Heatshrink tubing is used to protect and insulate exposed wires, terminators, and contacts in electrical appliances. It is also used to seal wire insertion points and provide bulkhead protection. Heatshrink tubing is available in a wide range of materials, and is generally flexible, durable, and resistant to abrasion, water, and most chemicals.
Some specialist heatshrink tubing products are incredibly temperature resistant, and are capable of operating at very cold, and very high, temperatures.
Recently, heatshrink tubing has become popular with car enthusiasts and PC case modders, who use PVC or polyolefin heatshrink tubing to keep wires tidy, and to add to the appearance of their machines. Special consumer heatshrink products have been produced for these markets, and are available in a wide variety of colours and finishes, including UV reactive versions.
More hardwearing heatshrink tubing materials include neoprene – which remains flexible even at very low temperatures, silicone rubber – which is highly durable and abrasion resistant, and various fluoropolymers, which are chemical resistant and have a wide continuous operating temperature tolerance.
Before you purchase some tubing to use in your electronics work, you should research the materials that are available, and ensure that you pick the correct material for the job. For most consumer or hobbyist projects, some polyolefin tubing will likely be the best choice. If outdoor use is likely, or a glossy appearance is desired, the PVC should be considered.
For industrial use, it is likely that one of the more hardwearing materials may be needed. Silicone rubber is popular because of its toughness and flexibility.
Where hazardous materials are a concern, it would be wise to carefully investigate the specification sheets of the different fluoropolymers. Most of the fluoropolymers are resistant to a wide range of hazardous chemicals, however there are some chemicals – especially molten alkali ones, that can damage even a hardwearing PFTE heatshrink tube. Safety should be your primary concern, and as such, detailed research will be required before you put a new material of heatshrink tubing to use.
As well as electronic applications, heatshrink tubing is sometimes used in clothing, for example to make aglets for the end of shoelaces, or to make decorative tie ends. Some creative designers use multi-coloured heatshrink tubing to make patterned lace ends, and then seal the pattern with clear tubing that has been lined with adhesive. The possibilities for this kind of tubing are endless; limited only by the imagination of the user.