Let me walk you through the latest batch of charms I made - these ones are for Loopy's birthday party this weekend. First, gather your supplies, including a package of these (readily available at Michaels... but make sure you use a coupon, they are a little pricey at $17.99 for a package of six sheets). Oddly, they are found in the scrapbooking supplies.
You will also need to gather: plain brown kraft paper, good quality craft scissors, manicure scissors, nail clippers, a clean cookie sheet, a single hole punch and some clear (top coat) nail polish (I like Sally Hansen brand best). You will also need access to a computer with photo-editing software like Photoshop and a colour inkjet printer.
Browse the internet for the images you would like to use as charms... or you may have photos of your own. Whatever you like. For this project, Loopy and I visited Photobucket for a plethora of Juicy Couture images to turn into theme charms for the party. Click and save the images you like onto your desktop. Open a new document measuring 8 inches wide and 10 inches high (check the document size if you have a different brand of shrink art material).
Using layers, drag and drop the images into your new document... now keep in mind that you will be shrinking these images so make them about 40 - 50% larger than you would expect them to be when finished... you will have to eyeball this. I have a general rule of thumb that most charms fit four across and five down on the document page.
.The next step is very important, and you can do it in one of two ways. The saturation of the images needs to be reduced significantly... the reason made perfect sense when The Secret Weapon explained it to me:
You see, the shrink art material is actually specially stretched or somewhat "extruded" plastic. When you expose it to heat, it wants to shrink back to its original size. Therefore, if you don't reduce the intensity of the colour you will end up with a pretty dark and not very pretty image when it shrinks. Some images will just look like a black, smudgy inky mess. I usually reduce my saturation by 50 - 60% depending on the original image and how much dark pigment is in it.
You can reduce the saturation by clicking "Image" on the menu and selecting "adjustments" and then "hue and saturation". Click on saturation and use the tool in the dialogue box to reduce the saturation. It's that simple.
Otherwise, some printers have the option in the print queue to reduce the saturation before you send the document to print. This will also work.
* Before printing, ensure that you load your paper feeder so that you will be printing on the correct side. It is the side that has a slight texture and emulsion on it that will allow the plastic to "grab" the ink and prepare for shrinking. The correct side will appear slightly scaley or look like it has little ripples. It's easy to determine which is the wrong side, it will appear completely white, pristine and glossy.
After you print your pages, allow them to dry completely before handling. This might take up to ten minutes if you have saturated colours or black details.
Time to carefully cut out each of your charms. I like to use manicure scissors for the little details that some images have, but most of the cutting can be done nicely with smooth, sharp paper scissors.
It is also very important at this point to punch a hole into the shrink material BEFORE you bake the charms. After baking, the material is just too hard to punch and you will snap the charms into pieces. Trust me on this. A regular hole punch will do the trick - be sure you leave a good amount around the perimiter of the hole so your charm is sturdy.
Now, line your cookie sheet with the brown paper. Make sure it is flat and smooth and doesn't have folds and wrinkles in it. Lay your charms on the paper leaving ample space between each piece.
Your oven should be preheated to 275 degrees F, or whatever your package instructions indicate. Set your oven timer for five minutes and pop those bad boys onto the middle rack of the oven.At this point, be prepared to have a mild freak-out. Your charms will behave like Mexican jumping beans and pop-pop and flip over, turning into all sorts of shapes resembling exotic flowers, footwear and avante-garde ceramics.
Resist the temptation to open the oven and manipulate them with your hands. The oven needs to be at a constant temperature... you'll just have to trust me and leave them be.
You might want to avoid hovering and get your oven mitts ready and locate a nice spatula. Pace the kitchen and check the progress occasionally. Feel free at this point to phone the craftiest person that you know and express your feelings of anxiety and ask for reassurance... it will all work out.
Before you know it, you will look into the oven and the charms will be flat. After the final charm unfolds to its perfectly flattened stage, keep the tray in the oven for another 15 seconds... this ensures that the charms will be completely hardened when they cool.
Immediately after removing the charms from the oven, I like to use my metal spatula to lightly "flatten" each piece of plastic while it is still slightly warm. If there is any slight bend in the charm, this will take care of it.
Allow your charms to completely cool on the brown paper. Gently slide them onto the cool countertop or a flat surface.
I like to place the charms on a piece of the silicone parchment paper from the Dollarama... because the next step is to seal the printed side of the charm with at least one coat of clear nail polish, and that stuff won't stick to the silicone parchment. When the nail polish is still wet, you can sprinkle super-fine glitter to the charms for added sparkle.
When the nail polish is cured, you can add jump rings through the nice little holes (see how they shrunk?) and your charms are ready to use! You are now only limited by your imagination and the cost of the shrink-art material.