Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Finally a Perler Bead Tutorial

After a long period of not working with crafts of any kind, I was looking for a way to relax with some kind of hobby or craft. I came across Perler Beads one day, looking at Doctor Who crafts, and I was absolutely hooked. I love the retro look of 8 bit art. A lot of memories for me are held in the games of my childhood. So many of these games perfectly translate into patterns. Just type NES Perler into Google Images and see how many people are bringing the video games of our childhood back to life. But its not just limited to video game sprites or cartoons. Look at a cross stitch pattern, Kandi bead patterns, or Pixel art and compare it to a Perler bead pattern. They are(or almost are) identical. Your design can be as detailed or as simple as you want it to be, but the more detail you want, the larger the project will be.

Perler is actually a brand name that sells fusible wax beads. They can be sold under the names Hama, Fuse, Melt-a-ways, and Perler to name a few. The most popular in my area is Perler and many just refer to them by their brand name. It is pretty much impossible to find Hama beads. I've only seen them for sale from the UK. I have used Fuse and Melt-a-ways. They are ok, but I like the way the Perlers melt. I mixed Perlers and Melt-a-ways once, but it was horrible. They have different melt times so one would be over ironed while the other had barely started melting, so I wouldn't recommend using multiple brands.

  • Perler Beads
  • Peg Boards
  • Iron
  • Ironing paper
If you are going to make your own pattern, you will also need grid paper, but if you don't feel up to drawing an intricate pattern yourself, there are tons of other resources out there There is a really cool app out there called Pixel it that will make the pattern for you from a picture.I love Kandi Patterns. It has hundreds of free patterns, people upload new ones all the time. Many stores sell patterns pretty cheap on Etsy. Also, you can get patterns from Google images. Most don't mind, as long as you don't try to sell some one's pattern or claim it as you own. Just give credit where credit is due if you are going to publish or sell. In my experience, people love that others are creating and their pattern is out there in the world.

My first attempt was the TARDIS, go figure
Do you already cross stitch or make 8 bit digital art? If the answer is yes, you already have a leg up.Many argue that cross stitch was the first 8 bit art, so it is really easy to convert a cross stitch pattern to a Perler pattern and vice versa. With Perler beads, look at each bead like a pixel. When the pixels come together they form a picture. Since I used to cross stitch I dove right in. For the first few projects, I used Google Images. As I got braver, I started experimenting with making my own patterns, going off pictures with no patterns, and just making it up as I go along. With larger, more intricate projects, it's best to use a pattern, which I found out the hard way. It's not impossible, but it will take quite a lot of time.

Let's start you off with an easy one. If you are going to make your own pattern, now is the time to grab your grid paper and get creative. I really love 8 bit bows, so I drew a couple out and this is what I came up with. I've seen different stores sell foam barrettes so I thought it would be a really cool project with Perlers. Its a pretty easy design and you can finish really fast. This is really a versatile pattern too because you can change the colors to what you would like and not worry about mucking up the design. You can get really creative and do designs within the bow.

Chose your colors, grab your peg board, and go to town. A peg board will hold your design steady while you create, making sure no beads go running away. If you buy a kit, you may get shaped peg boards like flowers or animals. These come in handy if you are going to this as a project with a child. They can go crazy within the shape and still come out with something looking really nice. Now the beads can be slippery little suckers, but you can place the beads with your fingers, a special tool that has scoop on one end and plastic tweezers on another, or as I prefer, metal tweezers because they're not as flimsy.

Once you are finished with your design, it is time to melt the beads together. While still on the pegboard, place the ironing paper over your project. Now you can iron your project. Put light pressure the iron and gently go over the design, moving the iron in circles to evenly distribute the heat. The ironing is the hardest part of the project. You will see the beads start to melt through the paper. It should take about 15- 20 seconds according to the directions, but I find it takes longer with my iron, but you can't over heat it or the project will shrink and bend in places. Once you've melted the first side, you should let it cool down before you flip it. I am too impatient and use the peg board to flip it and do the other side right away. Be Careful, because the flipping is when you find out if you haven't heated it evenly. My first project broke right away when I tried to flip it. Sometimes it is an easy fix,sometimes you have to nix the project completely and start over. Most will say that in 8 bit art, you should be able to see each individual bead. I happen to like the look when it has been over-melted, some projects I think it just suits it more. You will have to practice and play to see what you like. Let it set for a while so it can cool down.

It's time to sit back, relax, and enjoy a job well done, right? Well, some projects end here, but it depends on what you are making. Are you making coasters, magnets, something to put on your wall? Do you need to buy a stand or can you make one? With this project I was making barrettes. I got out my trusty hot glue gun and attached the bows to barrettes. I made one for my sister, one for my niece, and for me, well...I made a bow tie. Why? Because bow ties are cool. These are great little gifts to add to a homemade gift basket, or a nice gift to your girly gamer friends.

When you get more confident, you can go after bigger projects. The largest one I have done so far is a Detroit Red Wings logo with a stand. I printed out a picture and just eyeballed it. In the end, I wish I had drawn a pattern first, but you learn as you go.
The hobby stores in my area don't carry a huge variety of colors, so I used pink as the highlighter color. I hadn't yet discovered Kool Stuff 4 Kids.
Now every time I look at it I think, 'I should have used cranberry.' If I had only known. Maybe someday I'll redo it. Anyway, back to Kool Stuff 4 Kids. They have every shade you can imagine, peg boards of all kinds, and some free patterns. If you sign up for the email club, they e-mail you a coupon you can use right away. Every week they have a new special and their normal prices are lower than my local stores. Plus,  you can buy just one color. Most of my stores only sell by the bucket and I don't have time to sort thousands of beads.
Finished the design, just needs the iron.
I'll definitely make a pattern next time. In my haste, I ended up not centering right. I shouldn't have needed to use so many pegboards. Also, since I didn't have a pattern when it broke during the flipping, I had no idea what went where and I made some huge errors that I didn't notice until after I had ironed it. I thought I was going to cry when it broke. This took so long for me to make. I had to do it in five different sittings.  Can you spot the difference?

After ironing, breaking, and ironing again
Before the project was complete, I had to figure out a way to make it stand. So I looked around at what other people were using and figured out how to make little legs for it.
I will be posting more of my Perler Bead projects here and there. I am hoping to make a 3-D TARDIS that lights up using LED's so it won't get hot enough to melt the beads. I saw one once on Etsy, but it sold, so I'm going to make my own. I'm still trying to work out the details, so if you know about little LEDs, let me know, so far I can only find little individual units for sale bulk.


  1. Thanks for your comment. It came out huge, but it was a fun project to do waiting for hockey to start this year.

  2. I love it!! Is there anything that you can use to help it stand up to the test of time? Any kind of a sealant?