How to Make a Custom Prop Template for Any Cosplay (without software)

how to make a prop template for cosplay

The starting point for (almost) all cosplay props is a template. This is especially important for any props you’ll be making out of EVA foam or Worbla. The template will act similar to a sewing pattern so you can have guidelines to get your final product looking right.

For some basic props, you’ll be able to buy a prop template that someone else has already created. However, if you need to make anything specific to your character or you want to make sure your prop or armor fits correctly, you’ll need to create your own custom prop template from scratch.

Many people will use computer software to help them create their templates. But, if you don’t have access to these tutorials then you are not out of luck. You can create a template for just about any shape that you need by using pencil and paper, an item you already own, or creating a mock-up with aluminum foil. You’ll choose the technique that’s right for you depending on what type of prop you are trying to make.

flat-ish objects that can be templated on paper
Items that are flat or follow a simple curve can be templated on plain paper. You can use a ruler to help you draw it or even print out an image and trace it.

1. Using paper for flat(ish) props

If your prop is flat or mostly flat, you can pretty easily create a template using just pencil and paper. This includes flat props with layered details, headdresses or shields that may have a slight curve, or even blocky weapons or staffs where the details are more-or-less flat and layered on top. To make the templates for this kind of prop, all you have to do is draw out the base shape. Then draw the details and cut them out. 

For this type of prop template, all you need is a paper and pencil. A ruler can come in handy too, to help you make straight lines and keep everything symmetrical.

  1. Find a reference image of your design. Try to find as clear a reference image as possible. If you can, find reference images of your prop at different angles.
  2. Determine the size and create guidelines. Determine how large you want your prop to be and prep your paper by making a basic box as guidelines. If you’re making a headdress you can measure the width and height of your own face to determine the size of your prop. Remember, you can always tape multiple pieces of paper together if one sheet is too small.
  3. Draw your image. Use a pencil and ruler to draw the prop within the guidelines you created. You’ll want to first draw the basic shape, then add the details that you’ll glue on top in layers. If you know how, you can also print out the reference image at the correct size and trace it.
  4. Trace the detail pieces. After you have the first image to your liking, trace it onto a second sheet. From there, you can cut out the details that you can layer onto your base piece.
  5. Label every piece. Make sure every piece you cut out is labeled so that you know where it goes on the base layer. It’s too easy for pieces to get mixed up and forget where they should go on the final project.
cut out the detailed layers of the flat design
You’ll want to have the base layer in addition to the details cut out to glue on top. Make sure to label everything.

2. Using your body for the template

If you are creating armor for your cosplay costume, you can make custom templates using your own body. You will use your own arm to make a template for bracers, or your own chest as a template for a breastplate. Depending on how much armor you need to make, you might need a friend to help you with this one.

For this tutorial, you will need plastic wrap, duct tape, a sharpie, scissors, and paper.

  1. Wrap yourself in plastic wrap. Wrap whatever area you are creating armor for in plastic wrap. Wear form-fitting clothing so the fabric doesn’t get in the way. If you’re doing your torso, you should get a friend to help so they can help create the pattern and cut you out when you’re finished.
  2. Add strips of duct tape. Do not wrap the duct tape around your body, instead add strips of the tape one at a time. This will make it easier to cut the duct tape off later, and it will prevent the pattern from being too tight on you.
  3. Draw seams. Mark seams along areas that have a significant curve. These are the places where you will cut so that you can more easily create the natural curves of your body. You should also use this opportunity to draw the general shape of the armor piece and add details.
  4. Add notches and label your pieces. Before cutting the pattern off, be sure to label all of the pieces and add notches along all of the lines. This will ensure you can add the pieces back together correctly.
  5. Cut off the plastic wrap and duct tape on the seam lines. Before cutting, it’s best to take a picture of the labels so that you can remember what piece goes where.
  6. Trace the pattern pieces onto plain paper and clean up the lines. Remember to transfer all the notches and labels.
creating a template for a boot cover
You can wrap an object in plastic wrap and duct tape to make a prop template from it.

3. Using a similar object as a base

If you are creating a pattern for an object that you find in everyday life, you can use that as a base for your pattern. For example, I wanted to create EVA foam boot covers, so I used a boot that I already had as a base for my pattern. 

For this tutorial, all you need is your base object, plastic wrap, duct tape, and paper. You’ll also want a sharpie and scissors.

  1. Find an item that’s similar to the cosplay prop you’re making. If it’s not exactly the same as the prop you want to make, you can create some quick adjustments to the object using aluminum foil.
  2. Cover the object in plastic wrap and strips of duct tape. 
  3. Draw seams onto the duct tape. You want to add seams anywhere that there is a significant curve or corner.
  4. Add notches and label all the pieces. Before cutting anything, take the time to add notches between the layers and label all of your pieces so you know how it goes back together later.
  5. Cut out the pieces of the pattern. Before cutting, I recommend taking a picture so that you can reference it when putting everything back together.
  6. Trace them onto plain paper. After you have all the pieces cut out, remove excess plastic wrap and trace them onto plain paper. Clean up the lines and make sure to transfer all the labels and notches to the paper pattern pieces.

creating a horn mock-up
You can create your own mock-up of just about any object by using aluminum foil. Then you can cover it with duct tape and create a pattern.

4. Creating your own mock-up

If you are trying to create an unusual shape that you can’t copy from an object you already have, you can create your own object to use as a mockup. For example, this is what you would do to create custom horns for your cosplay. For the most part, you will use this method to create the pattern for anything that’s an unusual shape and doesn’t go on your body.

For this technique, you will need aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and duct tape. You can also use fabric scraps or paper towels as filler if needed.

  1. Get aluminum foil and mold your desired shape. If you’re creating a large mockup, use old fabric scraps or paper towels in the center to build up volume. Before covering it with foil to get the fine-tuned shape.
  2. Cover your shape in plastic wrap and duct tape. 
  3. Draw on your seams. Make sure to draw a seam anywhere there is a curve or corner. This is where you will cut the pieces of the pattern.
  4. Label your pieces and add notches. Always remember to add notches and labels so that you will know how the pattern pieces combine later.
  5. Cut out your pieces. As always, take a picture of your pattern before you cut anything. This will give you a reference you can use when constructing your prop later.
  6. Trace them onto plain paper. Remove excess plastic wrap and trace your pattern pieces onto paper. This will give you flat pattern pieces to work with and trace onto your EVA foam or Worbla.

Why use EVA foam instead of the foil object you just created? In general, EVA foam props will be more durable than those made out of aluminum foil. You can also sand EVA foam, add details more easily, and duplicate the pattern pieces if you need to make more than one.

5. Using a sewing pattern

This is the method that is used least often since the fabric doesn’t behave the same way as EVA foam or Worbla. However, there are certain occasions when it makes sense to use a sewing pattern as your base. 

For example, if you want to create a hat out of EVA foam (such as a baseball cap or newsboy hat), you can often start with a sewing pattern, since the fabric is meant to be stiff in these cases. You might also use sewing patterns if you want to make something like an armored skirt that needs to look like a skirt but behave like armor.

To get started you will need to find a sewing pattern that is basically the same look you are going for. 

  1. Trace the sewing pattern onto plain paper.  Make sure you do not include any portion of the pattern that is used for a seam allowance (usually about ⅝ of an inch). 
  2. Create a mock-up of the design. I like to create a basic mockup using paper before creating the prop in EVA foam or Worbla. Cut out the pieces and tape them together for an idea of how this will look.
  3. Make any necessary adjustments. Sometimes the sewing pattern isn’t quite right, so you might have to make some little adjustments to your mockup.
  4. Take the pattern apart and retrace the new pieces. Once you’ve made any adjustments, take the mockup apart and retrace the pattern pieces with any new adjustments you made.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been cosplaying since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years, I've experimented with all different kinds of cosplay costumes, especially loving the process of creating props and styling wigs. I also delved into cosplay photography, and love exploring how to optimize costumes so they look excellent in photos. Most of the photos you find on this site were taken by me over my years at anime conventions.

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