how to: handcrafted shrink plastic bracelet

Jenn Anderson Design: Shrink Plastic Bracelet

finished charms make a cute bracelet

[Previously posted on Jenn’s Boundless Blog]

Last week I found a new transfer medium for my design images, shrink plastic!  An updated version of the classic shrinky-dink from our youth, this plastic medium is really fun to work with. The finished product is light-weight but super-sturdy and can be made into a variety of different things. Of course my first love is wearable art, so I started with making jewelry pieces. I’ve come up with a basic tutorial for you that covers how to make a simple, fun bracelet, earrings or pendant by incorporating  images with shrink plastic.

Things you’ll need:
•Artwork(available here through my etsy site)to print on plastic
•ShrinkyDinks for Computer InkJet Printers
•Computer/InkJet Printer
•An Oven or Toaster Oven
•Paper Bag or Craft Paper to put charms on in oven
•Parchment Paper for flattening crooked charms
•2.5 inch Round Paper Punch
•1/8 inch Round Hole Punch
•Sealant like EasyCast Epoxy Resin or any type of Matte or Glossy Fixative Spray
•Resin coat needs: mixing cups, stirring sticks and disposable paint brush
For finishing jewelry piece:
•Jewelry Pliers
•6mm Jump Rings
•Clasp for Bracelet or Ear Wires for Earrings or Bail for Pendant

shrink plastic supplies

Just like the last tutorial, the first step is designing your finished piece and assembling your supplies. Try picking the images you’d like and figuring out how many charms you need for whatever you are designing, whether it’s a necklace, bracelet or any other item.

Shrink Plastic is an interesting medium because not only will the size of the image shrink as your heat your charm, but the color will also intensify.  This tutorial starts with 2.5-inch round charms that will shrink to approximately 1-inch finished charms.  Keeping that in mind, you’ll want to use graphics that you can lighten a bit or purchase one that is already formatted for shrink plastic. The graphics I designed for shrink plastic are also lighter to start with, so that as the plastic shrinks the color will intensify nicely, but not darken too much  (each image has a before and after to view when you’re selecting my artwork, so that you can see what your finished piece will look like before you’ve sealed it).  Once you’ve assembled all your supplies, the rest of the project should go fairly quickly until you reach the sealing stage.

Now would be the time to pre-heat your toaster oven or regular oven to between 275 and 300 degrees.  I set mine at 285 degrees.  The plastic does off-gas a bit when heating, so make sure you have sufficient ventilation.

The next step, after you’ve gotten your final images ready, is to print them up.  Remember that you are working with a 8 x 10″ sheet and format accordingly.  My first test went wonky when I still had my sheets formatted to 8.5 x 11″, so be careful. :-)  Also, check to see which way your printer prints, because you’ll want your images to come out on the dull side of the shiny plastic and not the super shiny side.  Once all that’s figured out, go ahead and print out your sheet.  You don’t need to lay down a lot of ink on the plastic, so just a regular print setting will work fine.

shrink plastic ready for oven

When you’ve got your sheet printed up, you’ll want to cut out your shapes.  You can use scissors or a paper punch.  I prefer the paper punch so I can get uniform charms.  Don’t forget to use your hole punch to cut any holes you’ll want for the jump rings or stringing BEFORE you pop the pre-cooked charms  in the oven.

After everything is cut and ready, and your oven is pre-heated, you’ll need to cut out a sheet of brown paper bag or craft paper to lay on your cookie sheet underneath your charms.  Place the cut charms on top of the brown paper and pop the cookie sheet into your pre-heated oven for 3 to 5 minutes.  I did all of this in a toaster oven I use for crafts, so I was able to keep an eye on the whole process.  You’ll want to be fairly accurate with your temperature, otherwise the plastic will shrink unevenly.  Timing for me took a bit longer, I let them sit for six to seven minutes, but that’s because the toaster oven isn’t great about retaining it’s heat.  Once the charms have shrunk, you can pull the charms out of the oven.  If you have a couple wobbly ones, you can fix that by immediately putting some parchment paper on top of the charms and then flattening them with something heavy like a book or ceramic tile.  You need to do this while they are still hot though, otherwise it won’t work – and they cool quickly!

shrink plastic fresh from the oven

Finishing the charms is matter of personal preference, you can either seal them with a fixative spray like Krylon or put a coat of resin on them with something like EasyCoat.  I tried the fixative spray, but then I decided to put the EasyCoat seal on the next batch because I love that extra layer of depth and finish that a coating of resin gives to it.  The resin finish will take longer to cure than a spray seal – it took about 36 hours to get a hard cure on my charms.  But the durability factor is also great.  The bracelet I finished with resin is tough and fantastic.

To finish with EasyCoat, first you need to prep your EasyCoast according to instructions, it’s an easy one-to-one ratio but you need to double mix.  Then carefully brush an even coat over the image side of your charm.  While applying the resin, be careful to keep the holes you’ll use to jump ring your bracelet together free of resin, you don’t want to clog up your joining holes.  Another option is coating the whole thing with EasyCoat and then drilling the holes in the charms once the seal has cured – it makes for a very nice hole, but adds extra labor to the project, it’s tricky drilling those little charms. ;-) Once you’ve coated your charms, let cure for allotted time.

Jenn Anderson Design: Shrink Plastic Bracelet

final piece put together

Once your charms are fully sealed and cured, you can assemble your final piece.  Use your jewelers pliers and add jump rings between charms to create a bracelet chain.  If you have charms with one-punch holes to make a pendant or earrings, add the jump ring to this hole before connecting to your ear wires or bail.  The finished bracelet chain then needs the clasp added, but be sure to measure first and make sure it is the correct size for your wrist.  Six charms strung together plus a clasp make a 6.5-inch bracelet.  If you need one bigger, just add charms… and that’s it.  You now have a gorgeous handcrafted bracelet!


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