Many cosplay costumes will require some form of mask to make them complete. Whether it be a superhero eye mask or the full mask of a youkai, you’ll want to learn how to customize and wear one of these masks.
My process for creating full-face masks and eye masks is very different, so I’ve separated this into two tutorials. The first will go over how to make a custom-fit superhero eye mask and it will include how to attach it to your face without elastic. Then I’ll go over the process for creating a full-face mask using cardboard and paper mache (no need to make a mold of your face).
Method 1: How to make a superhero mask (eye mask)
The best way to make a fitted superhero eye mask is to use EVA foam. You can heat-form foam so that it will bend around your nose and the contours of your face perfectly. Once you’re finished with the mask shape, you can attach it directly to your face with spirit gum or use elastic. This type of mask is pretty simple to make, so you’ll be able to do this pretty quickly even if you’ve never used EVA foam before.
- Tape measure
- 2mm EVA foam (or craft foam)
- Spirit gum
- eyeliner/eyeshadow (optional)
- Flex acrylic pain (optional)
- Measure the width of your face and your eyes. You want to measure the width that you want the mask to cover (for example, from temple to temple). Also, measure the height that you want your mask to cover.
- Measure the length of your eyes. You also want to take your tape measure and check the space between the inner corner of your eyes so that you can set the eye holes on your mask accurately.
- Make a rectangle and make marks for your eyes. Draw your design within the boundaries of the rectangle and eye marks.
- Cut the mask out of paper and make any necessary changes. I made my eye holes a bit too big, so I corrected the mask before cutting it out of my foam sheet.
- Cut your mask out of craft foam (or EVA foam). Trace your mask onto the 2mm foam sheet and cut it out using a sharp razor. Then, sand the edges if necessary.
- Heat-form your mask using a heatgun. Wave the heatgun over the front and back surfaces of your mask until it softens slightly. Then place the EVA foam against your face and hold it in place. As the foam cools down it will retain its shape, giving you a custom-fit eye mask.
- Prime and paint your mask. Now, all you have to do is paint your mask however you like. I recommend using a flexible paint to avoid the chance that the paint will crack over time since the foam remains flexible.
How to wear your superhero mask
Now that you have your mask, you may be wondering how to get it to stay on your face. You’re going to have to glue it, but don’t use just any glue. You’re going to need to use spirit gum, which is an adhesive that’s safe to use on skin and can easily be removed when you’re ready to take the mask off. Don’t put spirit gum on your eyebrows or in your hair, it can get stuck and painfully pull at the hairs.
If you don’t want to use an adhesive directly on your face, then you’ll need to attach the mask using elastic or strings that you can tie. Depending on your wig, you can sometimes hide the strings fairly easily, so it won’t detract from the costume. Alternatively, you can find clear elastic or use skin-tone paint to make the attachments stand out less.
The other step you might want to take when wearing your mask is coloring your eyelids and the area just under your eye to match the mask. In anime and cartoons, the mask will often be directly flush with the character’s eyes, leaving no skin between the eyes and the mask. Reality doesn’t work the same way, so to get the same effect you’ll need to use eyeliner, eyeshadow, facepaint, or a similar makeup product to cover the gaps and create the illusion of a mask going smoothly onto the eyes.
Method 2: How to make a full-face mask with cardboard and paper mache
Full-face masks are a little more difficult than simple eye masks. There are many, many ways of creating a full mask, but this is the method that’s the cheapest and does not require you to make a mold of your face. This method will not work for a mask that’s supposed to closely resemble a human face, but it’s great for youkai masks, kitsune masks, or as a base for a more intricate mask.
- Cardstock paper or thin cardboard (like a cereal box)
- Masking tape
- Newspaper or newsprint paper
- Paper mache (see below for various ways to make paper mache)
- Measure the length and width of your face. Create a rectangle with your measurements and then draw your mask shape inside.
- Cut the cardstock (or cardboard) into strips lengthwise. The strips should be about half an inch wide.
- Create the perimeter of the mask. Using your mask shape from step 1 as a guide, use your cardboard strips to create a perimeter for your mask. Use masking tape to connect them.
- Add cardboard strips across the length and width to get the shape of the mask. First, make the shape of the mask how you like it, then add more to fill in the gaps. In some areas, you will want to add the strips diagonally (rather than horizontally and vertically) to help the cardboard pieces remain flat.
- Add details with more cardstock and crumpled paper. If you have raised sections, ears, or other details that your mask needs (other than paint and holes) then now is the time to add them. You can tape down crumpled paper to make bumps, or form cardstock into new shapes and tape them to the mask.
- Prepare your paper mache. I used the flour method since this is the cheapest, but there are many ways of making paper mache. Glue is usually the most effective. Check below for different formulas to make paper mache.
- Add strips of newspaper dipped in the paper mache until you cover the entire front and back of the mask. Allow the paper mache to dry and then repeat the process 3-5 times. After the final layer is added, you can sand the mask if you want to.
- Add a few layers of primer. The primer will help seal the layers of paper mache and smooth out the surface.
- Cut the eye holes. Use a sharp razor to cut out the eye holes in any shape you want. You’ll need to cut through many layers of paper, so the holes may also need some sanding once you are finished.
- Draw out your design and paint the mask. Now you want to paint your mask however you want. I recommend adding a base layer of paint first and drawing the design in pencil before starting with the paint.
- Optional: add elastic to secure the mask. Now all you have to do is attach the mask to your head, wig, or costume. Gluing elastic to the inner edges of the mask is the easiest way to get this done, but you can also use hair clips, string, velcro, or other adhesive materials.
How to make paper mache
You can make paper mache using many different types of materials. Generally, you will be mixing water with a glue-like material to get a liquid that will smoothly harden and dry. You dip newspaper into the gluey liquid to paste layers onto your paper mache surface. Once the ingredients are mixed together, the paper mache shoes have a consistency that is thinner than glue, but thicker than water. The most common ways of creating paper mache include:
- Flour: Mix flour and hot water together until you have a thin paste-like consistency. You should use about equal amounts of flour and water, but I ended up adding a little more water to get the right consistency. This cannot be saved and reused another day, you’ll need to throw away any excess.
- PVA glue (such as Elmer’s craft glue): PVA glue should be added at about 1 cup of water to every 2 cups of glue. This can be sealed in an air-tight container and reused in the future. It also doesn’t leave a floury residue and has no risk of molding.