Tutorial: Using Paper Clay for Cosplay Props

clay 101 for cosplay props

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Clay is my favorite type of material to use for my cosplay props. It’s a beginner-friendly material, and it’s fairly cheap compared to many alternatives. You also don’t need to work with a pattern like you do with most other cosplay prop materials. In general, clay is also the best type of material to create organic shapes and textures (such as wooden props, antlers, or anything from nature).

Clay is great for beginners because if you make a mistake, it’s very easy to squish everything up and try again. It’s not like materials that need to be cut and glued together. Most types of clay are also non-toxic, so you can use them indoors. It’s also a material that can be created as its own individual prop, or it can be molded on top of other materials.

There are many types of clay you can use for cosplay, but the three that I’ve had experience with are paper clay, foam clay, and polymer clay. Each of these will be used in different circumstances, depending on the type of prop you are creating.

Using paper clay for cosplay

Paper clay is one of my favorite materials to use for cosplay props (find it on Amazon). This kind of clay is great because it air dries, but you can also re-wet the clay to continue molding it. This means it’s great for any kind of structure that you’re building on top of another material that can’t be heated. It also means you’re not limited to just a few hours of working time and can work on molding your prop over the course of multiple days and weeks.

However, paper clay can be a little fragile. If you drop something made of paper clay, there is a good chance it will crack or break. It’s a little hardier than something like a ceramic dish, but you do want to make sure you’re careful with props made from paper clay.

Paper clay can be used for both small detailed props (like hair clips) and large props (such as staffs). If you use it for a large prop, I recommend creating a base shape with a filler material like styrofoam, cardboard, or aluminum foil. Then cover the base shape with a layer of paper clay so you can mold the details and easily paint it. This keeps the paper clay from becoming dense and heavy.

paper clay wand
Paper clay is especially useful for building on top of other materials, such as wooden dowels.

When to use paper clay

Paper clay is pretty versatile. You can use it for just about any kind of prop since it’s fairly lightweight and easy to use. In general, I would use paper clay when: 

  • When your prop is too large to fit in the oven. Any large prop that can’t be baked is a good option for paper clay.
  • When you need to build off of other types of materials. If you are building the head of a staff on a wooden pole or building off of a cardboard or styrofoam base, you can’t bake the prop. Paper clay can be used because it will air dry.
  • When you can’t finish the prop in less than 2-3 hours. Since you can add moisture to dried paper clay to make it moldable again, it’s ideal for making any kind of prop that will take multiple sessions to create.
paper clay staff
I used paper clay to mold the bird carving on the top of my staff for my cosplay. Underneath the clay is a base shape made out of aluminum foil.

How to use paper clay

All you really need to get started with paper clay is some water. When you take it out of the packaging, paper clay will be a little dehydrated and difficult to work with. You’ll want to wet your hands and knead the clay for a couple of minutes to get the water soaked through. Then you can begin molding it just like any kind of clay.

While you can do a lot with your hands, it is also helpful to have a set of clay tools available. You can use these to create detailed textures, roll the clay flat, smooth out the surface or add other details to the clay. Play around as much as you like until you find the tools that suit your purposes. The best part about paper clay is until you seal it with primer, you can always go back and redo anything you don’t like.

Using paper clay on top of a filler material. I often use paper clay on top of other materials, like styrofoam or aluminum foil. To do this, I will roll the clay out until it’s about ¼ inch thick, then drape it over the material that I used for the base shape. I’ll wrap the clay around the surface, molding as I go until it’s fully covered. Then I can mold any details on the surface of the clay.

Keeping the clay moist. If you need to continue working on paper clay props for multiple days, it’s best to leave a damp cloth over the top of the clay to keep it from drying out completely. It is still possible to give moisture to completely hardened paper clay and make it moldable again, but it takes a long time and a lot of water, so if you’ve got a project that requires more time, make sure to give the clay some basic moisture. If it’s small enough, you can even seal the clay in a container or ziplock bag to keep the moisture from leaking out.

The importance of priming your finished prop. After you’re happy with the shape of your clay, you need to let it dry completely and then prime it before painting. The primer will help to seal the surface of the clay so it won’t start to soak in moisture from humidity and paint. Adding 2-3 layers of primer can also help to add strength to the clay structure, making it a little let breakable.

How to make DIY paper clay

I will usually just buy paper clay to use for my props, however, it is possible to make your own at come (using paper!). If you need a budget-friendly clay to use, this is probably going to be the best option for you. Combine hot water and shredded paper and leave it overnight. Then stick it in a blender to create a paper pulp. After that, you’ll add flour and mix it together until you get a clay-like texture.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been cosplaying since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years, I've experimented with all different kinds of cosplay costumes, especially loving the process of creating props and styling wigs. I also delved into cosplay photography, and love exploring how to optimize costumes so they look excellent in photos. Most of the photos you find on this site were taken by me over my years at anime conventions.

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