You go to a convention and see all amazing cosplayers everywhere. Most of these cosplayers have spent years developing their craft and learning how to create their intricate costumes. The only way to really reach the same level is by gaining experience creating costumes and finessing your skills. However, there is still a lot you can do in the short term to quickly level up your cosplay appearance.
In general, the quickest way to improve your cosplay is by paying attention to the details. By making sure your posture is good, your wig is neatly styled, and your costume is ironed, you will immediately look more put together and you’ll stand out at a convention.
Of course, you can also learn new techniques and gain experience to level up your cosplay skills as well. Getting better at cosplay comes down to a mixture of learning new skills and becoming more detail-oriented in the skills that you already know.
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1. Finishing touches are important
The number one, most important way you can make your cosplay look good and professional at a convention is by paying attention to the finished touches. This means you’re taking the time to iron your costume before you wear it (very important!) and using a lint roller to remove any pet fur.
You also want to pay attention to the way you finish your wig, makeup, and even your props. Use hair gel or spray to keep any flyaways from ruining your perfect wig look, and use a matte translucent powder to finish your makeup and prevent smudging. Adding a finishing glaze over your props can give them a more professional look while also preventing the paint from chipping.
2. Custom fit your costume
Whether you are purchasing your costume or creating it from scratch, you’ll want to take the time to make sure your cosplay has the perfect fit. Even if you purchase your costumes from commissioners or online shops, providing custom measurements can help you get a perfectly fitted costume. Alternatively, you can get a standard size and make alterations to make the costume fit better.
The same thing can be said when you create a costume using a pattern. The pieces provided in the pattern will be sized according to the guidelines on the package. If those don’t line up with your measurements, don’t be afraid to adjust the pieces you cut to make them work perfectly for your body.
3. Avoid anything shiny
Shiny fabrics and wigs will often end up looking cheap when you’re in the bright sun or flash photography. High-quality wigs will have a dull shine that mimics natural hair, unlike cheap wigs that have a plastic-like reflection.
The same goes for many cheap, polyester fabrics. Once you get them under the light, it just looks like plastic clothing. When you purchase materials, take a picture with the flash so that you can see how the fabric will react.
You also want to be careful with makeup. While it’s common for people to wear everyday makeup with a slightly shiny, dewy look, this does not translate well to photography. Glowing or glittering makeup will often make you look sweaty in photos. Instead, try to wear makeup with a matte finish.
The only exception is for props. Anything that is meant to look metallic (such as swords) or includes gems will look great with some shine to it. In these cases, you’ll want to find special paints and finishes that give the type of glowing or sharp reflection that mimics the shine of a blade or gemstone.
4. Wear shapewear undergarments
Shapewear undergarments are made to help create smooth curves under your costume. They’re especially useful when wearing any kind of tight superhero suit, but overall, they can also create a more professional appearance while you are wearing the costume.
Dance tights are also an addition to your costume that can add to a perfect overall look. Not only do they smooth out the color and shape of your legs, but tights will also help keep knee-high socks from falling down and prevent you from chafing in the summer.
5. Touch up your costume and makeup before photos
Instead of doing your makeup at the beginning of the day and forgetting about it, make sure to bring products for basic touch-ups throughout the day. Keeping your lipstick, foundation, and finishing powder on hand can be important for freshening your look before a photoshoot.
I also recommend carrying some blotting paper with you if you are cosplaying in the summer. Hot weather can quickly make your skin oily and sweaty, so quickly blotting it off before a photoshoot will help to keep your appearance matte and clean.
6. Practice posing and facial expressions
Have you ever been at a complete loss for what pose to do when you’re asked for a photo? You can easily prepare for this dilemma ahead of time by practicing at home. It might seem silly to stand in front of the mirror and make faces at yourself or stand in weird poses, but it will help you look so much better in photos.
Make sure to practice with your cosplay on too. Sometimes the costumes we make end up limiting our range of motion. If you squat too far, you might rip your pants, or maybe your pauldrons make it impossible to lift your arms all the way. Wearing your costume while practicing poses will help you choose positions that will work with your costume and show off all of your hard work.
Facial expressions are also important. You usually need to exaggerate faces to make them read better in photography. Of course, if you go too far it will look weird or comical. So, make sure to practice in the mirror so you can easily use facial expressions that are just right for your character.
7. Be comfortable in your costume
One of the secret ways to immediately make your costume look better is to make sure you feel comfortable in it. Being comfortable in your costume will make you feel more confident and it won’t drain your energy throughout the day. You’ll stand with better posture, and you won’t look tired, strained, or miserable in all of your photos.
This means paying attention to your footwear or bringing flats to change into. It also means paying attention to the weather. Wearing a winter coat at a summer convention will make you feel exhausted faster than you think.
8. Always style your wig
Even if your character’s hair is simple, it’s always a good idea to give your wig some basic styling. You don’t need to style spikes or do any heavy styling, but cutting the bangs and using products to keep the wig fibers in place can do a lot to level up the look.
Most wigs come with bangs that are pretty long. They’ll fall to your nose and need to be side-swept just so you can see properly. You’ll need to cut the bangs and use a little bit of gel to style them the same way as your character. It’s also a good idea to use some hairspray or gel throughout the wig to prevent any flyaways and keep your wig looking neat all day long.
If it’s your first time styling hair, I know it can be a little intimidating. You’re afraid to mess up the wig by cutting it too much. If you’re really nervous, you can practice on a cheap wig first, but once you get started, you’ll realize that it’s not as scary as you think.
9. Learn about fabric
If you have the money to shell out, switching to higher-quality fabric can immediately improve the overall look of your next costume. Even if you can’t get the highest quality types of fabric, learning about how to use different materials and make them work for your costume can be an excellent way to increase your skills and experience.
You can learn which types of fabric to use for a more flowing look, and which types will be best for a more structured garment. You can also experiment with different patterned fabrics, and even brocade pieces (such as a waistcoat), to add contrast and make your costume more interesting.
10. Learn new skills
One of the best things that I started doing was following other cosplayers on youtube and social media who post tutorials. When they post a step-by-step guide, I like to watch it so that I can see how other people overcome the challenges of their cosplays even if I don’t plan on making the same thing. This is how I learn about new materials and new ways of working with materials I’ve used before.
This gives you the chance to learn from other people. You can see how they created similar projects and what types of tools and materials they use. You can feel a little more confident whenever you’re trying something new.
11. Plan ahead
Time management is one of the most valuable skills you can learn (in cosplay and in life). By taking the time to plan out your costume-making process, you can ensure that you’re not finishing your costume the night before a convention.
In the end, a rushed cosplay looks rushed. If you don’t plan ahead, you’ll be stuck with unfinished seams and you might have to glue pieces onto your costume or hold it together with safety pins.
Unfortunately, time management is deceptively difficult to master. Don’t feel upset if you try your best to plan only to run up against the convention deadline anyway. Learn from your experience this time, to try to plan better next time. A rule of thumb is to estimate how long you expect it to take you to complete a costume, then double that time. This will make sure you have enough time to plan for mistakes and unexpected life events and still get your cosplay finished.
12. Prime and set your makeup
When you first put your makeup on, it will look perfect. But if you don’t take the time to use a primer and setting powder (or finishing spray), you will find your makeup quickly fading and smudging throughout the day. Since conventions can be long and often very hot days, you need to do a little extra to make sure your makeup can survive the day looking as pristine in the evening as it did in the morning.
While there are many techniques out there for keeping makeup in place, the two most important that you can implement right away are using a primer and a setting powder. Use a primer before applying your makeup to help set up your skin. It basically makes your skin a blank canvas that makeup will more easily adhere to.
Once you are finished applying your makeup, use a translucent powder or setting spray to keep it in place. These will prevent smudges throughout the day, even if you touch your face.
13. Sand and prime your props
If you want to level up your props, the best thing to do is take the time to sand them. This will be necessary for pretty much all materials you use for prop creation (including EVA foam, worbla, clay, etc.). It takes a lot of time, but sanding props is well worth the effort you put into it.
The best way to approach this is to sand your prop, then apply a layer of primer. Then sand it again and apply another layer of primer. On the second layer of primer, water it down a little so that you can get a smooth surface.
You can use regular old sandpaper and work on your props by hand. However, I recently started using a rotary sanding tool (a Dremel Lite), and it makes the sanding process soo much easier and faster.
14. Avoid sweat spots
Some costumes are very white and very close to the skin. If it’s hot out, you’ll likely get embarrassing sweat spots in your armpits, under your chest, and on other areas of the costume. If your costume has sleeves, a tip that I was given is to attach panty-liners to the armpits of your garment. These will absorb all the sweat and prevent it from appearing on the outside of your costume.
The other thing to do is make sure you’re wearing undergarments. This means wearing an undershirt or camisole to cover your entire torso and prevent big sweat spots from forming. This is especially important if you’ll be in a skin-tight superhero suit, but even for other costumes, it’s usually a best practice.
15. Battle scars on your props and armor
If you want to bring your props to the next level, try adding some wear and tear to your swords and armor. Create small rips in leather breastplates and dings in swords and armor so that it looks like they could have been used.
When you paint the props, you’ll see that the paint pools in these areas to create an interesting effect. Instead of having a perfectly shining blade, you’ll see the small imperfections that immediately make the cosplay seem more elaborate.
16. Contour your makeup
This is a step I avoided for a very long time. To be honest, I didn’t really understand contouring and what it was supposed to do for your face. Once I started learning more about photography, however, I realized that contouring your face can do wonders for high-quality photographs.
In general, photography will make objects, including faces, appear a little flat. Shadows don’t appear as contrasted as they should, making faces look wide. Using contour to exaggerate the shadows on your face will prevent this from happening. Use it on the sides of your face, under your cheekbones, and on the sides of your nose to create a better effect in your photos.
17. Finish your garment edges
The edges of your garment might be the last thing you want to think about. It can be really annoying to go through and finish every single seam now that the costume is wearable. However, finished seams and garment edges can give a cosplay a more professional look.
To finish the garment, you want to make sure you iron all of the seams so that they lay flat. You also want to hem any edges and either roll the ends so you don’t see the fraying edge or use a fray check so you can prevent the fabric fibers from coming apart. It’s also a good idea to take this time to check all of the seams to make sure they are all secure and nothing is falling apart.
In many garments, you can add a lining to the inside so you don’t have to worry so much about unfinished edges. I will always do this with coats, and most light-colored fabrics that are partially see-through.
18. Make sure your wig stays on your head
I have a pretty small head. For the most part, wigs were meant for people with slightly larger heads than me, so I often found that they slipped and moved around on my head. Even if your head isn’t tiny like mine, any wig that’s got a ponytail or is heavy in the back will tend to slip backward on your head.
To prevent this, you’ll want to take the time to securely pin your wig in place. Start by adding some small combs to the front hairline of the wig so that they can catch onto the front of your hair. Then use bobby pins around the ear tabs to secure them over the front of your ears. After that, I will add 5-10 hairpins along the sides and back of the wig to make sure it stays securely in the same position.
19. Create fake battle scars with makeup
If you are cosplaying any kind of warrior, superhero, or soldier, you can add a little more personality by creating some fake battle scars with makeup. You could add a cut to the arm, or an old scar on their face to show how seasoned or tough the character is.
The easiest way to do this is by using rigid collodion. Draw a line on your skin with makeup and then cover it with a few layers of rigid collodion to quickly create an indented scar. For more detailed instructions on how to do this, check out my post on creating scars with makeup.
20. Make sure all attachments are hidden
Almost all costumes will need some kind of attachment to make them fit on your body and stay in place. Since we never see these attachments in anime or cartoons, it’s best to hide them. This means finding ways to use velcro, elastic, string, zippers, buttons, and more in ways that don’t detract from the rest of the costume.