How to use shrink plastic in your papercraft projects

Shrink plastic is a fun product you can use to make beautiful embellishments for all your projects. Find out how to use this versatile product in our easy-to-follow masterclass below!

Shrink Plastic how to

You can buy shrink plastic in a range of colours including clear, translucent and white, as well as printed with patterns. 

So what do you do with it? First off, it’s best to give the surface a quick rub over with a fine grade sandpaper. This provides a ‘key’ for any inks or colours that you apply to stick to. There’s no need to rub vigorously – just a gentle once over is enough. The shrink plastic is now ready for you to get creative!

Lots of crafters stamp designs onto shrink plastic, however, not all inks will dry properly. So if you’d like to try this, use StazOn and Brilliance inks, or other solvent-based inks.

Once your stamped image has dried, you can colour it with various mediums: chalks, marker pens, coloured pencils and watercolours all work well. Some mediums are harder to work with than others, so experiment with them to see which you prefer. Once the plastic has been heated and shrunk, the final colour will be more intense than when it was first applied.

You’re now ready to cut out your stamped image using scissors or punches. Alternatively, if you are not stamping, cut out or punch your chosen shape then decorate as desired. Remember to punch any holes in your embellishments before you heat as you won’t be able to after the plastic has shrunk.

The heating process is the most exciting part! You can use either a heat gun or an oven to shrink the plastic. To use an oven, preheat it to 170°C and place the shrink plastic on a baking tray. 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. Once it has shrunk to its minimum size, however, it will straighten itself out. You can give it a helping hand by covering it with the back of a wooden stamp, 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. 

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Step 1

Take a piece of white shrink plastic and rub the surface lightly with fine grade sandpaper to create a ‘key’. This will help any ink and colour that you apply to the plastic to stick.

Step 2

Take your chosen stamp and ink it up using a black solvent-based ink pad (such as StazOn). Stamp the design onto the shrink plastic and leave it to dry (solvent-based ink dries quickly).

Step 3

Once the ink has dried, colour the image lightly with watercolour crayons, pencils or chalks. Remember, the colour will intensify when the plastic shrinks. Carefully cut around the image.

Step 4

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.

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Top tips!

If you’re using an oven to shrink the plastic, place the item on a baking tray and put a wire rack on top. This will ensure the shrunk plastic is completely flat.

Keep scraps of shrink plastic, as you can always punch small shapes out of them at a later date.

Make buttons and other embellishments from clear shrink plastic. Once finished, place patterned paper at the back of the plastic, for instant radiance.

Keep an old ceramic tile to use when heating with a heat gun. This will protect your work surface perfectly.

Make jewellery with shrink plastic. Just remember to punch any holes in the plastic before you shrink it (holes will shrink too), as it’s impossible to punch them afterwards.