It’s pretty common for characters from all sorts of anime, comics, or games to be wearing jewelry that you just can’t find at a store. Sometimes the jewelry pieces have symbolism that has meaning to the character, and sometimes it’s iconic enough that you don’t want to replace it with a generic necklace, bracelet, or earring.
When you run into this predicament, it’s time to develop a new set of skills and make your own jewelry. The good news is, there are a number of different mediums you can use to make what you need, none of which are difficult to learn how to use.
In this article, I’ll go over three different materials you can use to create custom jewelry and when you should use each one, depending on what you’re trying to make. Then I’ll go through some examples so you can understand how to apply the material to your own costume needs.
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Part 1: Polymer clay jewelry
Polymer clay is the easiest material to get started with for jewelry making. In fact, you might have used this same material for basic crafts when you were younger. This is a type of clay that you can mold as much as you want and then bake in the oven to harden the clay and finalize your piece of jewelry.
Polymer clay is also completely non-toxic, so you can use it indoors and around pets without worrying about anyone’s health. You can also work directly with your hands when sculpting or molding. Or use clay tools, that’s fine too.
When to use clay for cosplay jewelry
Polymer clay can be used for almost any kind of small jewelry piece. It is often used to create pendants, beads, hair clips, earrings, and keychains. Once the clay is heated and hardened, you can glue it to hair clips and pins, or drill holes on the clay to add it to an earring or necklace.
Clay is great if you need to make any complicated or organic shapes with your jewelry since you can easily mold it or create a texture on the surface of the clay. You can purchase polymer clay in a rainbow of colors to use for your props and jewelry, or you can get it in white and paint the finished piece (which is usually what I do). If you struggle to paint your props neatly, using the separate colors of polymer clay while molding can let you skip that process altogether.
You can use other types of clay for jewelry making too. I’ve used paper clay in the past. I have come to find that polymer clay works best for smaller pieces of jewelry since the end result is less fragile than other types of clay. However, if you are making large prop pieces, paper clay is the better option since it is much cheaper to get in larger amounts and it’s less fragile when it is dense.
How to use polymer clay to make custom shapes
The biggest advantage of polymer clay is that it can easily be molded into whatever shape you want. Using your hands and clay tools, you can design just about any small piece of jewelry that you need for your character’s costume.
To protect the table or surface you’re working on, I recommend placing a sheet of parchment paper (the kind you cook with) on the table. You can keep it from moving around or rolling pup by taping it around a piece of cardboard or a cutting board.
- Polymer clay
- Optional: polymer clay softener
- Acrylic paint (or you can use polymer clay in separate colors)
- Polymer finishing varnish
- Mold your jewelry piece. Use your hands or clay tools to help you mold the clay into the shape you want. Use reference pictures to help you. If the clay is too hard to work with, add some polymer clay softener to help it become more mold-able.
- Set your pieces on a baking sheet. If you need your polymer piece to stay in position, you can add wads of aluminum foil to keep it in place. Remember, once you bake it you can’t go back and change it, so you want to make sure nothing is dropping or messy looking before you place it in the oven.
- Bake the clay. The baking instructions might be slightly different depending on the brand of clay you have, so always check their instructions. In general, you’ll bake it at 275ºF for 30 minutes per every quarter-inch thick the piece is. So if you have a thicker half-inch piece, it will be in the oven for an hour, etc.
- Allow the clay to cool. After you remove the clay from the oven, allow it to cool before you handle it. This is the period where the clay is the most fragile, and you don’t want to risk breaking it.
- If you are painting the piece, prime it first. If you used different colored clay, you can skip to step 7. Otherwise, you want to use a basic primer (such as mod podge) to get the surface of the clay ready for painting.
- Paint your creation. Carefully paint your piece. You can use metallic paints if you want it to look more like metal jewelry.
- Apply finishing varnish. To get a nice, shiny, finished look, apply a layer of varnish on top. You can use mod podge if you want, but a varnish made for polymer clay will usually give you a better result.
How to use polymer clay with a silicone mold
You can also use polymer clay with molds. If you find a silicone (or plastic) mold in the shape you’re looking for, it’s easy to create the pieces you need for your costume. You can use these same molds for resin, which I’ll talk about in the next section.
- Polymer clay
- A silicone mold (it’s okay if it was meant for cooking, resin making, or any other purpose)
- Baby powder
- Silver paint (or whatever paint you want to use)
- Metal earring pieces
- Polymer finishing varnish
- Add a small amount of baby powder to the inside of your mold. This will ensure that the polymer clay does not stick to the inside of the mold.
- Squash your clay into the mold. Make sure to get the clay into all of the corners. Most silicone molds are bakeable, so you can bake the clay in the mold if you want to.
- Unless you are baking it in the mold, remove the clay and add any other details. If you just want to use the basic shape that the mold offers, you can bake it directly inside the mold. Just be sure that the silicone you’re using is heat-resistant and bakeable.
- Add any metal hooks or connectors for earrings, bracelets, etc. You can add metal jewelry studs or hooks before you bake the piece. Since polymer is baked at low temperatures, the metal will not melt in the oven.
- Bake your polymer clay. You’ll bake it at 275ºF for 30 minutes per every quarter-inch thick the piece is. If your clay piece is very thin, you can half the time it’s spending in the oven.
- Paint the clay. You can paint the clay silver, gold, pewter, or whatever color you want. Acrylic paints are perfectly safe to use with polymer clay. When you’re happy with the result add a varnish for a shiny finish.
Part 2: Making gems with resin
A lot of jewelry will have gems and jewels inlaid as part of the design. The good news is that you don’t have to go out and purchase expensive gemstones to recreate the costume piece. Instead, you can create fake gems using resin.
You make resin costume pieces by mixing the resin and then pouring it into a mold to sit for 24-48 hours. After this time the resin will have hardened and you’ll have a jewel for your costume. You can use silicone or plastic molds with resin (it’s okay if the mold was originally made for cooking), and you can find all manner of gemstone shapes to choose from, and some other shapes altogether.
However, it’s important to take safety precautions when using resin. It absolutely should not be ingested, but it can also be a skin irritant. You’ll want to use gloves when handling resin. Once it’s hardened, the resin is no longer toxic and can be handled safely.
When to use resin for cosplay jewelry
Resin actually has many purposes and can be used in molds to create replicas of just about anything. However, the most common usage for it in cosplay jewelry making will be for creating gemstones. You can then attach these gemstones to earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets, swords, shields, headdresses, and any other costume prop or cloth that you want.
Generally, you will make the resin pieces, then attach them to another jewelry base using glue. You can also drill a hole in the resin and use it as a bead or pendant.
How to make custom resin pieces
Resin has a limited amount of time that you can work with it before it starts to cure (or harden). This will be slightly different depending on the type of resin you purchase, but it should be labeled on the bottle or directions your resin comes with. Most of the time, you should expect a working time of about 30 minutes. To make sure you’re using your time wisely, make sure you have all of your supplies ready to go before you start mixing the resin.
You also need to pay attention to the temperature when working with resin. Ideally, you should work at a room temperature between 75ºF and 85ºF. At the very least keep the temperature above 65ºF, since the resin will not cure properly below this temperature. Working at lower temperatures (65º-75º) makes it more likely bubbles will form in your resin.
- Epoxy resin (clear finish)
- Resin hardener (this usually comes packaged together with resin)
- A silicone mold (it’s okay if it’s a cooking mold)
- Optional: Translucent resin dye (for colored gems)
- Optional: acrylic paint (for opaque gems, such as pearls)
- Disposable gloves
- Beakers and stirring sticks
- Place the bottles of resin and hardener in a warm bath for 30 minutes before starting. This is really only necessary if you’re working in a cooler than ideal environment. It will warm up the liquids so that they don’t bubble as much when you are mixing them together.
- Add an equal amount of resin and hardener to a beaker. Make sure you’re wearing a pair of disposable gloves so you don’t get anything onto your hands. Being exact is important for helping the resin to harden correctly, so use the measurement lines on the beaker to help you pour the correct amounts.
- Mix the two substances slowly and carefully for 5 minutes or until no streaks are remaining. Do not rush this, since that will cause extensive bubbles to form. Be patient and mix the two ingredients at a slow and steady pace.
- Add any desired color and continue to mix it carefully until the color is even throughout the resin mixture. You can create clear gems if you want to, but you can also add a few drops of dye or acrylic paint to color the gems. I used translucent resin dye and a pearlescent paint in my example.
- Carefully pour the resin into the silicone mold. Make sure the tip of the beaker is close to the mold when you pour. This will make fewer bubbles form during the pouring.
- Put the resin aside and let it sit for 24-48 hours (or follow the directions included with your resing product). Some products are quick-cure and will be ready sooner.
- After the resin has hardened, stretch the silicone and remove the gems. You can now glue the gems onto other pieces, or drill a hole in them to use as beads.
Do not put leftover resin down the drain. It could potentially cause a severe blockage. Instead, let the resin cure in the beaker overnight, then throw away the beaker or remove the hardened resin and clean out the beaker for reuse.
Part 3: EVA foam and ‘metal’ paint
EVA foam is a common, lightweight material that is used for all kinds of cosplay props. You can get big sheets of a flat, foam material. Then you’ll cut it and use heat to shape the EVA foam into three-dimensional shapes. Then all you need to do is paint the final product.
EVA foam is a toxic material when it’s being heated or sanded. So you want to take safety precautions to make sure you don’t inhale the fumes or dust. Stay in a well-ventilated area and wear a dust mask whenever you are heat forming or sanding the material.
- Tutorial: How to use EVA foam for cosplay
When to use EVA foam for cosplay jewelry
When it comes to jewelry, EVA foam is really useful for creating larger pieces of solid jewelry. Props such as large necklaces, metal-looking bracers, headdresses, large belt buckles, and so on. You can cut intricate patterns into EVA foam, or even create an engraved effect.
It used to be that EVA foam was not great for creating any kind of organic shape, like a three-dimensional carving. However, foam clay has recently been introduced to the cosplay world. It’s a little more difficult to work with than a standard clay (I find it is a little slimy), but if you’re patient, you can also mold custom shapes using foam clay. It will air dry to behave like a standard EVA foam material.
How to use EVA foam for jewelry
Using EVA foam is pretty simple. You just have to cut out the pieces, glue them together and heat up the foam to shape it into a three-dimensional shape. Then all you’ve got to do is paint it like any other prop.
- EVA foam (2mm or 4mm), you can also use craft foam
- A razor and sharpener
- Sandpaper or a rotary sanding tool (like a Dremel)
- A heatgun
- Contact cement or other adhesive
- Foam primer
- ‘Metal’ paint
- Create a template for your EVA foam costume piece. Draw out the design that you want the final piece of jewelry to match. Test to make sure it’s the correct size to fit around your neck, wrist, etc. with the paper before cutting the EVA foam.
- Trace the template onto your sheet of EVA foam and cut it out. Make sure to keep your razor sharp so that you can make straight edges. EVA foam is known for dulling razors very quickly, so I always keep a knife sharpener around.
- Add any additional decorations to the piece using contact cement. If you are adding EVA foam decorations or details, glue them onto your base piece. If you’re using contact cement, smear glue onto both pieces. Then wait 5 minutes for the glue to get tacky before pressing them together.
- Sand the edges as necessary. I like to use a Dremel for sanding since it goes much faster, but you can also use regular sanding paper.
- Use a heatgun to shape the costume piece. Wave a heatgun over the top of your piece until the plastic foam heats up. Then hold it in shape (over your wrist for a bracelet, around your neck for a necklace, etc.) until the plastic cools completely. Then it will hold its three-dimensional shape instead of lying flat.
- Prime and paint your EVA foam. Acrylic paints work perfectly fine, but you can use just about any kind of paint with EVA foam.