Shrinky Dinks

Shrinky Dinks

When Kenner created the Easy-Bake Oven, it provided kids with a safer way to practice their culinary skills, thereby keeping them out of the kitchen and away from its inherent danger. Shrinky Dinks, on the other hand, brought them back to the kitchen in droves, their eyes peeled to a hot oven window, watching their hand-drawn creations shrink into a plastic trinket as if by magic.

Shrinky Dinks came out of Wisconsin in 1973, straddling the toy and arts & crafts genres. They were invented by two housewives, Betty Morris and Kathryn Bloomberg, as a cub scout project for their sons. Based on a very warm reception, they went into business as K&B Innovations and licensed their product to a number of companies, including Colorforms and Milton Bradley. To date, they have sold upwards of $150 million worth of Shrinky Dinks.

Quite possibly the epitome of polymer chemistry, the Dinks consisted of a plastic sheet that kids could draw and paint on using a variety of media, like markers, color pencils and acrylic paints. The activity set included several pre-made designs but any image could be traced onto the sheet or the little artists could wing it freehand.

The colored design was then cut out and placed on a cookie pan to bake in the oven, at about 325 degrees. In a matter of seconds the bits of plastic started a shrinking and curling only to end up at roughly one-third their original size and nine times thicker. Clearly, the only plausible explanation was magic. Breathless kids gathered around the oven to chant, “Curl, curl, curl!” and “Shrink, shrink, shrink!”. It was part of the ritual. After the Shrinky Dinks came out of the oven (hopefully handled by an adult) they were allowed to cool and presto, they were ready.

Shrinky Dinks could be made into jewelry, key chains, handles, ornaments, zipper pulls, game pieces and so on. You were only limited by your imagination. The original set had frosted plastic sheets that worked with virtually all manner of painting material, including rubber stamps. Later on, the plastic became available in different colors. Most of the popular cartoon characters had a Shrinky Dinks tie-in, from The Smurfs to Scooby Doo. The product enjoyed wide appeal since it could be trotted out for some rainy day fun or be used by serious crafts types to start a signature jewelry collection.

Shrinky Dinks are still around and have evolved with the times, offering ink jet printer compatible plastic, which makes actual photographs fair game for shrinking. Besides their childhood appeal, they are also being used to aid scientists in the study of microfluidics and disease research. That’s a pretty lofty achievement for a simple arts and crafts toy. Sure, we always knew that Shrinky Dinks were special; we just didn’t realize how much so.

If you spent a few rainy days watching plastic shrink in the oven, maybe even have a scar or two to show for it, we’d love to hear all of your Shrinky Dink memories in our comments section below.

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