You can create antlers for your next cosplay (or Christmas-related event). This type of headdress is actually a lot simpler and cheaper than it looks. Even if you’ve never made a cosplay prop before, you’ll be able to get a pretty good pair of antlers using the method in this tutorial.
The easiest way to create deer antlers is by using wire and paper clay. You’ll create a wire frame for the antlers and then cover them with clay. This makes it great for beginners since clay is easy to model and rework until you are happy with the shape.
Of course, the larger you make your antlers, the more difficult it will be to keep them standing upright. If you want to create a more elaborate pair, then you will want to use double headbands or otherwise create a more solid base for your antlers.
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- A headband
- 9 gauge wire
- Aluminum foil
- Paper clay (or another lightweight clay, such as foam clay)
- Sandpaper or a Dremel
- Acrylic paint
- Optional: hair clips
Step 1: Wrap wire around a headband
To start, we need to create the basic shape of your antlers. We’re going to do this using wire first, and then filling out the shape with foil and clay.
Take your 9 gauge wire and cut off two sections that are one to two feet long, depending on how tall you want to make your antlers. I don’t recommend making them these longer than two feet unless you’re planning on creating extra stabilization at the base. A simple headband won’t be able to hold antlers that are too tall.
Once you’ve cut your wires, connect one end of each around your headband. Angle the wire on a slight curve, since no deer will have antlers that pop straight up. Make sure to wrap the wire tightly, that way the wire won’t be sliding around on the headband while you try to build up the antlers in the next steps. However, if you find that it’s a little loose, don’t worry too much. When you add the paper clay in step 4, it will help to solidify the base of the antlers.
Step 2: Add branching wire sections
Cut more sections of wire that are smaller than the two you created in step one. These new sections of wire will create the branching appearance of deer antlers. Remember, deer antlers are symmetrical on both sides, so try to cut equal lengths so you can create antlers that are mirror images of each other.
Take your new sections of wire and wrap them around your base curve. Make sure to distribute the new branching sections along the antlers. There will be some toward the base and some branching out nearer to the top. You’ll also find that the branching sections all come off the same side of the antlers, curving up and forward. If you’re forming the antler shape, and you’re confused about why it looks wrong, look up pictures of deer antlers for reference.
If you want to create intricate antlers with many branching sections, I recommend switching to a thinner wire to avoid adding too much bulk to the headpiece. The larger the gauge number, the thinner the wire is. So you’ll want to switch to a wire that’s in the 14-18 gauge range (look for jewelry wire).
Step 3: Add foil to bulk out the shape
You’ve formed the basic shape with the wire, so now it’s time to flesh it out and give it some form. The best way to do this is by wrapping the wire with aluminum foil. Foil is ideal for this because it is very lightweight. At the same time, you can easily crinkle and squash it into whatever shape you want, and it will stay put (unlike paper or other lightweight materials.
Rip off strips of aluminum foil and wrap them around the wire frame of the antlers. It’s better to go bit by bit instead of taking a big sheet of foil and wrapping it around. This way it’s easier to create some bulk around the curves of the antlers. Be sure to also cover up any visible sharp wire edges that are poking around here and there.
Step 4: Wrap the foil in a layer of clay
Now it’s time to add the clay on top and give your antlers a finished shape. The reason we can’t use clay from the start is that it would make the antlers too heavy. Unless they are very short, it would be a real struggle to keep solid clay antlers upright on your head. So instead, we’re creating a thin layer of clay on top of the foil and wire base structure.
Knead a handful of clay and flatten it. You can roll it out if you want to, or just flatten it with the base of your hands. Then wrap it around the antler structure. Continue adding clay piece by piece until you’ve wrapped the entire thing with a layer of paper clay.
- Note: You can also use foam clay or other types of lightweight clay that you feel comfortable working with. Personally, I find paper clay to be the easiest to use, especially when I was a beginner, but it is by no means the only option.
If you need to pause in the middle of forming your antlers, you can keep the clay moldable by covering your creation with a damp towel. If you need to put it aside for a couple of days, make sure to replace the damp towel every day to keep the clay moist. Any clay that’s left in the packaging should be put into a sealed ziplock bag or container to keep it from air drying.
When you’ve finished wrapping the foil with clay, dip your fingers in water and wipe them over the clay to help smooth it out. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it can make the next steps easier if you have a slightly smoother surface to work with.
Now, all you have to do is put your antlers aside and wait for them to dry. As they dry, the clay will harden. Without the weight of the water, they will be a lot more lightweight too. Depending on the heat and humidity where you live, expect it to take 24 to 48 hours for the clay to dry and harden completely.
Step 5: Sand the antlers
Paper clay usually gets a little rough to the touch as it dries. A lot of the texture can be smoothed out using a good primer (in the next step), but sanding your antlers a little beforehand is also a good idea. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Real deer antlers do have ridges, bumps, and imperfections, so there is no need to go crazy with the sanding.
You’ll know the clay is ready for sanding when it is completely hard to the touch. There won’t be any give or elasticity when you touch it. The clay will also be a slightly lighter, whiter shade than when you were molding it.
Paper clay shrinks a little as it dries, so you may end up with some cracks in the clay. Don’t worry too much if the clay formed small cracks. You can easily fill these in when you add primer in the next step. However, if your antlers have large cracks, you’ll want to add a little more clay to those areas and wait for it to dry again before sanding.
Step 6: Prime and paint the antlers
Do not start priming your antlers until you are 100% happy with your horns. Up to this point, you could also go back and soak the clay to continue molding it. But once you add primer, the clay is sealed and if you’re not happy, you’ll have to start again from scratch.
When you’re happy with the clay job of the antlers, it’s time to prime and paint them. I used mod podge as my primer of choice since it’s a good (and cheap) catch-all primer. Add 2 to 3 layers of mod podge, allowing it to dry between layers, before moving on to the paint.
Start by painting a solid ivory-colored base to the antlers using a paintbrush. You can use regular acrylic paints for this process, but I recommend having multiple shades of paint from ivory to a dark brown.
Next, rip up a sponge and use that to apply thin layers of the darker shades of paint. Streak and pat the paint on to create variation in the color and texture of the antlers. Deer have a wide range of antler colors from ivory to a more chocolate brown, so you can make your final antlers as dark or light as you want them to be.
Step 7: Test out the headband
Do not wait until the day of the convention to try the antlers on. Sometimes they require a little extra support to keep the headband from moving around on your head. You’ll want to test it out on your own head once the paint has dried.
If you’re wearing a wig with your costume, put it on first. Then, put on the antlers and shake your head gently from side to side to make sure they are staying upright and the headband isn’t slipping.
If you find your headband needs a little more support, pin down the ends with bobby pins or extra hair clips. Usually, pinning down the band right in the back of the ears will be enough to keep the headband secure. If necessary you can also sew or glue a mini comb to the top of the headband too so you can fasten it to your wig or hair more easily.