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Using Shrink Plastic

A material gaining in popularity and no wonder as it inspires and surprises with every new piece. The metamorphosis from stamp and colour to shrink is always a revelation as you are never quite sure of the result.

Types of shrink plastic:

Various products from different companies including unsanded, sanded, in black, white, frosted and clear. The plastic shrinks to approx 45% of the original size.

Black - shrinks the fastest and the 'gooiest'; white - good for clear, sharp colours and using with pencils; frosted - one side ready roughened with a clear back for 'window' designs, and totally clear for a variety of effects.

If not bought ready sanded you will need to sand the plastic first using 320 - 400 grade wet and dry paper for best results and sanding both ways and both sides if you wish to colour the back as well. Sanding the back also helps to avoid sticking when heating. Do not sand clear plastic or it will have a frosted instead of clear appearance.


The most important thing to remember is that the colour intensifies after shrinking so 'less is more', go easy or results will be very dark. A few trial runs and you will find the right balance.

Think shrink, think non-porous?

There are few 'definites' with shrink plastic, each make and type can behave differently. However there are a few inks that will always work well, and others that rarely do.

Stamping directly onto the plastic there are two surfaces to consider. One the un-sanded, shiny and slippery side and the other sanded or frosted (ready roughened) side.

Some pigment and dye ink will not dry on un-sanded shrink, even with heat, and many dye inks bleed on sanded shrink. After trying the following experiment with the inks in your workbox.

You will see that there are sometimes reasons for not sanding although a steady hand is needed on the slippery surface.

Inks that will give clear dry images on both sanded and un-sanded surfaces:

Heat Set and permanent pigment inks 'hold' on the slippery surface. Brilliance, Fabrico, Crafters, Versamagic, Stazon and the only permanent dye ink that I find satisfactory - Ancient Page.

Inkpads for sanded surfaces:

Various pigment inks, Ranger Archival, Fluid Chalk ink

To dry ink a little before shrinking and to avoid smudging when curling, hold the heat gun very high above the stamped plastic - hand hot- for 15 seconds before lowering to shrink. This is one of the times when a hair dryer is useful as you don't worry about too much heat.

So you don't want an uncoloured background - no problem, lets colour the plastic first and then over stamp. Extra possibilities now as more inks will bond over a background layer.

Inks for background colour. Brilliance, Colourbox Fluid Chalks and chalk palettes are always reliable for background colouring. Apply direct from the pad onto plain or sanded surfaces, not too much and blend colours before using the high -heat method to dry and set ink. Brilliance pearlescent 'ice blue' is especially impressive and rainbow pads work well, do not apply too thickly.

When dry over stamp with Brilliance, Fabrico, Fluid Chalks or a range of other pigment and dye ink. Adirondack, Versamark pigment, Ancient Page; too many to mention, try for yourself as many will give a clear sharp image. Stazon might blur but is better on some surfaces than others.

Other Colouring Mediums.

For direct to stamp and background use.

Colouring in Images.

Colouring pencils, both watercolour and plain blendable are the ideal medium for shrink plastic; easy to use, an endless range of colours and perfect, clear and bright results. Remember, a light touch as colour intensifies when shrunk. Use on a sanded surface.

  1. Inkpads or re-inkers with a Fantastix or blender pen. Brilliance, Fluid Chalks, and try others on sanded surfaces.
  2. Paint - acrylics. Use weak colours applied with a brush on sanded and unsanded surfaces. A very nice result is stamping the clear side of frosted plastic and when dry turning over and colouring in on the frosted side with acrylic paint then shrinking.
  3. Re-inkers and alcohol based inks
  4. Felt tips
  5. Pastels.

Cutting and Shrinking.

Pieces can be cut before or after colouring. The edges become sharper after shrinking so round the corners a little and/or trim to the eventual shape that you require. It is possible to trim after shrinking with sturdy kitchen type shears and a shot of heat will soften the plastic.

Punch a hole before shrinking saves drilling afterwards. Remember the hole will also shrink. Edges can be cut with decorative scissors.

The first time you shrink is quite alarming if you do not know what to expect. The plastic curls and twists alarmingly before finally flattening. Hold down with a wooden stick, brush handle, chopstick or tweezers. Just touching the stick on the surface is enough to stop it blowing away.

Move the heat gun with a circular motion for an even heat and slower heating can help keep difficult shapes from getting out of control. There are differing views on gentle/fast heat; you find your own preference with practice.

Clear plastic might stick to itself so gently prise apart before cooling and reheat a little if necessary. Small, delicate shapes might need some extra attention to straighten. When ready use a piece of thick card, wood or the back of an Acrylic mount to flatten. If you have a raised surface from bubbled paint etc. do not press, the piece will lie reasonably flat without pressing. The warm plastic can be bent and twisted into shapes if preferred. For large pieces - or multiple pieces for necklaces etc. shrink in an oven. A toaster oven is recommended but not necessary, Shrink plastic is a non-toxic material even when heated. A regular oven. 225%F or 110%C for five minutes + without pre-heating will help prevent curling, but higher heat is often also recommended - experiment again. Use a Teflon baking sheet and when cold the pieces will easily lift off. The sheet is also useful when shrinking with a heat gun. Use over a stack of paper or board to protect worktop. An off-cut of laminated board from a DIY store is very inexpensive and useful when painting as well as when shrinking.

Chalks, aqua pencils or any water-soluble colorant will need sealing. Diamond Glaze is an excellent sealer/varnish as is Krylon Crystal Lacquer and Krylon Matt Varnish, but try first. Pieces stamped and coloured with permanent inks can be left unsealed if preferred.

Gluing is another tricky subject affected by the type of plastic and colouring on the surface. Thin slices of glue gun glue stick melted with a heat gun will join pieces together and strongly adhere onto card and other surfaces. Apply direct to plastic, hold with a kebab stick and blast until melted or melt a little on foil or heat mat and transfer with a cocktail stick to the plastic and join to other surface. Beads and glitter can be added before drying. Try Diamond Glaze, Aleene's Tacky Glue and special bead craft glue for attaching beads. UHU Power Stick holds well-sanded surfaces together. Sand surfaces to be joined with an emery board and peg or clamp together for better adhesion. If you are able, get 'Quick Grab' or E6000 glue from USA, these are perfect for shrink plastic.

What else can be done with shrink plastic?

Stamping into the hot plastic after shrinking. Remember to start with a piece more than twice as wide and long as the finished stamped image. Colour before shrinking, and add embossing powder for a special colourful effect before shrinking. Leave the stamp until cold and it will lift off easily. The stamp can be inked for colour or the piece coloured when cold with paint, chalk, ink or Metallic Rub-ons

Cut ribbons of plastic and wrap around a chopstick while hot to make beads. Wrap ribbons into spirals when hot or cut thin ribbons and weave together before shrinking.

Practice pieces.
Shrink Art is the one technique that really benefits from a few samples. Try all the different coloured shrink. Frosted shrink is easy and useful for beginners; clear one side with a rough finish on the other.

Cut a sheet into 20 x 5cm squares. Choose one or two stamps with clear lines and open spaces to colour. Flower heads, cutie animals or brushstroke images etc. are suitable for samples.

Try stamping first with some of the suggested inks on clear and rough sides. Shrink and see the results. Try colouring in images as suggested and shrink.

Now try some background ideas, over stamp or add embossing powders, glitter etc and shrink.

Try a couple of painted samples. See how the images stamped on the rough side can been also seen from the back - two images for one. Try thicker paint and shrink for a bubble effect.

Add embossing powder with Versamark before shrinking for magical colouring and texture.

Keep samples and attach with sticky dots to a piece of card and label as a reminder of best inks etc.

Now you are ready to create your own fantastic art. Please share new ideas and discoveries with other stampers when ever possible.

Happy shrinking

©Freyja Lee for Blade Rubber Stamps 2009
Freyja is a regular teacher of popular Classes at Blade Rubber

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