You can use props of any kind to help your costume stand out within the crowd of cosplayers. One of the most common types of props that costumes call for is some form of shield. There are many different types of shields you can create, but the basic structure underneath can be created with cardboard or EVA foam.
I will go over two basic methods for creating a shield for your next cosplay. Cardboard shields are fairly easy and cheap and they are a great starting point for beginner prop-makers. However, if you need a domed shield, you’ll need to use the second method with EVA foam to give it that curved shape.
Whether you are trying to recreate the Hyrulean shield or just need something basic to go with your costume, you can use these methods and just change up the details to fit with your specific costume.
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Method 1: Flat Cardboard shield
If this is your first time making your own prop, this is the perfect place to start. This is a cheap and easy tutorial that can actually give you a pretty cool shield in the end that you can be proud of. Even though cardboard may seem too basic for cosplay, don’t underestimate how much you can do with a little bit of resourcefulness and paint.
- Pencil and paper
- A cardboard box
- A sharp razor or box cutter
- Hot glue
- Mod Podge (or another primer)
- Acrylic paint (wood colors, metallic, or whatever color you want)
- Craft foam
- Optional: Paper clay
- Optional: Centerpiece bobble
1. Make your shield design
Start by drawing out the shape and design of your shield. Make sure the whole thing is to-scale so that you can use this drawing to cut out your pieces of cardboard in the next step. Don’t forget to include any details you’ll want on the surface, such as a centerpiece, an outer ridge, or a design on the shield. If you want to create a completely symmetrical shield, I recommend drawing out one side and folding the paper in half when cutting it out so the second side will be the same exact shape.
You can make your shield in any shape you want, but in this example, I’ll be creating a Viking-style circular shield. To create a large circle, you can try to find something sufficiently large enough to trace. However, if that’s not possible:
- Mark the point on the paper that you want to be the center of your circle.
- Cut a length of string that is the length of the radius of your circle. (the radius is half of the width of the circle)
- Tie the piece of string to a pen or pencil.
- With the end of the string pressed against the center point, sweep the pencil around to create your circle.
2. Cut out your base shield
Once you’re happy with your design, it’s time to cut out the cardboard. If you want the shield to have a more or less smooth surface, try to find a cardboard box that is big enough to fit your entire design. If you don’t have anything available, you can always glue multiple pieces of cardboard together, but the crease where they are glued will be visible.
If you’re following along with what I’m doing and want to create the appearance of wooden planks making up the shield’s face, then there is a little extra step before you go ahead and cut out the shield base.
- Start by cutting slabs of cardboard. I used the cardboard flaps from the top of a small cardboard box for this.
- Then tape these cardboard slabs together until you have a big enough surface area to fit your shield. Only put the tape on the back of the shield so that it won’t show up on the front.
- Trace around your pattern over all of the cardboard pieces.
- Cut the shield shape from your cardboard slabs.
3. Make additive details
Remember all those details you drew onto your shield in step 1? Now it’s time to make those so you can glue them on top of your shield. Cut out those details so that you can trace them onto another piece of cardboard. Anything that’s fairly flat can be cut out of cardboard and glued onto the front of your shield base.
In my case, I traced the center circle and the outer rim. Because the outer rim was so large, I had to separate it into eight equal sections to glue around the outside of the shield. I also added some hot glue in between the cardboard slabs to help them stay together.
If your shield has any details that are not flat, you’ll have to use other tools and materials to help you create the best shape. For example, my shield has a large semi-sphere in the center plus a bunch of small bolts around the perimeter.
I found a large plastic ornament to use as the center part of the shield. Then use some clay in a silicone mold to create all of the bolts. You can be as creative and resourceful as you want when adding these extra details, but when in doubt I always turn to paper clay since it’s easy to mold into whatever shape I need.
4. Prime and paint
Before you paint the cardboard, you must add one or two layers of primer. If you don’t, the paint will end up sinking into the surface of the cardboard and it won’t dry the right color. A good all-purpose primer that I use for most non-flexible props is Mod Podge. Simply brush on a layer or two and let it dry before moving on to the acrylic paint.
Now it’s time to paint your shield. Depending on the paint you use, you will probably need to use two to three layers to have a solid color (light colors usually need more layers, while dark colors might be fine with just one). Once you’re finished painting, it’s a good idea to add a finishing layer of mod podge on top to prevent the paint from chipping.
I used metallic paint for the center and outline of the shield and multiple shades of brown for the wood-like paint. To get this effect:
- I started with the lightest shade of brown to create a solid-colored base.
- Then I used a sponge to streak a medium and dark brown layer on top, letting the paint dry between layers.
- Then I used the darkest color to paint over the cracks and edges of the shield
5. Add straps
Now your shield is basically done and all you need to do is add straps to the back so you can hold it easily. You can paint the back of the shield if you want to. I did not, because I only intend to take pictures with it from the front, but it would be a much nicer finish if you take the time to paint the back as well, totally up to you.
Adding the straps is pretty easy:
- Cut two strips of craft foam. You can paint these to look leather-like if you want to. Check out my tutorial for how to use foam for ‘leather’ straps.
- Use hot glue to attach them to the back of the shield. Make sure you can fit your arm through the strap before gluing it down.
- Staple the straps in place. For a little extra hold, I like to staple each end of the straps to the cardboard.
Method 2: Domed foam shield
For this tutorial, we will be heat-forming a flat disc of EVA foam into a domed shape (like the Captain America shield). If you’re unfamiliar with EVA foam, I recommend you take a couple of minutes to learn the basics before jumping in. It’s not difficult to use, but it will definitely be easier to understand this tutorial if you know how to use EVA foam, to begin with.
- A large sheet of 8mm EVA foam
- A razor and knife sharpener
- A large domed shape (trash can lid, saucer sled, exercise ball, very large bowl, etc.)
- A heatgun
- Flexible metallic paint
- Craft foam
1. Cut a large circle
Draw out a large circle and cut it out of the EVA foam. I recommend cutting it out of paper first so you can hold it up against you and make sure it’s the right size. I used 8mm EVA foam for this shield, but It would work with 6mm or 10mm foam as well, depending on what you have available.
To make the circle, you can follow the same technique I laid out above:
- Make a mark for the center point of the circle.
- Cut a string that is the length from the center to where you want the edge of the circle to be.
- Tie one end of the string to a pencil.
- Swoop the string (with the pencil) in a circle around your center point.
When cutting EVA foam (especially when it’s this thick), you also want to make sure you use a very sharp razor, otherwise you’ll get ragged cuts that don’t even go all the way through the foam. Make a habit of sharpening your razor a bit after every cut so that you can keep the edge sharp enough.
Note: Technically, you do not have to create a perfect circle to use this tutorial. You can use the technique to make any time of curved shield, but you’ll probably need to choose a different object to mold the foam against when you get to step 3.
2. Add any surface designs
If you want any designs engraved onto your shield, you’ll want to make the cuts before you create the domed shape. When you apply heat to the foam in the next step, the plastic will shrink just a little bit, causing the cuts you make to spread and create a visible engraved design.
- Draw your design with a pencil first.
- With a very sharp razor, cut halfway through the foam following the pencil lines you made.
It’s also a good idea to add any external, glued-on designs before heading to the next step too. This way, when you curve the shape of the shield, the additive designs will follow the shape and curve with it. If you’re doing this, I recommend using contact cement, not hot glue. Any hot glue you use will likely start melting when you use heat in the next step.
3. Use heat to shape the domed shield
Now it’s time to give your shield some shape. The first thing to do is find a large domed object. The one I used is a large garbage can lid that’s approximately the size of my shield. Other options that I’ve heard of are one of those exercise balls or a saucer disk sled. In a pinch, you can even use the bottom of a large bowl and go one section at a time.
Whatever object you chose, Place the shield face-up onto it. Then grab your heatgun and start heating up the plastic. Be careful not to get the heat too close to the EVA foam, because it will burn (I made this mistake, oops! But don’t worry, you can paint over it).
Since we’re working with thick EVA foam, it can take a bit for the foam to heat up, so try to be patient. You may need to heat the back of the foam as well, to help it get hot and flexible on all sides.
Once heated, the foam will become much more malleable and it will fall to the shape underneath. Hold it in place until the foam cools. You can wear work gloves if it’s too hot for you to touch. As the EVA plastic cools down, it will retain the shape that it cooled in, giving you the domed shield.
Always work in a well-ventilated area when heating EVA foam. The foam plastic releases fumes when it’s heated so you want to make sure you have a window or door open to keep the air clear. It’s also a good idea to wear some kind of face mask to keep from inhaling too many fumes and becoming lightheaded.
4. Paint it
Now the hard part is over and it’s time to paint your domed shield. I recommend using flexible paints when using EVA foam so that it’s less likely the paint will chip. (I’ve had good results with PlaidFX and Liquitex brand paints)
If you want your shield to have a metallic look, there are lots of different metal paints to choose from. Test out the paint on scrap pieces of EVA foam before choosing which one to use on the final shield, so you can figure out what’s shinier and more realistic. Don’t forget, you’ll probably want to add at least two to three layers for full coverage paint.
If you want to completely avoid adding brush strokes to your metal shield, you may want to consider a spray on paint or airbrushing. I don’t have much experience in this area though, so I recommend doing some research on how to use these products first.
5. Add a strap to the inside
After you’re happy with your shield, all you have to do is add a strap to the back so you can hold it. You can paint the back if you want to. I skipped the step since I only intend for the shield to be visible from the front in pictures. Simply cut a strip of craft foam or 2mm EVA foam and glue it to the back of the shield.