For the longest time I’ve wanted to buy a button make. You know, the kind that makes the little plastic disks with a picture in them and a safety pin on the back. The problem is that button makers are very expensive. Not just kind of expensive or expensive for craft supplies expensive. I mean insanely, ridiculouslly, choose which of your organs you can do without so you can sell it on the black market to make a down payment expensive. Life isn’t fair.
So instead I’ve been looking for alternatives, and last month I came across this article over at Kimanh le Roux’s blog scissors.paper.wok about making custom buttons (the shirt kind) using shrink plastic. Genius!
You might remember shrink plastic from your youth when they were called “Shrinky Dinks”. We used them in art class a few times when I was younger but I’d forgotten all about them. I scoured my local craft stores but it turns out it’s hard to find sheets of the stuff that don’t already have patterns printed on them (*sigh*). Persistence payed off however and I’m now the proud owner of 12 sheets.
Some things work better on the plastic than others. When I was little I used acrylic paint which was a bad idea. When the plastic shrunk the paint squished and bubbled up and then kind of burned in the oven. Kimanh uses marking pens on her’s and they seem to work well but I wanted something I could make a rendering with. A friend told me that when she did shrinky dinks as a kid they used colored pencils and crayons because the wax base melts along with the plastic making a durable bond. On that advice I decided to use one of the col-erase pencils I use for animation and drawing. These are basically erasable colored pencils with very hard leads.
Here’s what I came up with:
We got dogs, toasters, teeth in jars, a bunny, a button, a skull, Mattie Ross from True Grit (I love that movie), all kinds of great stuff. Sorry about the cat hairs in the picture, they’re everywhere!
One side of the plastic is super smooth but the back side has some tooth to it, and it takes the pencil marks really well. All of my designs are in pencil except for the teeny-tiny elephant in the top left corner, which is ink. The biggest one there is about 1.8 in in diameter.
Oh, a side note. Remember you are basically drawing on the back so you have to do things in reverse. You can see I forgot this on some of them . . . because I’m dumb.
Next cut everything out (I just used scissors) and bake it. Here’s before:
And here’s after:
They shrink A-LOT! The package says 45%, and that’s probably accurate but until you see it it doesn’t really hit home.
If you’ve never done it before it’s a very quick process. It only takes about 3 minutes at 350ºF. While they bake the plastic will bend and curl up on itself and you’ll think “OH NO, IT’S RUINED! ALL MY HARD WORK. CURSES!!” but don’t worry. Just let them keep cooking and they’ll lay back down. You know they’re done when they all lie flat again.
I put mine on oven parchment to make sure they didn’t get stuck to the baking sheet, but as you can see the parchment curled a little in the oven. I think next time I’ll try tinfoil instead.
Here’s my finished coins:
The biggest one is now just larger than a US penny. The elephant is super tiny, about 0.5 cm across. When the plastic shrinks it also thickens to about the width of a penny. The artwork is on the back and the front side is shiny smooth so it gives the image a really nifty inset look like it’s behind glass.
You can also see that the density of the shading is greater. The darks are much blacker. I’m happy to report that the Col-erase pencil seems pretty stable after baking. It doesn’t smudge or scratch off the back at all, though I think I may paint the backs with a little clear nail polish or something to protect them.
I’m really happy with the results. These feel a little more special and versatile than the pen-buttons I was trying to replace. I can make them any size and shape, and they don’t have to have pin-backs if I don’t want. That’s why I’m calling them coins instead.
Now you try!