Friday, July 3, 2009

Shrinking with Alginate

One possible approach to creating the respirator is to base it on one of these Jello™ molds. They have a nice overall shape, but are too large for what I need for the Defender mask. To shrink them down in size, I am using alginate, which is basically ground up seaweed that absorbs water and turns into a gel. Most people are familiar with alginate as the material that dentists use to make an impressison of your teeth. It is skin friendly, and doesn't heat up when it gels.

Another use for alginate is for shrinking 3D objects. When left undisturbed, the soft, gelled alginate will slowly lose its water to evaporation, leaving behind a dry, hard, smaller form. These two alginate castings took four days to completely dry.

The middle piece is after two days of drying. The smaller one is after four days. For the middle one I molded the alginate while it was still soft and moist, with silicone rubber.

Usually you will get some distortion as the alginate shrinks, so there are limits to how well this technique works. As a rule the more spherical the object, the more uniform the shrinkage, whereas long and thin objects will typically bend as they dry. The face on the left is a life-casting, and the one on the right an alginate reduction. You could mold the reduced alginate and do the process all over again in order to shrink it further.


  1. Who woulda thought, yet another brilliant technique exposed.

  2. Wow, that's really cool! I have a hard time finding some of these things you have a secret online source for alginate?! haha

  3. Holly, you can get it quite a few places. Burman Industries in Van Nuys, CA and Artstuf in San Francisco. Another source is Pink House Studios in Vermont. All of these addresses are on my links page

  4. very very cool - always a pleasure popping by your blog