Shrinky Dinks were invented in the early ‘70s, but it wasn’t until the ‘80s that their popularity exploded. That’s when the color-and-bake sheets of polystyrene plastic caught the attention of major toy companies, leading to dedicated Shrinky Dinks sets for He-Man, Rainbow Brite and every neon weirdo in between.
The sets are still in production today, but the themes are usually of the generic sort. (Think ballerinas and mermaids.) Sadly, Shrinky Dinks have become so obscure that only a small fraction of you were probably even aware of their continued existence.
If you grew up during their heyday, you know that they deserve better!
Take this Real Ghostbusters Shrinky Dinks kit, for example. Like Taylor Dayne’s Tell it to My Heart, it’s from 1988.
If you’ve forgotten how Shrinky Dinks work, don’t worry. I totally ruined my vintage set for your benefit. Remember this when I’m older and grayer and need major surgery. Here’s to 2017.
You start by coloring in the plastic sheets, which have the outlines of various characters. The set included four colored pencils for this activity, and if you stick with only those — like I did — you’ll end up with some decidedly off-model Ghostbusters.
As I turned Peter into a ginger, so many memories came flooding back. Admittedly, not all of them were good. I suddenly remembered that whatever thrills came from my ancient Shrinky Dinks kits had little to do with actually making them. I really just wanted flat little figurines to play with. All of this other stuff was a nuisance.
I stopped after only coloring half of the Shrinky Dinks. Forgive me. My hand was cramping, and I was sick of giving the Ghostbusters red hair.
After cutting out the characters, I reread the instructions. Ah, shit, I needed a non-stick cookie sheet. I had no idea if our cookie sheets were sticky or not. Why aren’t these things labeled?
Unwilling to risk it, I abided by their tip to dust a regular cookie sheet with flour. I should note that Milton Bradley may not have intended that precise amount of flour, which was enough to make phyllo pastries for a party of 200.
Into the 350 degree oven they went. The instructions claimed that the Shrinky Dinks would only need four minutes, but I left them in there for ten. Maybe the plastic had degraded over the years, or maybe the fact that I kept opening the oven door to snap photos every five seconds slowed them down.
The baking process is bizarre and beautiful. While the plastic shrinks down, it also bends and curls, with each Shrinky Dink kind of pantomiming time-lapsed corpse rot. Course, that’s not how Milton Bradley described the process.
What began as paper dolls ended as defect charms from the clearance bin at Claire’s.
My Shrinky Dinks didn’t come out so hot. I want to blame Milton Bradley, but between rushing through the coloring process, continually opening the oven door, and just generally putting as much effort into these as I put into eating one soft pretzel… eh, I’m still gonna blame Milton Bradley. What do they care? Billions of dollars and big giant castles. All I have is my pride and like two and a half Halloween Oreos.
Thinking back to all of the times I baked Shrinky Dinks as a kid, there was always that 50% chance of failure. Thing is, you didn’t particularly mind if your figurines looked bad. You still had fun. You still made them. And they could still be used to decorate windowsills when you ran out of Rose Tea animals and M.U.S.C.L.E. figures.
I hope you enjoyed this hands-on review of a 28-year-old Shrinky Dinks kit. You weren’t gonna get it anywhere else. Not with a Taylor Dayne reference, anyway.