Saturday, 1 October 2011

Shrink Plastic Gear Wheels

Yesterday I had fun creating with shrink plastic – another first for me. I wanted to make some more grungey gear wheels for my steampunk project. Here is the line-up of materials and equipment needed for the project.

I got a sample pack of shrink plastic, and used a sheet of the clear. In this picture you can also see a sanding block, Versamark, embossing powders, barbecue stick and tweezers, palette knife and heat gun.

I took several images of gear wheels and edited them in my vector drawing program, Serif DrawPlus (I know a lot of people use Inkscape, but I find DrawPlus a LOT more user-friendly – OK I had to pay for it but as a long-term registered user of Serif software I get very good deals on upgrades etc.). I converted the designs to .svg format and these cut files have now been uploaded to my SkyDrive – see my sidebar for details of this – they are free to download and use, and can be resized and edited as you like.

I wasn’t sure whether Jiminy Cricut would be up to cutting shrink plastic, but he was well up to the task. I set him to do a double cut at slow speed, maximum pressure, and all the pieces popped out with no problem at all. In this photo you can see them after I had sanded them with the sanding block, to give a bit more tooth – they also show up better on my craft mat for the photo! (My first attempt was a failure – more later.)

I have put the ruler there to show how large the pieces were when I’d cut them out.

Completing each gear wheel in turn, I rubbed both sides with Versamark (nice sticky, messy project this was turning out to be!) and then sprinkled them lightly with copper embossing powder – not too much because the combined shrinking/embossing process does concentrate the powder as it ends up on a much smaller surface.

I then zapped them with my heat gun. A word of warning – although the non-stick “heat-proof” craft mats are very good, they are not protective of whatever’s underneath. I have learnt this to my cost in the past, having warped my big self-healing cutting mat on BOTH sides – the first time I did it was through sheer ignorance, so I turned the mat around so that the warped bit was away from me and not causing a problem. I managed to warp the front bit again when I put my melting pot on it, not realising how much heat was radiated downwards from it through the craft mat. That mat is now on my second table where it doesn’t get much use. I bought a nice new mat and have been very good at looking after it – when doing any heating I always put my glass kitchen cutting mat down (with feet that hold it away from the surface) with my old, rather mucky non-stick craft mat on top, and until now, have had no problems – it’s obviously OK for small amounts of embossing etc. However… yesterday I was zappping a lot, at close quarters, and the heat obviously penetrated through the glass and through the air space beneath, and grrrrr!!!!! my new self-healing cutting mat has WARPED!!! This is the LAST time I’m making this mistake. The warped bit will go to the back, and the mat is going to be REMOVED from my table next time I do any shrink plastic. I think I need to get a mat made of that stuff that hi-tech thin oven gloves are made of…

Anyway… apart from that, the project was extremely successful!

Zapping the shrink plastic is an amazing experience. The piece starts to curl and distort as it shrinks, and it’s quite scary – it looks as if it’s going to be a disaster and will never go flat, but keep at it, and it miraculously flattens out. I turned the piece over to make sure the embossing was even. A wooden barbecue skewer is good for this, and for holding the piece down so that the heat gun doesn’t blow it away - as it gets very hot, and anything metal will conduct the heat and burn you. My tweezers were there to help turn it over etc. but were not used for holding it down. You can use the stick to help flatten the piece during shrinking, too.

Here it is, having been embossed with the bronze embossing powder and shrunk. At this stage it is still hot, and I am sprinkling some Tim Holtz Distress Embossing Powder all over it. This is the first time I’ve used this amazing stuff. It’s pretty gritty. I then heated it again, and found that I needed to repeat the process to get the coverage I needed, and then on one or two of the pieces, when they’d cooled off, I reapplied the Versamark and gave it a final coating. When it’s cool, you have to rub it to get rid of the release crystals which gives the wonderfully pitted, corroded look that these embossing powders are renowned for.

Following is a photo of my first attempt with the shrink plastic. On my original drawing, I made the spokes of the gear wheel too thin, and they didn’t withstand the shrinking process, so I redrew this particular drawing and thickened the spokes, and also enlarged the central hole which had more or less disappeared in this piece – I tried to pierce it out with my piercing tool but it really wasn’t worth bothering with. I put this picture in to show one of the pitfalls with shrink plastic – everything shrinks, including holes, so if you are making pendants you need to remember to make the hole in the top large enough.

Here are my successful pieces. The one on the top left is slightly distorted, so I think I will reheat that one and gently pull it back into a circular shape – the shrink plastic becomes soft when heated after shrinking. Again, I’ve put the ruler in the photo so you can see how very much smaller these pieces are than before shrinking – they reduce to less than half the size (the pack says 45 percent).

In these close-up shots you can see how amazingly grungey these pieces are! The combination of the bronze embossing powder and the Black Soot distress powder gives just the result I wanted. I wish you could feel how rough and gritty they are – but for now, we will have to wait until the advance of technology provides us with Touchy Feely Internet.

My craft mat was in a terrible state after all that – I should have photographed it! Melted and solidified embossing powder. I scraped it off with my flat palette knife and was about to throw it away when I thought I could re-melt it onto something else, or just glue it on – lovely grungey flakes!

This project has been great fun. I want to shrink some larger pieces now. I didn’t want to go mad on my first attempt in case it went wrong and I wasted a lot of material, but I think I know what I’m doing now!

Edited 24th August 2014: After a request for info about this post, I thought I’d bring it up to date. I have now got to grips with Inkscape which is a truly awesome program and well worth persevering with – there’s lots of help online. Also, I now use a Silver Bullet Cougar cutting machine instead of the Cricut – a more sophisticated machine altogether. For heat protection I now use Presspahn mats – – really heat proof – the ultimate Shoshi proof mat lol!


  1. Hi Shoshi, thank you so much for visiting my blog and leaving a lovely comment! It is much appreciated. Your shrink plastic gears certainly are grungy!! I've made a few with die-cuts, but not nearly as grungy as yours! I found it a lot of a cleaner to process to shrink the plastic first, then do the embossing. It makes very nice gilded butterflies too. Can't wait to see your next bee project - I've just ordered some bronze effect bee embellishment pendants from China and I'll have to think up something for them when they come. Have a great weekend, Maddy x

  2. fabulous gears, welldone

    And I'm glad you liked my tutorials blog

  3. Wow! These gears are wonderful!! They are the true definition of grungey!!!! Now I want to try it too but I will have to come up with another shape because I do not have a Cricut. But I am sure I have a die I can run thru my cuttlebug that would be grunge-appropriate!
    Well done you!!
    xoxo Karen

  4. As you can see I am doing a trawl through your blog (sat in bed on my iPad - I have a real bad cold so trying to have some relax time). Thought I would tell you about my heat mats - I have always used old place mats, the sort with a cork back and a picture on front, and covered one side with aluminium foil. I then use those to heat on - for shrink plastic, just embossing, etc. When the foil gets dirty just whip it off and replenish. Hope this helps. Hugs Neet


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