Starting out a brand new cosplay can be daunting. Sometimes you need to make sure you have the best fabric, while other times you’re checking to see if you have the correct size foam. Whether you are a beginner cosplayer or have been crafting intricate worbla builds, here are 10 items that every cosplayer should have when starting a cosplay.
A respirator is absolutely key for any major cosplay build. When using strong glue such as contact/barge cement, heating up foam, or spray painting, there will be fumes coming from these materials. Breathing in these chemicals can severely impact breathing and your long-term health. A respirator can keep you from inhaling these fumes and protect yourself from having any complicated health issues later in life.
The best respirators are those that are half facepiece respirators that already come with changeable filters. These filters need to be changed per manufacturer recommendation, so remember to read the packaging and directions carefully before purchasing. Please note that a dust mask is NOT the same as a respirator. Dust masks are great when sanding foam or 3D-printed pieces, but will not stop you from inhaling dangerous fumes. Remember, as much fun as cosplaying is, health definitely comes first!
2. Needle and thread
Regardless if you’re doing a foam build or sewing, a needle and thread is one of the most important tools to have for any cosplay. If you’re creating a foam build that requires a suit underneath, there may come a time when a hole in a pocket opens up, or the seam on the hands of your gloves comes apart. If you’re making a cosplay that requires heavy fabric, a needle and thread is key to keeping it together. Sewing needles are also allowed in your carry-on luggage if you’re flying to a con, so you can even bring them with you on the plane if you need to do some last-minute sewing in-flight.
If you’re planning on making a cosplay that requires a lot of fabric, it would be ideal to invest in a sewing machine as it will speed up the process of stitching pieces together. However, you do not necessarily have to buy a sewing machine to do a fabric-based cosplay. Using just a needle and thread can be done, but it’ll just take more time to do so.
Scissors are essential for any cosplay build. When it comes to either cutting thin 2mm foam or fabric, scissors are a must. If you will be making a cosplay that requires cutting a lot of fabric, it is imperative that you go out and buy fabric scissors. They are both sharper and more efficient when cutting large quantities of fabric. Do make sure, however, that nobody uses them for things like cutting holiday wrapping paper as it dulls out the scissors and thus makes them less effective.
It is also convenient to have scissors when cutting foam, especially if you don’t have a self-healing cutting mat with an X-Acto knife (see number 6). They can be used to cut out small details like scales that can later be sewn/glued onto a piece of a cosplay, or larger pieces like a foam shoulder pauldron. Scissors may, however, leave slightly jagged bits of foam on the edges if you don’t cut smoothly so keep in might when you may want to use scissors, and when you may want to use an X-Acto knife instead.
4. Heat gun
A heat gun is one of the most fundamental tools for cosplay. Much hotter than your normal hair dryer, a heat gun can be used to shape and form worbla, foam, thibra, thermoplastics, etc. It can also be used to burn and melt fabric if you’re trying to make a cosplay that looks more dystopian or weathered. If you’re burning and melting fabric, please proceed carefully and make sure not to accidentally light it on fire (yes, pyrotechnics are cool but not cool when your cosplay catches on fire).
When you are heating foam and worbla with a heat gun, make sure that you do not heat it for too long. Otherwise, you will burn the material and make it unusable. Heating foam for too long will make it crinkle and be permanently scarred. If you heat worbla for too long it’ll become too mushy and will be unable to form properly. Most cosplayers suggest anywhere from 10-20 seconds of heating, depending on the density of your foam and worbla. When in doubt, don’t heat for too long. You can always heat it up again and reshape, but you cannot reshape burnt foam or worbla.
If you’re trying to create any sort of cosplay, glue is one of the best ways to keep everything together. There are many different types of glue that you can use: hot glue, super glue, barge/contact cement, E6000, fabric glue, etc. Each of these glues are useful in their own unique way.
Hot glue is useful when working with foam builds because it’s easily flexible and can attach pieces together without much difficulty (aside from the glue strings that come off the hot glue gun). Worbla pieces can be put together with hot glue as well if the adhesive sides of the worbla aren’t sticking together properly. The only downfall to hot glue is that it can’t be used in a pinch at a con as almost all hot glue guns have to be plugged into an electrical outlet.
Other glues such as E6000, super glue, and barge/contact cement are perfect when you are trying to keep two pieces together for the long haul. Barge cement is especially a favorite among cosplayers because it sticks two cosplay pieces together with rarely any troubles at all. All you have to do is put a little of the barge cement on both parts of the pieces you want to stick together. Wait until both sides get tacky, and then stick them together. Barge cement is also flexible so if you’re trying to make a cosplay piece that needs flexibility, then barge is your friend.
6. X-Acto Knife
Similar to scissors, an X-Acto knife can greatly aid in cutting foam. If you have a sharp X-Acto knife, then you can make clean cuts on foam without any jagged edges. Getting an X-Acto knife with snap off blades is beneficial because you can simply snap off the blade when it gets too dull (please be careful when doing this! Even if it’s dull, it’s still sharp enough to cut you. I suggest snapping them off with a pair of pliers). If you run out of blades, you can also buy extra packs for future use.
If you are using an X-Acto knife to cut foam, it is important to have a proper surface to cut on as well. The best surfaces to use when cutting are self-healing mats since they won’t leave any major cut marks. If you’re unable to do this, you can always cut on cardboard!
7. Measuring tape
Measuring tapes are the best tool to have when you’re making cosplays for yourself or your peers. If you are thinking of buying or commissioning a cosplay, you will also need to know your measurements. This is where a measuring tape can come in handy. Most patterns and pre-made cosplays require measuring the bust, waist, and hips. It can also be helpful if you can get somebody else to help measure yourself.
Tapes can also be useful if you’re trying to figure out how long a part of the cosplay should be. For example, if you’re trying to determine how long a prop sword should be, then you can run your measuring tape on the ground and create a mock-up on paper of the sword. You can also do this when creating foam or fabric patterns, since you can use the measuring tape to determine your sizing.
A perfect tool for every cosplay is an iron and/or steamer. For any fabric-based cosplay, an iron can help press down seams or get out any wrinkles. If you’re trying to create hems on a piece of clothing, it is useful to press down the seams with an iron first so that it is easier to stitch.
A steamer can also be used similar to an iron to get out wrinkles. If you have a very delicate fabric such as chiffon or silk, you can use a steamer to remove any creases. Steamers can also be used on wigs if you’re either straightening them or adding curls. If you do not want to use a steamer for fabrics, you can always use an iron and simply put a towel over your fabric. That way the fabric won’t get damaged and will still press with the same effect.
9. Permanent Markers
Having permanent markers can aid any part of cosplay building. One of the best ways permanent markers can be used are tracing patterns onto a foam build. If you’re purchasing foam from TNT Cosplay Supply, they even send along a free silver marker for marking patterns. If you’re purchasing black foam, then a silver permanent marker is great because you can still see your marks. I would not recommend using a marker for tracing your fabric patterns, however, as they cannot be painted over like foam. Remember, it is permanent for a reason!
No cosplay is complete without some sort of paint. Fabric paint, spray paint, acrylic paint, the list goes on. Whichever type of paint you decide to use, they can add so much depth to a cosplay. If you’re using fabric paint, then you can create intricate designs onto a piece of fabric or create shading from video-games like Borderlands. Puff paint can also be useful for adding 3-D effects on fabric. Many cosplayers use puff paint to draw over designs on spandex suits like Spider-Man and Superman. This just adds a little bit of detail that can also make a cosplay stand out.
With foam and worbla, acrylic and spray paint are perfect for adding color. If you’re using either of them, it is best to add a primer and/or a sealant such as Mod Podge or Plasti Dip. Then, add your desired color to your item. If you’re trying to go for a metallic look, there are some great spray paints and acrylic paints that now have a metallic tint to them. Paint can also be used for weathering and highlighting pieces as well to make a piece of armor look battle-worn.