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How to make a bead sprite with Perlers
Why create with Perler beads?
Hello! I’m here today to tell you about Perler beads and how to turn them into an actual sprite from a video game you can hold in your hands (or display). Why would you want to do this? There could be several reasons. Maybe you’d like to make a present for your friend who loves the Metroid series, or maybe you’ve decided you need some drink coasters and picking out your favorite Pokemon to sit your drinks on appeals to you. Or, maybe you just feel like being creative with no real end goal in mind. It doesn’t matter what your brain thinks up, really; the sky’s the limit here!
What are Perler beads, anyway?
Perler beads are, well, beads. They’re tiny, and therefore easy to lose, but they’re versatile. They come in many different colors and are designed to fit right onto the pegs of a Perler pegboard so you can iron them together and end up with a fused, solid creation.
Masking tape! You'll need this; the wider, the better.
Is there a difference between the colors of Perler beads? Are the colors all made from the same plastic? Do they melt at the same rate?
Perler beads come in many different colors, as I’ve said. There are translucent ones, glittery ones, and solid ones. They can potentially melt at different rates, but I personally have not used any glittery or translucent ones so I can’t tell you if they melt faster or slower than the solid beads.
There are FunFusion branded Perler beads. (Walmart sells these. I'm not sure if other retailers do as well, but I know Walmart does. Be careful if you're shopping there for beads.) These definitely melt faster than the normal Perler beads. I highly recommend not buying these beads since they might warp without you realizing and you may end up with a ruined project. I have read numerous stories on the Internet about this. Don’t risk it! Stick with regular Perlers.
Are there other brands of beads like Perler?
Hama beads are like Perlers, but are made by a different brand. They melt at a different rate than Perlers, so mixing the two brands together might be tough. I don’t own any Hamas. The reason people may use Hamas is that they have other colors that Perler doesn’t. If you’re working on a very intensive project, you might want some Hama beads to fill in the color void Perler might bring to you, but remember that once you iron, things might get difficult.
PYSSLA beads are Ikea’s version of Perlers. I haven’t used these beads, so I don’t know too much about them.
Personally, I stick with Perler even if I don’t find the color I need; I try to substitute the best I can if the pattern calls for a color Perler doesn’t make.
What materials do I need?
It’s pretty simple! First things first, you’ll need the following items:
- Perler Beads: These are available at any craft store (Joann's, Michael's, AC Moore, Hobby Lobby) or various department stores, such as Target/Walmart. The simplest place to purchase them, I've found, is via Amazon, since physical stores don't carry many colors. The basic colors -- black, white, tan/sand, and gray are usually available in a physical store, though.
I made the mistake of purchasing a bucket of 11,000 Perler beads a while ago. As you can see in this image, I haven’t even used all of them! Sorting out the colors from one of these buckets can be a nightmare. Some people enjoy doing that, but I don’t. That being said, the buckets are cheaper than buying bags of beads individually, so if you’re patient and want to save money, the bucket might be right for you. Whether you buy a bucket or not, I highly recommend picking up a few bags of Black Perler Beads and White Perler Beads since pretty much every project will use them. (And like I said above, most physical craft stores should have these colors.)
- Iron: You definitely need an iron to fuse your beads together. I use the classic Black & Decker Amazon sells, but pretty much any iron will do the job. I recommend using one that is not aggressive about turning itself off, though, since you will need to keep your iron on the project for a while to fuse all of the beads. If you don’t own an iron and want to save money, check out your local Goodwill or yard sales!
- Perler Pegboards: You will need at least one pegboard. I highly, highly recommend purchasing at least four standard sized boards, though. Amazon has a four-pack up pretty much all of the time. Why do I recommend you buy so many? Most video game sprites will take at least two 29x29 standard boards, since one will often be just a tad too short, height-wise. I’ve found this out the hard way in the past by just buying one board at a time. Whoops!
- Ironing or Parchment Paper: The Perler pegboards come with some ironing paper, which work just fine for ironing your beads. They are only intended for one use, though, so you should buy some extra to be safe. Parchment paper from your grocery store works just as well, and can be cut to size for bigger projects. I recommend buying some just in case you end up wanting to make something large.
My recommended iron:
DO NOT USE WAX PAPER! DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, USE WAX PAPER. Wax paper does not work for this at all, and you will seriously risk your project, your iron, and potentially your safety if you use it. Wax paper melts; wax might get stuck to your iron or your beads. Err on the side of caution and use parchment paper, please.
You will also need:
- Masking Tape: Masking tape is important for saving your pegboards! If you don’t use masking tape, your pegboards can melt and warp a bit over several uses. I will go more in depth about this later. Just make sure you have some on hand!
- Perler-friendly Program: I will explain this shortly, but you will need something to properly view your enlarged sprite in so you know what beads to use and where to place them.
- Sprite: This goes without saying, but you'll need a sprite from your favorite game!
The Mod Podge I Use:
Optional tools you might want to have on hand:
There are a few things you might consider keeping on hand for certain projects:
- Mod Podge: This can be used to coat your project so it stays together longer, if you don’t want to fuse your beads completely shut. Mod Podge isn't really a glue -- it's more of a finish/sealant. I like the Gloss one, but the Matte one shouldn't cause any issues if you use it.
- E6000 (Not Pictured Above): This is a very strong, very smelly glue that works very well for gluing a finished project to a board. I will explain this process briefly at the end of this tutorial, but for now you can keep it in mind as a glue you can potentially use if you so choose.
- A heavy textbook: Any 'heavy' object (5-10lbs) that you can lay flat on top of your newly ironed project. I recommend grabbing any nearby hardcover textbook you don't particularly feel super attached to for this. Your textbook shouldn't get damaged from heat, but the possibility is there.
Let's begin creating a bead sprite with Perler!
Now that you’ve gathered all of your materials, you should pick out what sprite you want to make. I figured for this tutorial, I should pick something relatively simple, so I’ll go with a sprite of Ness from EarthBound. Unfortunately, Hubpages gives me a warning whenever I upload the sprite here since it's 'low resolution,' so you'll have to bear with me. I apologize for that!
If you don’t know where to find a good sprite, just poke around Google for a bit! Remember, though, that if you make a Perler project from a sprite someone else created, you should not sell the sprite later on without their permission!
(Note: I might make a tutorial later on about ripping sprites from games/erasing backgrounds from sprites, since going on about that here would make this even longer than it already is. If/when I do, I'll link it!)
I recommend picking a smaller, easier sprite like Ness to make for your first project. Don’t get too ambitious and pick something huge, like Kefka’s final form from Final Fantasy VI (as seen below).
Imagine how many pegboards that would require!
You have your sprite and now you need something to view it in. You can use Microsoft Paint, but it’s admittedly difficult to really gauge the location of each pixel there. Photoshop isn’t much easier, unfortunately.
If you want really simple, you can use My Pixel Pal, a website that allows you to view your sprite in a grid. I used this for my first ever Perler project, and it did the job. Some sprites don’t agree with it though, and will come out looking blurry and distorted, which isn’t fun.
The Java-powered program called Perler works much more reliably, and you can adjust your sprite’s color usage and size with it. The website I linked you has a help section if you require help, but it’s pretty straightforward once you get used to it.
I’ll be using the Perler program for this tutorial, since I’ve grown to prefer it over My Pixel Pal.
An ambitious project.
11,000 Perler bead bucket, if you don't mind sorting:
Using Perler, the program:
First, open up the program and choose ‘New Chain/Open Image’ from the File Menu. From there, pick the sprite you want to work on.
You’ll see on the right that the program is telling you the palette is empty. To fix this, choose ‘Reduce Colors’ on the left. It’s the second option from the bottom.
After you choose ‘Reduce colors,’ hit the ‘edit palette’ button at the bottom of the screen and you’ll be greeted by this window:
Choose ‘perlerbeads-builtin.xml’ and select all and hit OK. This tells the program to only show Perler colors on your project.
Now you’ll see something like this:
Perler board 4-pack:
Looks messy, doesn’t it? We can clean up the sprite by going to the ‘Dithering’ tab at the bottom of the window. Move the slider around to your liking. I usually move it all the way to the left, so there’s no dithering. Dithering makes your sprite look better if it’s a more complicated one to begin with (like Kefka above) but it makes simpler ones look messy.
Finally, you’ll want to choose ‘Upscaler (cached)’ from the left options. Here, you’ll want to choose the ‘Grid’ effect to keep your sprite easier to manage, and to select ‘Split into tiles.’ Make sure the numbers for the tiles are 29x29, since that’s the size of a standard Perler Pegboard.
Recommended Perler color:
As you can see, Ness here is going to take four boards. Two of them will barely be used, but are still needed. Zoom in as much as you can, so that your sprite fills up the right side of the window. This is what you’ll be staring at for the next hour or so. ;)
Now that your sprite is sitting in the Perler program and waiting for you, get your pegboards ready. As I said, I need four, so I’ll have to snap four boards together. This is very simple, since the boards all have tabs on the side. If you need more than one board, and you probably will, make sure they’re interlocked well so they don’t come apart if you have to move your unfinished project around.
It’s finally time to start placing your beads!
There are several ways you can go about doing this. I personally like beginning the project from the bottom left board, but you can start at the top left if you’d like. Alternatively, some people enjoy tracing the outline of the sprite first; meaning, they begin by placing the black beads down in such a way where they’re drawing the outside of Ness, for example.
I erased all of the color from Ness here to show you what I’m talking about. Like I said, I personally don’t do this, but it might help you. For the sake of this tutorial however, I'll be writing assuming that you'll be following the direction I started at. See the image below for the exact location of my first bead.
I picked this spot since this project will not take up the entire bottom pegboard; usually, if a project is large enough, I'll start at the very bottom row, but for Ness, I began at the top of the bottom left board. If I were to start at the bottom of this board, the top board would be shifted down; not as many beads would be on it. The project may still work out, but following where each bead goes might get a little difficult.
It's easiest to follow your pattern the best you can!
Continue placing your beads!
Go on and continue placing your beads at this point. Have fun with it!
Perler beads don't come in every color. Unlike colored pencils or paint, blending colors is next to impossible, so you can't just take two colors and mix them for your desired shade. As I said at the beginning, I only use Perlers. There are times when I'll have to choose a different color than what the project asks for just to move forward, since Perler might not manufacture that exact shade.
The Perler program I'm using here does a fairly decent job choosing Perler specific colors for you, but nothing's perfect. With more intricate sprites, colors can become muddled together when you specifically tell the program you're only using Perlers, since Perler has a relatively limited palette.
I don't want this tutorial to become too complicated, so I won't go into too much detail about color matching right now. If you have any questions related to that, though, let me know in a comment/message and I'll try to help out.
Make your project, well, yours!
Sometimes when I work on a bead sprite, I notice that some of the original pattern seems off. I'm not talking about color matching; I mean that sometimes the sprite I'm working off of has some rough spots.
This usually occurs when the sprite has been 'ripped' from a game poorly, or the game the sprite came from is lower resolution. Earthbound isn't low resolution, but this specific sprite of Ness had a few spots I didn't like. If you look at my finished bead placement and compare it to the previous images, you'll see that his hand no longer has a white area. I decided to fill the gap in with more black colored beads. I also added pink to his cheeks for a blushing effect.
You can change some of the beads around to your liking. Go ahead, make the project personalized! It's more fun that way, to be honest.
Black beads are important!
The Tape Method.
When you're done placing all of your beads, it's time to iron. You can follow the instructions given to you with your Perler pegboards, and simply iron the beads on the board with parchment paper between the iron and the beads, or you can perform the tape method for added security.
What is the tape method? How do I do it?
The tape method is something I read about a while ago. Instead of risking warping your board (from the iron's heat) you tape the entire project and gently lift it off of the board so you can iron it by itself. The tape method also allows you to ensure a very large project stays together. Without tape, a project spanning multiple boards will have to be ironed on those boards, which can be difficult if you need to move the project back and forth.
The tape method is something you should absolutely get used to doing for every project.
To use this method, you take standard masking tape and you cover all of the beads. Press down on top of the tape firmly, preferably with the roll itself, to make sure the tape is sticking to every bead.
DO NOT USE DUCT TAPE. This will NOT work. The material is too strong to poke holes through, which you need to do for this to be successful! (Not to mention, I don't know how well duct tape will play with the heat from the iron...)
Poke holes in your tape!
Poke holes in the tape over each bead. Use a toothpick, a safety pin, a knitting loom, whatever you can find that's small and sharp.
Go over any holes that don't look completely open. Don't rush with this part. If there are some beads without sufficient holes, the heat from the iron might get trapped and your project might melt poorly.
Useful tool for poking holes in tape:
Time to iron!
- After your holes are poked, plug your iron in and DO NOT PUT WATER IN IT. You're going to want to dry iron this. For clothes, you want to use water, but for beads, you want to stay dry.
- While your iron warms up, gently pull your taped project off of your boards. If some beads fall off, don't panic! Just try to put them back where they belong. Most should stay put as you move your project; this is why you pressed the tape down firmly onto the beads earlier. :)
- Flip the project over so the taped side is down. Put this on something that can withstand heat. An ironing board works, or a strong wooden table.
- Put parchment paper on top of the beaded side.
- Put your iron on the medium-low setting. Low is preferred, but takes much longer to melt beads.
If you have your iron too hot, your beads will melt uneven, and your project might be ruined.
Luckily for me, I did just this for this project. I should have known better!
I can use this opportunity to explain just how high temperatures really mess up your project in a bit. For now, though, let me explain how to properly iron.
- Iron slowly, but keep moving the iron around. Don't stick around in one spot for too long, especially if your iron is set to medium and not low.
- Lift your parchment paper up to check your beads once in a while. Do this gently; if you pull too fast you might lift some beads off the tape.
- When your beads look fused enough to your liking, feel free to turn off your iron, but don't leave it plugged in! Unplug it right away to minimize burning yourself by accident.
What to do when you're done ironing:
Before you remove the tape from your project, you'll want to let it cool. If you simply leave it where it is and put nothing on top of it, it will probably curl on the edges. This is problematic, especially if you were planning on displaying this piece.
How can you prevent curling?
Place a heavy object (preferably a textbook, as I mentioned earlier) on top of the parchment paper, which should still be sitting on your project. I would lift the paper up to check how your project looks one last time before placing down the book, to make sure everything looks alright.
After placing the book, simply wait. I usually wait a full day, especially if the project is larger.
What high temperatures can do to Perler:
As you can see in the above image, the hot iron caused some issues with my bead sprite. What I originally intended to be the back side of the sprite is what is shown here, and this is, unfortunately, the better looking one.
- I used the ironing paper that came with the Perler boards. If you remember from earlier in this tutorial, I recommended against using this paper; my image here proves why. If you enlarge the image by clicking on it, you'll see several marks and creases I've highlighted. These are from the paper, since it had creases from being folded in the package. If you're careful (using low heat and moving the paper every few seconds) you can avoid the creases on your project, but I was not here, so you can see the damage.
- Some of the black beads bled onto the other colors, which I highlighted. This is only really noticeable when you look at the image up close, but if you're working on a larger piece, these errors might be easier to spot at any distance.
- The ironing paper stuck onto the project in some spots. The paper came off, but the marks from it being adhered to the beads are still there. I've highlighted these areas. These aren't as noticeable as the creases, but are definitely present.
To get rid of stuck tape:
Help! My masking tape stuck to the beads!
This is the worst thing that can happen while using the Masking Tape Method. Since I had my iron too hot, it happened to me with this project.
I'm actually kind of glad it did, so I can show you just how awful this looks. In the image below, you'll see several pieces of masking tape stuck to Ness. When I tried pulling off the tape, these bits refused to come up. I attempted to peel them away with my fingernails, but to no avail.
I had to resort to a special tool, Goo Gone.
Goo Gone is a very useful substance; it removes sticky residue from most surfaces/materials. For example, if you've ever purchased an item and removed the price tag, only to find that some of the glue didn't want to come off, Goo Gone would help do the trick.
I don't personally know what's in Goo Gone for it to work so well, but it's pretty handy. It smells like oranges, too!
I used Goo Gone on Ness by pouring some of the stuff on a paper towel and rubbing the beads vigorously. A decent amount of the tape came off, but not all. I ended up soaking the entire project in a sink full of warm (NOT HOT) water to soften the rest of the tape, and then I continued to peel away at the bits with my fingernails.
Quick Quiz! Test your Perler spriting knowledge.
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You can clearly see where the tape was stuck. In these spots, the beads were melted more than the others. This is why the tape stuck to those places. Even after removing the tape, the super-melted beads were still very noticeable. They kind of stuck out like a sore thumb!
I removed the tape, but now what?
So, after a long process of using Goo Gone and warm water, Ness was mostly clean. The problem of the beads not being evenly melted was still an issue, though; I couldn't remedy this in any way, shape or form, unfortunately.
All that was left was to, well, display the opposite side.
Ness is now facing the other way -- the original sprite has his victory pose in the left direction, but my sprite is facing right. Honestly, this looks better than displaying the side with the uneven beads.
Mounting your work:
Mistakes happen, unfortunately. While Ness was mostly salvageable, it's still kind of disappointing that my iron was too hot.
Late last year, I made a project that was successfully ironed and framed. You can see it below. Unlike with Ness, I had my iron set very, very low. I glued the lightly ironed project onto some foam board with E6000 (which I listed above in the needed materials, though if you're not mounting the sprite, it's not required) and after this dried, I brushed some Mod Podge across the top of the beads for an extra layer of protection.
Once everything dried, I cut the foam board down so it would fit in the frame and framed the entire thing.
This works well for mounting beads!
Congratulations! Whether you chose to mount and frame your bead sprite or just leave it like it is, you now have a creation you can call your own. I've found that once you've created one, you can't really say you're completely finished; you'll want to make another, and then another!
Remember that you can always set your goals higher as you complete more bead sprites. Perhaps one day you'll create that Kefka sprite from earlier and mount and frame it for everyone to see when they come over to visit your home. It's all up to you and your creativity!