Worbla is a material used for cosplay that has become increasingly popular over the last decade. You may have heard of this material as a cosplay miracle-maker and want to know how you can use it too.
Worbla is a versatile material used in costume creation to create armor, swords, staffs, and any number of props. It can be used as a flat surface or molded like clay when heated up. Either way, when it cools, you’ll be left with a hard and durable plastic object for your cosplay.
While Worbla is somewhat expensive compared to other cosplay construction materials, it’s also extremely versatile and can be used to create almost anything you can think of for your costume. It’s also a beginner-friendly material since all you need to get started is a sheet of Worbla and a heatgun. However, it will still take a little bit of practice to get a feel for the Worbla and understand how it will fit into your cosplay construction experience.
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What is Worbla?
Worbla is a thin thermoplastic that can be heated and molded for making cosplay props and armor. When it cools, Worbla becomes a hard plastic again, making it a very durable material to use in prop making. It can also be reheated over and over again to achieve the effect that you want for your costume.
For cosplay, Worbla is often used layered on top of another material (such as EVA foam) to give it more structure and help the Worbla keep its shape while cooling. It’s also easy to heat up the scraps and mold them together to use like clay. These can easily be used for creating unique designs, both geometric and organic.
If you know how to use it, Worbla can be used for almost any kind of cosplay prop and requires very few other materials to help get the job done.
Pros of using Worbla for cosplay
Worbla is often thought of as a wonder material for cosplay construction. It has more uses than EVA foam, is less fragile than paper clay, and the scraps are endlessly reusable. Worbla can be used for armor, jewelry, small props, and massive props. It can be molded into any kind of shape or easily engraved with simple clay tools.
Why is Worbla such an amazing material?
- It’s self-adhesive. You don’t have to use any kind of glue to attach pieces together since Worbla will adhere to itself.
- It’s easily engrave-able. You can use simple clay tools to engrave soft, heated Worbla to make intricate designs.
- It is mold-able. You can use Worbla as if it were clay to make 3-dimensional pieces and props.
- It’s non-toxic. Unlike EVA foam, Worbla is completely non-toxic. You can heat it indoors without worrying about ventilation, and you don’t have to worry if your pet or kids get into it.
- You can re-use Worbla scraps. The scraps of most materials are waste and can only be tossed in the trash. For Worbla, you can heat them and combine them into a clump to use as a clay-like material.
- It creates a hard plastic finish. Once Worbla cools, it returns to a hard plastic. It will not break easily, even if it’s dropped or stepped on.
- Worbla can be cut with scissors. I still find it easier to cut with a razor, but Worbla is thin enough to cut with a good pair of scissors.
Cons of using Worbla for cosplay
Despite all the fantastic uses for Worbla, it’s not the perfect material for everyone. Depending on your budget constraints and how you want the finished prop to look, it may be better to choose something different to work with (check out my article on different types of materials you can use to make cosplay props).
Some reasons Worbla may not be the best material for you include:
- It is expensive. This is probably the reason I don’t use Worbla for everything. It is one of the most expensive materials you can use for creating cosplay props and accessories. A sheet of Worbla is approximately triple the price of a similarly sized sheet of EVA foam. (Here is s basic tutorial on how to use EVA foam for cosplay)
- You can only work with the material when it’s hot. To work with Worbla, you have to heat it up every few minutes to keep it malleable. If you’re working on anything complicated, this can end up being incredibly frustrating since it makes the process take a long time as you try to keep the material hot while making sure it doesn’t burn your fingers.
- The end result is inflexible. While a rigid final prop is excellent for durability, sometimes you want to make a prop that is a little more flexible. For example, armor might be more comfortable if it has some give, rather than a hard plastic finish.
- It’s sometimes difficult to maintain a flat surface. When using Worbla to create geometric shapes, it can lose its flat surface unless you use other materials to support it.
- You need to sand it for a smooth finish. Worbla has a subtly rough surface that needs to be sanded a lot if you want a final effect that’s shiny and smooth. Black Worbla is a little better for this, but it still doesn’t have as smooth a surface as EVA foam.
Types of Worbla
Worbla is a brand name, and they make different types of plastic with these attributes. I don’t know of any other brand that has been able to successfully copy the Worbla formula to create a comparable material. There are multiple types of Worbla you can use and choose from, depending on the type of prop you’re working with. You can get rolled-up sheets of the following kind of Worbla:
- Worbla’s Finest Art. This is the original type of Worbla that is most easily found.
- Worbla’s Black Art. Black Worbla is similar to the original, but it has a smoother texture and it’s slightly less mold-able. (this is the type that I prefer to use)
- Worbla’s Pearly Art. Pearly Worbla is basically a white version of the black Worbla.
- Worbla’s TranspArt. This is a transparent sheet of Worbla.
- Worbla’s Mesh Art. This is a very strong type of Worbla that can be used for larger props. It is highly adhesive and one-sided.
There are a couple of other less common types of Worbla, including FlameRed and Kobracast. FlameRed is a fire-resistant type of material (not fireproof), while Kobracast combines Worbla with fabric. You can also get pellet versions of Worbla that are better used for sculpting.
Step 1: Create your pattern
Before you get started with the Worbla, you want to make sure you have a pattern and plan for the pieces. You can draw out your own pattern or buy and download one from online. Most EVA foam patterns can also be used with worbla, so Kamui Cosplay’s store is a great place to start.
I’m just going to make a basic prop to show step by step how to use Worbla. So, I’m making a simple pattern to use to make the Millennium Puzzle. All I need for this is four triangles and a square.
As always, I recommend making a simple mock-up of your design before cutting out your Worbla pieces. I used basic printer paper to make sure my pyramid pieces fit together like I expected (in case I made a mistake in the geometry math!).
Step 2: Add support and structure to your Worbla
Once you have your pattern ready, you’re going to want to cut out the pieces in craft foam or thin EVA foam first. These are going to be used to give the Worbla support and ensure it keeps its shape when heated. Craft foam is good because it’s flexible, but also sturdy enough to maintain its structure.
Worbla adheres to itself very easily, however, it does not stick to other materials. Usually, this is a good thing because it makes the Worbla easier to work with. However, right now that means we need to find a way to attach the Worbla to the craft foam without using glue (so it can maintain its moldable properties).
The first and easiest way to do this is to sandwich your craft foam pieces between two layers of Worbla. (When heating Worbla, it’s recommended that you use a silicone mat underneath to protect whatever surface you’re working on.)
- Place a layer of Worbla flat on your surface. Tip: Get your rolled sheet of Worbla to lay flat by heating it as you unroll it.
- Place your foam pieces on top of the Worbla. Make sure there is at least a half-inch of space between each piece. Heat the Worbla around your foam pieces.
- Place another flat sheet of Worbla over top of your foam pieces. Heat it and press down around the edges of your EVA foam. If you have a lot of pieces, you may need to go section by section heating the Worbla and pressing the two layers together.
- Use a razor to cut out around each of your pieces. You now have your flat Worbla pattern pieces.
That first method is the easiest since all you have to do is sandwich your foam in the Worbla. However, it also uses quite a lot of Worbla in the process. Since Worbla is a pretty expensive product, you can reduce the amount that you use by folding it over the edges of the EVA foam instead. This is the method that I use:
- Trace your pattern pieces onto the Worbla, adding about ¼ to ½ an inch around the sides. This is similar to adding a seam allowance for fabric patterns.
- Cut out your Worbla pieces. I prefer to use a razor, but you can also use scissors. Don’t worry if the edges are slightly uneven.
- Trim the corners. If you don’t trim the corners, you end up with a lump of Worbla at each point.
- Heat the Worbla and bend it over the edges of the foam piece. I like to go one edge at a time so that it’s easier to keep the surface of the Worbla flat. After you’ve finished, you’ve got your Worbla pattern pieces to work with.
Step 3: Heat-forming and assembling your Worbla pieces
Now that you have your flat Worbla pattern pieces, you can start to assemble your prop or armor. Use a heatgun to heat the Worbla pieces. Once heated, the material is completely malleable. You can bend it to create a smooth curve for something like bracers or a headdress.
Heated Worbla will also adhere to itself, so you don’t need to use any glue. Heat the edges of two pieces you want to combine and press them together. Once it cools the two pieces will be attached. You can reheat it again to pinch the seam together and create a smoother transition between the two pieces.
If you are working on a large or complicated prop, you’ll need to work piece by piece, heating everything as you go. Remember, if it cools off before you finished molding it, or doesn’t look quite right, you can simply reheat it to try again.
How to get rid of air bubbles
An issue that often comes up when heating Worbla on foam pieces is trapped air bubbles. You’ll notice little (or big) bubbles show up as you heat the Worbla. This can end up causing a bumpy and ugly surface to your Worbla prop unless you take the time to get rid of the bubbles.
The first thing you can do is keep one edge of the Worbla open until the very end of your prop-making process. This will prevent any bubbles from popping up because the hot air has a way out.
If you cannot keep an edge open, you’ll have to poke holes in the bubbles to let the hot air escape. Do this by:
- Waiting for the Worbla to cool.
- Then poke each of the bubbles with a pin.
- Heat the Worbla and gently press the air in the bubbles toward the pinhole.
Step 4: Engrave or mold details and extra pieces
After the basic form of your Worbla prop is finished, you can add any details you want to create the prop for your character. Since Worbla is so versatile, most details can be added using the Worbla itself.
If you want any inlaid designs or textures in your Worbla prop, you can use clay tools to easily engrave details. Simply heat up the Worbla and carve your design. I do recommend testing this on a scrap piece of Worbla first since it’s not exactly the same as clay, but it does work in a very similar way.
It can be helpful to draw your design with a pencil first so that you know exactly where you want to carve into your Worbla. It’s not impossible to fix mistakes, but it’s difficult to return to a smooth surface once you’ve engraved it.
You can also gather your scrap pieces together and merge them into a lump on Worbla to mold or carve (avoid making the clump too thick since it will be more difficult to heat through and reuse). You can treat this like clay and sculpt it into the extra shapes and pieces you need for your prop. Once finished, you can heat the sculpted piece and heat the prop base, and gently press the piece onto the surface. Since Worbla adheres to itself, it will stick and stay in place as it cools.
For the Millennium Puzzle, I first drew out my design directly on top of my pyramid so I knew exactly where everything would go. Then I engraved all the indented lines and attached flat corner pieces. I used the scraps to mold the eye shape on the front of the puzzle and the ring on the top.
Step 5: Priming and painting the Worbla
After you’ve finished the entire Worbla structure, you’ll want to use a primer to help create a smoother surface. Because Worbla does not have a smooth surface, you’ll need to use multiple layers of primer to get everything looking perfect if that’s the effect you’re going for.
The Worbla company itself has an excellent guide going over different priming and smoothing techniques if you’re going for a metal-like finish. Personally, I use their Flexbond method. I add 4-6 layers of the primer to my Worbla for a relatively smooth finish. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s good enough for me. However, if you are a perfectionist or want a smoother surface, I recommend using Gesso and sanding between layers of primer.
Once your Worbla is primed, you can use whatever kind of paint you want. I generally use acrylic paint for my props, then finish with a layer of mod podge. In general, you’ll get a smoother finish if you airbrush your Worbla piece. However, if you’re like me and do not have one, you can paint your props the old-fashioned way with a plain old paintbrush.
For this project, in particular, I used three layers of Treasure gold paint. On the final layer, I used a cloth to rub it on and get rid of some of the texture created from the brush.