Whether you want to make fairy, dragon, butterfly, or cartoon wings, there are countless methods for creating a structure that works with your cosplay. In this tutorial, you will learn three different ways to create wings for your costume using EVA foam, cellophane, or fabric. The method you choose will depend on the type of wings you need to make. I’ll also go over a few different methods for attaching the wings to your costume, so you can decide which one will suit your needs.
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Method 1: Simple foam wings
Simple foam wings are ideal for wing styles that don’t need to be see-through. In this tutorial, I’m specifically making shoujo-style wings, but you can also use this method to create opaque dragon wings or even textured angel wings.
Since EVA foam is lightweight, you can make large wings with this method. However, the more pins you will need to make sure they attach to your costume and sit correctly on your back.
This is a beginner-friendly method of creating wings. If you are creating a simple design, you can complete the tutorial within an hour. But of course, the more complex the details you’re adding are, the longer it will take to complete your wings.
Supplies you will need for this tutorial include:
- Paper and writing utensils
- EVA foam (4mm or 6mm plus more for details)
- Glue or contact cement
- A Heatgun
- Attachment pins
Step 1: Draw one wing
The first thing you want to do for pretty much any cosplay tutorial is to draw out your design on paper. You only need to draw one wing because you can simply flip the design over and trace it to create a perfectly symmetrical second wing.
Unless you are making very small wings, you’ll want to use a larger piece of paper for this, to make sure you are drawing the wing to scale. Or you can do what I did and just tape a few sheets of printer paper together to make a canvas size large enough for your wing design.
Cut out the final shape of the wing once you’ve finished drawing it. Hold it against your back and look in a mirror to make sure it’s the size and shape that you want.
You really only need the outline of the wing at this step, but I prefer to draw the details now too. This way you’ll have a good idea about what pieces you’ll need to cut out and add for details later on.
Step 2: cut out your wings
Now you want to cut out the basic shape of your wings from EVA foam. I recommend using a medium thickness of foam since that will help the wings maintain their shape and not flop around behind you. I used 6mm foam, but 4mm would also work well. If you are using craft foam, I recommend gluing two sheets together to double the thickness of your wing material.
- First, trace your wing onto the sheet of EVA foam using a sharpie.
- Flip the paper wing over and trace it for the second wing.
- Use a razor to cut out your wings. Remember to cut on the inside of the traced line since this will make the wings the same size as your original paper wing.
- Sharpen your razor after every cut. EVA foam dulls razor blades very quickly. To get smooth cuts and nice-looking edges, it’s best to use a knife sharpener frequently.
You can also use this time to cut out the details you want to add to your wings. I use a thinner foam (2mm) when adding extra layers to the wings. Remember, depending on your design, you might need to add your extra pieces to both sides of both wings. So, you’ll end up with two sets of details cut out on the right side and two sets cut out from the flipped-over pieces.
Step 3: Add details to your wings
Add your layers of detail to your wings. This will create a three-dimensional, textured surface that makes your wings look a lot more interesting. You can use pretty much any kind of glue to attach your decorations. If you are using contact cement or any kind of toxic glue, make sure to relocate to a well-ventilated area.
I also take this time to sand the wings. I’m not the neatest when it comes to cutting, so my edges tend to be sharper than I like. I use a Dremel with a sandpaper attachment to smooth out the sides and make everything look nice and even.
If you are using a material other than EVA foam for your decorations (such as felt feathers, fabric, or any kind of wire) wait until after you’ve heat-formed your foam to add them to the wings.
Step 4: Heat-form your wings and paint them
After the glue is dry, it’s time to give your wings a real three-dimensional shape. You can use heat to create a bend in your wings and make them look a little more interesting. Heat also helps to seal the EVA foam, making it easier to paint.
- Using a heatgun, heat your EVA foam until it bends easily.
- Hold your wing in a gentle curve or against a curved surface until the plastic has cooled down completely. If you don’t like how it looks, you can reheat the foam as many times as you need to and try again.
- Repeat with the second wing.
Heat-forming the wings is not strictly necessary, but I always think that shaped wings look more interesting and professional than wings that sit flat against your back.
After the wings are shaped the way you like them, you can go ahead and add your non-foam details and paint your wings. It’s a good idea to add one or two layers of primer before starting with the paint. I used Flexbond primer and regular acrylic paints to make my wings look a little more interesting.
Step 5: Attach the wings to your costume
Now that your wings are finished, it’s time to attach them to your costume. I used two pins (the kind you would use for a brooch) on each wing so that they would stay upright on my back. If you have large wings, you might want to use three or more pins, or purchase a larger type to make the attachment more secure.
Method 2: Fabric wings
Fabric and wire are ideal for creating large wings with a closed shape. Butterfly or insect wings are good options. The idea is to create your desired shape with the wire, pull the fabric over it, and paint your design on the fabric.
This is a little bit more difficult than the first method of creating wings since wire can easily bend out of shape. But this is still a fairly easy method for creating visually interesting wings.
Supplies you will need for this tutorial:
- Paper and writing utensils
- 9 gauge wire
- Pantyhose or your fabric of choice (transparent or stretch fabrics will give you the best results)
- Needle and thread
- Duct tape or electric tape
- Ribbon or elastic
Step 1: Draw your design
As always, the first step is to draw out the shape you want to create for your wings. As long as you plan to have symmetrical wings, you only need to draw one side of them. You’ll be able to use the same design when shaping the wire for both sides. Make sure the wings drawing is to-scale so you don’t have to try to resize it later.
When drawing your design, make sure you are making a closed structure. This means you want the wire to connect back with itself, leaving no open spaces. You can, however, create more than one close wing design, such as the two loops for the butterfly wings.
Step 2: Create your wire outline
Now it’s time to create the basic shape of the wings using wire. I recommend using a 9 gauge wire since this is strong enough to hold its shape. You might be able to use 12 gauge wire if you are making smaller wings. For wire, the lower number means it’s a thicker wire and stronger than higher numbers.
- Measure the outline of each closed wing structure. I use a measuring tape to slowly go along the outline of my wing shapes to get an accurate measurement. For my butterfly wings, since there are two sections on each wing, I measure each separately.
- Add about five or six inches to each of your measurements and cut the wire. You’ll want two wires for each length so you can have symmetrical right and left wings.
- Carefully bend and shape your wire along the outline of the design that you made. You should have a couple of inches of wire leftover on either end of the design. Twist those together to close the wing shape.
If you are making butterfly wings, like me, you’ll be left with four separate wing shapes. Two for the upper part of the wings, and two for the bottom part.
Step 3: Add your fabric
The process of adding fabric to your wing shape will be slightly different depending on the type of fabric you use. The easiest way to approach this is to use a pair of tights or pantyhose:
- Stretch one leg of the pantyhose all the way around one of your wing shapes. Cut off the excess fabric. The shape might collapse a little bit, but don’t worry! You can fix that easily once you get the fabric over top.
- Sew the cut end of the tights back together and stretch them over the next section of the wings. Make sure to use a zig-zag stitch when you sew up the tights so that the thread will stretch with the fabric.
- Repeat with the second pantyhose leg on the left-side wings.
- Sew the open ends of the fabric around the twisted wire. I wrap the open end of the fabric around the wire and then sew it shut to keep the fabric in place.
If you want to use a different kind of material, you can also cut out the wing shapes in the fabric. You’ll want two pieces for each wing shape. Sew them together, leaving one edge open so you can put the wire inside. Then sew it shut. You should be left with four wire wings with fabric.
Step 4: Add decorations and details
Since I decided to use fancy tights that already had a cool-looking design, I didn’t add any extra decorations. However, you can use this time to decorate and add as many details as you want.
If you are painting the material, I recommend using fabric paint. I know Jacquard is known for its line of quality paints to use on fabrics. It’s also a good idea to test the paint on some scrap fabric first. You want to make sure it’s not going to cause a lot of bleeding on your wings and mess up the design.
Step 5: Attach the wings together
After you are satisfied with the look of your wings and everything is dry, it’s time to put it all together. We’ll also add a harness to the wings so that you can wear them or attach them to your costume.
- Take one wing bottom and one wing top. Position the two pieces how you want them to look, then twist the wire ends together. Repeat with the left wing pieces.
- Now take both the right and the left wing and twist the wires together again. This will be a little difficult since the wires should be pretty thick from having so many pieces in the twist.
- Take some duct tape or electrical tape and wrap it around your center wire piece. This will keep the ugly twisted wire from showing in your final design, and it will cover the ends of the wires and keep them from poking into your back.
- Cut two pieces of ribbon or elastic and tie them around the center of your wing structure. Then create loops in the elastic or tie the ribbon around your arms to hold your wings in place.
Method 3: Cellophane wings
Making cellophane wings is slightly more difficult than the previous two methods, but it’s still doable for the determined beginner. This method created a shining, see-through wing that looks more ephemeral. It’s best used for open wing structures, such as fairy wings or dragon wings.
Supplies you will need for this tutorial:
- Paper and writing utensils
- 9 gauge and 12 gauge wire
- Duct tape or electrical tape
- Spray adhesive
- Hot glue
- Candle, match, or incense stick (optional)
- Paint and sealer (optional)
Step 1: Draw your design
Again, the first step is to draw out your design. Tape as much paper together as you need to get the size you want, but remember, the larger your wings are, the less likely the wire will hold its shape. If you want very large wings, you’ll want to go with a thicker and sturdier wire.
When drawing out your design, make sure to include the top edge of the wing along with any additional designs or veins that you want to show up within the wing structure.
Step 2: Create your wire outline
For the top structure that holds the shape of your wings, I recommend using a 9 gauge wire. For the veins and details, I used a smaller 12 gauge wire since this part doesn’t have to support the wing structure at all.
- Pull the wire off the spool and shape it against the drawn wing shape. Don’t cut the wire yet.
- Add an additional five or six inches to create a gap between your first wing and the second one. Still don’t cut it. You’re creating the two wings in one single piece so that they will stay upright more easily.
- Flip the wire over and shape it against your drawing to make the top of the second wing. Now you can cut the wire.
- Use the thinner wire to create the veins or decorations inside your wings. Give each vein piece about two inches extra. Use duct tape or electrical tape to connect the small wire to your larger structure. Repeat for every additional vein or decoration.
- Wrap the remainder of the main wing structure with tape. This is mainly to give it a more uniform look.
Step 3: Adhere cellophane to the wing base
Here is the part that gets a little bit tricky. You’re going to need to sandwich your wire wing structure between two pieces of cellophane while creating as few bubbles as possible.
You can get cellophane or cello-wrap in many different colors at a craft store, or just use clear cellophane wrap. The end result will not be a crystal clear wing, but instead, it will have a somewhat foggy or sparkling appearance.
To attach the cellophane to the wings:
- Cover the floor. Use cardboard or plastic bags to protect the floor. You’re going to use a spray-on adhesive to glue your wings together.
- Place a sheet of cellophane on your working surface. Keep the sheet as flat as possible (I used fabric weights to prevent it from rolling up). Make sure it’s large enough to cover your wings.
- Spray glue on the cellophane and press your wing structure on top. Press all of the veins onto the cellophane and add more glue if they aren’t sticking. Wait for the glue to dry.
- Spray glue over the cellophane and wings, then take the rest of your cellophane roll and slowly unroll it on top. You want to sandwich the wire wings in between the two layers of cellophane.
- Press the cellophane down around the wire. Try to avoid making bubbles as much as possible. Wait a few minutes for the glue to dry before moving the wings.
Step 4: Clean up the edges of the wings
Now you have two big sheets of cellophane on your wire wings, it’s not very pretty. So, we have to trim the cellophane to make it look like the wings we want.
- Cut the open ends of the wings according to your design. In my case, I’m making bat-like wings, so I’m mimicking the webbing between the wire veins. You can trace your original design onto the cellophane first to make sure you cut it accurately.
- Cut about a quarter to a half-inch away from the upper seam along the main wire. If you cut too closely, the cellophane will split and it might start to peel apart.
- Use hot glue to slowly fold the top edge of the cellophane down over the wing structure. The hot glue will melt the edge of the cellophane as you go. Be careful, I burned my finger doing this part so you might have to use a toothpick to keep you from having to touch the hot glue.
Step 5: Decorate the wings
Now that your basic wings are finished, you can go ahead and decorate as much as you want. What you do here will depend entirely on the look you’re going for. If you’re happy with how your wings look, you can skip this step altogether.
You can easily burn holes in the cellophane to create a weather-worn or fantasy-style look. light a match, candle, or incense stick and place it underneath an area of the cellophane you want to put a hole in. As the heat gets close, the cellophane will melt and eventually form a hole. You can increase the size of the hole or create rough, ragged edges on your wings. I recommend practicing on a scrap piece of cellophane first so you don’t mess up your wings.
You can also paint on cellophane. But remember, unless you are using translucent paint, this is going to create opaque areas on the wings. You’ll need to use a layer of finishing paint on top to prevent the acrylic paint from rubbing off of the cellophane. It can create a cool effect, but it might not be what you’re looking for.
If you want to color the cellophane but keep it see-through, try using alcohol-based markers. I recommend testing it on a scrap piece of cellophane first to make sure the effect is what you’re looking for.
Step 6: Create the wing harness
For these wings, I created a harness that can be tucked down the back of your shirt or dress. You can also choose to attach ribbon or elastic and attach it that way, like I did for the fabric butterfly wings.
- Cut a 12-inch length of 9 gauge wire. It doesn’t have to be exact.
- Form a deep ‘U’ shape and attach it to the middle of your wings. Twist the wires tightly together so that the wings don’t droop.
- Cover the wires in duct tape or electric tape. This will prevent the pointy wire ends from scratching up your back.