For this post I decided to have a go with some shrink plastic. It’s not something I have any experience of, but I found it was really good fun, if sometimes a little unpredictable. I bought a pack of A4 sheets of ink-jet shrink plastic, which I found on Ebay, and which worked out at about £1 a sheet. You can print on it (which I fancied doing for my own purposes) or draw on it directly using pencil crayons or felt-tips. It’s great to use with kids too, as it is quick, clean and ‘magical’. In fact it’s obviously quite popular as a kids activity as Shrinkles produce party and classroom packs for this purpose, and whole ranges of pre-printed packs for kids to use – which are fun, but less creative.
I thought I’d use it with the kids to create some personalised bag tags for their school and nursery bags. I divided an A4 sheet into 4 quarters, (Shrinkles in fact produce packs in this size) and gave them a couple of these smaller sheets each to create their drawing on. I found that for coloured in drawings, the best effect was obtained using pencil crayons. As the designs shrink, the colours become darker, so that the naturally paler effect of pencil crayons becomes brighter and more vivid once shrunk. In contrast the bright red fire engine that I created with felt-tip pens, became a muddy brown fire engine once it was shrunk. Pen is great for providing detail, outline, writing etc., or you can use paler felt-tip colours which can deepen without becoming muddy. The other advantage of pencil crayon is that they don’t smudge so easily. You do have to keep your work as clean as possible, as I noticed that even slight smudges became dirty marks on the finished piece. This also applies to the reverse side, which it’s easy to forget about.
Once the drawing is complete, I cut it out with sharp scissors leaving a narrow white border around the edge. I found that irregular shapes worked best, as squares and rectangles tended to distort more noticeably. Maybe there is a way of avoiding this if you are an experienced user, but if so, I’m afraid I’m not aware of it. Before shrinking, write the child’s name on the back of the tag with marker pen, making sure that you write large enough for it to be clearly legible once it has shrunk. Using a hole punch, make a hole at the top of the tag.
Next comes the exciting stage when you shrink the design in the oven. My instructions recommended 180 degrees centigrade for 4-5 minutes, but I have a fan oven, and found that just 2 minutes at 150 degrees was perfectly sufficient. However all ovens are individual, and it is perhaps worth experimenting a little first. The shrinkage, according to the instructions with my pack, was supposed to be about 50%, with greater shrinkage occurring across the longer side of a design. The larger the item is, the more pronounced this effect seemed to be, and I noticed on the Shrinkles packs it says that the results will be up to 7 times smaller and thicker. The before and after photos below give you some idea of how much shrinkage actually occurred with my samples. Of course the shrinking stage has to be carried out by an adult, and once the tags have been shrunk, and removed from the oven, they should be left to cool for a few moments before touching.
To protect the image from dirt and finger-prints, and to make it waterproof, a coating of lacquer or varnish is advisable, this will also give you the option of a glossy finish . Spray varnish is better, at least for the first coat, to avoid any smudging that might occur.
The final stage is to add an accessory to attach it to your bag or create a key-ring. Shrinkles produce a range of accessories for this purpose, and also for making fridge magnets, badges and pencil toppers.
As well as bag tags, smaller drawings can be used to create zipper tags or mobile phone charms. This is a good use for the offcuts from larger drawings for example.
All in all, this is a simple and satisfying creative activity for both children and bigger kids like me!