Making cosplay armor may seem like a daunting task when you first start out. And I’m not going to lie to you, cosplay armor is not easy. BUT you can figure it out. You do not have to be an elite cosplayer to try your hand at armor. With a little bit of time and practice, you’ll be able to make something amazing.
Most people will make cosplay armor out of EVA foam or Worbla. These materials are flexible enough to be glued together and curve around to create the shape of armor pieces without the need for any real metal. You can also use them to layer details and make your armor specific to your costume.
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What Do Cosplayers Use to Make Armor?
The most common materials that are used to make cosplay armor are EVA foam and Worbla. Both of these can be purchased in large sheets that you’ll cut into pieces and glue together. They can be molded to create curves using high heat.
EVA foam is a flexible, squishy material. It remains flexible even after you heat and shape it, but can still maintain the curved shapes that you’ll need for armor. In my opinion, EVA foam is a little bit easier to learn how to use than Worbla.
Worbla is a hard plastic that can be heated, molded, and cooled back down into a hard plastic. On its own, Worbla is a thin plastic that is not all that easy to keep flat and mold (it becomes almost clay-like when it’s heated). That’s why most cosplayers will use it in tandem with EVA foam or craft foam in order to give the Worbla more substance and shape.
Many people swear by Worbla as a miracle material that can do anything but prefer to use EVA foam because it’s a lot cheaper (about a third of the price of Worbla). The flexibility of EVA foam as a material is also a plus because that makes it more comfortable to wear. You won’t have hard plastic poking into you.
How much EVA foam or Worbla do you need?
For basic armor pieces, I recommend: (based on a medium-sized sheet of EVA foam)
- One 39” sheet of EVA foam for a pair of arm guards
- Two 39” sheets of EVA foam for a pair of leg guards
- Two 39” sheets of EVA foam for a breastplate
- One 39” sheet of EVA foam for a pair of hip guards
- Two 39” sheets of EVA foam for a simple helmet
- One 39” sheet of EVA foam for shoulder guards
Note: I am very short (5ft) so my estimates might be on the lower side. If you are a taller person, you may want to get a little extra
I have less experience in the amount of Worbla that you need for these armor pieces. It looks like a medium sheet of Worbla is about 29” long. Since the size is a little smaller, I would probably get about twice as many sheets of Worbla as the EVA foam.
Obviously, this depends on the complexity of the armor you’re making. If your armor is going to require a lot of details and covers the majority of your body, you’re going to need a lot more than my estimates above.
You also need to account for mistakes. If this is your first time using either EVA foam or Worbla, you may want to get an extra sheet to give yourself a chance to practice and make mistakes before making your finished cosplay.
What size EVA foam to get?
EVA foam comes in varying thicknesses when you purchase it in sheets. It can be as thin as 1mm or 10mm+ in thickness. The size you choose will depend entirely on what you’re using it for. Usually, props (like swords, staffs, shields, etc.) will require thicker EVA foam, while small details will use the thinner stuff.
For cosplay armor, I generally prefer to use 4mm EVA foam. 5mm or 6mm will also work well, especially if you have a thicker, sturdier design. 2mm foam can be used for adding details and overlaying design elements.
Other materials used to make cosplay armor
EVA foam and Worbla are the most common ways to make cosplay armor, but they are by no means the only ways. If you’re creative and resourceful, you can make armor from just about anything. For example, you can make cardboard armor, leather armor, or even 3D print your armor. It all depends on the skills, materials, and resources you have available.
Tutorials for different types of armor for cosplay
When you think about making armor for cosplay, the whole idea can seem overwhelming. You don’t even know where to start. I recommend breaking down the armor and thinking about it as its individual pieces.
Think of it in terms of a breastplate, arm guards, leg guards, pauldrons, and so on. It becomes much easier to plan and create many smaller parts. Start with some of the easier pieces (such as the arm guards) and work your way up to the more difficult parts of cosplay armor (like a helmet or chest plate).
Here’s a list of some simple tutorials to help get you started:
- Making arm bracers/arm guards
- Making leg armor and knee guards
- Making a chest plate
- Making a female chest plate
- Making hip plates
- Making pauldrons/shoulder guards
- Making a helmet
Part 1: Pattern making for armor pieces
One of the most important parts of making armor for cosplay is creating a pattern. This is the exact same idea as using a sewing pattern for your costume, but you’re using glue and EVA foam (or Worbla) instead of thread and fabric.
The difference is that you’ll probably be making the pattern yourself. You also won’t be able to easily make size adjustments after you put it together, so you want to make a pattern that fits so you don’t have to waste any material.
You can use your body to make the pattern for your armor pieces. If you’re making an arm bracer, for example, you would use your actual forearm, or your torso if you’re making a breastplate. In the links above, I go over how I made the pattern for each of the separate types of armor.
For simple pieces of armor (like the arm bracers), you can measure your arms and draw out your design on paper. Test the paper patterns against your arms and adjust the design until it fits right.
For more complicated armor pieces (like breastplates and helmets), the process is a little more involved:
- Start by wrapping yourself (use a wig head for a helmet) in plastic wrap. Cover yourself with strips of duct tape.
- Draw your design directly onto the duct tape.
- Cut it out and trace the pattern onto regular paper.
- Tape together a paper mock-up to make sure the design works as intended.
Where to find pre-made armor patterns for cosplay?
In some cases, you can find basic patterns to use with your EVA foam or Worbla. You can purchase patterns from other cosplayers (usually in PDF format), and print them out to use as a base for yourself.
One shop that I know of is Kamui Cosplay’s pattern store. She has some basic and some more complex designs that you can use to help make your cosplay armor.
However, when doing this, it’s important to remember that you still need to test the size of the pattern you buy. You’ll still probably have to adjust it slightly to make it bigger or smaller to fit you perfectly.
Part 2: Wearability (attaching cosplay armor to your costume)
Before you start putting your armor together, you really need to think about how you’re going to get it on your body. For example, are you going to velcro your arm bracers around your forearms, or use elastic to get them over your hands? Are you going to tie your breastplate on at the side and shoulder, or are you going to use elastic so you can slide it on over your head?
The method that you use for putting it on will help you determine how you’re putting your armor together. If you’re using velcro, you want to make sure there is some overlap between the two pieces. If you’re using elastic, you need to make sure the pieces are not glued together. If you’re using string to tie it closed, think about making holes that are reinforced.
Some examples of closures that you can use include:
- Corset-style with string
- Cord ties
You need to make sure you try the finished armor on before the day of the convention. Not only will this help you confirm that you can get the armor on, but it will also help you know more about your range of motion. Can you move your shoulders? Squat down? bend your elbows?
Part 3: Learning how to use EVA foam
EVA foam is a versatile material that can be cut, glued, and shaped to create your armor pieces. Once you understand how it works, the process is pretty simple, but it can take a little bit of practice to get right.
I recommend checking out TNT Cosplay Supply on youtube for a playlist with many tutorials for using EVA foam as a beginner.
I highly recommend using contact cement as your go-to adhesive with EVA foam. You can use super glue or hot glue if you want to, but contact cement gives a really good hold without melting in the heat or getting permanently stuck to your fingers.
If you’ve never used contact cement before, you should apply it to both edges that you are gluing together. Wait and let the cement glue become tacky for about 5 minutes. After that, you will attach the armor pieces together and it should have a strong hold almost immediately.
When you are gluing pattern pieces together:
- Apply contact cement to the two pieces.
- Line up the edges of the two pieces and press them together.
- Slowly push the two sides together along the seam. If you’ve created tick marks on your pattern pieces, you will line them up along the seam until you get to the other end.
- Continue the same process until you have attached all of the pieces.
If you want to glue layers of detail onto your cosplay armor, this is the time to do it. This includes anything from borders to dragon scales and 3-dimensional designs. You can also add textures to the surface of the foam or Worbla, engravings, or any other type of design you can think of.
It’s also important to sand all of the seams and edges of your armor pieces. This will help you get that smooth look that will help the armor look like actual armor. In general, I recommend using a rotary sanding tool for this part. Trust me, it makes the process go a lot faster.
Dremel is the most well-known brand of sanding tools. I use a Dremel Lite because it’s cordless. It takes a bit of practice, but it’s worth it once you get used to the tool. Try it out if you’re interested.
The idea of this step is to take your armor from being flat and lifeless to curving around your body and looking like actual armor.
- Use a heatgun and wave it over the surface of your glued armor piece.
- Keep the heatgun about 6-12 inches away and shift the heat over the surface for a few minutes. You’ll see a very slight change in the texture of the foam.
- Then you will hold it in your desired shape until it has cooled off.
- When you take your hands away, the armor will remain in its new curved shape.
Some people will recommend doing this step before gluing everything together, but for me, it has always worked better to wait until after the armor is more or less assembled. The heat shrinks the EVA foam a little bit and it can make some pieces slightly different sizes so they don’t fit together anymore. The thinner the EVA foam you’re working with, the more likely this is to happen.
Part 4: Painting
Painting is the final step in creating cosplay armor. You can paint the armor to look like metal, leather, wood, plastic, or anything you want. You can also use stencils or draw on designs and logos.
Some pieces of armor you can get away with not painting the underside, but others will have both the bottom and top visible. Hip plates, for example, will usually have some of the back portion visible and will need to be painted, whereas arm bracers can usually only be painted on top.
Painting tutorial to check out for your armor pieces:
Weather armor is not strictly necessary, but it can make the finished product look more realistic and professional. Weathering props can include anything from adding slash marks and dents that may have come from a blade hitting the armor to (fake) blood, dirt, and dust.
There is no one way to weather a prop correctly. It’s just a matter of experimenting with different techniques and finding the ones that tell the right story about your character and their clothing.
If your cosplay is an experienced warrior, wouldn’t they have armor that has evidence of battle? If your character is an archer wearing a leather chest piece, would their arm bracers show evidence of a taut string snapping against it? Use these kinds of stories to determine how to go about weathering your cosplay armor.
- More tips on how to weather your props and armor