At my first anime convention, I bought a Kirby magnet and fell in love with the idea of making my own video game sprites. After that, I bought a bucket of beads and made a few Pokemon. What started as a little hobby for making cool birthday presents for friends turned into so much more.
In this multi-part series, I will cover my experience with “fusion bead crafts” from the beginning to advanced work and making some cool side cash with your art. This part covers the basics of what you need to get started. I use Perler brand, and my guides will be focused on those.
First of all, the beads are not all the same. They go by all sorts of names like Perler, Hama, Nabbi, and Artkal down to more generic varieties that come in art kits or sold as Melty Beads in Walmart. If you’d like more detail, here’s an excellent distinction guide. Thanks to the internet, you can buy any brand of beads you like. But take this advice:
No matter what bead you choose, don’t mix them with other brands. Each brand uses different formulas, and once melted, will vary in texture, shape, melting time, and sheen. Also, as the guide states, don’t waste your money on cheap varieties like Melty Beads. I bought some once because I ran out of a color late at night, and they are exactly as described in the guide. They’re not uniform in shape, and they can bleed when melting.
As you become more and more adept to the craft, you can mix beads to achieve certain effects, but at the beginner level, pick one brand.
There is no shortage of colors in fusion beads. While it’s tempting to purchase every color available, keep in mind they’re $2-4 for a 1,000 count bag. When buying beads, shop around. Check the Perler website, because they often have bulk deals going on. But sometimes Amazon or your local craft store will have better prices.
It may be tempting to buy a whole starter kit with beads, boards, and a few fancy accessories. Pass on them and only get what you need. You’ll save money and space in the long run.
Triple XP Recommendation:
- Pick a bead tray or two.
A bucket is one way to start, but unless you want to dig every time you’re looking for a specific color or have the spare time to divide them into separate containers, skip it. Bead trays start you with a good variety of colors for your first few projects.
- Buy a packet of Black and White.
I recommend the 6,000 count bags. They’re generally around $10 each and come out to about a $1.66 per thousand. You’ll use black the most.
- Think ahead to what you’re going to make.
If you’re planning a large batch of Pikachus to give out at Christmas, you’ll want to purchase a full bag or 2 of yellow. Lots of Marios? Red. Kirby? Pink. Expand your color repertoire based on what you plan to make at a time, that way you won’t need to purchase every color up front and end up never using some of them.
The Tools of the Trade
- Bead Tray(s): If a bead tray doesn’t have interlocking capabilities, don’t buy it. Interlocking trays give you the option to make any size project and allows you to craft large batches of small pieces at once. With interlocking trays, you’ll never run out of room unless you run out of trays.
- Tweezers: You can use standard tweezers, but I like the Perler tweezers with the scoop back. With thin, Perler-sized prongs, these were designed to pick up fusion beads, and the back allows you scoop colors you need from their containers.
- Iron: This is how you fuse your beads. Don’t use the same iron as your clothes. You’ll want one with even heat distribution across the bottom for more uniform melting. Mini craft irons may be helpful if you’re doing small Perlers, but they’re an unnecessary beginning expense.
- Wax Paper or Parchment Paper: Find it at any grocery store and buy a roll. The folded sheets that come with many Perler trays can leave creases in your work.
Most people new to fusion beads would stop right there. They’ll arrange the beads on the tray, iron them, and call it finished. Don’t be a noob! That strategy will buy you a one-way ticket to warped-tray town.
I will cover the Tape Method in full detail in my next post. Once arranged on the tray, you will use tape to bind the beads and lift them off the tray before ironing. Here’s what else you’ll need:
- Masking Tape: The widest masking tape you can find. Mine is about two inches wide. The wider the better if you can find it. The less amount of tape seams you have, the easier it will be.
- Loom Hook: It’s a plastic handle with a metal, 90-degree, tapered head. I bought mine for less than $2 at Walmart.
- Scissors: I recommend getting a pair solely for Perlering. You’ll use them for cutting tape, and that sticky residue likes to hang out.
- Tweezers: Besides the Perler tweezers, you’ll need a pair of regular tweezers. Pick one with an angled head. Once you iron your perlers, some tape may be stuck in the melted plastic. These make easy work of it.
- I will cover this more in-depth in the next post, but part of the loom hook’s duty is poking holes through the tape into the Perler middles. I discovered that Nintendo DS styluses are the exact width of Perler beads and taping three together makes a more efficient utensil for poking holes.
Cool tools, but not necessary.
- Bead Sweeper: It sounds like a breeze to clean up spilled beads, but I find it more of a hassle. I have 3 cats. Whenever I use the sweeper, it junks up with cat hair. That’s fun to pick through.
- Bead Pen: It sounds cool, but it lacks control, it’s bulky, and it takes too much time to unload and reload.
- Weird Shaped Trays: You’ll probably end up with a bunch of free ones from friends with kids who got a Perler kit for Christmas and never use it anymore. They can be useful in creative ways, but they are by no means necessary.