EVA foam is an excellent material to use for making all kinds of cosplay props. However, when heated or sanded, EVA foam releases toxic fumes and dust, so you need to stay in a well-ventilated space, away from pets, to use it. If you live in a small apartment, that’s not always possible, so you’ll need to come up with other alternatives when making your costume pieces.
When making cosplay props, the most common alternatives to EVA foam are Worbla, cardboard, styrofoam, and paper clay. These are all non-toxic alternatives you can choose from depending on your budget and the final prop you are trying to make.
I’ll go over some of the reasons EVA foam might not be the right material for you to use, and which materials to use instead.
- Related reading: How to choose what material to use for cosplay prop construction?
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Why EVA foam might not be right for you
EVA foam is one of the most commonly used materials for making cosplay props and armor. It has many uses, is easy to order online, and you can easily create large, lightweight items. It can also be carved and painted to replicate many different types of surfaces.
However, EVA foam does have some downsides that may mean it’s not the ideal material for you or your project:
- It’s toxic. EVA foam gives off toxic fumes when it’s heated, and you don’t want to inhale the foam dust when it’s being sanded. Because of this, you need to work in a well-ventilated area any time you’re using EVA foam, which is not possible for everyone.
- It’s not moldable. If you’re trying to make complex organic shapes, EVA foam is not the best choice. Foam clay (which tries into an EVA foam-like material) exists, but it’s much harder to use than actual clay or other clay-like materials.
- It’s not cheap. EVA foam is not the most expensive material, but if you’re making large and intricate props, the price can add up. You can get cheap EVA foam, but typically this will be a lower quality that’s more likely to fall apart.
Alternatives to EVA foam
If you don’t want to use EVA foam, there are other options for you. Depending on the type of prop you are creating and your overall budget, you can choose a different material to use that has the qualities you need.
Worbla is the construction material that is most similar to EVA foam. It’s often used to make armor and large props. Like EVA foam, Worbla is heated and then bent into the desired shape. As it cools, Worbla will become a hard plastic and keep its shape.
However, Worbla is actually more versatile than EVA foam. When it’s hot, Worbla can be molded just like clay. It will also adhere to itself, so you don’t need any heavy-duty or toxic glues. Worbla itself is completely non-toxic even when heated, so it’s safe to use indoors.
Unfortunately, Worbla is probably the most expensive material that is regularly used in cosplay construction. So if your budget is what’s preventing you from getting EVA foam, then Worbla is out of the question too. A sheet of Worbla is typically two to three times the price of a similarly sized sheet of EVA foam.
- Read more: Worbla for Beginners
Many people overlook cardboard because they see it as a cheap-looking and flimsy material. However, if you reinforce it and spend time on the painting and details, you can make some pretty intricate props using cardboard. You can layer pieces of cardboard to create thicker, sturdier props. Then make sure to use a primer (like Mod Podge) before painting it, so the paint doesn’t get soaked into the surface of the cardboard.
The upsides to cardboard are, of course, that it’s pretty much free and it’s a non-toxic material that can be used indoors with no problem. On the other hand, cardboard cannot easily be bent to create curved shapes, so you are limited in the types of props you can create. Cardboard creations are usually less durable over the long term than EVA foam too. It might serve you well for a convention or two, but the cardboard will inevitably wear down over time.
Paper clay is a lightweight, non-toxic clay that air dries (it doesn’t need to be baked). It’s more fragile than EVA foam but usually holds up pretty well as long as you don’t drop the pieces. Paper clay is a completely moldable, non-toxic material that is very beginner-friendly. After it dries, you can reapply water, continue to mold it, and correct any mistakes. It’s great for creating organic shapes (like tree bark and horns) but will require a lot of sanding if you want a smooth surface.
Paper clay is great to use for smaller props, but using solid paper clay for anything large will quickly become quite heavy. Instead, I recommend creating the base of your prop with a lightweight material (like aluminum foil or styrofoam) and then covering that with an outer layer of paper clay so that you can still mold it and sand it as desired.
Paper clay is pretty cheap if you want to buy it, but you can also make paper clay from scratch at home if you are on a very tight budget. Combine hot water and shredded paper and leave it overnight. Then stick it in a blender to create a paper pulp. After that, you’ll add flour and mix it together until you get a clay-like texture.
I’ve used styrofoam as the base of many different props to create large shapes. You can get styrofoam that’s already formed into shapes (like cones or large spheres) or you can get big slabs of styrofoam and carve out your shape. Styrofoam is great for creating very large props because of how lightweight it is. However, it’s a lot more difficult to carve and cut into without creating ragged edges.
If you plan on using styrofoam a lot, you can get heat tools to make cutting it easier. But, like EVA foam, styrofoam releases toxic fumes when heated, so you want to make sure you stay in a well-ventilated area whenever you’re using heated cutting tools.
If you’re looking to create armor for your cosplay, EVA foam and Worbla are not your only two choices. Instead, you can use fabric. Faux leather materials are usually relatively cheap and they can be used to create the appearance of simple bracers and breastplates. You can even combine it with paper inserts or wire to create more complicated props and armor pieces. If you’re much better at understanding fabric than other types of construction material, this might be the right choice for you.