Weathering props adds character and story to them. After all, what fighter will ever have a pristine shield or armor that looks like it’s never seen battle? All of the items that we use day-to-day will have some kind of wear to them, so it’s only natural that we’d want our props to look a little worn out to make them appear more realistic.
There are no hard rules that you must follow to weather a prop correctly. The tips in this article can help you get started, but you’re still going to need to do a lot of experimenting to find the techniques that work well for you.
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1. Roughen areas of the surface with sandpaper
Most items that have seen heavy use are not going to have a completely smooth and pristine surface. Even metal objects will be roughed up with the wear and tear of time, making them less smooth and less shiny.
Use sandpaper along the surface of your prop to roughen up the texture. Pay particular attention to areas that are likely to rub up against other objects more often. Usually, areas like edges and corners will be the most scratched up.
Using sandpaper will also help other paints and washes adhere better to the surface of your prop. If you use a paint wash on a completely smooth surface, for example, it’s likely to wipe off too easily, making the wash less effective. So it’s usually best to start your weathering process with sandpaper.
2. Apply a paint wash
A paint wash is when you add watered-down paint to the surface of your prop, then wipe it off before the paint dries. The goal is to add an almost imperceptive layer of grime to the surface that dulls any shine and gives it a more ‘used’ look. It will also allow the darker wash color to settle into the cracks and scratches on the surface of your prop so that these areas stand out more.
To add a paint wash to your prop, mix a generous amount of water with a dollop of black or brown paint. Then simply use a brush or sponge to paint the surface and quickly wipe the paint away. You want to make it watery enough that you’ll be able to easily wipe the paint away with a scrap of cloth.
3. Use a rough paintbrush, sponge, or cloth
During the weathering process, you can put away your nice, smooth paintbrushes. The rougher and more irregular the shape of your brush, the more natural the final result will look.
Chip brushes are a good idea, or you can rip apart pieces from a large sponge to get an interesting and irregular texture. You also want to use a rough towel or cloth that’s not going to smooth out the paint texture when you wipe it.
You can also play with the way you apply the weathering paint colors. Rather than brushing the paint on, try stippling it in many up-and-down motions. You can splat the paint down, or rub in sections to get it set into the surface texture of the prop. Let the way you apply the paint make the texture a little more natural too.
4. Use multiple colors
You can get a decent result by just using a simple black color wash on the surface of your prop. However, if you want to get an even better result, try using multiple colors to give the surface texture a little more dimension.
For example, you can use a black wash to create a grimy surface texture and add a little bit of copper to some areas to make the prop look a bit rusted. You don’t want to go too far in the variety of colors you use, but using 2-3 colors to weather your prop will help it look a little more natural than using just one.
5. Add scratches to the surface
While you can add micro-scratches and texture to the surface with sandpaper, most objects in our everyday lives will see some more substantial wear and tear in the form of scratches, dents, and so on.
For example, a shield that’s been used in battle will likely have sustained a fair amount of scratches and dents from being hit by enemy swords and weapons. A shirt might have a rip in certain places, or be worn out around the cuffs. Consider what type of damage your prop is likely to sustain and scratch it up a bit.
For sturdier props, you can literally bash it and hit it with sticks and a variety of objects. Use a razor to cut into it at random spots to create sword slash marks, or hit it with a change to create an interesting texture effect.
6. Use coffee or tea
Coffee and tea are surprisingly versatile tools to use when weathering props. For one, they make a great wash color. You can use a sponge and apply the dark brown of the coffee to the surface of your prop to weather it.
Coffee and tea can also be used to weather fabric-based props. If you want your shirt to look dirty, or a bag or boots to look travel-worn, you can add coffee or tea stains to keep them from looking too new and pristine.
You can use the coffee grounds and tea leaves to add texture to your prop. If you rub these onto the surface and then lightly wipe them off, you can make them look like dirt.
7. Use fake dust or dirt
Adding some dirt to your cosplay prop can help weather it to look more rough and rugged. Simply rub your choice of dirt onto your prop and then use a spray bottle to moisten it a little. Use a rag to brush off any big clumps of dirt, but allow some to remain stuck to your prop as an added texture.
In addition to coffee grounds, you can create fake dust using so many other objects you can find in your everyday environment. For example, you can use the dust that’s left over at the bottom of a pet food bag or the crumbs from a cereal. You can even go outside and use real dirt and dust to help you weather your prop. Fuller’s Earth Powder is a product often used by professionals because it has better sticking power than the typical dust you’ll find outside and around your home.
8. Keep the weathering random
Humans are notoriously bad at being random, which is the real difficult part about weathering our props. No object is going to be uniformly weathered or have an equal amount of damage on all its edges. There definitely won’t be any definitive pattern on the surface. Some areas will have a lot of grime, dirt, scratches, and dents, and other areas of the prop will not.
This means, as much as possible, you’ll need to break out of your natural inclination to create a balanced look for your weathered prop. Add the color wash to only some parts of the prop. Ding up some edges significantly more than others. Do whatever you can to try to weather the prop unevenly.
This is honestly the hardest part about weathering props. But if you can figure it out, this is the tip that will turn your weathering attempts from ‘good’ to ‘realistic.’
9. Take a step back
When you’ve done everything you can think to create a weathered look for your prop, but it just isn’t looking right to you, try taking a step back. When we’re working on our cosplay props, we get so bogged down in the little details that we forget about the big picture. If you take a step back and look at your creation from a few feet away, you’ll have a better idea of what other people are seeing. Most of the time, you’ll realize that your prop actually does look pretty good, or you’ll have a better idea of what additions (or subtractions) you need to make.