Did you know that you can make shrink plastic art from a recycled clamshell bearing the number 6? Yes, that’s right! You can recycle a #6 plastic container to make all sorts of cool shrink art. And to think I used to toss them in the blue bin until I discovered this fun fact. I had to try it for myself! Just for fun, I personalized my shrink art by converting a real picture; you’ll see how that looks in the reveal.
Step 1: Materials to Make Shrink Plastic Charms
- Permanent black marker
- Recycled plastic clamshell box; as large as you find *
- Graphic software such as photoshop
- Screen capture program such as SnagIt (or take a screen shot)
- Word processing software such as microsoft word
- Toaster oven (mine is second hand)
- Non-stick silicone baking mat or parchment paper
- Tin foil (only if you don’t have a toaster oven tray)
- X-acto knife
Shrink Plastic Equipment for Tutorial
Shrink plastic from a plastic clamshell wasn’t the only thing I recycled for this project. In addition to upcycling plastic, I saved an old toaster oven from going to the landfill. It’s a spare one that my Mom was going to toss. Although it was missing the baking tray there’s a way around that by using 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 for Shrink Plastic
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, the old toaster oven I use is dedicated specifically for this purpose only (no longer for food). I suggest looking for one at a thrift shop if you plan on making these in any quantity.
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. In this case, 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. Open up Microsoft word, type out the name and apply the font. You can make the name as big as the size of plastic you cut will allow, but I sized my name 125 points.
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 can mirror image it as you did the name if you wish. 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 Shrink Plastic Artwork
You’re final artwork should look similar to mine below.
Step 8: Trace the Artwork Onto the Shrink Plastic
Tape the artwork onto the back of the plastic. Using a permanent black marker (like a Sharpie), 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).
Because my Mom kept the tray, I didn’t have one so I layered a piece of foil, and then a silicone baking mat on top of that just to make it more ridgid. For future crafts, 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 shrink art 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 paper 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 paper. 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. Besides, sometimes the best things come from accidents 🙂
Step 12: Shrink Plastic Name Charm – What Now?
You may be wondering what you can do with your shrink plastic artwork. With Christmas coming up, these would look great as an ornament on the tree! You could make and hang one for each member of the family! Or how about personalizing place settings at the table? Better yet, if you have young kids, you could start a new holiday tradition and make these every few years as your kids grow. I think it would be fun to document how the kids change over the holiday seasons with an updated picture.
Why not put your your beautiful lettering onto the envelope of a holiday (or birthday) card as I ended up doing with this one? It’s such a creative and thoughtful gesture to add that personal touch!
Or how about punching a hole into a set of initials to make it into a key chain or necklace? It would be a fun – supervised – project to do with the kids for gift giving (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) to keep or give away. Just add some cord or chain. As one reader pointed out though, you wouldn’t want kids wearing their first names for safety reasons so stick to just initials if it’s something to be worn in public!
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Hope you enjoyed this shrink plastic how to. Pinning is always welcome and appreciated.
There are many possibilities for recycled shrink plastic, not just holiday gift giving, so have fun with it! I think it’s absolutely ‘charming’.
Other Holiday Ideas
Speaking of the holidays, the perfect hostess gift for the season 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!
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.