When you first start making your own costumes, you’ll probably be more focused on learning the needle and thread and using a sewing machine. Eventually, you’ll get to a point where this is not enough. You’ll want to make your own props or add some armor or an intricate headdress. If you’re ready to start creating more complex costumes, EVA foam is a great material to get started with.
EVA foam is a flexible and durable plastic that is used to create armor and props for cosplay. It can be formed into unique shapes using heat and can be glued together using super glue, hot glue, and cement glue. You can find premade patterns for EVA foam, or create your own custom pattern pieces.
The best part is that EVA foam is not all that expensive or difficult to use. Of course, you will need to practice using it to get better at constructing costumes with the material. But with a little bit of guidance, you’ll be creating awesome cosplay pieces in no time.
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Part 1: What is EVA foam and how do you use it for cosplay?
EVA foam is a versatile tool that can be cut, glued, and shaped to create costume pieces. It’s most often used to create armor (such as breastplates, pauldrons, arm guards, etc.) and props (such as swords, axes, staffs, scythes, etc.). However, it can also be used for any number of pieces of your cosplay project, including hats, shoes, masks, jewelry, and more.
To create these costume pieces, you will have to cut out the flat shapes in EVA foam, glue them together, and shape them using heat. It’s a pretty simple process, but it can take a little bit of practice to get right. I recommend checking out TNT Cosplay Supply on youtube for a playlist with many tutorials for using EVA foam as a beginner.
Part 2: Choosing the right supplies for your project
When you purchase EVA foam, it will typically come in long rolled-up sheets. You can get the material in different thicknesses ranging from about 2mm to 12mm. The thinnest sizes will be used to add intricate details to your costume or create add-ons to other parts of the costume. The 6mm-8mm sheets are typically best for creating sturdy armor that is still flexible enough to mold into your desired shapes. And, the thickest pieces are more often used for props.
Craft foam, which you can commonly find as a kid’s crafting tool, is also a type of EVA foam that can be used for some simple armor elements (such as arm bracers).
Other supplies that you will need to work with EVA foam include:
- A pattern: You can purchase or create your own EVA foam pattern. Check out the Kamui Cosplay store for some patterns you can buy.
- Glue or adhesive: I recommend contact cement, but you can also use super glue or hot glue.
- A sharp razor: A box cutter or precision razor will work, but be sure to sharpen it regularly.
- A heatgun: This will be essential for sealing and heat forming the EVA foam.
- Sandpaper or sanding tool: I like to use a Dremel, but regular old sandpaper is also an option.
- Primer and paint: Use whatever colors you need for your project.
- Attachments: Make sure to think about how the costume piece you’re making will attach to you and stay in place. Common attachments are velcro, snaps, elastic, hair clips, magnets, and zippers.
Part 3: Finding an EVA foam pattern
To get started, you’re going to need to work with a pattern. You can either purchase a pattern online or create one yourself. One of the best places I’ve found for pre-made EVA foam patterns is Kamui Cosplay. But there are also plenty of other places to purchase patterns. You may even find another person who’s cosplayed as the same character and is selling the patterns they created.
If you don’t want to buy a pattern or cannot find one that works for your costume, then you’ll have to make one. To make a pattern for a piece of armor, you can use your body to make the pattern. If you’re making an arm bracer, for example, you would use your actual forearm, or your torso if you’re making a breastplate. You can also use a pair of shoes as your base, or create a new shape from scratch, such as horns, using aluminum foil.
To make your own EVA foam pattern:
- Decide on your base.
- Wrap your object in plastic wrap.
- Cover with strips of duct tape.
- Draw your seam lines. Don’t forget to label all the pieces you make add registration marks so you know where they line up with each other.
- Carefully cut the pattern along the seam lines.
- Trace the pieces onto paper and clean up the lines.
If you are dealing with a flat, or mostly flat, object, you can easily draw it out. Make sure to think about the measurements of the prop or costume piece so that you draw it at the correct size.
Part 4: Mock-up your design
I find it useful to mock-up my design before I start cutting and putting anything together. To do this, you will simply cut out an extra set of your paper pattern pieces and tape them together as if you were constructing the costume piece. It will give you a reference while gluing the EVA foam later on. This will help you remember how everything goes together and prevent you from making any mistakes like gluing pieces in the wrong spots.
This is especially important if you created your own pattern because it will ensure that all of your pattern pieces really do fit together. However, I also recommend it for purchased patterns, so that you can have a practice run of connecting all the pieces.
Part 5: Cutting your pattern pieces
Now it’s time to cut your pattern out of the EVA foam. First, trace the pattern pieces onto the EVA foam. Make sure to label all of your pieces and include the registration marks. Then carefully start cutting out all the pattern pieces.
When cutting, you will either make straight cuts with the razor or beveled cuts. A bevel cut is when you angle the blade at a 45º angle when cutting the piece. These kinds of cuts make it easier to make corners on a prop or armor piece. If you purchased a pattern, these cuts should be labeled for you.
For clean cuts that will be easier to work with when you’re putting everything together, you want to make sure you’re using a sharp razor. It’s best to have a knife sharpener and regularly sharpen your razor blade while you’re cutting out your pattern pieces. The thicker the EVA foam, the more often you should sharpen your blade.
Part 6: Glue the pieces together
The next step is to glue all of your pieces together. I recommend using cement glue. You can also use super glue or hot glue if that’s what you have available. If you are going to be doing a lot of heat forming (in the next step), I don’t recommend using hot glue, since it will start to melt when you use a heatgun.
When using cement glue, you should apply glue to both edges that you will be attaching. Then let it dry for 5-10 minutes until the glue becomes tacky. Then, when you attach the pieces together, it will have an immediate, strong hold.
- Apply glue to the two pieces.
- Line up the edges of the two pieces.
- Slowly push the two sides together, lining up the registration marks as you go.
- Continue until you have attached all of the pieces.
- Allow the glue to dry overnight.
Part 7: Heat shaping and sealing EVA foam
The next step is to use heat. This has two purposes: to shape your EVA foam and to seal it for painting. Don’t skip this step just because you’re making a flat prop. For this step, you’ll be using a heatgun, so make sure to wear a pair of work gloves to protect your hands.
To seal the EVA foam, all you need to do is:
- Use a heatgun and wave it over the surface of your costume piece.
- Keep the heatgun about 6-12 inches away and shift the heat over the surface for a few minutes. You’ll see a very slight change in the texture of the foam.
- Make sure to keep the heatgun moving during this process to avoid overheating any spot on the foam.
- Continue this process over every surface that you will be applying paint.
If you need to shape your prop, you will go through the same process of heating the EVA foam. Then you will hold it in your desired shape until it has cooled off. It can help to use an object to help hold the EVA foam in the correct shape. For example, use a wig head to hold a mask in the right shape while it cools, or use your arm (with a long-sleeved shirt) to form an arm bracer into the correct shape.
Sometimes heat shaping the EVA foam can cause small holes at the seams of your prop. When this happens, you’ll want to use some kind of caulk to seal up the holes. I recommend using Kwik Seal caulk because this brand is also completely paintable.
Important: EVA foam releases toxic fumes when heated. Be sure to stay in a well ventilated area and wear a face mask.
Part 8: Sanding EVA foam
Once all of your pieces are put together and your prop is starting to look like it should, it’s time to clean up the edges and seams. Unless your prop is very big, I recommend using a rotary sanding tool. This will make the process much faster than sanding by hand. You can, of course, still choose to use plain old sandpaper if that’s what you have available.
Dremel is the most well-known brand for sanding EVA foam in the cosplay world. I use a Dremel Lite for this step, but there are plenty of cheaper brands that you can try out that should work in a similar fashion.
To use a rotary sanding tool:
- Insert a sandpaper attachment.
- Practice on a spare piece of foam.
- Move the Dremel in the direction it’s spinning. It should be moving away from you if you’re right-handed and moving toward you if you are left-handed.
- Go over all the edges and seams to create a smooth prop surface.
You can also use a rotary tool to create detailed designs on EVA foam. You can engrave a design, polish the surface, or weather it using the many different attachments. I recommend practicing on a spare piece of foam before attempting to use any new tool on your finished costume piece.
Part 9: Using primer and paint
It’s finally time to paint your project! But before you get started, you’ll need to use a primer. If you sealed your foam, you technically don’t have to use a primer. However, without it some of the paint will be absorbed into the foam surface, so you’ll have to use more layers. So, I recommend always priming the surface first.
The best primer that I’ve used for EVA foam is called Flexbond. This is a product that remains flexible after it’s dry, making it ideal for flexible EVA foam. Of course, you can also use cheaper products, like Mod Podge, if that’s what you have available. You’ll just want to avoid bending your prop or armor too much.
After applying one or two layers of primer, it’s time for the paint. This will, obviously, vary drastically depending on what you’re making. You can use any kind of acrylic paint that will get you to the right color, but more flexible paints will typically have a cleaner finish.
After painting, it’s a good idea to apply a finishing layer to prevent the paint from chipping. Most primers that you get can also be used to seal off the paint, but you can use whatever type of product gives you the desired effect (matte vs. shiny finish).
Part 10: Attaching EVA foam to a costume
If you were making a prop, such as a staff or a sword, then you’re finished! However, if you are making any kind of armor or costume piece that you need to wear, then you still need to add an attachment.
For armor, this will usually mean adding velcro strips so you can easily get in and out of it. Horns and masks can be attached using hair clips, elastic, or headbands. You can also use magnets, zippers, string, elastic, or any other type of attachment that works with your costume piece and gives it a secure hold.
Experimenting with complicated designs and effects
After you understand the basics, there is almost no end to what you can make with EVA foam. You can create the base shape and then add details to make unique prop designs and embellished armor for your favorite characters.
You can experiment with different shapes and layers. You can try creating different effects using the Dremel. You can even play around with foam clay to create more organic shapes. The sky’s the limit, go out and experiment!