An often overlooked but highly important step of cosplay construction is the process of painting. Even if you’ve done a fantastic job at sewing your costume or putting your prop together, it won’t look great if you did a shoddy paint job. To avoid paint that chips, runs, melts, or just doesn’t get vibrant enough, you need to choose the right kind of paint for your project.
You can use acrylic paint with most types of cosplay props. Just be sure to use a primer underneath the paint. You’ll need to use specialized paints for getting a metal or gem-like finish. Fabric also requires textile paint that won’t bleed or wash away when applied to the fabric.
The exact paint you choose will depend on the type of material you are using for your costume, and the type of finish that you want (shiny metal, gemstone, wood-like, matte, etc.). You also need to be careful about which paints you apply straight to your body, and cannot use regular acrylic paint as body paint.
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What kind of paint to use on EVA foam?
Since EVA foam generally remains flexible even after it’s finished, it’s best to use a paint that also has a flexible finish. It’s best to pick a primer and an acrylic paint that will bend with the prop, so it won’t crack or chip off easily just by carrying it around.
I will typically use Flexbond as a primer and PlaidFX flexible acrylic paints. However, you can try out different products to find what you like best. I know many people like to use the Plasti Dip as a primer since this can be sprayed on and leave a smooth surface with no brush strokes.
If you don’t intend for your finished prop to move around much, then you can still use regular non-flexible acrylic paints as well. Just keep in mind that the more you bend the EVA foam prop, the more the paint will crack and chip.
You can use paint without a primer on EVA foam, but you usually get a more vivid color with fewer layers of paint by adding 1-2 layers of primer before painting.
What kind of paint to use on Worbla?
Worbla is a common prop and armor material used in cosplay. It’s heat activated and when it cools, Worbla turns into a hard plastic material. Thus, when painting Worbla you can use just about any paints that you can use when painting any other plastic object. Regular acrylic paints work great with Worbla. You can also airbrush it, use wax paints, or use just about any type of decorative paints.
You do probably want to prime your surface first, however. Most types of Worbla tend to have a somewhat rough textured surface. You can smooth that out by using layers of primer and sanding the Worbla if you want a nice, smooth finish (I like to use Flexbond). Paint will also adhere directly to the Worbla if you don’t mind the textured surface though.
What kind of paint to use for styrofoam?
Styrofoam is a good lightweight material for making bulky cosplay props. You can really only use plain acrylic paints with styrofoam props. This is because acrylic paints are water-based and styrofoam is water resistant. Anything oil-based will make the styrofoam dissolve.
You can also use a primer when working with styrofoam. This will help the paint stay on the surface of the styrofoam and not absorb into it. You’ll get a brighter color using a lot less paint. A simple craft sealant will work best since these are similar to water-based glue. Mod Podge is what I use to prime styrofoam when I need to use it.
Do not use any kind of latex-based paints or enamel sprays because these will cause the styrofoam to disintegrate. This means you also want to avoid those flexible paints I was talking about earlier because they usually have some kind of latex in them that helps make the paint flexible. Any kind of resin applied to styrofoam will also cause it to dissolve. Basically, stay away from anything that’s not acrylic paint.
What kind of paint to use on cardboard?
Since cardboard is just thick paper, you can use pretty much any kind of paint on it. I usually use acrylic paints since those are cheap and easy, but you can even make an elaborate oil painting on cardboard if you wanted to. You can use markers, watercolors, or anything you use to color normal paper.
The surface of cardboard is usually pretty porous, so you’ll want to use a primer to help the paints stay vibrant. You’ll notice the same paint will be much more vibrant on a piece of paper versus a piece of cardboard. That is because the paint slowly sinks down into the cardboard’s surface, dulling the pigment.
If you prime the cardboard, the same way you would with any other prop, you can help the paint to stand out more and create vivid colors. It will also give the cardboard more support, making your prop a little more durable. I will usually use Mod Podge when working with cardboard because it’s a good all-purpose primer.
What kind of paint to use on clay?
Most types of clay also tend to be easy materials to paint. You can use just about any type of paint without ruining the clay beneath. You can default to acrylic paint if you’re ever unsure what to use, but the type of clay you’re using will help you pick the best paint for your project.
- Foam clay is very similar to EVA foam. It remains squishy and somewhat flexible even after it dries. That’s why it’s best to use flexible acrylic paints and primer.
- Polymer clay can often be colored before it’s baked, only requiring a layer of varnish. It can easily be painted with acrylic paints with or without any primer.
- Paper clay should always have 2-3 layers of primer added before you add paint. Since paper clay creations can become moldable again if you get them wet, you need to use the primer (usually Mod Podge) as a sealant to prevent any moisture from reaching the clay. Then it can be painted with acrylic paints.
What kind of paint to use on fabric?
You cannot use acrylic paint on fabric because it will just end up cracking and peeling and the fabric moves around. Instead, you’ll want to get fabric paints that are specifically made for working with materials. These are paints that will sink into the fabric but won’t cause any color bleeding, so the paint will stay where you put it.
Jacquard Textile Paints are what I like to use for fabrics. They are good quality without being over-the-top expensive. After the paint has dried, it’s good practice to heat-set the paint by running an iron over the area for a few minutes. This will ensure the paint bonds with the fabric and won’t come off when you wash it.
Generally, fabric paints are best used if you need to create specific designs on your costume, for intricate images, or for stencils. They are typically not the best option for painting a white fabric to a solid blue (for example). If you want a solid colored fabric, you would dye it instead of painting it.
Using fabric dye to color your costume
You can also dye your fabric if you need to change the color of larger swaths of material. You can use this method to dye an entire yardage of fabric before cutting the pattern pieces, or you can dip your fabric pieces or garments in a dye bath to create a gradient effect.
In general, natural fabrics are easier to dye (such as cotton or linen) and synthetics don’t take color as easily (such as polyester). But you can get a dye that will work with many different types of fabric. Rit Fabric Dye, for example, is a common brand that creates dyes that work well with synthetic fabrics.
What kind of paint to use for gems and jewels?
You can easily make your own gems and jewels of all shapes and sizes using resin and a silicone mold. However, if that’s not a skill you’re ready to explore yet, you can also get paints that you can use to mimic the effect of gems. Just know that you will not be able to create the clear crystal look of many gems, the paint will be opaque.
Some ways to create a gem-like paint effect are:
- You can use shiny or shimmering nail polishes
- You can cover your object with a shiny varnish (great for using with polymer clay)
- You can purchase gem paints
What kind of paint to use for armor and metal?
Similar to gem paint, you can create a faux metal finish using paints that are specifically designed to look shiny and reflective. For the best effect, you’ll want to sand down your prop so that you can have a smooth surface. Then apply your paint while leaving as few brush strokes as possible. Spray-on metal paints are great for eliminating the chance of brush strokes at all.