Because of their domed shape, pauldrons can be one of the more difficult pieces of armor until you understand the trick for creating curves. This tutorial will walk you through how to create basic shoulder guards. You can build upon the basic techniques here to create your own detailed cosplay pauldrons.
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- Flexible paper (like newspaper or a paper towel) or scrap fabric
- Paper and pencil
- Aluminum foil
- 4mm EVA foam (it can also work with 2mm or even 6mm foam if necessary)
- A sharp razor
- Contact cement
- Sandpaper or a rotary sanding tool (like a Dremel)
- Flexible Paint
- Optional: small brads (paper fasteners)
1. Create your pauldron pattern
The first step of any armor-making tutorial is to create a pattern you can use with your EVA foam. This is the same idea as creating a sewing pattern that you can use to construct garments.
To get the shape of the pauldrons right, I like to make a sample of my shoulder guards using aluminum foil. Simply crinkle the foil together until you make your intended pauldron shape. If you don’t want to do this, you can use your shoulder as a guide, but that will really only work if you want your shoulder guards to be fairly small and close-fitting to your shoulders.
With the basic shape of the pauldron made in foil, you can now use it to create your pattern for the EVA foam. Get your paper ready (or paper towel, or fabric scrap), because this is where you’re going to need it. Because the shoulder guards have a domed shape, we need to basically take out darts from the pattern pieces so they can fit together in a curve.
- Cover the top of the foil with the paper.
- Pinch out darts lengthwise along the pauldron until the paper sits flat around the foil.
- Mark where the darts are and trace around the edges of the foil piece.
- Remove the paper and flatten it out. Clean up the lines you’ve created.
- Cut out the paper pieces and tape them together to test the pattern design. I’ll usually trace it to a more rigid paper before testing the mock-up. The pieces should curve together to form the basic shape of the pauldrons.
Tip: Add tick marks along the seam to give you reference points when gluing the EVA foam together later. If the pauldrons aren’t symmetrical, you should also label the two pieces so you know which is the front half and which is the back half.
2. Cut out your pattern pieces
As long as your pattern looks okay, you can go ahead and cut out your pattern pieces from EVA foam. I prefer to use 4mm foam for pauldrons (and most armor pieces). However, you can use 2mm if that’s what you have available, or even 6mm if you want to create armor that is thicker and sturdier. 4mm tends to retain more flexibility than thicker foam, while also not being quite as flimsy as the 2mm.
Trace your pauldron pieces onto the foam. It’s best to use a marker or some kind of felt pen that won’t leave any indentations on the foam surface. When you cut the pieces out, cut on the inside of the marker lines you created.
Don’t forget to add any tick marks and labels that you included on the paper pattern pieces. Also, remember to flip over the pattern pieces when creating the shoulder guard for the opposite shoulder to create a mirrored version of the pauldrons.
When cutting your pattern pieces, be sure to use a sharp razor, or else you’ll end up with jagged edges. You will also probably want a knife sharpener available since EVA foam can dull the edge of a razor rather quickly.
3. Glue your pauldron pieces together
Now comes the part where you can put your pauldron pieces together to make them look like actual armor. I recommend using contact cement for this part. It gives a very good hold between the EVA foam pieces and won’t melt in the heat (like hot glue does).
To use contact cement, you will apply it to both edges that you’re gluing together. Then you wait five minutes or until the contact cement is a little tacky to the touch before pressing the edges together.
Starting on one end, press the two pauldron pieces together. Work your way along the seam, lining up the tick marks as you go until you finish with the other end. The contact cement should give a fairly good hold almost immediately, but it’s best to give the glue a few hours to dry before moving on to the next step.
Tip: inverting the curve of the pauldrons temporarily (turning it inside out) can help press the edges together.
4. Sand the seam and edges of your foam
After the contact cement on the shoulder guards has had a little time to dry, you’ll want to take a little time to sand the seam to smooth it out a little. You can use traditional sandpaper for this but that can take a really long time. I prefer to use a Dremel (electric sanding tool) since this makes the process take only a few minutes.
While you’re at it, you can also sand the sides of the pauldrons. This can help you correct any mistakes you might have made while cutting out the pattern pieces and give the EVA foam pauldrons a more finished look on the edges.
Safety tip: When sanding EVA foam wear a dust mask and goggles to prevent yourself from inhaling the dust particles or getting them into your eyes. You should also stay in a well-ventilated area.
5. Heat-form your shoulder guards
Next, it’s time to fine-tune the shape of the pauldrons. You’ll get the general shape just by creating a good pattern in step 1. However, you will probably want to adjust it a little bit to perfect the shape of the armor. Maybe you want to get the point of the pauldrons to point up slightly, or maybe you want them to be slightly narrower.
You can easily make these tweaks to the shape with EVA foam if you use heat.
- Use a heatgun to heat up the EVA foam. You’ll notice the foam becomes a little less rigid when you do this. Almost like the foam is relaxing.
- Hold the foam in the shape you want it to be. So if you want the end to point upward, hold it there. You’ll want to hold it for about a minute, or until the foam cools down.
- As the foam cools, it will maintain its shape. So when you take your hands away, it will stay in the position you put it.
- Repeat as necessary. If you’re not happy with the result, you can reheat the shoulder guards and try again as many times as you want.
Safety tip: Always stay in a well-ventilated area when heating EVA foam. It gives off mildly toxic fumes (kind of like paint thinner does) when the foam gets hot. You may also want to wear a face mask, especially if you find yourself getting a headache. Avoid heating EVA foam around any pets.
6. Prime and paint the EVA foam
By now, your shoulder guards are more or less constructed. All you have to do is paint them and then add them to your costume. Before painting the pauldrons, it’s best to add 2-3 layers of primer. This will give the paint a better base to sit on.
Paint and primer that has a flexible finish are best to use with EVA foam. This way it won’t chip and crack as the foam pieces shift around. Good primers to use are Flexbond or Cosflex. For paints, I’ve used Liquitex and PlaidFX, but there are many other brands you can test out as well.
- Learn more about how to paint your armor to look like metal
- Learn more about painting EVA foam to look like leather
7. Attach the pauldrons to your costume
After the paint dries, all you have to do is attach it to your costume. There are any number of ways you can do this, so if you have your own ideas here, feel free to use them. Personally, I find Velcro to be the easiest solution.
You can get sheets of small Velcro dots (I recommend name-brand here since many off-brand Velcro dots don’t stick very well). Attach one side of the velcro to the pauldrons, and the other side to the costume underneath. In my case, I’m attaching it to the breastplate, but you can also attach it directly to the fabric of your costume, just be sure to use velcro that will adhere to the fabric.
7.5. making multi-layered pauldrons
Anime designs often have complicated pauldrons with multiple layers. You can use the same steps from this tutorial to create all the layers of your shoulder guards. At the end, you’ll attach them together to create the layers.
Depending on the design, you can simply glue the layers together to create your finished pauldrons. However, you can also attach the layers in a way that allows them to move a little with the movement of your arm. To do this, you’ll want to poke a hole through both layers in the place you want to attach them on both the front and back of the pauldrons. Then insert a brad paper fastener. This will let the two layers move a little independently from each other.