If you’re new to using EVA foam and making cosplay armor, arm guards are one of the easiest places to start. The shape and design for these are fairly simple, and you can easily make tests using paper before cutting into your foam.
This tutorial goes over the steps to make a basic arm bracer with an attached hand guard, but you can make your design as elegant and complex as you need to. The technique for making it is the same, you’ll just have extra pieces you need to glue together and more complex painting.
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- Paper and pencil
- 4mm EVA foam (it can also work with 2mm foam if necessary)
- A sharp razor
- Sandpaper or rotary sanding tool (like a Dremel)
- Acrylic paint (flexible paint is best)
- Brads (pronged paper fasteners)
- Hot glue and/or contact cement
1. Create your pattern pieces
The first step of any prop-making process is to make a pattern. This will give you the guidelines you need to make an arm guard that fits on your forearm without being way too big or too small to fit.
- Measure the length and width of your arm and hand. This will give you a basic idea of the dimensions you need for your arm guards.
- Draw your arm bracer shape. Using the measurements you took, draw out the basic shape of your bracer’s front, back, and hand guard on paper. Cut out your pieces on the fold so that they’re symmetrical
- Adjust the shape as necessary. Test the pieces of your arm guard to make sure they work. Decide where the hand plate will attach to the armguard. Make sure the underside of the bracer is short enough that it doesn’t cut off the movement at your elbow or wrist.
Always test your pattern pieces on paper before moving on to the next step. Cut it out and tape it together to see if the size and shape fit your arm the way you expect it to. If everything looks good, you can head over to step 2 where you will be cutting the pattern pieces out of EVA foam.
Tip: While you are making your pattern, you also need to keep in mind that EVA foam doesn’t stretch. You need to consider how you are going to get the arm guard on and over your hand. I chose to create an arm guard with front and back sections that connect with strips of elastic so I can stretch it over my arm. When you create your own design, you can also consider other methods such as velcro, a zipper, snaps, or eyelets that you tie together corset-style.
Since I’m using elastic, the front and back don’t meet up completely. However, if you choose to use velcro, for example, you will have to make sure there is some overlap between the sections so they can attach to each other.
2. Cut out your EVA foam pieces
Take your arm guard pattern pieces and trace them onto a sheet of EVA foam. I am using 4mm foam to create these bracers since this thickness is easy to mold, while still giving the armor some structure. You can also get away with using 2mm foam or potentially 6mm foam if that’s all you have available, but I prefer to use the 4mm for almost any kind of cosplay armor.
After tracing your pattern pieces, cut them out using a sharp razor. Remember to cut two mirrored sets, one for each arm. It’s a good idea to have a knife sharpener with you too, so you can give your razor a sharpening every few cuts. EVA foam tends to dull blades very quickly, and you start having ragged cuts.
If you are using elastic as a way to wear your arm bracers, you don’t need to worry about gluing the front and back together. If you’re using some other attachment method, make sure you only glue one edge of the arm bracers and leave the other open. If you forget, you’ll end up not being able to get the bracer over your hand to wear it.
3. Sand the edges of your foam pieces
If you’re happy with the way the edges of your foam pieces look, you can skip this step. I usually like to clean up the edges a little bit by sanding them down. This will clean up any mistakes I made when cutting the foam pieces and just give the whole edge a more finished look. I use a Dremel to make the process go quickly, but you can use plain old sandpaper if that’s what you have available.
Tip: When sanding EVA foam, always stay in a well-ventilated area, and wear a dust mask and goggles. You don’t want to breathe in the dust or get any into your eyes.
3.5. If you have layered foam pieces, glue everything together now
I’m just making a simple shape to show you the construction method, but you might be trying to make something that is a little more complicated or specific to the character. Any kind of border, design, or symbol you want to include on the bracers should be attached now.
I recommend using contact cement since it will not melt when we apply heat to the bracer in the next step. To use contact cement, add the adhesive to both sides that you’re attaching together. Then wait 5 minutes for the contact cement to get tacky before pressing the pieces together. It will usually have a fairly strong hold almost immediately.
4. Heat-form your foam pieces
Now it’s time to give your arm guards some shape. This is why EVA foam is used for making cosplay armor and props so often. You can heat the foam and bend it into shape. As the foam cools, it will stay in the new shape.
What you want to do is:
- Heat up one foam piece at a time with a heatgun. Slowly wave the heatgun over the surface of the foam on the front and back. Avoid pointing it at one place for too long so you don’t risk burning the foam.
- Then hold the armor piece curved over your arm until the foam cools. You may want to wear a shirt with a sleeve if you have sensitive skin. The foam usually isn’t hot enough to burn skin, but it can feel unpleasantly hot.
- When you let go of the foam, the piece should hold its new, curved shape. If you don’t like how it looks, you can reheat the foam piece and try again as many times as you want.
- Repeat the process with the rest of your EVA foam armor pieces.
Safety tip: EVA foam gives off mildly toxic fumes when heated. Always stay in a well-ventilated area when heat-forming your foam pieces and wear a face mask to keep yourself from inhaling the fumes. Once the foam has cooled it is no longer toxic.
5. Prime and paint
Now your arm guards are ready for paint. While not technically necessary, I highly recommend starting with a layer or two of primer. This preps the surface of the EVA foam and makes the paint adhere there, rather than being absorbed into it. Overall, you’ll use fewer layers of paint, and achieve a better-finished look.
I recommend Cosflex or Flexbond for painting EVA foam because these are flexible paints that are not likely to crack as the foam bends. I also recommend using flexible acrylic paint for the same reason. Brands that I’ve used and liked are Liquitex and PlaidFX, but there are also many other brands coming out with flex paints that I haven’t had a chance to try yet.
I’m pretty lazy when it comes to paint, and tend to ignore any parts of the costume that won’t be seen. So I only paint the top of the arm bracers and ignore the sides that will be face down on my skin. However, you do want to paint the edges of all your pieces, since they will still be visible.
- If you want to make the arm guards look metallic, check out my tips for faux metal paint
- If you want your arm bracers to have a leather-like look, check out my tutorial for faux leather paint
6. Connecting and wearing the arm bracer pieces
Now all that’s left to do is attach all the pieces and make your arm guard wear-able. First, we’ll attach the front to the back.
This part is pretty simple and straightforward. Cut 4 short pieces of elastic and glue them to the inside of the arm guard front and back pieces. I used hot glue for this part, but you can use whatever adhesive you like best.
I also added a thinner piece of elastic to the hand guard, so it can loop around my palm and stay put on the back of my hand.
Next, it’s time to attach the hand guard. I want to make the hand guard able to move when I turn my hand, so instead of gluing it, I’m using a brad paper fastener (you can paint them the same color as the armor if you don’t want it to stand out).
- Poke a hole in the arm and hand guard where you want them to attach.
- Insert the brad into the holes and separate the prongs on the back to hold it in place.
Test the hand guard to make sure it can move easily enough. If all is good, you can now try on your new hand bracers and test out some poses for your cosplay.