The easiest method for making your swords and other props look like metal is by using metallic acrylic paint. However, this doesn’t give you the most realistic effect, since there will always be brush strokes and surface texture even if you spend a lot of time sanding. Still, for most cosplay props, this looks good enough and it’s still my favorite method because of how easy the process is.
Other methods include using wax paints, which tend to give you a shinier end result. A more advanced method is to use metallic spray paints or metallic airbrush colors to create a more flawless metallic effect. The other way to create a metallic finish to your props is using metal tape, which can give you a pretty reflective finish, but is difficult to use on rounded surfaces.
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Prepping your prop for metal paint
If you really want your prop to look metallic, you need to create as smooth a surface as possible for your painting layers. This means you need to spend a lot of time sanding the surface of your prop until it’s completely smooth to the touch. The process of prepping your prop for the metallic finish is tedious and takes a very long time. You might want to binge your favorite anime while you do this.
The process for this is:
- Apply a layer of primer to your prop and wait for it to dry.
- Sand the entire surface of the prop.
- Repeat until you have a smooth surface to the prop (usually about 10 times).
You’ll want to use super-fine grit sandpaper to help you get as smooth a surface as possible. The higher the number of the grit for the sandpaper, the more it will help create a smooth surface. Somewhere around 500 grit is a good choice for sanding a surface to prep it for a metallic finish.
Do you really need to spend so much time sanding?
The correct way to approach metallic paint is to sand the surfaces of your prop until they are completely smooth. If you are the kind of person who cares about perfection, then you can’t skip the hours of sanding it takes.
But, let’s be honest, no one wants to do that much sanding. Personally, I am a ‘good enough’ kind of person. I’ll sand the surfaces and edges enough that they don’t look horrible and add a couple of layers of primer, but this is a step where I cut corners. Of course, this means the prop is not going to look like it’s actually metal, but it looks good enough to maintain the cosplay illusion in pictures.
As long as you’re okay with a prop that looks pretty-good-but-not-perfect, you can cut down on the amount of priming and sanding layers.
Method 1: Metal effect using acrylic paints (the easiest method)
By far, the easiest way to attain a metallic effect on your props is by simply using acrylic paints in metallic colors. You apply these with a paintbrush the same way you do with any other type of paint. The downside is that some paints are of higher quality than others and will give a better metallic effect. But, it’s hard to know which paint will be best for your purposes without testing them first.
When painting, you also want to make sure you use as smooth a brush as possible. By using a paintbrush at all, you will inevitably get some brush strokes, but the smoother the brush, the few brush strokes will show up on the surface.
There are so many different brands and colors you can use for your prop. Some metallic acrylic paints that I’ve tried include:
- PlaidFX Armor Metallic paint: I like the black metallic ‘gauntlet’ color a lot. The ‘chainmail’ color is good, but it’s a bit thin and requires a lot of layers.
- Folk Art Treasure: this is my go-to for gold metallic props. It has a nice shine and only needs 2-3 layers.
- Sargent Art Liquid Metal: This is my new favorite paint to use for any kind of blade. It is very shiny and reflective and does not require very many coats of paint.
- FolkArt Metallic paints: I’ve used ‘gunmetal gray,’ and while it’s not all that shiny I really like the effect for less reflective metal surfaces, like nuts and bolts. The ‘stirling silver’ color, however, I was not a fan of.
- DecoArt Sheen: I’ve used the ‘tin’ color and found that it looks good as faux silver.
Method 2: Metal effect using wax paints (for a shiny surface)
Wax paints (commonly known by the brand name Rub ‘n Buff) are similar to acrylic paints, but I included them as a separate category because you apply them differently. Overall, wax paints tend to give your prop a shinier surface, but you need to use a lot of layers if you want to use only metallic wax paint to color your prop. Wax paint does give off fumes, so make sure you stay in a well-ventilated area.
I will use them as an additional layer over acrylic metallic paint to give surfaces a little more texture and shine, instead of using just wax paint for metallic props. These paints can also help in weathering your props.
There are a couple of different techniques you can use to paint your prop with wax paint, but typically you will not use a regular paintbrush. The video above shows a technique where you can use a texturized chip brush with wax paint to add shine and texture to a cosplay prop.
You can also use a cloth to apply wax paint. You would use a smooth cloth (that doesn’t shed too many fibers) and buff the paint onto the surface of the prop in circular motions. You want to apply the paint in a thin layer, so a very small amount is enough to cover a large surface.
Method 3: Metal effect using spray paints or airbrushing (for a smooth metal finish)
Generally, you’ll be able to get the best finish by using metallic spray paints or airbrushing your final prop. This is the only way to completely avoid brush strokes during the painting process. It can also help you get a smooth, even layer of paint much more easily than you can with regular acrylic paints.
Admittedly, this is an area I don’t have much experience in. I’ve always gone old school and used a paintbrush. But, this seems to be the technique that all of the cosplayers with professional-looking metallic props choose to use. The video above from Punished Props Academy is an excellent tutorial to help you get a pretty much perfect metallic finish to your props.
Method 4: Metal effect using metallic tape (for a reflective surface)
If you want an almost mirror-like surface, paint can only get you so far. I’ve experimented with other types of materials, but the only one that I’ve found to work is metallic tape. This is basically aluminum foil tape with one adhesive side that you can apply to props. The metallic tape will really only work for surfaces that are more-or-less straight. So the blade of a sword or a flat shield could benefit from it.
However, metallic tape isn’t the easiest to use. If you get bubbles underneath the tape, they will be very visible on the surface because of the way it shines. So, you need to be careful to lay and press the tape completely flat in order to get the reflective surface you’re looking for.