My Aunt inspired me to find new ways to use materials, and from that inspiration came this project. My Mother’s younger sister was someone whom I adored as a child. She had her children later in life, so I had the treat of all her attention when I visited. She loved art, and believed that making art was part of everyday living, like eating and doing dishes and brushing your teeth. Summer visits to her home meant the luxury of loosing myself for days in boxes of paints, craft items and tools. It meant going with her to art classes. She made me feel that everything we created together was special. And it was.
A few years ago my Aunt, now with her own children older and gone, sent me a box. She had been cleaning out a cabinet in the back of the house and came across some things she thought I might use. There were packages of old glass seed beads, burnishing powers (glitter) that had belonged to a great great aunt and sew on spangles in many shapes and sizes. In among it were some packages of old die cut glue back stickers of birds and flowers and stars. One particularly grabbed my imagination. I began to think how I could use it.
Shrinky Dinks plastic and Print and Cut Feature
I wanted to find a way to make these little birds come to life, but didn’t want to use the actual stickers. They were pretty fragile and ephemeral. If only there was some way to make them more durable! I remembered playing with Shrinky Dinks as a child, drawing on the plastic and baking it. I wondered if there was some way to transfer the image onto plastic. I tracked down Shrinky Dinks and not only was it still made, but there was a version that can be printed on with an ink-jet printer. Who knew! Now all I had to do was learn to use the print and cut feature on the KnK and I’d be all set. I set out to create a digital die cutter file that would incorporate the little bird from long ago.
I decided to make my aunt a necklace using the robin image and an image of a nest that I found at the Graphics Fairy. Scanning the images and manipulating them in Photoshop, they were exported to a JPG file and imported into a Make-The-Cut file. Then using the print and cut features inside the program, I used the digital die cutter file I had made to cut out the birds. Then into the oven. Presto! Change-O! The images were now durable pieces.
Using some of the old beads that my Aunt had included in the box I put together a necklace.
It was just what I was hoping for: a remembrance of art projects made with my Aunt on long ago summer vacations.
Check out the info below for more detailed instructions on making your own designs with this material and your own die cutter.
Detailed information on using Shrinky Dinks material and Print and Cut
The first step is to gather together all your images that you want to print and cut out, and make sure they are in a digital format that can be accepted by your digital die cutter software. While you don’t have to have raster editing software, such as Photoshop, it can make your finished product a lot nicer and is reccommended. I use Photoshop and that’s what I’ll reference. Here’s a few reasons why it is helpful to have a tool like this.
Get your images ready with raster editing software
- Set your canvas size to 9/16ths less for the width and height of what you will be printing on. This permits room for the registration marks that will be printed out on the plastic when you print from your digital die cutter program. If you were just printing on plain paper, you could avoid this by just turning on the borderless printing setting on your printer. However, Shrinky Dinks works best when you set your printer up for transparency medium. Most printer settings for transparency films are incompatible with borderless printing. So if you do not account for the space the registration marks take up when sizing your canvas size, the registration marks will not print out on the Shrinky Dinks paper. Bummer. Thus you would enter into the Image > Canvas Size dialog box that pops up 9 7/16 for height and 7 7/16ths for width if using the standard 8×10 inch plastic sheet. Now you can design right up to the edges of your canvas without fear of loosing an image in printing, or worse, not having registration marks print out and forcing you to cut by hand or print again.
- Your printed image must be lightened considerably when it is printed out. This is because as it shrinks while baking, the ink particles laid down on the plastic move closer together, making the final baked piece much darker and more intense. If you start out with dark areas on your printed image, they will become obscure once baked. Here’s what I did in Photoshop to adjust the color.
In Photoshop, go to: Image> Adjustments> Brightness/Contrast. Raise your brightness levels and lower your contrast levels. A very pale color is what you are looking for.
- Size your images exactly the size you want them to be. You cannot change these once you have imported them into the digital die cutter software program for print and cut. The raster based graphics will not follow and move along in conjunction with the vector outlines of the image.
- Outline your image. When you cut out, inevitably your cuts will not be perfect, and especially with expensive medium like the Shrinky Dinks, you don’t want to be wasting it. By outlining your image with a thick border color you will create a nice defining visual, and avoid white space on the final cut piece. More on this later in the setup in your digital die cutter file. Outlining also makes it very easy to import your file to the digital die cutter software. If you want your design to be inside a circle, and you want the circle cut out, do that circle with the background color you want in Photoshop and make it a bit bigger than the final size. Your border is the shape, filled with a color, which appears as background. You can also make your shape filled with white of course. See the example below of the bird’s nest.
- If you have an irregular shape that you want to cut out as is, you can put a border around this by using the stroke function in Photoshop. Select your object outline (I often use the magic wand tool), your foreground color you want the outline to be, and the width (go more pixels than less, some of them will be cut away later in the Print and Cut process. You can get there from Edit >Stroke, which will bring up the Stroke dialog box.
- Now create a file that has all your images, sized and with borders, on it. Use photoshop to rotate and manuvor them to cram as much in as possible. You will not be changing this in the digital die cutter file. All your design and placement changes take place in Photoshop. Save this file as a JPEG. When you do, make sure in the JPEG dialog box that pops up that you save it as a small file. You’ve only got a small thing you are printing out, and big files are going to tax your digital die cutter software and can easily crash your file.
Import your JPEG into your digital die cutter program
How you import your JPEG into your die cutter software depends upon the software that you have. I used the Make-the-Cut software, so the information below references that. If you have different software for your digital die cutter you’ll follow your manual, but much of the information will be similar.
- Open a new file in your software and import your JPEG. If you can import by color, choose that option. Remember we put borders around our images in Photoshop? Click on the border colors, and make sure to select texturize path and blackout path so you wind up with an outline just around the border.
- Create a shadow layer. In the dialog box, select inset shadow, and make an inline shadow that goes a bit inside the border you created in Photoshop. Now when you cut, even if your adjustment is off a tiny bit, just the colored border will show, not the white plastic. After it shrinks, you won’t be able to tell, but you would if it was white!
- Have patience with your digital die cutter software! Most likely you have given it a lot of graphics to deal with when you imported the JPEG, and did not discard the graphic images and colors as you normally do with importing something to cut out. It is going to take some time to process your requests. Be sure to save your file frequently. It is not uncommon to run out of memory and get a Runtime error, resulting in abnormal program termination (in other words loosing all your work). So save, save, save. I’d like to put in an unsolicited plug here for the Make-the-Cut software. If it was not for the relative ease of print and cut in this program, I’d never have bothered with this project. Although it is not as robust as Photoshop in handling intense graphics and can crash, it does a lot of amazing things and is very sophisticated for the price.
- You’ll now have two usable layers to work with. One is the Trace Layer, and the other is the Shadow Layer.
Print your Images on Shrinky-Dinks
Now it is time to print out your file. Carefully follow the instructions provided with your software. Make a couple of print outs on paper first to check that everything works before using the plastic.
- Make sure that you have properly calibrated and tested your die cutter for print and cut following the instructions for your software and cutter.
- From within your digital die cutter software, go to print options, and check show registration marks, but do not check print shape outlines.
- Make sure you select ONLY the trace layer to print. Turn off the shadow layer.
- Print your images out on regular paper. Set your printer to paper size 8×10, and medium type to transparency film if you can. You may have to play around with your printer to make this happen. Print out your image for testing onto regular paper. It is not necessary to have 8×10 paper to test with.
- Take your test paper you have printed to the die cutter, and place on your mat. From within the digital die cutter software, turn your trace layer off, and turn on your shadow layer.
- Make a test cut after aligning with the registration marks. If you did it properly, your test cut pieces should have fallen within the border outline, and none of the white paper (assuming you used white paper to print on) will show.
Cut your Images on Shrinky Dinks
If you’ve gotten this far, you can now print out your image onto the Shrinky Dinks plastic with confidence. The registration marks put in by the digital die cutter software when it prints out your trace layer will be outside the image boundaries that you imported from your JPEG. Remember you made the canvas just under half an inch smaller in width and height? The dots that the registration marks make are right on the corners of your image, but the lines that help you find the dots fall outside the image. Thus the total width of your printed image is the sum of the image itself and the registration marks. Each set of marks are about ¼ inch, so the total width is 8×10. This is why you must make your printable image area smaller than the actual sheet dimensions.
- Using the same proceedure as for your test sheet, print out your images onto the Shrinky Dinks. Remember to shift back to the trace layer to print.
- Because the printer prints in transparency mode (if you have that option), it does not lay down as much ink onto the paper. For your image, this is exactly what you want. Too much ink makes bad baked images. However, this is not what you want for your registration marks, because they are hard to see. Going over them very carefully with a fine point sharpie is a big help, especially for the corner dots. Be careful! You want them thin and exact.
- Cut the Shrinky Dinks sheet out using the shadow layer only. Turn off the trace layer.
- Using a standard blade, on my digital cutter (a Klick-n-Kut Maxx) I set the force to 120 and the speed to 450. I did three passes. If your blade is old, you may need more. You did a test cut anyway, on a piece of Shrinky Dink you messed up on previously (what, you did it perfectly and you don’t have a piece for testing?) and have your settings as you need them. But the speed and pressure is a good place to start.
Bake your Shrinky Dinks
Baking your Shrinky Dinks is easy, and here are a few tips from working with it to help you make the most of it and have less waste.
- Cut a piece of cardboard out the size of your toaster oven tray, with enough of a lip on the front end to use to easily pick it up. Don’t put your pieces directly onto the cardboard. Put a piece of parchment paper over the cardboard and place the Shrinky Dinks on that.
- Remember to punch out any holes you might need (for jewlery jump rings, for example) before you bake. The 1/8th inch is good, but if you have space in your image for 3/16th that is better, as the holes some time close up at 1/8th.
- Big pieces tend to curl up a lot, especially solid shapes. This is because the outer edges shrink faster than the center as they heat up first. Sometimes you can salvage them by catching them quickly and taking them out and flattening them, but often this mars the ink. Sometimes just leaving them alone they go flat and are fine. Its a toss up. Just know you are going to have some damage and plan to cut out extras.
- Bake pieces a few at a time, and far apart. They move around when they bake, and sometimes flip onto one another. Don’t crowd them in, and your success rate will increase dramatically.
- When you take them out of the toaster oven, turn the entire piece of parchment over with the images on it, onto a smooth, hard surface, and press flat using a piece of cardboard over the parchment for about 15 seconds. The plastic is still maleable. If you press onto paper or a rough surface, that can embed in and dent your plastic surface.
- Remember to seal the surface with clear spray or nail polish after they are cool.