How-to: Make Examples for Inflatables 📏

Step-by-step instructions for making your own Inflatables examples, which have been thoughtfully designed to inspire your participants to start creating!

Creating your first inflatable

Creating inflatables can be tricky when you get started; there are a couple of different methods to completing the design of your choice! In our playtesting, we've identified some methods that’ll help you get a jump start on creating them. Here, we'll walk you through some initial steps for constructing your first inflatable, and different methods for achieving ‘actuation’—or movement—of your design. It'll take a few tries to get it right; the best way to learn is to keep on creating!

PLIX Tip: Have some methods or tricks of your own to add? Share your findings on the PLIX forum!

Instructions ↓

1. Gather your materials.
1. Gather your materials. Have all these items handy, plus a pile of chip and other snack bags.
2. Prepare your mylar.
2. Prepare your mylar. First, you'll need to finish off your favorite snack and have the bag handy. Remember that you want to use a bag with a mylar (shiny) interior. Cut around the perimeter of your empty snack bag, leaving one of the sides intact.
3. Clean your material.
3. Clean your material. Lay the cut bag with the shiny side up, printed side facing down against your work surface. Dampen a paper towel or rag and apply a small amount of dish soap. Wipe the shiny mylar interior of the bag with the soapy towel. Rinse with water, then pat dry with a fresh paper towel.
4. Cut the mylar.
4. Cut the mylar. Cut off the thickest sections of the bag (the fused seams) as these are difficult to melt/adhere. With the remaining pieces, use a ruler and a Sharpie to divide the bag into pieces. Here, we've created one large section with one half, and three with the other. Cut along the lines you've drawn. Save any scraps in case you need to patch or want to add detail to what you create! Practice with larger amounts of material to get used to melting the mylar (especially if you’re using a full-sized iron to create your inflatables).
5. Prepare an insert.
5. Prepare an insert. Using the largest section of mylar, you can practice the first method of creating internal patterns, which uses an insert placed inside the inflatable to determine the inflatable's movement/actuation. Measure out a piece of newspaper or magazine paper half the size of your largest piece of mylar, and use cut a shape in its center. A diamond shape is one great way to get started! It will cause your inflatable to bend/crease in different ways, depending on its dimensions.
6. Place your insert. Trim the edges of your paper insert so as to leave about a half inch of mylar as perimeter (so that it can seal to itself). Check to see that your template fits snugly into the mylar!
7. Seal your edges:
7. Seal your edges: Using your iron, seal the perimeter of your inflatable. If using a Clover mini iron, start with your iron on high. If you find that it's melting the mylar instantly (creating holes), then move the temperature to low. You can also place a layer of aluminum foil between the iron and mylar to prevent damage, yet still transfer heat to the mylar to seal it.
8. Create an opening and insert your straw.
8. Create an opening and insert your straw. Cut an opening in a corner where you can insert your straw or syringe tubing. Note that, rather than cutting an opening, you can also just leave an unsealed space to accommodate the airway (especially if you don't want your straw/tubing coming from one of the corners). It's easier to insert the straw into the inflatable if you cut one end of the straw at an angle. Insert your straw about 1/4" (6mm) beyond the seam and then secure it in place with tape. Inflate your design to test for air leaks. Use your iron to seal any leaks along the perimeter, and tape for leaks elsewhere.
9. Heat-seal the internal shape.
9. Heat-seal the internal shape. Place a piece of aluminum foil roughly above where the shape in your paper insert is. Iron over the foil well enough that the mylar fuses within the diamond shape. Note that this can take a few tries, depending on the temperature of your iron and thickness of the aluminum foil that you are using.
10. Inflate your creation. Blow (or pump air) into your straw to bring your creation to life! Here's how that diamond seal turned out.

Congrats! You've created your very first inflatable! Think about how the shape you fused at the inflatable's center affects the way it moves (or the way it "actuates"). Experiment with different internal shapes to achieve different types of actuation 👩‍🔬

PLIX Tip: When getting started, it's easy to accidentally melt some holes in your mylar. Don't toss out your creation: you can always use tape (or even small patches of mylar) to seal any air leaks! Just be careful not to patch in a way that prevents the air from 'actuating' your design.

Fold your mylar pieces in half, and use heat to seal (this time, without an internal template).
Fold your mylar pieces in half, and use heat to seal (this time, without an internal template).

Alternate methods for creating inflatables

Remember that other half of your snack bag? You can use that to both create additional examples, as well as test out other ways of making inflatables.

Alternate Method 1 ↓

Cut a shape in parchment.
Cut a shape in parchment. Using parchment or tracing paper, cut out the shape you'd like your inflatable to contain. As before, place an insulating layer of aluminum foil between your inflatable and iron. Iron on top of the aluminum foil to seal your shape!

Alternate Method 2 ↓

Iron a shape directly onto the inflatable.
Iron a shape directly onto the inflatable. A final (and fast) method involves drawing a shape directly onto your inflatable, and sealing with heat directly. Note that you cannot use aluminum foil with this method, and so it works best with mini irons at the lowest setting. This works best for advanced creators!

Creating example inflatables

When hosting an Inflatables workshop with your patrons, we think that having a wide array of examples of different shapes and motions will help to spark some inspiration for any prompt!

Populate your space with a variety of examples, and distribute them across your working space.
Populate your space with a variety of examples, and distribute them across your working space.
Safety tip: Discourage using straws by more than one person. Syringe pumps and tubing can fill / empty the air in your inflatable examples without the use of straws.
Safety tip: Discourage using straws by more than one person. Syringe pumps and tubing can fill / empty the air in your inflatable examples without the use of straws.

Patterns to showcase ↓

Bending (diamond seal)
Bending (diamond seal)
Expanding (hexagon seal)
Expanding (hexagon seal)
Expansion (mountain folding)
Expansion (mountain folding)
Twisting (diamond seal)
Twisting (diamond seal)

How to use these examples

When preparing to facilitate a creative learning activity, it is important to think carefully about how you're setting up the learning environment. One very important component of this setup is populating your space with a variety of example projects.

During your workshop, make these examples available to your participants by setting them up as demo stations in your workspace. This allows participants to use the examples as a reference if they’re looking for inspiration, have a question, or choose to examine them.

Important: Avoid detailing the steps that went into making the examples and/or having participants make any of the examples. Simply introduce the workshop prompt or theme, and let people dive right in!

And remember, as a facilitator, you don’t have to have all the answers. Good examples can help with troubleshooting and questions from your participants, so don’t forget to first refer someone to an example (or a peer’s project) if they’re stuck!

Learn more about the art of the example in our PLIX Guide to Making Activity Examples.