What is shrink plastic?

I’ve been asked what Shrink Plastic is and, since the answer won’t fit in a tweet, I’ll answer it here.

Shrink Plastic is, in order of importance; a: my favourite youth work material, b: something of a party trick, c: an excellent way of showing anyone that they can be more artistic than they might give themselves credit for and d: not edible.

Or: it’s a type of plastic that you draw on in pencil or cd marker pen (on the rough side if you’re lucky enough to have bought pre-sanded stuff) and then stick it on a baking tray in the oven (gas or electric, not microwave). I’ve long since forgotten what heat you put in on as – when I’m doing youth work we have to whack the oven up high and do the stuff in as few seconds as possible. Not optimum and not what it suggests on the packet but when you have a hundred kids in front of you gas mark 3 for 3 minutes isn’t the way to go (although I think is the right way of doing it – you cook the plastic until its flat, basically). Years gone by you could shrink plastic crisp packets in the same way although in the age of metal packets and fewer crisps that’s another thing to do with kids gone.

The nicest thing is that the colours that you draw on shrink plastic (certainly with pencil) don’t become stronger or darker or lighter… They become more vibrant. The lil pencil speckles (scientific term) all squash together and get more friendly… And everything looks that little bit more cool. Which is another part of the process I like. 80% of kids who watch it say ‘cool’ without thinking about it and, when it’s warm enough for them to hold I let them have their pictures. Not cool. Temperature wise anyhow.

It’s also very groovy to watch it cooking. When I do Shrink Plastic stuff with the younger age groups I have to set up chairs as a little cinema for them to watch as the drawings are shrunk 🙂


This is how big I normally start with (cut to size – I normally buy big packs of A4 sheets and cut them into 9 smaller bits).


And this is how small that size shrinks – about 8 times smaller and 8 times thicker too. I only discovered you could watercolour pencil on them this year (having used it for fifteen years or so) and that revolutionised the way I use it. Oh boy did I get through a fair amount once I twigged that.

So that’s Shrink Plastic 🙂 It comes in 8 or so colours, you can buy it in teacher packs for bulk use, some pieces come with cartoon characters drawn on so you can colour in pre-drawn stuff and so on. It’s my favourite playful art material and when I’m working with bigger groups of kids, especially the special ed ones, it’s my favourite thing to watch other peoples faces while working with as well. And something I love playing with when time allows (not as often as I’d like then and more often than not I give the results away anyhow).

I did do the forty mini book covers in Shrink Plastic with a few small groups of kids which are findable on this very blog. A half way through photo here:


((And in answer to the other two comments on the tweet – the questions are probably guessable :

a: no, sorry my handwriting is abysmal. I did try and be neat but that’s a trick I’ve failed to learn in forty years and don’t anticipate perfecting in the next forty without ministry and team prayer. Believe it or not that was my neater stuff, I was quite pleased with it at the time although that seems to have been hopelessly optimistic it now seems.

b: the novel is in case free time allows to beg a quote. For the past two books in the series I’ve had lovely quotes from Phil Groom at London College of Theology b+r, Tre Sheppard of Onehundredhours, Mary at Goodbookstall, Lord Ron Dearing etc. All lovely and generous and kind. I’ve always stopped short of sending the Sylvers to the people I look up to from the places I spend my time (writing and comics and etc) because I basically anticipate embarrassing myself but this time felt brave enough to at least try. Maybe hopelessly optimistic on that front too. TBH I know it’s begging kindness following kindness which is hardly a reward but apart from shrink plastic I’ve little else worth sending.))

Hmmmm maybe this would have fitted in a tweet. I didn’t realise my answers could be so brief and concise. Righto my turn to cook before youth group so machine off and onwards.

2 thoughts on “What is shrink plastic?

  1. Fascinating: thank you for sharing.

    And hurrah on the bravery in sending on the copies.

    [Oh — my handwriting is also in need of divine Grace.]

  2. Thanks for the info about Shrink Plastic. I remember a free gift in a box of Weetabix being a version of this when I was a kid. Loved doing it back then. Was not aware that it existed as a ‘proper’ craft item these days. May well be worth using in the art group at the centre where I work. Thanks again for the inspiration!

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