need a tool, like a chopstick, to prevent it from blowing away. Watching the plastic shrink can be quite a surprise the first time. The plastic will curl and twist around as it shrinks. Depending on the plastic that is being used, it could shrink anywhere from ½ to ¼ of the original size.

Be very careful when removing the plastic. Obviously, it will be hot! The shrink art should slide off of the aluminum, and you should place a weight over the plastic for 15- 30 seconds to encourage the plastic to dry flat. When the plastic is cool enough to touch you can sand the edges with a nail file.

When the plastic is room temperature you can put a sealer coat on your work. You can use a clear acrylic spray, such as Krylon or Klear Kote, or you can choose a more lacquered look, like Amazing Glaze or Glass Kote. If you want a thicker coat you can dip your work in UTEE.

If you chose to collage several pieces together make sure you coat each piece with a sealer before adhering the pieces together.

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