Do you know what Perler beads are? They’re also called fuse beads, or Fun Fusion beads, melty beads…you get the point. If not, don’t be alarmed – I didn’t know what they were until two years ago. However, I was informed that I must have had a deprived childhood since nearly everyone I knew used these as children to make fun and interesting melted plastic designs.
While the craft itself would more accurately be referred to as fuse beads, Perler is a brand name that is well known amongst those that make things out of these beads (including yours truly), so we’ll call it Perler beads for the sake of simplicity. Prepare yourselves, because I’ve written nearly everything you need to know (and acquire) for a Perler bead craft program in the paragraphs that follow. There are links for most of the supplies I’d recommend.
If you would prefer a video tutorial, there is one linked right here and again at the end of the post:
Perler beads are small, plastic beads that you put on pegboards to create a design. Some pegboards are already in the shape of a design, such as a dolphin, heart, or star, so you can just pick some bead colors and fill it in. However, some of the most unique and fun pieces are made by creating your own designs on the square pegboards. Many, many different creations can be made on these boards – super heroes, video game and T.V. show characters, sports logos, and more! Check out the photo below for a good sample of the kinds of ones I’ve done in the past.
I’ve found that this is by far the most popular teen craft I’ve ran at our library. In fact, the first time I did Perler beads as a teen craft program the teens demanded that I do it every month. We negotiated and settled on every other month as I wanted to ensure that they could try other things too, but every time we do Perler beads I get between 10 and 20 teenagers that show up to the program, ready to make a Deadpool, Mario, or Black Widow keychain or magnet. It’s insane.
Here’s the rundown on how it works. Get a few different colors of beads (I separate them in bowls or cups in my programs), a pegboard, and a pair of sewing or craft tweezers. Grab beads with the tweezers and put them on the pegboard, whether it’s by a pre-made pattern, a photo, or your own design. Many photos of creations, as well as pre-made patterns, are available online.
Once you’ve completed your pattern, instead of ironing the pattern ON the pegboard as many people do, use masking tape to tape it to the pegboard. This is different from how many people do this craft, but this step is done to preserve the life of the pegboards. Some teens are just fine with taping their own pattern to the pegboard, but others have had it go horribly, horribly wrong and want my assistance with taping it. Once the pattern is taped to the pegboard (make sure to press the tape firmly to the beads to ensure a good stick), take another pegboard and line it up, pegs down, with the one the beads are taped to. Push hard on the top pegboard to break holes in the masking tape, essentially creating a sandwich of the beads. This way, when you iron the pattern, the heat is not trapped between the parchment paper and the tape and won’t cause a blowout. A blowout is when a bead won’t melt properly as the heat has nowhere to go.
Once the pattern has been taped to the pegboard and holes poked in the masking tape for each bead, take the pattern off the pegboard and cut off the excess tape. If beads weren’t pressed hard enough to the tape you may have some fall off at this point, but they should be easy enough to place back into the pattern with tweezers. Place the pattern tape side down on a table and place parchment paper (NOT wax paper) on top of it. Warm up an iron and iron slowly and evenly at a medium to high heat across the entire piece. I prefer to go for a flat melt on only one side where all of the beads are fully melted with no open holes, but some people prefer to melt both sides lightly. This will be entirely up to you, and it takes practice to get good at knowing when the piece is fully melted.
Once you’re done ironing your pattern, place a heavy book on top of the parchment paper and pattern. The Perler beads will want to curl slightly at the edge of the pattern and this will prevent that. I usually try to leave patterns underneath a book for 24 hours at home, but if a teen wants something right away I’ll usually leave it under a book for 30 minutes or so and then give it to them. More often than not, though, teens will be okay with picking up the item the next day or in a few days, since I may not have time to iron all of their patterns right then and there and will need to do it after the program during downtime. I personally never let the teens do the ironing just to prevent any possibility of injury.
So what supplies do you need, and where should you get them? Buy a bunch of beads from Perler’s website (http://www.perler.com/), as it’s by far the cheapest way to get them – especially if you can time it with a 25% off sale, which used to happen more frequently in the past. Perler beads are also very uniform and melt more evenly than any other brand I’ve tried, so I really, really recommend that you pick up Perler brand beads if you decide to do this craft with your teens. Try and get a variety of colors, and ALWAYS GET MORE BLACK THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED. Seriously, black, white, and red beads are nearly always the first ones to run out. Buying in bulk is always cheapest with Perler beads, but rarely used colors will last a long time, so make sure you have some place to store all these materials. I store opened bags of beads in Ziplock baggies with a piece of masking tape on the outside that states what color the beads are.
Acquire at least one square pegboard per teenager. Pegboards can be purchased in a pack of 4 from the Perler website. These pegboards can be interlocked in case a teen wants to make larger pieces. Getting the different shapes of pegboards can also be a good idea as plenty of teens that I work with have made fun patterns and designs with the heart, hexagonal, and star shaped pegboards. I also recommend acquiring multiple pairs of craft or sewing tweezers as fingers are often just too big and clunky to place beads on pegboards effectively.
A good iron that provides even heat to the entire surface its melting is a necessity. I’ve tried making Perler bead art with a regular clothing iron, and while it did work, it wasn’t as uniform as patterns I’ve done with a wax iron. The Swix iron has been perfect for me and I’ve been using my personal one for about two years on my own patterns with no issues.
Make sure to also get wide masking tape and a good pair of adhesive scissors to cut the excess tape off of a pattern. You’ll also need parchment paper to put on top of the completed pattern before you iron it. Bowls or cups to dump beads into and share with your table are also a good idea.
While just the finished pattern is a good craft in its own right, a lot of the teens I work with make them into magnets or keychains to put on backpacks or in their lockers. I’d recommend picking up keychains, magnets, and E-6000. I’ve found that two pairs of needle nose pliers work best for the jump rings with keychains.
While some patterns and pictures of previously made pieces are available on the Internet, you can also create your own patterns with a free program called GraphicsGale. This program is a animation graphics editor, but conveniently allows for the creation of grid-based pixel artwork. I’ve created many, many patterns using this software and RGB color values that approximate different bead colors. Making a pixel pattern to go off of makes it easier for multiple teens to make the same thing without having to look up a picture of an item over and over. I also make a color key off to the side of the pattern and write in what colors were used so teens know how to re-create the pattern exactly as the image shows.
RGB color values link: (all different bead brands, created by LThanda)
While this is a craft that requires a bit of staff involvement and time, I’ve found that teens love the opportunity to make whatever they want. This is another way to celebrate their favorite fandoms and exercise some creativity without requiring the ability to draw, color, paint, or even cut well. If you have other questions about Perler bead art, don’t hesitate to contact me!
Bead sprites tutorial: (using masking tape)