You’ve dedicated almost thirty hours to patterning, sewing, and designing your latest cosplay. Now you want to create a prop to go along with your masterpiece. The only problem is that you spent all your money on that synthetic wig and that pricy, vinyl material for your outfit. On top of your broken budget, the Con is only a couple weeks away and you don’t have time to commission a prop. Your costume’s also pretty cumbersome, and you’re worried that a heavy prop might hinder your movement at the Con. You start to wonder if adding that ideal prop to your cosplay is such a good idea after all…
But there is hope for the despairing cosplayer, and its name is craft foam.
Not only is craft foam incredibly affordable, it’s also lightweight (a.k.a.—unlikely to give you shoulder-strain), flexible (read: breathable), and surprisingly durable when backed with cardboard or fabric. In other words, it’s every cosplayer’s dream come true.
In order to craft your own epic props, you’ll need ten items—most of which can either be found around the house or purchased at your local craft store (Hobby Lobby, Jo-Ann, or even Walmart).
1. Sheet(s) of craft foam
2. Foamboard (optional)
4. A thick paintbrush
6. X-ACTO knife
8. Hot-glue gun
9. Jar of Mod Podge
10. Spraypaint/paint (optional)
For this demonstration, let’s look at a common cosplay prop—the palm-sized shuriken, often seen in the Naruto franchise.
Begin by finding a picture of your prop online and saving it to your computer. Once you’ve saved it to your computer, use a program such as Photoshop (or another image editor) to resize your prop to the exact dimensions you want. Print out the image and then cut it out with scissors. This will be the prototype that you use to cut out your prop’s base and pattern.
Special Note: If you don’t have a computer, or a computer program to resize your prop, you can draw your pattern directly onto the cardboard by hand. When doing this, be careful to keep your lines straight and your overall shape proportional. Otherwise, your prop will look skewed and disproportional.
Place your printed prototype on a piece of cardboard and trace the shape with a pencil or pen. Use an X-ACTO knife to cut out the base shape. It’s possible to use scissors for this part instead, but it makes the process much messier and unwieldy.
Once you’ve got the base cut out, begin adding depth to the base in order to create natural levels.
This gives the prop a dimensional look. When adding depth, you might want to use foamboard instead of cardboard in order to create sturdier support. Flat pieces work well for areas of the prop that require a maintained dimension. Angled pieces can create a tapered look and works excellently for creating points and slopes. Use hot glue to apply the pieces.
3. Cover the whole prop with cardboard.
With the levels in place, you can begin giving your prop shape by covering it with cardboard. This also ensures the prop’s stability. Begin by cutting out shapes that you believe will properly cover the different sections of your prop (modify them if they don’t fit). If your prop has specific lines and folds, then you’ll probably want to line up the cardboard to mimic those natural lines and creases.
Cover both sides of your prop completely with cardboard (again, use hot glue). Make sure that all of the edges fully touch. Trim away any excess length. By the time you’re done, the prop should look like a fully-formed, cardboard version of the final product.
By now you’ve probably noticed something: the edges of your prop are too fat. They need to be thin and streamlined in order to achieve a pointy, weapon-like look. To remedy this, simply squirt a thin line of hot-glue along the edges. Then, quickly squeeze the two edges together (hold for half-a-minute, at least) in order to tighten the bulky edges and slim them down. The hot-glue will hold the cinch in place permanently.
Warning: Use only a thin line of the glue in order to prevent making contact with your fingers and being burned. If you get hot glue on your skin, rubbing the spot of contact will cause the glue to harden and come off.
This is the key part of the prop-making process so it’s important to make it look good. If you goofed a bit with the cardboard base, that can be covered up with this final, foam layer. These same blunders aren’t so easy to hide when it comes to craft foam, however, so be extra careful when gluing these pieces on. Make sure they fit properly and cover everything underneath. Don’t be overly generous with the hot-glue, as that can cause large, ugly lumps to dry on the surface of your foam.
As you did earlier with the cardboard, begin cutting out shapes from the craft foam. These craft foam pieces will be layered overtop the cardboard. I highly recommend using craft foam that most closely matches the actual colors of the prop. That way, if/when you paint over the prop later, inconsistencies won’t be so easily noticed.
Ensure that all of the edges touch properly and cover the cardboard beneath. Trim away any excess foam.
Special Note: Some cosplayers find it useful to create a paper prototype for each piece they want to cut from the foam. This is a highly recommended practice for beginners, as it can significantly diminish the risk of cutting an incorrectly-sized piece of foam (and thus wasting it).
6. Apply Mod Podge.
Mod Podge can most likely be purchased at your local craft store. It’s a watery, glue-like substance that acts as a sealant for the foam. It comes in both a matte and glossy finish. For the shuriken, I used a glossy finish in order to give the prop a shiny, metallic look. Take a paintbrush and paint on a layer of Mod Podge. The size of your prop will dictate the size of the brush you need, but I recommend larger brushes for more even strokes. As you apply the first coat of Mod Podge, brush in the natural direction of your prop. With the shuriken, for example, I brushed from the inner circle to the tip of each blade point. Mod Podge creates a subtle, natural texture as it is applied, so it’s important that that texture follows the grain of the prop itself.
Don’t apply Mod Podge too thickly. A medium-thin coat will do just fine. It will look milky at first, but it dries clear. After brushing on the first coat, wait thirty minutes (or until most of the milky color is gone) before applying the second coat. Do this five to six times.
This serves three very important purposes, so do not skip this step. Firstly, Mod Podge seals the foam, allowing you to paint it without the foam absorbing the paint like a sponge. Secondly, Mod Podge naturally fills in cracks. If your foam has crevices, the Mod Podge will help disguise some of those natural blemishes. Thirdly, Mod Podge gives your prop a shiny, textured finish.
Just to demonstrate the importance of Mod Podge, take a look at these photos. The shuriken on the left has not been coated with Mod Podge. The one on the right has.
7. Apply paint.
At this point, your prop is ready for paint. You can use spraypaint to add a metallic finish to your prop, or you can use acrylic for more controlled shading and colors. Since the foam I used for my shuriken was already the right color for my prop, I didn’t need to add any additional paint to it.
When I created my matching kunai knife, however, I used black spraypaint to cover some of the blemishes left by the hot-glue gun. After I let that coat dry, I highlighted certain spots with a metallic, gray paint in order to add to the “blade-illusion.”
Check out these images of my kunai knife. I followed the same process as detailed above when creating it. The images are: (1) cardboard base, (2) foam overlay, (3) Mod Podge applied, (4) spray-painted kunai knife and finished shuriken.
After you’ve painted your prop, let the paint dry, and then coat the prop with 3-4 more layers of Mod Podge. This will keep the painted layer sealed, protecting it from rubbing off.
9. Enjoy your new prop.
Congratulations on completing your new prop! Are you surprised by how lightweight and portable it is? It doesn’t encumber your costume one bit. Better yet, it didn’t break your budget to create, and it still looks great.
Now go enjoy your next Con. Just don’t be surprised when everybody stops to ask you how you made that awesome prop of yours.
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