I know I’m not the only ’90s kid who remembers playing with Perler beads when I was younger. I spent a good part of my elementary school days picking all the translucent beads out of the big mixed-color bucket so I could make my own real-life Zelda Rupees, and maybe a Harry Potter wand or two. For you older folk who might not know what I’m talking about, Perler, or “melty” beads, for a not-brand-specific name, are little plastic beads designed not for jewelry but, as the name suggests, for melting. More specifically, you place the little plastic beads onto a pegboard into whatever design you like, then you grab the nearest adult and have them iron the beads with a wax paper cover so they melt and fuse together. Now you’ve made a thing!
Perler beads, or Hama beads, or whichever brand is most popular in your area, are generally marketed towards kids, and you can find them in the kids crafts section of any arts and crafts store. However, as we geeky adults like to do with things made for children, we’ve taken Perler beading for ourselves and taken it to the next level. But you wouldn’t believe to what variety we’ve taken small, childish plastic toys to. I’ve gathered examples from the biggest online gathering of crafty geeks, Etsy.com, to showcase just what people have done with this ‘kids’ craft.
Onward to Perler Beads!
Pokemon x Star Wars Crossover – Jedi Cubone vs. Darth Marowak by PhilthyTurtlePerler
We’ve got a great example of classic Perler bead art here. Perler bead art is most often used to bring video game pixel art – like these Pokemon sprites – to life, and even allow artists to show off their own pixel artwork without a computer. Perler beads are sturdier than a printed out sheet of paper and are easy to turn into wall art with a command strip or poster putty. No frame is needed to make them look good on the wall. Smaller pieces can also be turned into fridge magnets and keychains.
Link Draws the Master Sword by GunterGear
This artist goes the next step up with their Perler wall art, using a framed cardstock image to add a background to their work. In this particular piece, they combined two games’ artwork into one: the sprite of Link with the Master Sword from Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and the background from another Zelda game, Four Swords, to add a twist on the famous scene of pulling the Master Sword from its pedestal.
Nanaki – Red XII by ThePerlersEdge
Of course, there’s always that one artist that goes overboard with what they do. ThePerlersEdge’s shop is just filled with these humongous Perler bead designs, generally derived from source that was not pixelated to begin with. This particular piece is 2 feet tall, 3 and a half feet wide, and is made of over 10,000 Perler beads. His largest piece, Ganondorf from Hyrule Warriors, is 3 and a half feet tall, 4 feet wide, and made of 23,000 little beads. I barely have the patience to make something 1 foot long!
Overwatch D.VA 3D Gamer Gremlin by GeekMythologyCrafts
Everything we’ve shown so far is relatively on the flat side, but that doesn’t mean that’s all you can do with Perler beads. Some very clever people are able to figure out how to make a bunch of smaller interlocking Perler bead pieces that combine into larger 3D pixel sculptures! For instance, how about a little D.Va in a cardboard box to go next to your Overwatch gaming set-up? The more I stare at this piece, the less I can figure out how they put it together.
How do I DIY?
There’s no one good set of tips for making Perler bead art yourself. Some people will tell you to super-melt one side only to close all the holes make it look more like pixel art, while others will tell you to leave the holes open and melt the beads on both side of the art for sturdiness. When doing my own pieces, like the standalone Surfing Pikachus to the left or the keychains in this article’s featured image, I follow the “melt both sides” philosophy, but I’ve seen amazing 3D fully-melted pieces at conventions.
If you own an Apple device, there’s a great app called Beads on Boards that lets you design with official Perler bead colors before you put the beads to the pegboard, and a good source for clean video game pixel art comes from The Spriters Resource. I also recommend watching the masters at work when possible – both PhilthyTurtlePerler and ThePerlersEdge offer livestreams of their work, among other artists.
Of course, you can always have the creative people on Etsy do the work for you. In fact, GeekMythologyCrafts has offered 15% off everything in their shop to readers of this article. Just used the coupon code ‘ELLIE’ at checkout!
Every item here was advertised with permission and without payment or recompense to me. Help us show love and support to these creative people and give their other items some looks as well.