Helmets are absolutely one of the most difficult pieces of armor to construct for a costume. Not only do you have to get the shape of the helmet right, but it also has to fit over your face (sometimes with a wig on), and the eye holes need to line up correctly.
There are many different techniques you can use to make a helmet. I like to use EVA foam as the material since it’s flexible enough to work with. I’ll go through the steps I took to create my helmet pattern and put it together. You can, of course, add as many details as you need to recreate your character design, but this walkthrough should help you understand the basic steps you need to take to get there.
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- A wig head
- Aluminum foil and plastic wrap
- Duct tape
- Paper and pencil
- 4mm EVA foam
- Sharp razor
- Contact cement
- Sandpaper or a rotary sanding tool (like a Dremel)
- Flexible paint
1. Bulk up your wig head
Before making a pattern for your helmet, you need to make an appropriate base that can act as a proxy for your head. You could just use a wig head for this, but most wig heads are quite a bit smaller than a person’s head. So you will need to add some volume to the cranium first.
I used aluminum foil to do this. I crumpled up pieces of foil and added it all around the wig head until it matched the size of my head. Measure the circumference of your head so you know how big to make the helmet. If you’ll be wearing a wig, make sure you take the bulk of that into account too.
2. Cover your wig head in plastic and duct tape
Now that your wig head is the right size, we can get ready to use it for the helmet pattern. Wrap the whole wig head in plastic wrap. Then add strips of duct tape all the way around the cranium. The plastic acts as a base for the duct tape to adhere to.
If you are making a helmet that includes a face shield, make sure to tape up the front of the wig head too. But if not, you only need the duct tape to cover the parts where the helmet will be.
3. Draw your helmet pattern
Use a sharpie to draw your helmet design directly onto the duct tape. It’s usually a good idea to start by making a line down the middle so you know where the center of the helmet will be.
Once you have the basic shape of the helmet, you’ll also need to add cutting lines. These will separate the helmet pattern into smaller pieces that you can curve together to create your final helmet. Generally, these lines will separate highly curved areas. You can also take cues from the design elements of the helmet you’re trying to recreate.
When drawing your helmet shape, it’s very important to think about the eye level. Since most wig heads are not the same size as people’s heads, the eye level tends to be higher up. Measure down from the top of your head to your eye level to mark that on the helmet pattern. This way you’ll actually be able to see out of the helmet when you’ve completed it.
You can also add pieces to the helmet that don’t curve around your head. For example, I’m adding a part of the face mask that goes straight in front of my face, so I added an extra piece of paper to the design in the front.
After you’re happy with your design, label all of your pieces. There are enough pieces in a helmet that you will get confused about what goes where if you don’t take the time to label them. I also recommend snapping a quick picture at various angles, so you remember how the helmet looks when it’s all put together. This will help you reconstruct it correctly.
When everything is finished, you can cut the helmet pattern off of your wig head.
4. Make a paper mock up
Before moving forward with your design, take the time to make a paper mock-up of the helmet. With this, you’ll have a better idea of how the helmet goes together, and you’ll confirm that the pattern does actually work.
First, trace all of your pattern pieces onto paper and clean up the lines. If you want your helmet to be symmetrical, you only need to trace the pieces from one half of the helmet. Pick whichever side looks better.
Tape all of the pieces together and test how the helmet looks. Does it curve around okay? Are the eyes at the right level? If everything looks okay, add tick mark lines between all of the pieces before you take them apart. This will help you put everything together more easily when you’re using EVA foam.
5. Cut out your helmet pieces from EVA foam
Now, it’s finally time to start on your actual helmet and cut the pieces out of EVA foam. I’m using 4mm EVA foam, but you can also use 6mm if you want something that’s a little thicker and sturdier.
Trace all of your pattern pieces onto the EVA foam with a sharpie. Don’t forget to include all the labels and tick marks you added in the previous steps, and remember to label which pieces are for the right side and which are left on the helmet.
When you finish tracing, make sure to cut the foam pieces on the inside of the lines. If not, the pieces will be a little larger than your original pattern and won’t match up correctly. I also recommend you use a very sharp razor and keep it sharpened throughout. EVA foam tends to dull the edge of a blade fairly quickly.
6. Glue your helmet together
Before gluing, I like to make sure all of my pieces are lined up and organized. This way I’ll know exactly which piece I need next, and won’t risk making a mistake in the construction.
Use contact cement to glue the helmet together. If you’ve never used contact cement before, you need to apply it to both edges that you’ll be attaching. Then give the adhesive 5 minutes to get tacky before pressing the two pieces together. Contact cement is great to use with EVA foam because it gives a very strong hold while also retaining some flexibility. It also doesn’t melt in the heat.
You can assemble the pieces in whatever order you like. I put the pieces from each side together, and then attached them to the center. Take it slow, and line up the tick marks as you go.
Once everything is glued together, wait a couple of hours before moving on to give the contact cement enough time to do its job.
7. Sand the seams and edges
When you’re ready, move on to sanding. You can use sandpaper for this, but it will go a lot faster if you get a Dremel instead. Practice on a spare piece of EVA foam before using a Dremel on your finished helmet.
When sanding, you want to smooth out the seams that you glued together as much as possible (unless you want them to be visible in the final design). You can also sand down the sides and edges of the helmet to correct any cutting or assembling mistakes. Sanding can also give the EVA foam a more finished look all around.
Safety tip: When sanding EVA foam or heating it, wear a dust mask and goggles to prevent yourself from inhaling fumes, breathing the dust particles, or getting them into your eyes. You should also stay in a well-ventilated area. Avoid sanding or heating EVA foam around any pets.
8. Heat-form your helmet
After sanding, you may want to take a minute to fine-tune the shape of your helmet. You might not need to, but a lot of the time, the helmet might seem a bit too wide and need a little help. You can also create flared design elements, like adding curves to the edges of the helmet.
You can heat up EVA foam and hold it in place when it’s hot. As the foam cools it will stay in the shape you’re holding it, making it possible to slightly adjust the shape as needed. To do this, you’ll want to use a heatgun:
- Heat up the EVA foam. You’ll notice the foam becomes a little less rigid when you do this. Avoid holding the heatgun in one place for too long, or you’ll risk burning the foam.
- Hold the heated foam in the shape you want. If you want a narrower helmet, press the sides in slightly. If you want the edges to flare, hold them in place.
- As the foam cools, it will stay in the shape you held it in. Keep holding it in place for a minute, or until the foam cools down. When you take your hands away, it will stay in the position you put it.
- Repeat the process as much as you want until you get your desired shape.
9. Prime, paint, and add any extra details.
Now is the time to add details to your helmet. You can add spikes, scales, logos, engravings, or any other design elements that your character’s costume requires.
When you’re ready, give your helmet a couple of layers of primer before painting it. This will seal the foam so that it doesn’t absorb the paint (so you’ll get more vibrant colors), and it will help to smooth out any imperfections on the helmet surface.
Since the EVA foam is still a little flexible, it’s best to use flex primer and paint to prevent chips and cracks. For primer, I recommend Cosflex or Flexbond. For paint, I’ve used Liquitex and PlaidFX and had good results with both.
- Learn more about how to make your helmet look metallic