For some time and for reasons I'm not entirely sure of, I have been trying to find a good use for used soda cans. I have tried making a mini chest of draws, gift boxes (there is a very good Instructable by Mangetout for that) and cookie cutters, the latter worked very well and went down a treat when I used it to make Peppa Pig cake decorations for my Goddaughters 2nd Birthday.
Then last week I stumbled on the art of Paul Villinski, who turns old Beer cans into beautiful works of art by making them into butterflies and birds. I had to try it and whilst my efforts aren't a shade on Villinski's, I found it to be a surprisingly simple process and one that can be done with household materials, and with no specialist knowledge. Although there are some great Instructables on here for making butterfly charms and ornaments or reusing drink cans, none that I can see are similar to this one.
As with all my Instuctables I have probably over done it with the photos and descriptions, and have made a few mistakes during the process, nothing serious and I will point them out as we go.

I find the process quite addictive which is handy as I intend to make a lot of these and use them to create wall art in a way similar to Villinski's, you could also turn them into fridge magnets or perhaps stick them to hair clips. 

I hope you both enjoy, and find this Instructable useful.

Edit: Only after publishing did I see bauble's Drink Can Craft instructable https://www.instructables.com/id/Aluminium-Drink-Can-Craft it also features making butterflies and has some other great ideas for things to do with cans, do check it out.

Update: Following a suggestion by scraptopower, I went back and investigated the use of a can opener to remove the top of the can, I had tried this before but obviously with the wrong type of opener. It actually works quite well although it does pose some issues, I have added this alternative method to the cutting the can step, so you can choose which you prefer.

Update 2: Again I have made some changes to the cutting the can step to include weibbed's method of dismantling the can, weibbed has a lot more experience working with cans than I do and consequently their method is by far the best. Also added a new photo of the butterflies in situ.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Although the photo shows quite a few tools, some are just to demonstrate alternative tools for the same job and you should have most of them around the house.

Empty Can: Obviously! Rinsed and allowed to dry. Coke or Pepsi? More accurately Aluminum or Steel? Coke cans are aluminum, Pepsi cans are steel, of cause other brands are available. I have found some differences in the two types of can:
Aluminium is often a thinner gauge metal, making it easier to cut but also more flimsy and susceptible to tearing and breaking. Steel cans are often a darker colour on the inside, this affects the final colour of your markers, Steel cans are attracted to magnets. At the end of the day the differences are not that important but you may have a preference. Your can should say what type it is, alternatively you can use a magnet to quickly sort them. The average 330ml can should give you a sheet of metal 8” long by 3 to 3.5” wide, enough to make 3 to 4 medium sized butterflies. If you wish to do your own decoration on both sides you could remove the can's original design with wire wool, or cover it with aluminium tape. 

Update: As can composition seems to be such a talking point I did some research "Most metal beverage cans manufactured in the United States are made of aluminium, whereas in some parts of Europe and Asia approximately 55 percent are made of steel and 45 percent are aluminium alloy. Steel cans often have a top made of aluminium." - Wikipedia, hope this helps.

Scissors: I am using “5 Star General Purpose Scissors” they are very sturdy and have no problem cutting the metal. I have found my scissors have become slightly magnetic, I dont know if it is from cutting the metal or just the number of magnets I have around, either way it is handy for catching the small bits of steel. I'm sure most scissors of any quality will work well but they may become blunt with time. 5 Star General Purpose Scissors can be bought online for a few pounds. Tin snips may also be useful but I find my ones to be a bit ungainly and less useful for doing the details, perhaps a better quality tin snip would be more effective.

Iso-Propyl Alcohol (aka Rubbing Alcohol): This is used to remove the permanent marker from the metal if required, it could be considered optional but I find it very useful as you will see. It evaporates quickly off the metal so there is no need to dry after using.You may also be able to use other solvents such as white spirit, but as I've not tried anything else I wouldn't like to say for sure,  Having done some tests I would say ISP Alcohol is the best thing to use, white spirit wont work. I believe this is widely available in the USA, in the UK I found it somewhat harder to find, you may be able to get it at a chemist, I bought a litter on eBay for £5 and have found many uses for it since.

Tissue: or Cotton Wool Balls/Buds, basically anything that can soak up the ios-propyl so it can be used.

"Blunt" Pointed tool: I say "blunt" as anything with too sharp a point risks tearing or puncturing the metal. Two of the tools shown here are metal embossing tools I picked up at an art shop sometime ago, they were very cheap, about £1.50 for both. Alternatively a pencil will work just as well, I would recommend a harder lead though (HB at least).

Butterfly Patterns: Whilst you could draw the shape of the butterfly directly onto the metal or cut it out “blind” I find the best results come from using a pattern, to this end I have created and included a set of 4 Butterfly shapes in various sizes for you to print out and use. I know that the physiology of butterflies is endlessly diverse, but I feel these four patterns can be adapted to produce most shapes and sizes.

Hole Punch: These may be considered optional but I find it very useful for doing some of the wing detail. Whilst most any hole punch will work, I prefer the single hole punch as it allows for more accuracy, I bought this one up at a stationers for £1.50.

Foam Sheet, Cork board or Folded Towel: You want something with a bit of give to as a surface when doing the embossing step, trying to emboss on a hard surface will not work. I got up a pack of 9 different coloured foam sheets from Poundland, I chose to use the pink as I cant see myself using it for anything else.

Tape: Any will do, though clear is better, only a small amount is needed.

Markers: Any permanent marker will do, I prefer Sharpies for their range of colours, but will use cheaper marker pens if possible as the sharp sides of the butterflies can damage the tips. I also use “Uni Posca” markers, they are paint pens, great for adding lighter colours like White, you could of cause also use Tipex if you prefer. Posca Markers are available in art shops and cost a few pounds.
Note: Sharpie Professional markers are more permanent than regular ones, this is great, unless you make a mistake, you will have to allow the Iso-Propyl to soak for a while.

A picture of a Butterfly: (not shown) Very useful for inspiration and as a guide, there are many available online, you can of cause do any design you like, or if you prefer try to recreate a particular type, I often use one species shape with the colouring of another. For this instructable I am using the the Blue Mountain Swallowtail as inspiration with an image form http://www.whatsthatbug.com/

Can Opener (optional): Pliars type with a tuning handel. £1 Poundland (weibbed has some tips on can opener choice in the comments section)

Dangers! While I have never cut myself on any of the edges of the butterflies and they are quite safe to handle taking only the slightest of care, the sharp points and barbs of the offcuts do pose a small danger of giving you small prick or even a cut if you run a finger over them, so take care with these. You may also wish to wear eye protection as pieces may fly off when cutting.
Thank you. My daughter will love doing this
<p>Hmmm...to be continued. I like the idea wondering if it could work as a mobile for the solar system too...</p>
<p>These are really nice and thank you for the patterns.</p>
Thank you so much for this. I'm into recycling and sometimes gather stuff and don't know what to do with it at the time. I managed to stay away from tins, but now I have a reason to collect them.
Absolutely love this instructable. I've been working on my IB middle years program personal project (pain in the butt, but it's a lot of fun if you do something you like), and chose to make a sculptural piece. I wanted to make butterflies out of common materials ( my theme is 'raising awareness for the declining habitat of the monarch butterfly'). When I saw your 'ible I knew exactly how I was going to do it. Thank you so much for posting this! Here's an example of one that I made, the rest will have their logos instead of being colored like monarchs (trying to make a statement :P)
Thanks for your kind comments Smalfrii, I am very glad the 'ible is proving useful for you and your project sounds like a great one and I hope you get a top grade (though I must admit I don't know what the IB middle years program is). It would be cool to see the final result.
Clintonmc, I finally finished last month and had my exhibition, thank you so much for letting me use your instructable!
Sorry the pic is a bit blurry, but unfortunately I'm not the best photographer XD
Your exhibit looks great Smalfrii, I hope it was well received and I'm glad my 'ible could be put to such good use. Thank you for posting the photo and dont worry about it being blurry, if it wasn't for photoshop most of my pics would be too.
Thanks, it was recieved very well, 10s across the board!
Smalfrii, your butterfly is beautiful! What kind of markers do you use? That orange looks incredible! Great job! :)
Thanks! I used plain ol' sharpies!
OMG! I love your butterflies! THANK YOU-THANK YOU for posting this tutorial! I'm gonna have so much creating some for my apartment! Your step by step instructions are wonderful! Can't wait to see your next project, I can tell you that I downloaded this app so I can follow all the way from Austin, Texas! :D
Hi gcastrejon, Thank you for the lovely comments, I'm glad you liked the 'ible and that you will be putting it to good use, it would be great to see a pic of what you create.
Thanx for the great idea! Here are my Butterflies...
Beautiful!!! Love them! :)
Here is Autumn Leaf...
Olga, your butterflies are lovely, it's clear you have put a lot of effort into the detail and it really pays off, thank you so much for posting them, it's great to see someone putting my ideas into practice.
achei show!
Isopropyl alcohol / IPA / Rubbing alcohol / Propan-2-ol all the same thing and is normally available in art and model shops used to thin paint for air brushing. Good instructable I was then working on a similar project to be documented soon
The butterflies are lovely. I recycle a lot of metal packaging and find a dried up ballpoint pen makes a very good blunt tool for marking grooves in the metal/ embossing etc. ... and it's free <br>
Great Tip! thanks Clare.
This method would make lovely autumnal leaves to make a mobile from. Or even some from each season on one of four sticks!<br><br>Insects mixed in?<br><br>I'm quite inspired!
I'm glad to have inspired you, I've considered making some leaves and flowers myself but not got round to it, your idea for a mobile sounds lovely though, do please let me know if you do I would love to see it.<br><br>P.S. sorry for taking so long to reply :)
I thoroughly enjoyed the how-to-instructions for your beautiful butterflies. They are so lovely. I can't wait to try them. I just had an idea about how you could display them. Try painting a dead branch from a bush or tree and place it in a flower pot and wire the butterflies to the branches. Or mount a branch on a wall and wire the butterflies to it. Instant wall art. Thanks again for sharing the incredible butterflies you created.
Thanks you I'm glad you liked it, I think your branch idea is great! I'm going to give it a try, I might see if i can find a nice drift wood brach next time I head to the sea side I recon that could be very cool.
I have seen handbags made with the tabs from the cans In Cuba. Also why not dry the inside after cutting it open It would be a lot easier. if you work on a towel it won't hurt if there are some drips as long as the can had been rinsed clean.<br>I did try cutting cans a while back to make 'crown shaped ' candle holders for Christmas display but I forget the easiest way I did them. If I remember I will post back. <br>great work and love the butterflies.
Thanks. Yeah I've seen some very cool things made with tabs, I intend to do something with them myself once I have collected enough. Of cause you could dry it after opening, I just find the drips annoying and distracting when concentrating on the cutting.<br>Please do let me know if you remember how you opened them.
I have cut open literally thousands of aluminum cans---I use them for my artwork and jewelry---and the easiest way is: <br>Remove the pop tab and save for later. <br>Use a side cutting can opener and cut off the lid. <br>Wash and dry the can once the lid is off. <br>Slice down the height of the can with a pair of kitchen scissors. DO NOT CLOSE THE SCISSORS ALL THE WAY to the point when you cut! (this is how you prevent those sharp burrs that cause injuries). <br>Turn the can on its side, and cut all the way around just below the neck of the can . I am right handed, so I gently put my left hand in the opening of the can, and cut with my right hand, starting at the slit I made when I cut the height of the can). <br>Cutting off the neck effectively removes the structural support and makes it much easier to then cut around the bottom of the can, in parallel with your neck cut. <br>
Hi weibbed<br><br>I've had a chance to try your method now and agree it is by far the best, would you mind if I updated the 'ible to include your process, full accrediting it to you obviously.<br><br>Thanks <br><br>Clintonmc
That would be great! I keep meaning to make a video and post it, but I never quite get around to it. Will let you know if I do. <br>
Thanks I've now updated it to include your advice pretty much word for word. <br><br>Let me know if there is anything you think needs changing.<br>
I've cut a lot of coke cans up for my stirling engines, and I agree with everything you've said.
Cool, Thanks for the advise, always good to hear from someone with more experience, I'll point people to your comments in the 'ible.
I forgot to ask - how do you &quot;install&quot; the butterflies in your artwork? I see Villinsky uses long wire pieces to create exaggerated shadow effects.
I've not come to that yet, I'm concentrating on cutting out the all butterflies at the moment.<br><br>I have been giving it some thought though. I've bought a role of iron wire which I'm planning to stiffen and hot clue to the undersides, its the attaching to the wall part that I'm still insure of, obviously drilling lots of holes in the walls isn't going to fly. I do have some foam board so i might try setting the butterflies in that and attaching it the wall, when doing text Vallinski seems to use a frame of the word an stick the wire into that, and the attaching it frame and all to the wall.<br><br>I have also considered magnetic paint o the walls with magnets stuck to the underside of the butterflies.<br><br>Let me know how you get on and any ideas you have, I would be very interested in seeing them.
I have been dying to DIY Paul Villinski's work ever since I laid eyes on his magnificent butterfly wall art. I have been saving every can of soda for over a year now. Thank you ever so much for this brilliant instructable!
You are very welcome, I've only been collecting cans for about 2 weeks so it'll be a while until I have enough to do a big piece but with the help of my friends collecting cans for me I hope to have a small piece of wall art soon, hopefully in time for a friend's house warming.<br><br>BTW if you haven't started disassembling the cans yet I would definitely recommend weibbed's method in the comments. I hope to update the 'ible to include it soon.
I tried disassembling one and it didn't work it out very well LOL. Appreciate the pointer!
Wow that was NEAT!!
Thank you, twice :-p
So pretty!
Thanks :)<br>
Dear Clintonmc,<br>I am enthralled by your butterflies, and truly disappointed that I did not have this 'ible before my daughter's 3rd birthday on the 10th September! We had a theme of butterflies and bugs - and a butterfly (feathered mostly and some paper ones I made) butterfly hunt in the garden. Her chums loved it, but I would have dearly loved to have decorated our home with ones such as yours, rather than buying them from a shop, where I suspect, slave-rates were paid to factory workers in China. <br><br>Huge thanks for this and we will, no doubt, be repeating the theme at another party, so we will do this for fun and for the future! <br><br>I will also adapt it to make 'fairies' as the magic is in the 'wings' and these are quite some wings! I am also inspired to make some 'bugs' out of soda cans. Thank you for being so inspirational and being generous with your creative talent. Kind regards, Anna.
Hi Anna<br><br>Thank you for the lovely message, it's always nice to hear from people who appreciate my 'ibles. <br><br>I am only sorry I didn't have the idea a month earlier and in time for your daughter's birthday. The butterfly hunt sounds great and i think i may suggest it for my God daughter's 3rd birthday :).<br> <br>I hadn't thought of using this to make fairy wings that is another great idea, I've been thinking about making bugs, beetles and spiders but not tried anything yet, do let me know how you get on if you do.<br><br>Thanks again<br><br>Clinton
Wow that was NEAT!!
So it's similar to doing a pattern transfer on to leather.<br><br>An old ball point pen should work also the goal it to make an impression into the metal. It should work if you use your soft mat or smooth cutting board the pressure from a ball point pen should leave a nice traced dent to cut along.<br><br>Use the big cheap BIC type pens as they can handle the abuse and are normally out of ink any ways. You can use them later to trace shapes on to leather for those who carve leather.
I've never worked in leather (I do want to try sometime) but I can see how the same principle would be applied.<br>Yes I'm sure a ball point would work very well, good tip (excuse the pun :D). I have tried tracing the whole outline but found the metal sometimes has a mind of its own and throws the line off, which is why i chose the dented dot method, but whatever works for you :).
Thanks for the info I will keep that in mind I might try both ways. Dotting it vs hard tracing. With leather though you'll want some of that clear plastic sheet that is used on the old over head projectors. There are other ways but some of them you run the risk of staining an outline on the leather.<br>
In what country are soda cans made out of steel?<br><br>I know that sometimes different brands use different coatings on the inside of aluminum can but steel. In what country?<br><br>I could try using tin soup cans to make butterflies with too.

About This Instructable




Bio: A Freelance Web and Graphic Designer with a habitual need to make stuff in the physical world and escape a life spent in front of ... More »
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