This is an idea I’ve been wanting to try for several years now, ever since I heard of printable shrink plastic, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it turned out. My process could use just a little tweaking to get perfect, but I already love these just as they are.
I used Grafix brand white printable sheet plastic. They also make a “clear” type of printable, that turns a translucent milky color when shrunk, that would be fun to play with. And my daughter wants to try non-printable white and clear plastic to make plates that look like our solid-colored plastic Ikea ones.
I Googled an image of a plate, in this case in the Franciscan Ivy pattern. (You can match your own china pattern–is that not so FUN?) I used Photoshop to trim the background of the image, then arrayed 12 on an 11″ x 8.5″ background (so you can get a set of 12 plates from one sheet of shrink plastic–do leave a little space around the edges for your printer’s margins). I sized the plates to 2.5″ so I could use a 2.5″ paper punch to cut them out. I should have made my plate images just a mite smaller, since I did lose most of the trim on the rim of the plates when I cut them out. Follow the manufacturer’s printing instructions. Remember colors will darken a lot after shrinking, so brighten your image before printing. My 2.5″ circles shrank to just barely over 1″, so about a 12″ dinner plate in standard dollhouse 1/12th scale.
You can also print on the back of the plastic, so I did a maker’s stamp–but I ran my paper through upside-down on the second pass, so all my carefully-centered stamps ended up skewampus. So keep track of which is the top of your plastic sheet if your design doesn’t have perfect top-to-bottom symmetry.
After baking them one at a time in a 350 oven, I pressed each plate onto an existing dollhouse plate immediately, while still warm, to get the slight curvature. I wore a knit glove to do that, but I need to find a glove with less texture, because most of my plates got a little bit of a knit texture. Oh, and the plates seemed to shrink most quickly and evenly when I left the pan in the oven, so it was preheated. I have a sheet of parchment lining the cookie sheet to protect the pan from ink rub-off (which seems to happen most often with permanent markers).
No matter how careful you are, shrink plastic is a little erratic, so your plates won’t be perfectly uniform–but at that small scale, a little unevenness isn’t noticeable.
It would be nice to apply a waterproof shine coat–my sister Lili says she’s found a great product. (Link, Lili?)
At some time I might try making bowls, too–pressing them into an existing dollhouse bowl while they’re warm–so I’ll let you know if it works. (But I won’t go so far as to try to make teacups.) 🙂
Update: Here’s a couple more Photoshop tips. I realized the reason that my reverse-side maker’s stamp was skewampus is because the reverse image has to be mirrored to line up after printing. Also, if you’re doing plates that are colored and can’t find an image of the reverse, use the eyedropper tool to get a color from the plate front, then create a colored square behind the plate to print on the reverse. Again, these color blocks must be mirrored if not all the plates are the same color. And if your logo has a white background, you can reduce the opacity to let the plate color show through.
Update: I’m trying to think what other miniatures could be made this way. They have to be items that are relatively flat, and also preferably not too hard to cut out. Feel free to add any of your ideas in comments. This is what I’ve come up with so far:
spatulas/wooden spoons/serving forks
flip-flop soles (punch holes before baking, then add thread or plastic cord for toe loops)
laptops (create a hinge with wire, thread, or jump rings)