Before I begin I want to let you know that this tutorial will come in several parts.
One of the many things I see many cosplayer's shy away from and believe, is that its difficult to get into is cosplay armor. The other one is wigs, but... well.... that's for another guide.
When it comes to cosplay armor I have had a lot of people I know say that they are either intimidated by making armor because its so different from sewing, or it seems like it's really expensive. Well I'm here to tell you its not! This guide will be a 3 part guide and will go into detail to give you an extensive amount of knowledge about cosplay armor to hopefully help you figure out where you can get started for making your next armor for your cosplay. We will also go more in depth about the top two favorite materials the majority of cosplayer's like to use when crafting armor, EVA foam and Thermo Plastics. These will each be different parts that branch off of this guide.
(( COMING THIS WEEK ))
Lets get started!
What will be covered in this Guide?
- Different styles of armor crafting for cosplay
- The most common methods: EVA Vs. Thermo plastics. Why are they so popular to use?
-Recommended tutorials that will help you even further at the end of each section
What are the different armor styles?
Armor craft and cosplay isn't just a one style method. There are MANY ways a cosplayer can craft armor for a cosplay. In this guide we will cover only a few out of the many different ways you can craft your next armor piece for your cosplay. Lets go over some of the more uncommon methods first that take a little bit more knowledge, skill and most of all, money, so you can have a better understanding why some of these methods aren't all to common among cosplayers.
Before the rise in Worbla and EVA foam for armor based cosplays, you would commonly see armor done by vacuum form. Its a method that is still used today, however its not an easy thing to pick up and go with. When it comes to vacuum forming there is a whole
number of steps to go through before reaching the finished product. First lets get a bit of an understanding on what it is exactly. Vacuum forming is the simpler version of Thermo forming. A sheet of plastic is heated up to a temperature that makes the plastic malleable enough to form to a single surface mold or object to copy that objects shape for a durable and light-weight piece. Vacuum forming requires a special type of machine to do and you can make your own on a smaller scale for at home use. When Vacuum forming the plastic is forced tight against the object as air is sucked out of the machine. The malleable plastic f
orms over the object thanks to the air tight suction. Creating your own at home machine is completely possible and it comes in handy for projects. However if you are just beginning with armor and you need a way to create your armor without constructing or buying a machine to do it, and have a very small budget. Then this is not a method for you.
However if you would like to know more about Vacuum forming here are a couple of great links about vacuum forming.
Oh did I mention you can build a Vacuum form machine for smaller projects or large grandiose projects?
(Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_forming)
For more information:
Adam Savage's Vacuum forming machine:
Punished props Academy " Prop: Shop- How to make a Vaccum forming machine
Fiber Glass and Resin
Fiber Glass: The second common method, before there was ever worbla or people thought to use EVA foam, was Fiberglass.
Fiberglass was also the first time I was ever exposed to by armor thanks to my friend Ian. He was the one who also provide the photos to use as example.
Fiberglass is a reinforced plastic that uses glass fibers.Fiberglass was always a tricky thing to use and was primarily a coating on an already pre-built object or was used with a mold. Fiberglass could be molded into many shapes and sizes, but it usually required a lot of work in the finishing to prevent anything from Itching. Have you ever been on a boat and right afterwards when you got out you felt all itchy. Most of the time that was due to the fiberglass. So imagine not doing a good job on sealing the fiberglass and wearing that at a con... yikes!! Fiberglass would often be heavier
to wear, however it would make some armor into literal armor that could stop a bullet. Unlike Vacuum form, fiberglass did not require its own machine to make it. However you had to be very careful and remain in a well ventilated area. Wearing gloves while working with fiberglass is a must. Its very similar to resin in the idea that you have to mix two chemicals together while working with the fiberglass. Again, not something I would recommend to beginners. Not when there is a lot more materials that are cheaper and easier to work with.
(Image Source: Ian Zepf )
Resin: Resin is the cousin of fiberglass. Like fiberglass, resin begins as two chemical agents that are mixed together to cure into a plastic. Resin is often used still for repeating parts for costumes and accessories. Its great for making small objects that need repeating or for accessories. Resin is also used for coating foam however it gets very heavy and so it's not used as much. Resin is great for all kinds of projects for cosplay and it deserves its own tutorial in my opinion.
For more information :
Leather armor craft is the oldest out of all of the armor crafting mention here that is still used today. Making leather out of armor has been a craft since the ye-old days and has migrated over to cosplay as well. Leather armor is a specialized craft that requires its own set of tools, and the proper knowledge in care and maintenance to keep the armor looking beautiful and pristine. Now you can always fake a leather look out of foam for leather now-a-days for a costume. However some like to use the real deal since its an under appreciated craft. However due to the cost ( and the heat ), not many like to use leather to make a full set of armor. It is used though for accents on costumes and small parts such as gauntlets.
I have used leather on some parts of my costumes before but I am not an expert at all with leather armor. It is actually the one thing I am the least knowledgeable about when it comes to all of the methods shown.
For more information on how you can craft your own leather armor I highly suggest that you check out Tandy Leather and thier assortment of wonderful tutorials. They are in my opinion the best place to learn from when it comes to leather.
One of the big mac daddies that is taking the cosplay world by storm is 3D printing.
3D printing is a fairly new technology that allows for a user to print out a solid object with the push of a button. Up until recently a 3D printer cost a couple grand , but with the power of technology they are becoming more and more affordable.
How a 3D printer works:
You start off with your average 3D modeling program or file that is compatible with the 3D printer's program. Once you are happy with your model you can hit "print". The program transfers the data over to the printer and the printer begins printing your object out. It starts from the bottom of the object , printing layer by layer, until the object is complete.
It provides the cosplayer with a simple and easy method to create something while having their hands free to go do something else while their object prints. It's simple and easy.
No wonder it's becoming more common.
The Most common forms of Armor craft: EVA foam Vs. Thermo plastics
Now time for the main materials used in Armor making for cosplay, EVA Foam and Thermo plastics. In this section we will be going over the differences between both of these styles.
EVA foam is a very versatile material that comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. You can get EVA foam as thin as 2mm which is your basic crafting foam , all the way up to the thicker 0.5 inch foam mats. It is super lightweight and flexible, and extremely affordable.
You can make just about anything with the foam.
EVA foam is one of the top choices when it comes to crafting cosplay armor.
What is EVA foam?
EVA foam , also known as Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate (EVA), is a closed cell foam. Often used for craft projects, Floor mats and even making shoes, It has a variety of uses.
Its can be used on its own for armor or covered by a thermoplastic of choice like Worbla or Thibra. You can purchase it in many brick and mortar stores near you. In the USA you can find the 2mm foam at craft stores like Joann's , Hobby Lobby, and Michael's Arts and crafts.
The thicker foam most often used for armor bases and originally created as floor mats for workshops can be found in construction stores such as Harbor Freight, Home Depot and Lowes. However the best thing about this material is how easy it is to learn and create with.
You can get away with using a basic utility knife , heat gun and some contact cement to start constructing.
Thanks to its popularity in the cosplay scene there are tons of tutorials out there to help out with armor building.
Personally it is one of my favorite materials to use and I can't wait to share with you all of the different ways you can create armor with it.
Now you've probably seen this and thought "what is she talking about? What is a Thermo plastic?". Ever hear of these? : Worbla , Worbla Black Art , Worbla Clear, Thibra, and Wonderflex. These are all thermo plastics!
Each one of these bad boys is a completely unique type of thermo plastic with its own properties. However they all have one thing in common, their ability to be heated up at lover temperatures to be easily molded and manipulated. You do not want to leave these in the car or in direct sun where it can become very hot.
All thermo plastics can actually be used on their own or as a protective covering for a prop like the photo shown above.
the most common of all the Thermo plastics, worbla is sold not only online but also in
various stores across the U.S.A and possibly whichever country you live in.
"Worbla is a brand of innovative, non-toxic (conforms to ASTM D-4236*) thermoplastics
designed to give artists a product that allows endless creativity without sacrificing quality or safety. Ever evolving, the Worbla line of thermoplastics offers something for everyone with an easy learning curve, 100% recyclable material and wide range of applications. " - worbla.com
It comes in 3 different styles with their own unique qualities.
Basic- The hardest and most durable of the three. This thermo plastic has less of a chance to rip, be punctured or warp. However its not as malleable as its brothers. It is also the most bumpy in texture when it comes to the thermo plastics... nothing a little wood glue/ gesso and some sanding can't fix.
Black Art- This brand of worbla was created as an answer to cosplayers asking for a
smoother form of worbla that required less sanding and that was more malleable. Unlike its predecessor , the Black art does come with its own flaws. Its much easier to tear than the basic kind, making it less durable. I have also found out thanks to Hurricane Irma, that Black art does not like to be soaked in water. While my worbla that survived the flooding is still okay and usable. It is not as nice as it once was. However it is still my personal favorite worbla to use. It requires a lot less prep work and I was still able to make an entire armor set from it, along with a lot of pieces to all of my cosplays.
Clear Worbla- It's exactly how it sounds. Clear Worbla is a clear thermo plastic that allows for props that call for clear or see through parts to have those area's seethrough. Its very malleable and has been used for a variety of things, such as flames, light up gems , and so on.
Go check out more about the different types of Worbla here: http://www.worbla.com/
Thibra: Thibra is a brand new thermo plastic that was made popular and is sold in america by Arda Wigs for cosplayers. Thibra like its competitor is a very malleable hard plastic that can be used on its own or as a plastic cover for a prop or armor. However unlike Worbla , thibra is much more malleable and smooth. This can make it trick to work with, but the results will come out stunning if done right.
" Thibra is a popular thermoplastic material and very suitable for making costumes, masks, harnesses, parts of decor and many other things. Thibra and its possibilities for shaping your fantasy are highly commended in the cosplay community. This innovative sheet material is exceptionally smooth and perfect for making double-curved and extreme shapes. Your object can always be adjusted and corrected by reheating it. Ideal to make it all fit well. Thibra can easily be spray-painted after degreasing and combines well with other materials such as foam. So get to work and create your fantasy! " - Thibra.com
Go check it out in action on the official page: http://www.thibra.com/
Last but not least is the oldest and strongest of all the thermo plastics talked about in here.
Wonderflex is a unique thermo plastic. Like those mentioned above, wonderflex is a heat activated material that can bend and shape into objects. However this thermoplastic is unique due to is mesh structure built in, making it nearly impossible to tear. The mesh also helps keep its rigidity , which doesn't make it so good for smaller details.. however it is perfect as a base structure for an armor project. This stuff will not break easily on you.
" Because it's so tough and can be molded into any shape or thickness, it's even ideal for making quick repairs or modifications. An oven, microwave, hot air gun or simply hot water may be used for activation. With a low activation temperature of 150°-170° F (70° - 80° C, Wonderflex® has a long open time and can be hand-worked or laid up for two or three minutes. Just reheat repeatedly as required for additional forming. It works beautifully with or without molds and cuts with a utility knife or scissors. It bonds to itself well and can be adhered to most porous materials like paper, wood, fabric, foams and Fosshape®. " -wonderflexworld.com
Be sure to check out more about Wonderflex and its brother Fosshape : https://www.wonderflexworld.com/
Now that you've come to the end of this guide you have a little more understanding about the different materials armor crafter's use to make armor. I will be going into detail about EVA foam and worbla, and how to make armor with them in part two of this guide.