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How to make shrinky dinks

Shrink plastic is magic! Learn how to make shrinky dinks with our shrinky dink tutorial

A shrinky dinks rainbow and a shrinky dink heart decoration sit side by side on a white ceramic tile

Introduction to shrinky dinks

Shrinky Dinks are a brand of printable plastic craft toys that have become synonymous with shrink plastic. Shrinky Dinks are now shrink plastic (shrinky dinks without the caps for the brand name), in the same way that you can call any vacuum cleaner a hoover. Shrinky Dinks the brand was big in the 80s, when kids could colour in these line art drawing, pre-printed on special thin plastic sheets which, when heated would shrink right down to become thicker and more rigid. You can still buy Shrinky Dinks the brand, but the name now commonly refers to the miniature shrunken shapes you get after heating and shrinking plastic rather than these specific printed sheets themselves.

What is that makes shrinky dinks such a good toy? It’s because shrink plastic is so fun to use and almost magical in the way it transforms. Shrink plastic is one of those materials that really benefits from some fun experimentation. The plain sheets of thin plastic really keep their magical qualities well hidden! If you buy pre-prepared shrink plastic sheets to use for making shrinky dinks, you get one side that is rougher than other, so perfect for colouring on – you can use colouring pencils or felt tip pens for these. The colour intensifies as the plastic shrinks, so keep that in mind and apply colour lightly as it will get more concentrated after shrinking. If you get a sheet without any texture, you can either rough it with sandpaper to let you colour with pencils, or use permanent markers to apply colour to the clear, smooth surface.

In this how to make shrinky dinks tutorial, we are going to show you both a beginner and an advanced shrink plastic project. We hope these shrink plastic ideas help inspire you to craft toys own shrinky dinks projects, too.The beginner shrinky dinks tutorial lets you use any colouring medium on your shrink plastic, where the expert needs some specialist archival pens.

There are lots of ways to shape and add designs to shrink plastic, including die-cutting, hand-drawing and stamping. Adding colour allows you to test out techniques with everything from gel, glitter and felt pens, to alcohol markers, coloured pencils and even wax crayons. On top of creating perfect personalised embellishments, you’ll also discover that the mysterious shrinking process provokes childlike delight every time, whilst producing elegant and sophisticated results!

One challenge of using shrink plastic is that the shrink plastic sheets are often crystal clear. This works fine if you are a paper crafter who can stamp with archival inks, or you have a great selection of permanent coloured pens, but your average crafter does not. However, all you need is a little grade 0 glass paper or fine sandpaper which lets you gently roughen the surface of the shrink plastic sheet. You can then use any colouring materials you like – we are using food old colouring pencils in our tutorial! It’s best to use fairly light shades of pencils, as any colour you use will darken when you shrink the image. Being neat is not important, as you will cut out the image and shrinking concentrates the colour.

Most shrinky dinks can be made by heating your shrink plastic sheet in the oven, but we are using a heat gun for ours. To use an oven, preheat it to 170°C and place the shrink plastic on a baking tray and put a wire rack on top. This will ensure the shrunk plastic is completely flat. It will only take a few minutes for the plastic to melt and shrink to a fraction of its original size. Allow it to cool completely before handling it. If you have a heat gun, place the shrink plastic on a heat-proof surface like a baking tray or ceramic tile. Hold it down gently using a wooden skewer, or something similar, as once you apply the heat it will start to twist and turn. Aim the heat gun at the shrink plastic, keeping it about 50mm away – and watch the magic happen!

The plastic will suddenly start to contort and move in different directions. Usually, the plastic sheet curls up at first but will flatten out as you continue heating and the shrinking becomes more uniform across the shape. Once it has shrunk to its minimum size, it will straighten itself out. You can give it a helping hand by covering it with the back of ceramic tile, to ensure it flattens out completely. Occasionally as the plastic shrinks, it may stick to itself. If this happens, gently prise it apart and reheat it a little. 

How to make shrinky dinks video

We’ve filmed a video guide for our shrinky dinks tutorial. here you can see both the beginner and the advanced projects being made. If you prefer written steps with photos, we have these for you in this guide too. Just scroll down to the How to make shrinky dinks: Beginner heading for the step by step written guide.

Where to buy shrinky dinks

Here are the materials you need for our how to make shrinky dinks tutorial

Shrink plastic sheets

Choose frosted shrink plastic sheets for a ready-to-use product with a textured surface that you can add colour to. Crystal clear are the choice if you are stamping or have permanent markers to use, and you can always add your own texture to clear sheets with glass paper.

Craft heat gun

You can make your shrinky dinks in the oven, but using a craft heat gun lets you get up close and personal with the shrinking fun.

Archival ink pens

If you want to draw directly on a crystal clear shrink plastic sheet, you need a permanent markers like a archival ink pen.

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How to make shrinky dinks: Beginner

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You Will Need

  • Shrink plastic sheets
  • Fine sand paper, Only for beginner version
  • Coloured pencils, Only for beginner version
  • Heat tool
  • Archival pens, Only for advanced version

Step 1

A clear shrink plastic sheet is being rubbed with glass paper to add a surface texture

Take a piece of clear shrink plastic and rub the surface lightly with fine grade sandpaper or glass paper to create a ‘key’. This will help any ink and colour that you apply to the plastic to stick. If you are using permanent markers, you can skip this step if you ant to, but other colouring methods will need this textured surface to stick to the shrink plastic sheet.

Step 2

Coloured pencils are being used to colour a rainbow onto a shrink plastic sheet

Draw your design onto the roughened surface. You can either trace using a template placed under the shrink plastic sheet, or draw freehand as you prefer. There is no need to be super neat when colouring, as the shrinking processes hides a lot of the rough edges. Shrinking also intensifies the colour, too.

Step 3

A shrink plastic rainbow is being cut out carefully with sharp scissors

Use a small pair of sharp scissors to cut out the coloured stamped image. You can leave out any fiddly areas that are hard to cut around and snip around them quite generously. The rougher edges will be less noticeable after you’ve shrunk the image. If you are shrinking to make jewellery or keyring, now is the time to make any holes you need, as this will be much harder to do one the shrink plastic sheet has shrunk.

Step 4

The shrink plastic rainbow is being held on a ceramic tile with a wooden stick while heat is applied with a heat gun

To heat the shrink plastic with a heat gun, hold it around 50mm from the plastic and keep it moving. Shrink plastic curls and contorts as you heat it, but flattens itself out again. Alternatively, heat the plastic for a few minutes in a 170°C oven, until it has reduced in size. Use a wooden skewer (or any heat-proof tool) to gently hold the image down while you apply heat from a heat gun.

Step 5

The edge of a shrink plastic rainbow is starting to curl up as the heat gun makes the shrinky dink shrink

Keep the heat gun’s nozzle a few centimetres away from the shrink plastic sheet and make sure you move the heat gun around so that you don’t get uneven shrinking. Initially, your shrinky dink will curl up, but keep heating, moving the heat gun around, and it will flatten out as more of the shrink plastic shrinks fully.

Step 6

The heart gun being applied to the shrink plastic rainbow has now made the shrinky dink rainbow shrink fully

Once your shrinky dink has fully shrunk, and is flat, leave it to cool before you handle it. If it still is not flat, hear it up again and place a ceramic tile or other flat heat-proof object on top of it while it cools.

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How to make shrinky dinks: advanced

A heart shrinky dink with delicate decorations of hearts, flowers and leaves is held up against the light to show off the detail

While our beginners shrinky dink tutorial works well for kids and adults alike, this advanced how to make shrinky dinks tutorial is really for adult crafters, and will require you to have specialist archival ink pens or other permanent ink fineliners. But look at the brilliant shrinky dink you can create!

Step 1

a heart template is secured under a shrink plastic sheet with a selection of archival finalise plans sit alongside ready to be use for decoration

Start by choosing the template of the design you want to create. Line artwork works best, and we have found that embroidery templates or colouring sheets are a great place to find the shapes that work well as outlines. We are using the template created by Anne Oliver for her free heart embroidery design that we have for you on Gathered. Start by securing your template on a solid surface – we are using the ceramic tile we use with our heat gun – and attaching the shrink plastic sheet on top of it.

Step 2

Archival fineliner pens are traced over the template to add decoration tot he shrink plastic sheet

Use your permanent fine liner pens to trace over the motifs on the shrink plastic. We have had the best results by keeping the bulk of the design as outlines, and only filling some of the shapes with solid colour. The shrinking process is very forgiving, so don’t worry if you make a few mistakes or wiggles in your line art. Even archival inks can smudge when wet, so make sure you are not smudging areas you have already coloured with your hand as you work on other sections. Once complete, leave to dry fully for about 5 minutes.

Step 3

The decorated heart is cut out from the shrink plastic sheet

Once your designs is dry, cut out your shrinky dink shape. The shrink plastic is quite brittle, so it is best to use small, sharp scissors for this, though most rough edges will be hidden once shrunk.

Step 4

a hole is made in the top of the shrink plastic heart using the point of sharp scissors

If you want to use your shrink dink as a pendant or keyring, make a hole in it now, as you won’t be able to do this easily after shrinking. We’re using the tip of our sharp scissors and pushing through into a foam block, but if you have a small leather or hole punch or pokey tool, this is ideal

Step 5

The shrink plastic heart is held on a ceramic tile with a wooden stick while heat is applied with a heat gun

Secure your shrinky dink with a skewer or tweezers on a heat proof surface like a ceramic tile or craft mat, and apply heat with your heat gun. Keep moving the heat gun nozzle over the whole area of the shrink plastic to make sure it is getting heated evenly and no areas becomes scorched. Alternatively, you can shrink in your oven instead.

Step 6

The heart applied from the heart gun is making the shrink plastic heart shrink along one side

If using a heat gun, you’ll start to see your shrinky dink move and curl, as the first parts of the shrink plastic in the design shrink down. Keep moving the heat gun nozzle over the whole area of the shrink plastic to make sure it is getting heated evenly and no areas becomes scorched.

Step 7

The shrink plastic heart is curling in on itself as the heat being applied from the heat gun makes many parts of it shrink and distort

With larger designs like our heart, the shrink plastic can curl up on itself and look like it will never be flat. Don’t panic. Keep moving the heat gun nozzle over the whole area of the shrink plastic to make sure it is getting heated evenly and no areas becomes scorched. As more areas of the shrink plastic shrink down, it should start to straighten out.

Step 8

A clear acrylic block is placed over the fully shrunk shrinky dink

If your design does not entirely flatten, make sure it is is good and hot, and then place an acrylic block or another ceramic tile on top of it, to flatten it while it cools. If your shrinky dink is not hot enough, the weight can make it crack or split, so make sure it is well heated before you try this technique. Leave the weight in place until it has cooled fully.

Shrinky dinks FAQs and tips

Here are some of the most asked questions we’ve come across when crafters are working with shrinky dinks, as well as some great tips to help you make the most of these fun makes!

What temperature should you use to shrink your shrinky dinks?

Rule of thumb for what temperature you should use to shrink your shrinky dinks in the oven is 170 degrees celsius. If there are no specific guidelines that comes with your shrink plastic sheets, this is what we would use. If shrinking your shrink plastic sheets in the oven, use a flat surface like a baking tray, and place a wide wrap on top to help keep them flat. If you have a fan oven keep the fan off to stop the fan making the shrink plastic sheet fly around – we have had one low up and get stick on the roof of the oven in the past when we did use the fan, which made a bit of a mess.

What is the best size for shrinky dinks?

The maximum size of your shrinky dink is restricted by the size of your shrink plastic sheet. But beyond this, smaller designs tends to work better as they maximise the cute factor and are the easiest to keep flat. Avoid shrinking particularly large shrinky dinks s as they may fold in on themselves too much during heating and get stuck together!

How long does it take to shrink a shrinky dink?

Depending on the size of your shrinky dink, heating and shrinking process will only take around 30 seconds to a minute with a heat gun, but it’s important to make sure all areas of the shrink plastic have fully shrunk to keep your shape flat, so we recommend heating for a full minute, move the tweezers around so that they don’t leave a mark on the area that you’re holding. If using an oven, we’d recommend baking for about 4 minutes before you take it out, and you can still watch the shrinking happening through the oven door!

What if my shrinky dink is not flat?

Curls and bumps usually happen because there is uneven shrinking in your shrink plastic sheet. Continue to heat the image as it begins to curl and crumple. As soon as the image has finished shrinking, quickly place an acrylic block or ceramic tile on top of it to help flatten any curled edges. Leave the block in place until the plastic cools down. If you don’t have these items  you could use a glass or another flat heat-proof object.

Is it printable shrink plastic?

You can print on crystal clear shrink plastic sheets, as long as your printer is an ink jet printer. Other printer types may need you to make a texture with sandpaper as in our beginner how to make shrinky dinks tutorial.

Shrink plastic project ideas

Here are some great shrink plastic project ideas to help you put your new skills to good use!

Shrink plastic bracelet

how to make shrinky dinks bracelet

Cuteness overload! This brilliant shrink plastic charm bracelet is created by tracing over clip art with a sharpie and colouring with posca paint pens. Click for the shrink plastic tutorial from Happiness is Homemade.

Shrink plastic keyrings

how to make shrinky dinks keyrings

Made using Sharpies and the templates included on this tutorial from The Sorry Girls website, click for the shrink plastic keyring project we’d love to have keeping our keys looking the coolest.

Shrink plastic card

a card with shrink plastic hearts and ovals struggler's across it

You can combine stamping and die cutting with shrink plastic to great effect in your card making as in this card from our pal Sarah Jackman Read at Kraftdesigns. Check out her shrink plastic makes or see our video on making shrink plastic flowers to see how it is done.

More like the shrinky dinks tutorial

We have plenty more projects like the how to make shrinky dinks tutorial for you right here on Gathered. Check out our watercolour cactus tutorial or learn how to paint pebbles. You might enjoy our craft ideas for kids and our how to do finger knitting guide, too.