Plastic Embedding As A Hobby
Kraig J. Rice

Table Of Contents:

Purchase Your Supplies
Steps On How To Embed An Inanimate Object (steps 1-12)
Steps On How To Embed An Insect (steps 13-15)
Preparing Your Specimen (steps 16-19)
The Use of Alcohol In Plastic Embedding As A Hobby (steps 20-21)
Steps On How To Embed A Reptile, an Amphibian, or a Fish (steps 22-24)


One day while at the beach in a souvenir shop I saw a round key chain that caught my eye. It was a tiny red crab embedded in clear plastic. There was a hole drilled through the plastic at it's upper end. This was where the metal part of the key chain connected to the plastic part. It was beautifully done and was nearly irrestible to own. I did not buy it but it brought back fond memories of when I was a kid. At one time in my childhood I had an acquarium cage at home that had turtles and frogs in it. I loved those little creatures and had fun playing with them.

I think that the appeal of owning this little red crab as an adult was because of those fond memories. If I had bought that little red crab then I could own it, enjoy it, and share it with friends- all without having to feed it or give it a home to live in. It would remind me of a happy period of time in my childhood.

My point is that there is a terrific appeal among the general public to own little creatures embedded in plastic. These plastic articles can be used to make key chains, paper weights, ash trays, conversation pieces, etc. Or specimens can be embedded in plastic for science projects and other uses. Or other items can be embedded in plastic to make jewelry. No matter what the use- you should find this hobby fulfilling and rewarding in many ways.

I had this hobby a few years ago and I hope that something I have to say here will help you get started on this wonderful hobby.

Purchase Your Supplies

You need to find a hobby store in your area who carries plastic embedding supplies. There are several items that you need in purchase in order to get started. If you don't have such a store in your area then you may want to purchase your supplies online.

The first item that you need to buy is a can of liquid plastic casting resin. Several manufacturers make plastic embedding resin. All resins are not the same and if you are not happy with the resin from one manufacturer then buy a can from another manufacturer. This is especially true if one resin turns cloudy or yellowish after it dries. Check for an expiration date on each can, if there is one, and don't purchase old resin that is out dated (usually over one year old).

The second item that you need to buy is the hardener or the catalyst. It usually comes in a one ounce bottle. They call it catalyst because it is the agent that gets the plastic molecules to start reacting with each other to begin the hardening process. Keep in mind that while these molecules are reacting with one another that they put out a certain amount of heat. This heat you want to keep at a minimum if you are embedding soft tissue. I have more to say about this farther on in this document.

Check the directions carefully on the can of resin that you buy. With a can from one manufacturer you might have to add 8 drops of hardener per half ounce of resin. On the other hand with a can from another manufacturer you have to add only 3 or 4 drops of hardener per half ounce, etc. Resins vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and thus the amount of hardener will also vary.

The third item that you need to buy is a "set" of embedding molds. These are made out of plastic and come in different shapes and sizes. Some are round, rectangular, or square, etc. Each has a varying depth. Most hobby stores carry a nice selection of such molds and you can pick the ones that you are interested in for your project. They can get expensive so it might be prudent to buy only one mold at a time as you wish.

Some folks like to make their own molds called latex molds. This is ok too except that they can be kind of flimsy and you usually have to support a mold like this with some kind of a frame. In my opinion these molds can leave impressions in the plastic that look kind of tacky. Ask your hobby store owner about this if you need further information on how to make latex molds.

The fourth item that you need is mold release. Make sure you apply mold release liberally to your plastic mold before you pour liquid plastic into it. This is so you can separate your plastic from the plastic mold. If you don't use mold release then your plastic will bond with the plastic mold. This is not what you want to happen.

The fifth item that you need is colored pigment. Colored pigment puts color into your plastic casting. You can get bored real fast with just clear castings related to your hobby. However, if you are casting specimens for one reason or another then you probably will want to stick with the clear plastic. You can purchase different colors of pigment. They come in a wide variety. The most popular colors include red, black, blue, green, yellow, and brown.

The sixth item that you need is an instruction booklet explaining this hobby in great detail. Many hobby stores sell a booklet that explains some of the more popular techniques involved in plastic embedding practices.

The seventh item that you need is a bottle of alcohol for soaking and preserving your larger specimens. I mention more about this in detail farther along in this document.

The eighth item that you need is a bug, or a specimen capturing tool of some kind if you want to capture live speciments. Besides a butterfly net, for example, you may need a large jar with holes poked in the lid, some gloves (to grab an alligator lizard or to pick up a small snake or scorpion or to grab a big black beetle), and a shoulder bag (to carry live specimens or sea shells in), etc.

The ninth item that you need is a needle and syringe for injecting your large specimens. I mention more about this in detail farther along in this document.

The tenth item that you need is some wet-dry sand paper. I mention more about this in detail farther along in this document.

The eleventh item that you need is a can of Brasso. I mention more about this in detail farther along in this document.

The twelfth thing that you need is a steady hand and a lot of patience. Not necessarily in that order. I don't have anything to say about this in detail any farther along in this document:)

Steps On How To Embed An Inanimate Object
I decided to use the "teach as you go method" in this presentation. I think that it might be a little more interesting that way. And I add comments on how and why I did certain things as I go along.

I wanted to make an ash tray. But I didn't want anyone to put cigarette ashes in my finished product. Rather, when it was done, I thought that I could put small objects in it such as safety pins, straight pins, buttons, etc.

To make this item I had some beautiful glass marbles that I thought I would embed in plastic. This would be around it's edges. This would be an attractive work of art to me. So, let's go through the procedure step by step that I used to embed these marbles in plastic and make such a pretty finished product.

1. First of all I went out into my garage. Plastic resin puts off a tremendous amount of odor and fumes while it is hardening so you need to go to an isolated location where you don't have to breathe it. Another location might be an isolated work shop or back storage shed that is separate from your house. Anywhere where there is good ventilation with no people or animal pets living is usually fine.

2. I spread a thick coating of newspapers on the work bench. Spilled plastic is hard to clean up so it is good to use rags or newspapers to cover the bench where you are working. That way, you can just throw them away when you are finished.

Always wear old clothes (discardables) for this kind of a project. If you are a young person- your mother won't appreciate you ruining your good school clothes. If you are an adult- wearing your Sunday finest isn't the finest way to go. If you slop liquid resin on your shirt or pants it won't wash off.

3. I picked the plastic mold that I wanted to use.

My goal was to pour the base layer. This is how I did it:

4. I got a small hand held liquid measuring utensil used in most chemistry sets to measure amounts of liquid. I poured one ounce of water from this utensil into a paper cup. On the outside of the cup I drew an ink line at where the one ounce surface of the water was located on the inside. Then I did the same at the two ounce level, the three ounce level, and so on. When I was finished I had a paper cup that had horizontal lines on it. I did this because it is important for you to know how much resin you are going to use. You need to know this because you have to add so many drops of hardener per ounce of resin used. You are measuring ounces of liquid volume rather than ounces of weight. 16 ounces of fluid equals one pint of liquid. Two pints equals one fluid quart. Or 32 fluid ounces equals one quart.

Then I poured water from the paper cup into the mold that I had chosen, one half ounce at a time. When pouring plastic you want to pour it in stages, or in layers. You never want to pour it all at once. If you do the plastic will suck in and get deformed as it is drying. Then you can just throw it all away because it is ruined.

I poured the water until it was 1/4 of an inch thick on the bottom of the mold. I had measured out a certain amount of water so that meant that I would have to measure out the exact same amount of liquid plastic. Then I dumped the water out of the mold and dried it thoroughly. I also dried the water out of the paper cup. A hair dryer comes in handy here in getting rid of residual water droplets.

Now, if you can't find a small liquid measuring container then look at the directions on the can of resin. Sometimes the manufacturer will refer to the metal cap on top of the can of resin. For instance, the manufacturer may state that three cap fulls of resin will equal 1/2 ounce of resin or something similar to that. Failing that you might want to get an empty pint container and fill it with water. It holds 16 ounces of water. Pour an equal amount of water from it into 16 identical paper cups. Each cup will then contain one ounce of liquid. Then pour the contents of 8 of those cups into the other 8 cups to get the 2 ounce level, etc.

Sometimes a manufacturer will afix a little plastic cup to the top of it's larger can of plastic resin. This is a measuring cup as well as a mixing cup. It sure makes things a lot more simple to use this and it's a great incentive to purchase that can of resin over a brand of resin that does not have one.

Many times the hobby store owner will have a little measuring cup like that for sale amongst his other items as well.

5. I sprayed mold release on the mold liberally.

6. I opened the can of liquid resin and poured the right amount of resin into the paper cup. (For larger molds you will use more resin, for smaller molds you will use less resin). I was going by the marks on the outside of the cup. Then I added the right amount of drops of liquid hardener (or catalyst) to the resin. Let's say, for example, three to eight drops total. You have to count the drops so be precise. A partial drop does not count.

The general rule when you are starting out is to only pour out 1/2 ounce of resin into your mixing cup and add the few drops of catalyst or hardener to it. This will give you a generalized idea of how much resin you are going to need on your other layers. If it is too thin then you can add extra resin when pouring the next layer.

I mixed it all up really well with a pencil and then poured the liquid resin into the plastic mold. Your plastic will start hardening quickly. Depending on the temperature, you should see results within 20 minutes or so. The best thing to do is to leave it alone and just let it harden overnight. A hot room temperature may cause it to set up a little faster than it does with a cold room temperature. But, either way, it will set up.

There is a certain amount of shrinkage that comes along with the hardening process so allow for this. If you are in a hurry you can pour your second layer after 4 hours or so.

7. I then carefully placed each glass marble in place on top of the base layer of hardened plastic making sure that the side of each marble was away from the side of the mold. Note: if you are embedding a medal, a charm from a charm braclet, a coin, etc. then you will need to place the object face down. You must realize that the bottom of the mold, in most cases, will be the top of your finished product.

8. My next step was to pour my second layer. So I poured out more liquid plastic into the paper cup, added the hardner, mixed it up real good with my pencil and then carefully poured the liquid plastic around each of the glass marbles in the mold. I had to physically work out any air bubbles that were trapped in the newly poured plastic with my pencil before the new plastic set up. Watch for any undue shifting of the object that you are embedding. Because resin is still liquid it wants to flow and will take your your object or specimen with it. If you see it shifting in the fresh poured resin then take your pencil and straighten it back up.

It's ok to pour liquid plastic in layers. There will be no boundary line between the base pour and the second pour, etc. It will all appear as clear plastic. It's preferrable to pour it in layers because of the heat and also because of the shrinkage during the hardening process.

In regards to the subsequent thickness of each layer in a large mold- do not pour any water (to measure the amount as you did in the above step) over the hardening base layer of plastic. Instead, just guess at it. For a thinner layer, use a little less resin; for a thicker layer, use a little more resin.

9. My next step was to pour four more layers of liquid plastic 4 hours or more apart as the mold was 1 1/2 inches deep. You can place labels printed on transparency film or on paper in between one of these layers. The label will also then be embedded as well. Remember to place the label face down and right side up as you did to your inanimate object.

10. After my last and final pour I had to wait for 48 hours for the entire mass to finish hardening to maximum. Make sure it is dry before you remove it from the mold. It is possible that sometimes the edges of the hardened or cured casting will shrink away from sides of the mold. If you tap the surface of the casting with a pencil it should give you a solid sound in response if it is dry. Then you can invert the mold, flex it's edges, and, hopefully, the cast should gently drop onto a soft rag. If it is still tacky then you might not want to handle the cast piece of plastic until it is completely dry.

But you are not finished yet. Now it is time to polish it up real pretty.

11. The top surface, once exposed to air, will remain tacky after the 48 hours of curing has taken place. Give it a little time to completely harden as much as it is going to. Then go to the hardware store and buy some wet-dry sand paper. Also buy a can of brasso (I used this in the Navy to polish my uniform's brass belt buckle). You will need 3 different grades of sand paper: 200 grit, 400 grit, and 600 grit. Start sanding the tacky surface of your finished product with the 200 grit sand paper. Then sand it with the 400 grit sand paper. Then sand it with the 600 grit sand paper. Finish polishing it with the brasso (a fine abrasive polish) or you can use some other similar polish. I really enjoyed my creation. I had done a beautiful job and I was proud of myself.

12. Then I had to clean up my mess in my garage. I had to throw away my newspapers. I had to make a new measuring cup with the appropriate outside marks on it. I had to throw away the old one as it had some plastic inside of it. I had to throw away my stirring pencil as it had a big blob of dried plastic on the end of it. It's important to keep your work area cleaned up for efficiency as well as for safety.

Steps On How To Embed An Insect

13. So, let's pick out the round plastic mold that we want to use and measure the amount of plastic that we want to use (as stated above). I want to make a paper weight this time.

Small insects can be dryed easily. There are all kinds of ways of doing this without using alcohol. If you just catch your insect and immediately embed it in plastic without dealing with the water content problem then you will probably get silvering.

This time let's do it a little different. I want a blue bottom layer but I want the plastic on top of the bug to be clear. Remember that we are working backwards so our base layer has to be clear resin. Then the last layer that I pour will have to be blue.

14. Now, here is the trick. We are only going to embed half of our bug at a time. You don't want to place your bug on the hardened base layer just yet. If you do you will likely get air bubbles underneath it.

Pour a thin layer of liquid plastic into the mold on top of the base layer. Then carefully insert the bug upside down into the liquid resin being careful not to break it's wings, antennae, or legs. Carefully push the bug all the way to the bottom as it will have a tendency to float. Take the sharpened end of your pencil to work out the surface bubbles. You can also use a long sharp nail or an ice pick if you prefer. Use the eraser end of your pencil to work out any bubbles under the butterfly's wings. If you break off a leg or antennae or wing wait until the next pour to carefully fit it back on, letting the liquid resin help you hold it in place. You might have to use a pair of tweezers to help you move it around in the plastic.

So far, only half of the bug has been stuck to the plastic. That's what you want. The resin will put out a certain amount of heat while it is drying. This heat will also help dissipate any additional water moisture that might be inside of the bug. When this happens the moisture can escape through the upper end of the bug because it is not covered with plastic yet. This way you let the heat from the plastic resin work for you rather than against you. Let this set up for 4 hours or so. Mix some more resin and then cover the bug entirely with it. Work out any air bubbles that you may have.

Some embedders don't like to embed half of their bug at a time. Here is a tip if you want to embed it all at once. Use one or two drops less hardener here. This will allow the plastic to dry slower thus putting out less heat. The insect may have a tendency to slide or float in this layer so you need to check the casting frequently. It may harden off-centered if you don't correct it. If it does float off-centered then carefully take the eraser end of your pencil and move it back to center again. You can only do this if the plastic has not set up yet. If the plastic has set up then it is too late. You have to live with it because there is nothing that you can do.

15. Now it's time to pour our last and final layer. Let's add a few drops of blue coloring (pigment) to the liquid plastic that is in our paper cup. We add the coloring and stir it into the resin before we add the hardener. Then we add the hardener and stir it all up real good and then pour it into the mold. Let this dry for 48 hours or so. After you take your finished product out of the mold then you may want to cut a small circular amount of felt cloth and glue it to the bottom to make an attractive looking paper weight and conversation piece.

Preparing Your Specimen

16. Silvering and bubbles are the two major faults one has to overcome in this hobby. Silvering happens when the abdomen shrinks away from the plastic. This happens when the specimen is hardening in the plastic. If you get silvering then you can throw your specimen away because your work is flawed. If you get silvering don't get discouraged. I don't think that there is a hobbist in this field who has never silvered a specimen. It happens to all of us at one point or another...

17. If you capture your specimen alive then you have to "put it to sleep" before you embed it in plastic. Putting it in the freezer overnight is one way to humanely do this.

Some more examples of specimens to embed might include: a crayfish, clam, frog, perch, starfish, or a worm.

18. The main problem with embedding your specimen is water content. I am not talking about tap water that you drink. Rather, I am referring to the water content inside of the specimen. Most water is found in the abdominal cavity as part of it's abdominal juices. This water problem has to be dealt with before you embed your specimen. This water content is what is behind silvering. The water in the abdomen of the specimen will shift or change thus taking away it's partial support of the specimen's outer skin or covering. When this happens the skin or outer covering will shrink away from the plastic that is around it causing silvering to take place.

For a small bug specimen- make sure that it has been fully dried and that there is little water moisture inside of it. This is not difficult for rather small insects. However, this may prove difficult for rather large insects. These insects do not dry easily, especially if you have a large spider, a large moth, or a large grasshopper. If you try to dry these kinds then they will wind up looking shriveled and deformed. This is not a good senario.

There are two ways to solve this problem on large species of insects, for fish, reptiles and amphibians, as well.

19. The first method to get rid of water content is for you to be part taxidermist. A taxidermist stuffs animals. Turn your specimen upside down and cut open it's abdominal cavity and pull out it's guts with a pair of tweezers. Once the guts are removed you can replace the abdominal cavity parts with dry packing material such as small round pieces of toilet paper, napkins, or cotton balls. Superglue or stitch the incision back together after you have finished your operation. These dry items inside of your specimen should hold the outer wall of the abdomen in place against the plastic when it is poured against it.

This should keep silvering from taking place.

That really sounds yukky doesn't it! Who would want to do that? Well, a lot of folks use alcohol instead and hope for the best that it solves the silvering problem. You can do it this way but it's risky. There is no guarantee that silvering won't take place if you use alcohol. Want to try it anyway? Ok, here is how it works:

The Use of Alcohol In Plastic Embedding As A Hobby

20. The second method to get rid of water content is to soak your specimen in alcohol. Why? Because you don't want silvering. Also because you need to preserve your specimen against decay as long as you can. This is especially true once your specimen is encased in hard plastic resin.

Basically, you should not use liquid alcohol on small insects or other small specimens that you intend on immediately embedding as small insects can dry well. Hard shelled specimens usually embed well with little or no use of alcohol. This would include a small crab, scorpion, or horned beetle. Give it the trial and error method if you have any doubts.

21. What kind of alcohol is this?
This is not rubbing alcohol (isopropryl alcohol). Rather, it is called denatured ethanol. Because of it's dehydration and other properties it is considered poisonous to one's body.

Note: I don't believe in drinking any alcoholic beverage so I don't recommend that you purchase it for that purpose. Ethanol is drinking or grain alcohol. This is readily available at most drug stores but can be kind of expensive. Be sure to ask your drug store pharmacist for the right product. Make sure that it is 70%-95% in strength. You might have to be 21 years old in the United States in order to purchase it. Caution: keep it out of the reach of small children.

If you place your specimen in alcohol then it will start to dehydrate the cells of your specimen. In other words tissue water is replaced by the alcohol. This is good for long term preservation.

It is a common practice to make pickles out of cucumbers by soaking them in a salt and vinegar mixture. This is referred to as pickling. Cell soaking is a way to preserve the cucumber without refrigeration. A dill pickle is made this way. I love a good salty dill pickle. Cell soaking using alcohol works in nearly the same way.

"He is pickled" or "she got pickled last night" in the olden days referred to adults who got "soaked" or drunk on this kind of alcohol. Now you know where this expression came from.

Soaking in alcohol is optional for small specimens but is recommended for large specimens. A large specimen is any that is over 1/2 inch in thickness. It should be soaked for a couple of days. Make sure that your specimen is completely submerged under the level of the alcohol. For instance, the lizard that I caught in the back yard was considered a large specimen.

Here is another tip: if your specimen is 1/2 inch or more in thickness then take a hyperdermic needle and syringe and inject alcohol into it's abdomen, shoulders and hips. You have to do this because sometimes the alcohol does not soak that far down into the deeper tissue without your help. When finished, take your specimen out of the alcohol and then let it drain real good overnight in the open on a paper towel.

Steps On How To Embed A Reptile, an Amphibian, or a Fish

As in the case with insects, water moisture inside of your specimen is your worst enemy. You cannot dry these kinds of species as you dry an insect without doing a lot of damage to your specimen.

22. I have the dead lizard. I don't care anything about cutting open it's abdomen and stuffing it with dry material and then closing it back up. So I am going to soak it in alcohol for two days before I embed it.

First, I soak the dead lizard real good in alcohol. I let it soak for over 48 hours or so. I inject alcohol through a hyperdermic needle into each of it's shoulders and hips. I take an eye dropper and force the liquid down it's throat. I want every part of this specimen thoroughly soaked to the hilt so to speak.

I remove my specimen from the soaking jar, place it on a paper towel, and leave it overnight to drain real good. The next day I am ready to embed it.

23. The mold that I pick this time is a large mold that is "right side up" so to speak. In other words I don't have to turn my specimen upside down in order to embed it. The mold is like a large bowl. I apply the mold release real good to the mold. Then I measure out the plastic resin, mix it with the hardener, and pour the base layer. I want the base layer clear because I want others to be able to look at the belly of the lizard. It is a blue-bellied lizard and unique in this respect.

I next pour a thin layer of liquid plasic on top of the base layer. I insert the lizard inside of the mold and curl his tail around so no part of it's tail is touching any part of the mold. I work out any air bubbles that may be around the bottom of the lizard. Then I give it a couple of hours to set up. Up to this point only the bottom part of the lizard and his feet are touching any of the plastic resin. Now the resin is pretty firm and I can be assured that the lizard is not going to float around or drift in any more of the resin that I pour.

24. One secret here is to try to reduce the amount of heat that the hardening plastic is giving off. The best way to do this is to pour thin layers at a time. Say, only 1/8 inch thick at a time. Remember that too much heat all at once will affect the moisture content inside of the specimen. This heat will affect the liquid alcohol in the specimen in nearly the same way that it would have affected the water moisture in the specimen if you had not treated it. Just keep on pouring one thin layer after another with about 4 hours or so in between the pouring of each layer. Then finish covering your specimen with resin. Let the entire work dry for about 2 full days or so.

If you get silvering then you know you did something wrong. Try it again on another specimen using the trial and error method until you get a good specimen without silvering. Keep notes if you have to on each of your experiments until you find the way that works best for you.


Most of the time the plastic came out pretty easy and I could reuse the mold over and over again. But one time I had a mold that would not release from the dried plastic resin. I tried a number of ways to free it but nothing seemed to work. As a last resort I had to take a thick knife and insert it between the plastic mold and the plastic resin. I got it freed, however, I ruined the mold.

I want to stress the importance of pouring thin layers of resin rather than thick layers due to the heat that the resin produces. Pouring a thick layer over a specimen may discolor your specimen. This is not a good scenario.

Pouring a thin layer promotes slow hardening which is much better.

If you feel creative you might want to make your own latex mold or two. Brush a coat of latex rubber over an object that you are interested in. After that has dried you can brush on several more coats, one at a time. Make sure each coat is at least 1/8 inch in thickness. You might have to support this mold on a frame of some kind so your mold doesn't collapse when you add the heavy resin to it. You can make a frame from cardboard, popsicle sticks, or you can also use play-dough clay.


I hope that I have shared something with you that might have helped you in this fun and rewarding hobby. I thoroughly enjoyed this hobby when I was doing it.

Some explorers have discovered bugs and other items from long ago on this planet that were embedded in resin or tree sap. In those days pitch preserved some specimens. It's fun to look at these samples but it is more fun to look at the items that you have embedded.

I embedded such things as sea shells, marbles, and my Eagle Scout medal. I embedded a big black beetle, a scorpion, and a lizard. I colored some of the resin that I used. I poured some thick layers and I poured some thin layers. I made my mistakes from which I learned from. I guess that it is all part of the learning process. So, no matter how you embed your specimens in plastic, have fun with your hobby. You deserve it.

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