Trying to come up with a DIY activity for your kids? Then look no further than designing your very own shrinky dinks. Now, there is a good chance that these items were a part of your own childhood, but you may have forgotten all about them.
Well, not to worry because this is just the refresher course that you need! Below, you will discover all that you need to know about shrinky dinks, including how to make your very own. So, let’s get started…
What Are Shrinky Dinks?
Shrinky dinks were invented in 1973, but there were especially popular in the 1980s. Back then, they were craft toys that were a part of activity packs. As such, you could purchase them from retailers.
However, what are shrinky dinks, really? They are essentially thin sheets of flexible polystyrene. The sheets may contain cartoon shapes or you can simply draw your own. Then, it is a matter of coloring the images, cutting them out, and popping them in the oven.
In the oven, the polystyrene shrinky dinks contract, taking on smaller dimensions. At the same time, it hardens quite a bit, making them ideal for playing with later on.
How Much Do Shrinky Dinks Shrink?
Traditionally, shrinky dinks will shrink down to 1/3 their original size. The plastic will also become 9 times thicker and heavier than it previously was. However, these dimensions are based on most commonly found forms of shrinky dink paper.
The actual shrinkage can vary from one brand to another. And, even when using homemade shrinky dink plastic, there may be some variations in how much the plastic shrinks. This is why it is always a good idea to do a test run first.
Cut out a measured portion of the shrinky dink plastic and bake it. Once cooled, check the new dimensions of the plastic. This will give you a better idea of how much the plastic that you are using can shrink when exposed to heat.
Why Do Shrinky Dinks Shrink?
Another common question regarding shrink dinks is just why it is that they get smaller in size in the oven. Well, this has to do with the kind of plastic that is used.
As mentioned, shrinky dink paper is made from a plastic polymer known as polystyrene. It is also referred to as #6 plastic. The polymer chains that make up the polystyrene are naturally bunched up. There is no proper organization and instead exists as random clumps.
When shrinky dinks plastic sheets are made, the raw polystyrene is first exposed to heat and then rolled into thin sheaves. After this, they are rapidly cooled to maintain this new shape. During the heating and cooling process, the basic structure of the polymer is altered. It goes from being disorganized to organized.
Still, the material is primed to go back to its original structure. Therefore, when the plastic is exposed to heat, the sheets go back to their more disorganized state. This is why it shrinks and becomes thicker.
What You Need to Make Shrinky Dinks at Home
Here is a breakdown of what you will need to make shrinky dinks at home:
- Permanent markers
- Cookie sheet or baking tray
- Parchment paper or aluminum foil
The main component of your DIY shrinky dinks is polystyrene or #6 plastic. Although this may sound pretty fancy, you will be pleased to learn that it is quite easy to find it! This is because #6 plastic is used for quite a bit of commercial packaging.
Do you know those clear, plastic containers that you get from delis, salad bars, and grocery stores? Well, this is made from polystyrene. To make sure that you have gotten the right kind of plastic, look for whether the containers have a recycling symbol.
Then, check for the number 6. If this is present, then you have found yourself some polystyrene! What’s great about this project is that it allows you to use packaging that you already have, preventing you from creating any more waste than necessary.
Technically, you can use any kind of marker on the plastic. However, permanent markers will give you the best effect. This is because most recycled polystyrene tends to be incredibly smooth. As such, you will have a tough time trying to get the ink to stick with any other kind of marker apart from permanent marker.
Parchment Paper/Aluminum Foil
The last thing that you want is for the plastic to melt and to get stuck to your cookie or baking tray. To prevent this from happening, use parchment paper or aluminum foil to line the tray. Make sure that it covers every inch of the baking surface.
How to Make Shrinky Dinks at Home
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to make shrinky dinks:
Step 1: Draw and Cut Out Images
Draw your images and color them in. When you are done, carefully cut them out, close to the outline.
Step 2: Prep the Baking Tray
Line the baking tray with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
Place your shrinky dinks on the tray but make sure to place them several inches away from each other. This way, they are less likely to stick together.
If you want to make larger shrinky dinks, put only one piece of plastic on the tray at a time.
Step 3: Preheat the Oven
Set the oven to 350°F and allow it to heat for a bit.
Step 4: Bake the Shrinky Dinks
At around the 1 minute mark, the shrinky dinks will begin to curl inwards on themselves. Don’t worry, this is a normal part of the process and it will straighten out in a short while.
After 2 or 3 minutes, the shrinky dinks will shrink and straighten out. They will not become any smaller after this point.
Take the shrinky dinks out of the oven after around 3 or 3½ minutes.
Let them cool completely before trying to handle them.
How Long To Bake Shrinky Dinks In Oven?
Now, you may be wondering just how long you should leave the shrinky dinks in the oven. Most people would agree that you should bake them until the three minute mark. In some cases, you can go all the way up to three and a half minutes.
At the same time, you do have to appreciate that each plastic may shrink at its own rate. This is why it is important to keep an eye on your shrinky dinks. Don’t wait too much longer after they have begun to contract. After all, you don’t want to melt the plastic!
Tips and Tricks for Making Shrinky Dinks
If this is the first time that you are making shrinky dinks, here are some tips and tricks that you can use to make the process go more smoothly:
Consider Using a Toaster Oven
Some people have reported a burning or acrid smell when making shrinky dinks. If you are concerned about this, it is a good idea to use a toaster oven instead. Set up your toaster oven in a ventilated area and bake the plastic. If you have a long enough extension cord, you can even use the toaster oven outside.
If this isn’t an option for you, make sure to leave your exhaust fan running in the kitchen and leave any windows open as well. And, once you are done baking your shrinky dinks, empty out the oven, turn the temperature up to 400°F and allow it to heat for several minutes. This should help to get rid of any lingering smell.
Use a Test Image
As mentioned, it can be difficult to know how much a particular piece of plastic will shrink or even how long it needs to be baked for. To avoid any mistakes with your main images, it is a good idea to have a test image first.
In fact, you can cut out images of several different dimensions. Then, once you have baked them, you will be able to see just how much they shrink. This will give you a better idea of what size you should make your main images.
You may also want to time how long it takes each image to shrink as well. Then, you can apply this time to your future batches and take all guesswork out of the equation.
Use Lighter Colors
When your shrinky dinks shrink down, the colors become darker and more vibrant. This is something that you should be mindful of when you are coloring the images. It is a good idea to use lighter colors as darker hues may become so dark that they are indistinguishable.
If you don’t want to take a chance, you can also test out different colors on your test images. This will show you the exact change that each and every shade will undergo.
Use a Punch Hole for Charms and Key Rings
Do you want to make shrinky dinks that can double as bracelet charms or key rings? Well, it is quite easy to do that. Once you have drawn and cut out your image, punch a hole where you would like to insert a loop. This should be done before the image is baked as the plastic will be too hard afterwards.
Then, place in the oven and bake as usual.
Make Shrinky Dink Rings or Bracelets
If you would like, you can even make shrinky dink rings. For this, you would need to cut out thin or thick strips of plastic and color in any pattern that you like. It is a good idea to test out how long the strips of plastic will need to be to fit around your finger or wrist once they have shrunk.
When making bracelets or rings, you do have to work fast. The second that the plastic has finished shrinking, take it out of the oven. Then, make sure to wear heatproof gloves to protect your hands. While the plastic is still hot and soft, wrap it around a cylindrical object that has a similar circumference of your finger or wrist.
Once the plastic has taken the appropriate shape, you can remove the cylindrical object and allow the plastic to cool in the ring or bracelet shape. If you find that your strip of plastic is just too long, place it back in the oven. After it has softened up a bit, you will find it easier to trim using a pair of scissors.
Use an Aluminum Foil Tray for Faster Results
As you are probably aware, baking and cookie trays tend to be pretty thick. This means that heat must be conducted throughout the entire tray before the shrinky dink begins to curl and shrink. This can take a while.
If you want to shorten your baking time, make a makeshift tray using aluminum foil. Create a sturdy base using one or two layers of foil. Then, turn up the sides so that you have something to hold onto when removing the shrinky dinks from the oven.
Simply place the shrinky dinks on this tray and bake. Still, keep an eye and make a note of how long each image takes to bake. After this, you can use a timer for future batches.
So, there you have it – your guide to making your very own shrinky dinks. As you can see, it is a lot easier than you might have imagined. In fact, you may have all the components that you need for this project right there in your home.
Just make sure to follow all the instructions as well as tips and tricks when working with the shrinky dinks. This increases the chance that they will come out just the way that you like. Still, don’t worry if it takes a bit of trial and error. Once you have figured out the exact process, you will be able to create beautiful designs all by yourself.
All that there is now left for you to do is to go put this theoretical knowledge to use. Go ahead and get started!