Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Perler Bead Coaster Tutorial

I’m in the midst of making a new set of Perler Bead Coasters right now, but my progress has been stopped by the fact that we’ve run out of black Perler beads. So while I wait for my new bag of 6,000 black beads to arrive in the mail I thought I’d try to write out a tutorial for making video game based coasters.

I know I’m not the first person to come up with this idea as Etsy will attest, but I’ve seen very few websites that actually explain how you get from a picture of your favourite video game character to a finished coaster. You can certainly use the tutorial that Sprite Stitch has provided for making video game sprites into cross stitch patterns, but honestly that’s a bit more complicated than what you need to go through for Perler Bead Coasters. Perler Beads have a much smaller colour range than DMC embroidery floss does so you don’t need to worry (or have the luxury of worrying) about colour matching as much. For the coasters you should be able to use programs or applications that came with your computer and the process if fairly simple.

A quick word about Perler Beads

Perler Beads are fuseable beads that you stick on a peg board and then melt together with a household iron to make them stick together to form a picture. Once they’ve been fused together and made into a coaster it’s perfectly safe to set hot mugs of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, etc on them, however, I would not recommend setting hot casserole dishes from the oven or pans that have been on a hot stove element on top of them. This would probably result in a melty pile of plastic goo. As well, when the coasters get dirty just wipe them down with a damp cloth and a bit of dishwashing soap (if necessary.)


To make a set of coasters you will need:

a household iron
sheets of cork (can usually be bought by the yard at a home supply store)
strong glue (we favour Gorilla Glue)
Perler Beads
Large Perler Bead peg boards (at least 2 maybe more)

When I first started working with Perler Beads I bought the large jar that contains 11,000 beads in a mix of colours. It’s a bit of a pain to sort through it looking for the colours you need, but otherwise this has been a great investment. There are enough of each colour in the jar to make at least two coasters with each colour. That is, two coasters that use a lot of red, two coasters that use a lot of green, etc.

After buying this giant supply I now just go online and replace individual colours as I need them. I like to buy from KoolStuff4Kids, but you can also make purchases directly from the official Perler Beads website.

The large square peg boards are 29 X 29 pegs, and they interlock with each other. If you’re picture is larger than this you can hook two (or more!) together to make your design. For me it’s been hard to find the large peg boards in stores locally, and I usuallly have to buy them online. I like to have a lot of them around so that you can set up 2-3 coasters and iron them all at once, rather than one at a time.

Finding a Suitable Picture

Do you already know who you want to make a coaster of? Has someone else already done it? If you’re making a Super Mario coaster or Pac Man someone else has already done the work for you. Check places like Etsy, Craftster, or Google Images to see if you can find a finished coaster with the character you want.. If you find one you can just copy the bead placement from their finished product. Save a picture of their finished product to your computer and look at it whenever you need to.

Want to create a coaster of a character no one else has used yet. To start with you need to find the sprite for that character or a good screencap of him. Some people have favourite sprite sites that they always turn to, but I like to just put my faith in Google. For this new set of coasters I’m making the characters come from a game called Adventure Island II and III. So I started with Google Images and searched for “Adventure Island II screencap” and when I found some pictures I liked I copied them to my hard drive. I also did the same search on regular Google and checked a few of the top websites that came up. Then I also searched for “Adventure Island sprite” and again copied results I liked onto my hard drive.

Always search using keywords like “sprite” and “screencap” and do a Google web search and a Google Images search. You will often get different results. Add the name of the game the characters come from to this search using “” around the title if it’s more than one word. As well, try searching by the name of the character you’re looking for and adding the workd “sprite” or “screencap”

If you get stuck and can’t find what you’re looking for it might be a good idea to hit Wikipedia and refresh your memory about the game you’re looking for. When I was trying to find the pictures for these coasters I couldn’t find any pictures of the green triceratops from the game. I had only been searching for Adventure Island II stuff, and it turned out that the green triceratops was only a character in Adventure Island III. Knowing this earlier would have saved me a lot of time!

Telling a Good Picture from a Bad

If you’re lucky enough to get sprites of your characters these almost always translate perfectly into a Perler Bead pattern. If you only have screencaps, it can be a bit more problematic.

Open one of the pictures you’ve saved to your hard drive in any program that will allow you to view it and zoom in on it. Now Zoom in a lot, until you can see the pixels.

See the difference here? You want to use pictures that look like the Blue Dino when they’re enlarged.

Pattern Making Options

So, now you’ve got pictures of the characters you want to use. Zoom in on them until you can see the pixels at a level you’re comfortable with. It may be even bigger than what I’ve done here. When you start placing Perler Beads on your peg board each bead will represent one pixel. You can count how many pixels your character is in height and width to determine how many peg boards you will need.

There are lots of options for how you can use your pictures as your pattern. If you’re comfortable making your coasters in front of the computer than you can just open your character picture and zoom in on it until it’s the right size every time you want to place pegs on the board.

Alternatively use your computer’s screen capturing tool to take a picture of the character while it’s enlarged. Then you can just open this enlarged copy when you want to work on your coaster, or make a print out of it if you want to work on it away from the computer. Don’t have a colour printer, or don’t want to waste ink? Take a piece of graph paper and fill in squares to represent where all the black beads will go. This way you’ll just have to refer to the picture on screen when it comes time to fill in the coloured areas.

Bead Placement

Not much to say here. If your design is small enough try to start it about two or three rows away from the edges of the peg board, (which I failed to do for this one). You’ll find this makes it a little more sturdy while you’re ironing it.


Follow the instructions that come with the Perler Beads. My boyfriend does the ironing part usually and his advice is melt the first side you iron really good to hold the beads in place and then melt the second side to a lesser degree so the beads still hold their shape. The really melted side will be covered up with cork when you’re making coasters so no one will see it. Also if you’re making a character with a lot of pointy edges like this red dino, while doing the first side, pick the iron up and set it down on the piece (for a couple of seconds) a few times, especially near the edges.

Iron a side once, let the piece cool a bit, peel back the ironing paper carefully to inspect your work. If some parts don’t seem to be fused together yet, cover the piece with ironing paper again and apply more heat where needed.

If you’re using more than one peg board then the board might try to bend a bit along the join line while you’re ironing. Be aware of this and carefully check this area to make sure the beads there are fusing together.

After you’re done ironing your character may not lay perfectly flat. If he’s curving a bit, don’t worry, adding the cork will probably fix this problem.

This photo shows the first side we ironed. Compare it with the photo at the top of the finished product. You can see the difference between the really melty side that holds the piece together, and the less melty good side in which the beads maintain more of their original shape.

Adding Cork Backings

Cut the cork so it is about 1/2 a Perler bead smaller than the character on all sides. Apply a thin layer of glue to one side of the cork board and stick it to the side of your Perler bead character that is the most melty. Place a stack of books or other heavy, flat objects on the coaster and allow it to dry for 12-24 hours. The pressure will help the coaster to stay flat.


If anyone has any questions or useful tips they’d like to share, please leave a comment.


Anonymous said...

Great tutorial! By the way, there's software for making Perler Beads designs (patterns) at http://www.FuseBeadSoftware.com. The "image converter" makes creating designs out of millions of images a snap. Cheers, -Tim

Zanthess said...

Hey thanks for the tutorial! And koolstuff4kids currently has a deal if you sign up for their email, you get a coupon for one free large pegboard! :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for posting this! I feel so inspired. I'm going to try Pacman and Zelda pieces, and maybe a few Mario ones. ^^

Allison said...

What a cool tute! I've always wanted to make some of these. Thanks a lot!

Sam said...

Excellent tutorial! Now I know exactly what we need to do. My kids have been keen to do some designs like these for ages.:-)

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RUTH said...

Putting a heavy book on the finished design while it is still hot after ironing makes them cool flat.