How to make a homemade shrink plastic tag

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I am the luckiest mom ever!  I have three awesome kids, and they keep me laughing like nobody’s business.

My eldest is fifteen, and he has special needs.  He speaks well and often, maybe even constantly, and sometimes we wonder what in the world he is talking about.  He says things differently from how everyone else talks, and there seems to be a secret code.  Whenever we crack the code for a new phrase that he has been using, we all get pretty excited.  It is really fun to see how his brain connects things together.  He always has an unusual point of view, and we learn a lot about the world when we look at it through his eyes.

Case in point:  One day a couple of years ago, he came home from school and did his usual settling thing (putting his backpack away, using the bathroom, getting a snack, etc.) but instead of rushing to the computer like usual, he scurried for the couch and covered himself up with a blanket.  Hmm…I got suspicious and pulled the blanket off, asking, “What are you doing down there?”  He responded “Uh-uh!” shaking his head from side to side and obviously posing.  Then when he saw that he was busted, he smiled and said, “Eat a BLOOK…of butter!”  Yes, he had a whole stick of butter in there, and yes, he was trying to eat it.

Pretty soon, every time I left him alone for even a minute, I came back to find him hiding under the blanket with a stick of butter, and each time we would repeat our lines.  “What are you doing down there?”  “Uh-uh!”  “Eat a BLOOK of butter!”  Most of the time, he didn’t even eat the butter.  He just waited for me to bust him so that we could play our BLOOK of butter game.  It was so silly, the whole family had to get involved.  We found ourselves asking for a BLOOK of butter at the dinner table, tricking him to see if he noticed when we changed the words to the ritual, hiding the butter, taking turns playing his part in the game, and so on.  Remember this was a couple of years ago.  We did this for a couple of years without really understanding at all.

Recently, we bought The Lorax for movie night.  We knew our eldest had seen it in the theater with his friends from school, and he had told us it was a good movie.  Once we started watching the movie, I understood why he liked it so much.  The best part of the movie for my son is a group of animals called Bar-ba-loots.  They look like adorable bears.  There is one Bar-ba-loot in particular who is very sweet and gentle.  He’s the biggest one, and he wears his heart on his sleeve.  When the Once-ler cuts down the tree, all the Bar-ba-loots stand in a circle and hold hands, but the biggest one also cries.  He loves to eat too, and he’s just a gentle, lovable teddy bear.  And, you’ve got it, there’s a moment where the Barbaloots have invited themselves over to the Once-ler’s house, and the Once-ler opens the fridge, and there he is:  the biggest Bar-ba-loot, popping a whole stick of butter into his mouth.  We went crazy laughing, and we played that scene over and over.  Now we knew where the butter-eating came from, and my son was able to tell us that he called it a BLOOK because it sounds like Bar-ba-LOOT.

That’s the long drawn-out explanation for my project I am showing off here.  I made my son a tag for his backpack with a BLOOK of butter on it.  He uses his backpack every day, and he takes it everywhere he goes, so I hope he will get a lot of smiles out of this little tag.

When I was a girl, I saw TV commercials for something called Shrinky Dinks.  Shrinky Dinks were a craft kit you could buy made with polystyrene, which is #6 recyclable plastic.  You could color the plastic and then melt it in the oven and it would shrink.  Then you could use the shrunken plastic to make things.  I never used them when I was a kid because they were kind of expensive.  But nowadays, we crafters save money by cutting up our trays from the grocery store salad bar instead.

 

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Here’s how to make a BLOOK of butter backpack tag with shrink plastic.

You will need the following:

One #6 recyclable plastic tray

Bic permanent markers in whatever colors you like.  Do not use Sharpies.  I’ll tell you why below.

An oven

A pan or cookie sheet

Potholders

Two sheets of aluminum foil

Your dullest, lousiest scissors

A hole punch.  If you’ve got a dull, lousy one, use it.

About 12 inches of thread.  Dental floss will work.

A piece of strong cord for your finished tag.

optional, but awesome: Future acrylic floor wax.  Just a few drops.

 

I'm CRAFTY, not artistic.
I’m CRAFTY, not artistic.

The first thing I had to do is get some inspiration.  And also a little drawing.  I drew this myself.  Can you tell?  I had to write the word “butter” on it so you could figure out what it was.

I have found the best size to be about 3 inches across, or maybe a little smaller.  When I make my tags too big, they tend to curl up on themselves in the oven.

I turned on the oven to 350 degrees and let it preheat.

 

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Next, I cut out my plastic tray.  I used the flat part.  I made it a little bigger than my drawing.

I used the (almost) dullest scissors in the house because cutting the plastic really trashes scissors.  I did not use the little kids’s “hair-proof” scissors.  Somehow, my kids managed to cut hair with them.  But they do not work on plastic, or paper, or string, or really anything else.  They mostly work to remove money from parents’s wallets.  But that’s a side issue.

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Next I traced the design on the plastic.  I did this with a black permanent Bic marker.  I used to use Sharpies because I had them on hand, but they rub off too easily.  Bic markers work much better.  I used a fine point marker for this project.  Bic also makes ultra-fine point markers for tiny details, and I like them too.

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Then I colored in the yellow parts around my black outline.  Why did I do that?  It wasn’t very smart because I had to be careful not to get black ink on my yellow marker, but it turned out OK anyway.

I punched a hole in the top of the plastic, but I couldn’t manage a photo because I only have two hands.  How do real bloggers do this??

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Then I got smart, and re-did my butter drawing to look less squashed.  I have three kids.  If I make a blook-of-butter tag for one of them, I had better make one for each of them!

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This time I got smart.  I colored the yellow part, then traced the outline and wrote in my letters.  I also wrote “1 blook,” just so there’s no mistake about it.

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Ah, that looks better!

Next, I put my two tags on a foil-lined tray and popped it into the oven (which I had preheated to 350 degrees).

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I checked after a couple of minutes and freaked out because my tags were curling up like crazy.

I’m a big girl, and I’ve done this before, so I knew it would be OK, but I needed something to do so that I wouldn’t run around screaming or anything.  I decided to make that third tag.

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This one is dedicated to science.  See where I left the #6 recyclable symbol in the corner?  I wondered if it would stay or if it would shrink out.  My hypothesis: it would shrink out.  (I figured these trays are probably made by heat-shaping them, so maybe heating again would un-shape the symbol.)  Let’s see!

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At about the same time as I finished preparing my third tag, the first two tags stopped shrinking and looked mostly flattened out.

I wanted my tags to be all the way flat, so I took the tray out of the oven, put another sheet of foil on top of the tags, and flattened them all the way with my hand on a potholder.  I held them for about 10 seconds.  Then I flipped them off the tray onto the table, and put my third tag in the oven.

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Here are the first two tags.  You can see that they shrunk down to about half their original size, and they were thicker.

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I decided to coat them with a little acrylic so the design would not rub off.  To do that, I ran a piece of thread through the hole.

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Then I set up a very high-tech system called a couple of cups, some thread, and two clothespins.  I left a little room between tags so they wouldn’t bump into each other.

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I painted each tag with a tiny bit of Pledge floor finish.  It used to be called Future, but I guess Pledge bought Future or some such thing.  I think I could use a little clear nail polish instead.  I’ll try that next time and let you know how it goes.

Then I let the tags dry for an hour or so.

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Here’s the stringing part.  The hole shrunk too, and it was too tiny to let me easily run my satin cord through.  So I made a loop with sewing thread, and pulled the satin cord through the hole with the thread.

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Then it was ready to tie!

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I put it on my son’s backpack with all the other stuff he keeps there.  Cute, huh?

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And here we go for science.  Can you tell which tag had the #6 recyclable symbol on it?  I can’t either.

We keep a kit at home with the essentials: cut-up plastic trays, the dull scissors, the hole punch, the markers, and printouts from the internet (and our own drawings) of ideas we have for shrink plastic art projects.  We make things with pets and other animals, favorite movies and video games, flowers, foods, silly phrases, you get the idea.  We never lack for inspiration around here.

Since we keep it all in a kit, we can make a little art whenever we have a few minutes.  It takes about 15 minutes start to finish for the drawing and shrinking part.  The sealing with acrylic is optional, and can be done later if necessary.

As a mom, I like to have lots of little creative projects handy so we don’t get too bored.  My kids know if they complain about being bored, I will put them to work, so they like having a kit too.

I hope you enjoyed learning how I made these tags.  I’d like to see what you are making too.  If you would like to submit photos of whatever you’re making, please send me a message.  I don’t know how yet, but there’s probably a button on this page somewhere…or you can make a comment and we’ll figure it out together.

Thanks for reading!

Maria

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2 thoughts on “How to make a homemade shrink plastic tag

  1. You are right – this is a nice way to make luggage tags, especially for things like clarinet cases. 🙂 There gets to be a limit on the size because when I bake a really large tag, it just curls up and folds over on itself. I have a raccoon tag on my purse zipper. I figure it may deter thieves, sending a message, “Somebody’s already rooted through this purse and there’s no cash left.” I don’t know if that works or not, but I have fun with it anyway.

    Like

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