Plastic Clamshell Shrink Art

There’s something so special about the act of putting our name on something to make it our own, so why not make that lettering spectacular? Did you know that you can make shrink art from a recycled clamshell bearing the number 6? When I first found out about it, I had to try it for myself.

Step 1: You Will Need…

  • Permanent black marker
  • Recycled plastic clamshell box; as large as you find *
  • Graphic software such as photoshop
  • Screen capture program such as SnagIt
  • Word processing software such as microsoft word
  • Toaster oven (mine was second hand)
  • Non-stick silicone baking mat or parchment paper
  • Tin foil (only if you don’t have a toaster oven tray)
  • Scissors
  • X-acto knife

The plastic wasn’t the only thing I recycled for this project. I saved an old toaster oven from going to the landfill; it was a spare one that my Mom was going to toss. It still worked fine but wasn’t needed so it was perfect for this project. It was missing the baking tray but I got around that by using some tin foil instead.

*Note: the plastic clamshell must have the number ‘6’ on it as shown in the next step.

Step 2: Look for the #6 Symbol / Safety First

Look for the #6 stamped on the clear container. #6 PS is polystyrene and has been found to leach styrene – a neurotoxin and possible carcinogen – so do this craft outdoors or in a well ventilated area (as an extra precaution, wear a mask).

Because of the fumes released, I’d be leery about using it for food, so the old toaster oven I used is dedicated specifically for this purpose. I’d suggest looking for one at a thrift shop if you feel the same way.

For this project, you’ll only be using the part of the clamshell that’s perfectly flat so it’s important to have a large container to start with since the plastic will shrink. My container originally had donuts in it so it was quite large. Cut away all the ridged material.

Step 3: Find a Font

I searched the net for free fonts and found one called Corben Bold, then saved it to my computer. I opened up Microsoft word, typed out the name and applied the font. I sized my name 125 points; but you can make it as big as the size of plastic you cut will allow.

Because I wanted one piece of plastic with no gaps between the letters, I highlighted the name, clicked on format/fonts/character spacing and then clicked ‘condensed’ for the spacing. I condensed the font by 20 points.

With the name complete, I captured it with a screen capture program called ‘SnagIt’ and saved it as a jpeg to my computer. If you are on a Mac, you won’t need a special program – you can just take a screen capture by pressing Command+Shift+4 and dragging the cursor around the name.

Step 4: Photoshop

I am using an old version of Photoshop (CS 5.5).

In Photoshop open up the name image. In image/image rotation, creat a mirror image of the name by flipping the canvas horizontally. The name will now be backwards. That’s because we’re going to trace the image onto the plastic and fill it in with marker; when the artwork is complete, the marker will be on the backside and the plastic will face up.

You can save your file and stop at this point then proceed with shrinking the name or you can add a photograph. I thought it would be fun to add a headshot of the person I was making this for since the capital ‘D’ lends itself nicely to adding the picture.

Step 5: Apply a Circle Crop to a Photo

Before I converted my photo to black and white, I applied a circle crop to the photo. To see how to do that, watch the YouTube video above. Instead of leaving the background transparent, as in the video, I filled it with black. I also used the pencil tool to trace a black line around the head (you’ll see why in the last paragraph below).

Step 6: Place a Headshot in Name File

To add a black and white headshot to your artwork, open up a new photoshop file and convert a colour photograph into black and white. The step-by-step details on how to do that are in this Austin Powers cardboard portrait post (see Working With Your Own Headshot Photograph).

Once your headshot is done, you’ll likely want to mirror image it as you did the name so that when you view the final artwork it will be correct. Save your work and close the headshot file, then go back to the name file and click file/place to add the headshot (second picture).

I  moved the headshot over to the ‘D’, resized it accordingly and positioned it within the ‘D’. Photoshop warned me to rasterize the image first before cleaning up the edges extending beyond the ‘D’, so I did that and used the eraser tool.

Once the edges are cleaned up, I selected black and used the brush tool to fill in the white circle around the headshot – extending outward from the black line

It’s easier to zoom in to do this last step. Erasing up to the line will leave a distinctive outline around the headshot so it doesn’t completely blend into the black background of the letter it’s placed in (in my case, the ‘D’).

Step 7: Final Artwork

You’re final artwork should look similar to mine below.

Step 8: Trace the Artwork Onto the Plastic

Tape the artwork onto the back of the plastic. Using the permanent black marker, trace around the name and image. Only fill in the black areas; the rest will remain clear.

Let the marker dry, then cut out the name with scissors. I used a tiny pair of pointed scissors to maneuver inside the letters but you can also try an X-acto knife to get into tight spot.

Step 9: Prepare Artwork for the Toaster Oven

Pre-heat the toaster oven to 350 degrees.

Work in a well ventilated area; it’s probably a good idea to do this outdoors or in the garage if you can because the plastic can be quite smelly (and as I mentioned earlier, possibly toxic if you don’t take precautions).

I didn’t have a tray so I layered a piece of foil, and then a silicone baking mat on top of that just to make it more ridgid (I’ve since bought a tray that I can use just for this purpose).

If you don’t have a baking mat, you could use a piece of parchment paper instead. You only need to use one or the other, not both on top of the foil.

Place your artwork onto the baking mat (or parchment paper) with the marker side facing up.

Lift the whole assembly and put it into the oven.

Step 10: Watch It Shrink

Do not step away because the plastic will shrink fast. Don’t be alarmed: when it will curls and contorts you may think it’s ruined, but give it a minute or so! Once it’s done shrinking, it will lay perfectly flat again. Note that if your pieces are overly large, when it curls it might not flatten properly; in that instance you can put a piece of parchment on top to weight it down to prevent that.

Turn the oven off.

Step 11: Let It Cool

Lift the foil out of the oven and put it on a flat heat proof surface to cool.

For a better picture, I’ve put the artwork onto a piece of parchment. You’ll notice that the ‘n’ went a little awry. While it’s still hot, I could have pushed it back into place with a wooden skewer, but I loved how it looked so I left it. Sometimes the best things come from accidents 🙂

Step 12: So What Now?

You may be wondering what you can do with your artwork.

It’s all about adding that personal touch so why not put your your beautiful lettering onto the envelope of a birthday card? This is an idea my brother-in-law has run with for almost 20 years, coming up with a different way to display a name on a card for each and every birthday occasion in our family. It’s such a creative and thoughtful gesture, don’t you think?

Or how about making a monogram and punching a hole into it, making it into a key chain or necklace? A monogram would also be a fun project to do with the kids (but please take the appropriate safety precautions mentioned earlier). Punch the hole before you put it in the oven, then each kid will have a unique necklace (or bracelet if you punch two holes) they can wear just by adding some cord or chain. As one reader pointed out though, you might not want kids wearing their full names so stick to the monogram!

If you enjoyed this post, please pin and share. There are many possibilities for recycled shrink plastic so have fun!

With Christmas coming up, these would look great on the tree! You could make and hang one for each member of the family!

Speaking of Christmas, the perfect hostess gift for the holidays is this BYOB Holiday Gift Bag: You can add a gift card right in the ‘Eat, Drink and be Merry’ front pocket and you’re golden!

We happen to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. If you’re looking for an interesting Hanukkah menorah idea, check out this post:

My latest upcycled innovation is this CO2 Detector Wall Safe. It will help keep your valuables hidden in plain sight!

For more recycled/upcycled craft ideas, visit the Craft Rehab‘ section of Birdz of a Feather and browse around. Here are a few crafts you’ll find:

In addition to crafts, you’ll also find home and garden DIYS. Here are a few recent DIY projects:

Recipes are on the site too.

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3 thoughts on “Plastic Clamshell Shrink Art

  1. For very young children `wearing’ their names is not a good idea. Although most Perps are known to the victim ie. family or close friend, to a young child someone (especially a grown up) who knows your name is to be trusted. So please keep your little one safe and don’t advertise their name outside the home.
    As both an adult survivor of child abuse, and a family member wearing her name on a hair band as a young child and being approached by a perfect stranger using her name I’m very conscious of the potential for danger.

    • That’s great advice; thanks for leaving a comment. I appreciate the constructive feedback and have updated my post to reflect your concerns 🙂

      • I would say any age needs to be wary of wearing a name tag. Many years ago when I was in my thirties when I went into a shop and the man behind the counter greeted me by name. I took a moment to realise that he had read it on my crash helmet. I was old enough to know that he didn’t know me. Younger people are not always aware of who their parents know, and often think that if someone knows their name they know a family member and don’t want to be rude by running away. ‘Names on shirts’ was a fad when my daughter was young and I was the bossy Mother who wouldn’t let her wear her name on her shirt.

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