TUTORIAL: DIY Shrinky Dink Ornament from a Plastic Container

Yesterday, a museum in our town hosted a kids’ Christmas event. The kids got to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus. There were treats and a magic show (which we missed), and best of all CRAFTS! My kids love crafts. When Jacob started a new parents’ day out program a few weeks ago, I promised him that they would make crafts. He was really disappointed that they simply colored the first day. “Coloring is not crafts,” he told me, explaining that they didn’t get to use scissors or glue. So funny! I love how they seem to mimic me. And their modeling of my behavior makes me wish I did something really extraordinary, like playing music or something, for them to learn from. But I don’t. So we make stuff. :)

The favorite craft of the day was led by some very nice young science students from the university. They called it “Amazing Polymers.” All I saw at first were kids coloring with markers on take out containers, and I thought this was going to be the ugliest ornament I’d ever seen. But then they told me we were making Shrinky Dinks. Really?

I saw kids walking off with the cute, thick little plastic square ornaments. They looked so different than the take out containers that my kids were coloring. I assumed we’d have to cut off the edges before they baked it. But no, the take out container you see pictured above shrinks up all by itself to make a square. How cool is that?!

The students kindly gave me some containers to bring home and do this project again with photos, so that I could share it with all of you. I’m already planning my eating out based on the kinds of containers I know certain restaurants carry!

There are certainly fancier ways you could use the plastic to make ornaments. You can cut the plastic out into shapes. But this particular method, while not the absolute prettiest, was definitely the coolest to watch since a 3D box melts down into a flat shape all by itself.

This is PERFECT for kids to do. You’ll need to help with the oven portion, of course, but the rest is all them. Ready to get started? Here are the supplies you’ll need:

  • Any #6 Plastic Take-Out Container
  • Colorful Sharpie Markers
  • Hole Punch
  • Old Baking Sheet
  • Long Tweezers

First, simply let your child (or yourself) color all over the container. The main square on the bottom is the easiest to color, and it will shrink up very precisely. But you can color all over the sides of it too. I experimented with coloring the bottom edge, which didn’t turn out very straight, but it adds some color on the outside of the finished ornament.

While you’re coloring, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Before you bake your ornaments, use your hole punch to punch a hole in one of the corners so you’ll be able to hang it up later.

Once it’s preheated, place your container on an old cookie sheet. I just used my normal one, and it didn’t harm it. But the science students warned me that it could potentially stick and mess it up, so if yours if particularly nice you might not want to risk it.

Stick it in the oven, and keep a close watch. You’ll need to close the door, and then open it and peak repeatedly. If you have a toaster oven, the kids can watch.

Here are some shots of what it looks like as it changes form. They’re not very clear, because the oven was super hot at that distance, and I didn’t want to melt my new iPhone. The whole baking time was probably 30 seconds or so.

When the plastic finally becomes a fairly flat square, remove it from the oven. Using your tweezers, you can flatten it a bit on the edges and lift it up off of the cookie sheet. If it needs more shaping, use a wet paper towel. Be warned that it’s going to be hot, so don’t let the kids hold it until it cools.

And that’s it! I think it’s such a cool way to preserve your kids’ artwork for ornaments to use every year. Or, you can have fun with your own doodles like I did. And it’s neat that you are recycling trash in order to do it.

I wish I’d taken more notes as to the science behind it. There is a lesson to be learned about polymers here. With a toaster oven, and actual knowledge of polymers, this would make a great classroom project. But sorry, I’m not going to be able to be your science teacher here in this post!

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  1. you can use this same concept and a heat gun to turn the “shrinkies” into beads that are styled by the kids (or you) too.

    • Very cool. I can see where a heat gun would give way more control over the melting. Wish I had one! I also want to make buttons, like for clothes, out of it.

  2. Thanks for a great post. I loved your photos of the shrinking process.

  3. When it is done…. and you have pulled it out with the tweezers, if you want to make sure it is flat… use to oven mitts and press it between the mitts to flatten it out of just to handle it… Lots of fun doing crafts with shrinking plastic.

  4. Brilliant! Thanks for sharing.

  5. “makes me wish I did something really extraordinary, like playing music or something, for them to learn from. But I don’t. So we make stuff.” Sorry but I had to….You are teaching them and they are learning! Crafts are an Amazing teacher. There is a learning process with everything we do and plus you are spending Quality time with the kiddos!

  6. This is so cool! Is there any strog plastic smell when you do these? I’ve very tempted to give this a go, I think I need to have a look through my recyclables.

  7. diplocase says:

    I’m kind of worried about the off-gassing–you’d think the heated plastic would be spewing all kinds of stuff into your breathing air. Another question for the science students, I guess!

  8. Love it! we use the as identifiers in the garden, so we can tell one variety of hybiscus from the other as we so many different hybreds ;)

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