If you pay attention to my blog or Instagram account, you know that I like making buttons. I also like trying out new things to make buttons that I've never seen before. I've made buttons with gold-leaf, matte finishes, and even glow-in-the-dark buttons. This time, I wanted to try heat-sensitive buttons, sort of like the old Hypercolor shirts from the late 1980s or the Autobot/Decepticon stickers on the packaging for Transformers toys. So, I ordered up some thermal-reactive pigment and started experimenting. Below is a brief run-down of my process, so if you want to try it out, go for it. Let me know if you come up with something even better.
- Button Maker (American Button Machines 1.25")
- Button Supplies
- B/W Copier or Laser Printer
- Transparency Film
- Liquitex Gloss Medium/Varnish
- Airbrush and Compressor
- Airbrush Transparent Extender
- Medium sized paintbrush
- Thermal Dust (Black 77 degree) solardust.com
- Colorful paper (80lb letter)
- Blowdryer (optional)
- Mixing container (shot glasses work well)
Step 1 - Make Thermal Paint
SolarDust.com sells pigment in powdered form, so in order to use it, you have to mix it into some sort of medium. The cool thing about powdered pigment is that you can kind of mix it into anything. If you mix it in clear nail polish, you get heat-reactive nail polish. If you mix it with plastisol inks, you can print it on t-shirts. For my purposes, I wanted to put it through my airbrush. Acrylic medium is the least complicated/toxic way to do that, so I mixed up a nice sticky-yet-thin batch of airbrush paint.
My mixture was not exactly scientific, but I had a pretty good feeling of when it was right. I can't give you exact measurements of what I ended up making because I sort of winged-it.
- Mix the dust pigment with a little water first to emulsify it
- Add medium to your emulsified mixture
- Add more water if it seems too thick for your airbrush
- Airbrush Extender fluid might help thin your mixture
- Stir and stir some more
Step 2 - Apply Paint to Colorful Paper
I've found that applying the thermal reactive paint in thin layers produces the most dramatic effect. Airbrushing is a great way to apply a thin coat of paint to a surface. I taped up a piece of light magenta paper onto my wall and started laying down a coat of paint. My batch was a tad thicker than it probably should have been for that size airbrush but I switched to a bigger size and it seemed to go a little better. To speed things along, I used a blowdryer to dry surface between coats. One cool thing about thermal ink is you know it's dry when it disappears! Once I had a decent coat from the airbrush, I used a medium sized soft brush to give one more light coat. It wasn't a lot but it helped even out the color.
Step 3 - Assemble The Button
For my "MOODY" buttons, I wanted the word "MOODY" to be black and visible no matter what color the rest of the button is. To achieve this, I printed the text layer on transparency film. The transparency also doubles as the outer transparent layer of the button. I recommend making sure that the toner is attached to the underside of the transparency film so that it doesn't get scratched away during wear. Depending on your printer, you might have to mirror your design to make this happen. Next, you'll want to cut your paper and transparencies for assembly. I use a circle cutter and a piece of steel underneath. The last step is to assemble all of the parts, just as you might a regular button. Since the printed transparency is replacing the regular blank mylar layer, you won't need it.
Step 4 - Impress Your Friends
Friends love be impressed, right?! Well, when you wear your mood-button out and about be sure to bring a spare or two because everyone's going to want one. Be prepared to have conversations about hypercolor t-shirts, mood rings, etc. because you, my friend, have just created a conversation piece. You're a trend-setter, an alchemist, a mover, and a shaker. Best of luck!