Mold-Making: Learning the trade at Polytek

I’ve been customizing toys for years now, and my perfectionist self could not help but be slightly annoyed by the fact my customs weren’t as legitimate as the original toys.  Acrylic paint marks, seams from the sculpture to the plastic of the toy, etc etc. A lot of the professional customizers actually mold and cast their own sculpted parts, so I came to the conclusion that I needed to learn the trade.

After watching a lot of YouTube videos attempting to teach myself, I decided the materials were far too expensive and the process too delicate to teach myself.  So I researched my options for a few months, it seems Smooth-On and Polytek are the leaders in teaching this trade, as well as the main suppliers of material – both headquarters are located in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. Living in northeast ohio, it was going to be a drive.

I ended up deciding on Polytek as my choice since Smooth-On only offered the ability to mold one of their five pre-approved objects during the class. Heck no, I wanted to learn how to mold my weird object – I could have learned what they offered from YouTube! I booked my spot in the October 2015 class. (follow that link to view their photos and class schedule)

Prior to the class I decided to make a small investment ($45) to try my hand at the process before I dove straight in at the class. Watching YouTube videos, I bought what was recommended and got my hands dirty.

[DISCLAIMER] forgive the quality of these photos in this post, I took them all with my cellphone.

Smooth-On OOMOO 30 and Smooth-On Smooth Cast 3

Smooth-On OOMOO 30 and Smooth-On Smooth Cast 3

It was a relatively simple process.  A one-part mold in a paper cup. I decided to not stress over this project and eyeballed my product measures to be “equal” – surprisingly even when I visibly mis-mixed my silicone set up! The process was a little less delicate than I had thought, of course you want to mix equal parts of A and B but it eased my mind that I decided to cowboy it and I was lucky enough to have both of my test molds cure properly. I was also afraid the cast would get locked in the mold because of the indent around the neck, but I definitely didn’t realize beforehand how flexible silicone is. One part molds are super easy and really fun! Here is a look at the step-by-step process of how I did it. (here’s the video I followed, I just glued my object directly to the bottom since it was a nice/flat surface to pour)

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Finished Bootleg Little Person

After a coat of paint and some decals I was pretty excited with how my toy turned out and felt a lot more confident heading into my class!

Polytek's demonstration and classroom.

Polytek’s demonstration and classroom. So much cool stuff!

I rolled in Day 1 with two objects in hand in case the one I wanted to mold was too complicated I made sure to have a backup. (below is the jointed object I wanted to mold)

I was NOT disappointed. If you are looking to learn this trade, consider Polytek! They didn’t shy away from my 6 piece jointed object, I even got to pour as much as I needed, molding AND casting material. It was great to get to cast my object in other materials for no additional cost. I learned so much in those two days, the class (in my opinion) was worth much more than the price I paid.

Live demonstration of Polytek's products by their experts.

Live demonstration of Polytek’s products by their experts.

They went through a crazy fast and large demonstration of all of their products. I even got to volunteer and get a cast of my own hand! Very fun, they used a wax skin-safe mold and if you’ve ever had one of those paraffin bath spa dealies, it was really similar! I continued to dip my hand in the warmer until it was sufficiently coated, once it was cured I pulled back on the skin of my wrist to loosen my hand from the mold and out it came! At the end I had another hand, which was awesome. Overall the demonstration was a lot to absorb but so neat getting to see all of their products and mold-making techniques, and of course I interjected a few questions along with other students so if you’re interested you can extract a lot of knowledge from their team.

One of the best parts was the group project analysis. I got to watch the other students get their projects evaluated by the Polytek experts and seeing them go through their thought process when presented with unique objects was really awesome, I can’t even describe how much I learned just by watching.

So onto my class mold, here are a few pictures of the process.

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Spoils! My final jointed cast in Polytek rubber 50, clear plastic with blue tint and solid white plastic casts with original in the background.

They opted for me to create a two-part mold for the legs, and it was something I wanted to try. However when I reproduce this at home I will likely stick with the tiny dixie cup one part mold for each piece since I felt like there was a lot of material wasted in my two part. I think both will have the same result though. I got to try a variety of casting materials too. Rubber 50 was my final choice since it is a firm rubber with a bit of give so the arms and legs can pop in and out like the real toy. Pigment and paint is another issue…something I will play around with on my own time. The plastic was too hard to make a viable jointed piece unless I resculpted the joint system, but it was really useful for making sure my mold functioned properly and testing out the pigments! It was great I got to mold about three entire objects since my future plans needed a bit of trial and error to find the right materials. They let me use anything I wanted and I left feeling pretty solid in knowing what materials I needed for that project and a few others I have in mind for the future.

As far as my classmates, a very interesting crew! A few artists, a few masonry/landscape guys. Very neat bunch of people. One of them got his piece locked in the mold (it was insane watching 4 fully grown strong men trying to rip the pieces out) and my poor table mate didn’t use enough release for her intricate object so the mold shredded as it came off. I know I keep saying it, but it was such an amazing learning experience. Not being afraid to fail was awesome, the staff helped everyone and made sure at the end of the class everyone had a casted piece/mold. I could easily see myself doing it again in the future for a refresher or if they release a lot of new product i’m interested in. If you are nervous about getting into this yourself or the monetary investment and want a guided tour, this is a very well worth it way.

This is not an advertisement for Polytek, it was one of the coolest things I had the pleasure of doing in 2015 and I wanted to share! They deserve the pat on the back, it was fantastic, educational and super fun, now i’m able to take some of my work to the next level! I didn’t really intend for this post to be so long, months later i’m still impressed by the amount I learned in a few short days.

In the coming months i’ll be showing off some of my finalized pieces using the skills I learned here, i’m excited for what 2016 has to bring me!

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