Introduction: Build an Iron Man Helmet for Cheap!

Picture of Build an Iron Man Helmet for Cheap!

I recently received a commission from a college friend of mine to make her a wearable Iron Man helmet without breaking the bank and was given complete control of the design and outcome. For this project, I chose to replicate the MK3 Iron Man from the first Iron Man movie (easily the most recognizable design) and I'll teach you how to make one as well!

This helmet is foam based so it's super light, flexible and surprisingly strong too! All of this makes for a tough helmet that can be dropped and squished without any signs of wear and damage!

This build was lots of fun for me to make and it also challenged me to make a good looking finished piece with my limited budget.

This project is a lot of fun to do and reasonably easy to follow along as well and can be an excellent piece if you put the effort in. You can spend as little or as much as you like on this but remember, it's your skill that gets you the best results, not the budget.

Like I mentioned, this 'Ible is a budget build, spending the least amount of money possible whilst still producing a quality prop that isn't hindered by the budget, therefore, things like mechanics and electronics are not included in this Instructable but can still be accomplished if you wish to add those features.

Step 1: Supplies!

Picture of Supplies!

List of pretty everything you'll need:

Materials:

  • 6-8mm Closed Cell Foam (EVA, camping mat, craft foam)
  • 10mm EVA foam (For Ears)
  • 2mm craft foam
  • Pair of sunglasses for lenses
  • Adhesive (Contact cement, hot glue, superglue)
  • Red Plasti-dip (latex spray paint)
  • Gold Spray Paint
  • Plasti-dip Clear (Completely Optional)
  • Black and Silver Model Paint
  • Flexible Decorators Caulk
  • Bottle of PVA

Tools:

  • Cutting tools (Stanley knife, X-acto blade, snap-off blades)
  • Scissors
  • Respirator (for contact cement and paint fumes)
  • Painters Tape
  • Dremel tool (Optional)
  • Sharpies
  • Heat Gun
  • Work/Protective gloves
  • Steel Ruler
  • Paint Brushes; assorted
  • Filler Knife

Step 2: The Templates!

Picture of The Templates!

Included in this Instructable are the templates you'll need to make the helmet; they can be downloaded as a PNG or SVG and if you wish, you can modify the SVG to suit the helmet for yourself, whether you want to add pieces or adjust the scale is up to you! The scale is made to fit up to a 24" head so bear that in mind.

Note: Most of the pieces are symmetrical, however a few pieces have only 1 side for the template and are marked with an "L" for the left side. For these templates, simply trace the left side and flip the template for the right side! Make sure to transfer the cut notes to the foam so you know what cuts are needed.

Post Note: I have decided to upload a chopped up PDF of both A4 and Letter templates so you can directly print the templates in segments with no hassle.

Step 3: Cutting the Pieces

Picture of Cutting the Pieces

Once you've acquired the templates, they'll need to printed, cut out and transferred to your choice of foam. To transfer the templates to your foam, cut out the template, trace the outline onto the foam and jot down the notes on each line of the template. For the construction of the helmet, I'm using camping mat foam.

This has a few benefits over the favorable EVA foam as camping mat foam is flat on both sides and good quality mats are made of two pieces which shows a dividing line so for some areas, the thickness can be trimmed off easily. Lastly, camping mats can be cut a lot cleaner than EVA foam and don't leave ugly edges when your blades get dull.

You'll notice that all the faces have notes that say either "IN", "OUT" or "F" for flat. These are how each line need to be cut. A "flat" cut means you cut perpendicular and straight down the foam for a flat cut, an "in" cut is to run the blade along the line but to cut at an inside angle towards the foam piece and lastly, an "out" cut is to run the blade along the line but to cut at an outwards angle away from the foam piece.

Every in, out or flat cut has a corresponding face that it glues to, so two pieces that are "in" will have a sharp defining corner when glued together and flat cut will join flat to make one piece.

You'll also notice some lines are colour coded and each colour has a different purpose. Red lines are "fold in" lines where the foam needs to be bent in or cut inwards just like an "IN" cut; this depends on the thickness of the foam. Blue lines are "fold out" lines where the foam piece needs to bend out.

Green lines are score lines where you don't cut all the way through, yellow lines are overlap lines where the foam pieces are glued directly on top and lastly, cyan lines are areas that need to be trimmed to 4mm thickness as the pieces overlap and utilizes the thickness of the foam itself.

Step 4: Assembling: Pt 1

Picture of Assembling: Pt 1

When all of your pieces are cut out, it's time to put it all together! It may seem a little daunting at first as it might not be initially clear what pieces go where but hopefully, the images will guide you in the right direction and each piece is labeled to help show what piece goes where.

To join your pieces, you've gotta stick 'em together of course! Your choice of adhesive is critical here as the quality of the joins depends on your adhesive and your skill level.

I'm using contact cement to apply my pieces together. It's extremely strong, it's a flexible adhesive, it relatively easy to work with and the joining is near seamless if lined up properly. You can use hot glue if you wish as many people are familiar with hot glue, I just personally prefer the results of contact cement.

To use contact cement, both contact points of foam needs a small amount of contact cement applied. Both sides are left to dry for 5 minutes and when both sides are tacky, join the pieces and the glue will bond instantly. Read the label as different contact cements may behave differently.

I like to start with the faceplate of the helmet as it's easy to make out. Simply line up your pieces and glue together; a good idea is to test your adhesives and your skill on gluing, using scrap pieces and seeing what results you get, plus you can get some practice out of it too!

To shape the foam pieces, a heat source is needed to shape the foam; that's where the heat gun comes in. The foam becomes pliable when heat is applied and can be formed into shape with your hands; just heat the piece, form it and let it cool down. If you didn't get the shape you want, just reheat and try again.

From the faceplate, I glued the top piece of the helmet together, then the sides and then the mouth area. I left the back pieces last as they required more attention in my case. The foam was too thick for some areas so I had to trim off half of the foam on the edges with enough space for the extra amount to glue onto. Using the templates I provide shows what areas need to be trimmed to the correct thickness.

Step 5: Assembling: Pt 2

Picture of Assembling: Pt 2

With the majority of the helmet constructed, next is to focus on the small details, all of which is made of white craft foam. If you noticed in the last step, there's a gap between the chin and the ridge of the faceplate that needs to be covered up. I don't have templates for this as the top mouth piece needed to be glued on first and it's just a case of cutting pieces of craft foam to fit and trim until it fits perfectly. Using superglue to join craft foam is easier than contact cement as there is more control.

For the mouth piece, I actually cut the mouth piece out twice and glued them together to thicken the mouth piece, as I preferred the look more.

During the assembly process, I actually screwed up a little on the piece that overlaps on the top of the helmet, resulting in an ugly dent. To fix this as cleanly and simply as possible, I applied some contact cement to both the affected area and a cut out piece of craft foam, waited for both sides to dry and placed the craft foam on top, applying pressure until the glue set.

With the fix done, next was the ears. To accommodate for the thickness of the ears, I decided to use some thick 10mm EVA foam for this. To shape these ears, I actually used a couple power tools to do this; this is the only time I used power tools and can be worked around easily by just using the same camping foam which is softer.

I used a portable belt sander to sand the texture off the foam pucks and I used a Dremel rotary tool with a sanding bit it bevel the edges. I scored the round detail on the surface of the foam and by using a heat gun on the score line, the score line separates, making the score visible and more defining.

Attaching the ears to the helmet is the same procedure; contact cement on both surfaces, wait until tacky, bond together.

Step 6: Prep for Paint

Picture of Prep for Paint

With the foam helmet complete, we're almost ready for paint, however, we need to do some prep work first. Because I'm painting with Plasti-dip (Latex based spray paint) I wanted to see how it behaves such as how it grabs to the foam, how it takes masking tape, if it reacts with top coats and so on so I made some test samples.

What I found was a coat of PVA on the foam provides a much nicer and slicker surface quality look and feel compared to raw foam. I also found that the gold top coat bonds nicely and masking tape sticks properly and removes cleanly. During these tests, one of the pieces (the only one without a PVA base coat) corners lifted up and the layer just ripped off so based on these results, coating the helmet in PVA glue is vital.

One last thing I tested was spraying regular acrylic gold spray paint on 2 test pieces: one with PVA and one without. the PVA coated piece bonded nicely and even made the paint a little bit flexible whereas the uncoated piece didn't bond at all and the paint actually flaked off when I touched it.

I applied 3 coats of PVA, spreading it as thin as I can and letting each coat thoroughly dry before the next coat; you can thin it down if you want thinner coats but I felt the thickness of my PVA was just fine as is.

If you happen to have a few areas where the pieces didn't join perfectly, now is the time to use flexible decorators caulk. The caulk is flexible once dried and can be painted as well, making it ideal for filling small areas on foam. I applied a small amount on affected areas with a small spatula an used water to smooth and blend the area. Simply leave to dry and you're set.

When all of your PVA is dry, leave for at least 24 hours before moving onto the next step to ensure the PVA has cured and won't affect the paint.

Step 7: Red Paint and Masking

Picture of Red Paint and Masking

It's time to paint! My approach was to apply red first then the gold as the red Plasti-dip provides a flexible base coat as well as the red colour we are looking for. Plasti-dip is extremely durable, long lasting and leaves and doesn't wrinkle when foam is squished or creased; it costs a little more than acrylic spray paint but it is so worth it. If you're not using Plasti-dip and have opted for regular acrylic spray paint, just carry on with the steps as normal.

Note: Working in a well ventilated area is key for spray painting; work outside or in a big open area to vent the fumes. If you do use Plasti-dip, I HIGHLY recommend wearing a respirator as Plasti-dip contains more harmful chemical than most other paint cans.

Tip: Spray paint cans work best when they're warm, so soaking your spray paint cans in warm water before spraying evenly heats the paint, making it flow better out of the can!

3-4 layers of wet but thin coats of Plasti-dip is good for this helmet. The layers provide a nice base coat for the gold in the next step and the paint is just generally stronger when multiple coats are applied. Regardless of what paint you're using, ALWAYS read the label; every can of spray paint behaves differently and if you're unsure, always do tests. Leave for at least 24 hours to ensure the paint has cured before moving onto the masking.

Now that we have the red on the helmet, we want to apply the gold but we need to mask off the red areas first.

I'm using "FrogTape Delicate Surface" painters tape to mask my helmet. I chose a delicate low tack tape to prevent any chance that the tape would rip off the red paint, and because painters tape leaves a crisp clean edge and doesn't leave residue like regular masking tape. Again, spending a little extra for painters tape is well worth it.

Tape up all red areas, being sure you are up against the seam lines for the best results. Use the straight edges of the tape and cut to length for all areas. Run your thumb/fingers along the edges of the tape to make sure they are stuck down to the surface to prevent paint seeping under the tape.

The more time you put into masking, the better your results will be; this took me about 2 hours before I was happy with my masking.

Step 8: Gold Paint, Weathering and Clear Coat

Picture of Gold Paint, Weathering and Clear Coat

With the tape on, it's time for that sweet shiny gold! I'm using Rustoleum Metallic Bright Gold because it's a gold I've used before and I always like the way it looks (plus I got a couple cans for free so that's even more reason to use them!)

As always, read the label on your can first then get to spraying! I did 3 light coats of gold on the faceplate and mouth and like the Plasti-dip, I left it to cure for 24 hours.

The tape can now be removed and it's time for details and weathering!

Before weathering, a few areas need a lick of paint. The top strips and the cheek parts need painting black and the gap between the faceplate and the mouth is also supposed to be black, however I painted a little silver on top as I didn't like the look of flat black; paint your helmet however you wish, it's up to you how you want to finish it!

I kept the details and weathering to a minimum on this helmet but I wanted to add something to this helmet to break up the flat red and gold. Using black model paints, you can apply a small amount on the seams between the helmet and the faceplate and wipe off most of the wet paint, leaving the black paint to seep into the seam. This "separates" the helmet and faceplate to be two distinct pieces instead of one melded piece, as Iron Man's faceplate lifts up and is not permanently attached.

Using silver model paint, you can use a simple technique called "dry-brushing" where you take a bit of paint of your brush, dab out most of it and scuff the edge of the paintbrush on certain areas on the helmet. This makes it look like scratched paint, "revealing" the metal underneath when it reality it's just paint.

These simple paint techniques really transform a painted piece and makes it believable as an actual item in the real world.

Once all of your painting is done, a protective coat of clear coat is ideal for protecting your paint job. I had another can of Plasti-dip (this time clear) to spray over my helmet; Just like before, Plasti-dip is completely optional, I just prefer it for its flexibility.

Step 9: Lenses

Picture of Lenses

The helmet may be painted but wait! We still have one more step: The lenses. I decided to leave the lenses 'til last because I didn't want the lenses in the way during painting so doing it last makes sense to me.

I chose to use cycling lenses that I purchased for just £1 at a pound shop. This saves having to makes lenses for yourself and the clarity is pure on the lenses so it just makes sense to use existing lenses in this case.

The lenses are good but are too big in their current state so if you use enses, you'll most likely have to remove some of the material for a better fit.

To get a template of the helmet eye, place masking tape over the lens, push against the inside of the helmet and trace around the boarder, resulting in an outline. Remove excess material around the trace leaving a 6-8mm space around the trace so you have some material left to glue to.

Before removing the excess masking tape, I retraced the eye outline to be sure and used an X-Acto knife to remove the tape around the trace. Leaving the tape on just the area you will see out of is to make sure no glue gets on the lens later.

Since I had contact cement from earlier, I used that to adhere the lens on the inside, but hot glue will work just as well. When the glue sets up, carefully remove the masking tape from the lens.

Step 10: Complete!

Picture of Complete!

Huzzah! The helmet is complete!

This budget project turned out really well and I am pretty pleased with the outcome. If I had the time and wasn't trying to keep costs to a minimum, wiring some LED lights and making the eyes glow would of been an awesome edition; if you guys make this helmet and decide to add light be sure to share!

If you have any questions or suggestions on this build, be sure to leave a comment and I'll address them!

Comments

tonmade (author)2017-10-19

Perfect !

GabrielD1053 (author)2017-01-28

COOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!

guppyK made it! (author)2016-09-17

Thank you for a very comprehensive and insightful introduction to working with foam for cosplay and projects. Lots of work to go yet, but I wanted to share what my project looks like so far. Thank you again for removing so much of the pain!

JoshuaGuess (author)guppyK2016-09-18

Awesome dude! I'm glad my Instructable has helped you out in making your own helmet. Be sure to post a pic when it's complete; I'd love to see it in its full glory!

kdewitt (author)2016-08-15

Thank you so much! I really appreciate your responsiveness and for providing a solution. If I get this built, I will certainly share the photos!

kdewitt (author)2016-08-14

When you open the SVG files will they be sized to print correctly? Did you print them on a standard printer with 8.5 x 11 inch paper and just tape together the pieces? Thanks!

JoshuaGuess (author)kdewitt2016-08-14

When I printed the templates, they came out the exact size I scaled them to so there shouldn't be any issues with size, but always double check your print settings. When it came to printing, I printed out the pages on A4 paper sheets (standard size in the UK) and the program automatically chopped up the templates into separate pages, which I then taped together.

kdewitt (author)JoshuaGuess2016-08-14

Well I tried to save them using Windows IE and that saved them as an XML file. It would not print.
Then I changed browsers to Google Chrome and it saved it as an SVG. Opened it in a program that was supposed to support SVG, but when it prints, they are constrained to 2 (8.5 x 11 inch) paper. So clearly too small and not true to size. I tried to open the SVG in Adobe photoshop elements and it wouldn't open at all.
Is there anyway you could send the file or post the file as a PDF? I'd really like to make this helmet for my son. He will be turning 5 and he LOVES Ironman. Thanks so much.

JoshuaGuess (author)kdewitt2016-08-15

To save you anymore hassle (and anyone else who comes across this problem) I have made 2 PDF's, one in A4 and one in Letter (8.5 X 11") with all the templates fitted on several pages so they can be printed directly with no fuss. (I have put them on the templates step) If you do make a helmet for your son, be sure to scale the print down a lot as this helmet is quite large! Also, I'd love to see pictures of it if you do make it!

chrisjlionel (author)JoshuaGuess2016-08-14

What's the name of that program?

LP700-4 (author)2016-08-11

Dies the face plate open up?

JoshuaGuess (author)LP700-42016-08-11

I'm afraid not :( Like I mentioned in the intro, this build was a simple budget build with no electronics or mechanics as I'm not savvy in those areas. Maybe one day when I learn about electronics, I'll tackle a mechanical faceplate.

LP700-4 (author)JoshuaGuess2016-08-11

Ok thanks maybe I can look if I can make it open with motors or something.

ZiggyN (author)2016-08-11

Great stuff! Really enjoyed the description, thank you! Quick question (maybe a bit duuuh, but still): as my head is HUGE (61 cms in circumference = 24" inches = XXL hats!) I'm curious to your friend's 24" head measurement. Surely not the same no? I'm looking at 'crown' dimensions for an eventual conversion!

JoshuaGuess (author)ZiggyN2016-08-11

My friends head is actually a 22" inch head but I made it around 24" so it would accommodate most people. I myself have a 22.5" inch circumference head and there is still plenty of room, as the helmet shape itself is very good for inside space. If you're concerned that the templates are too small, you can edit the SVG and scale it up a little to accommodate. Hope this helps.

michaelb2 (author)2016-08-11

What is the build time between drying of glue and paint?

JoshuaGuess (author)michaelb22016-08-11

If you're on about the PVA layers, I left it for at least 24 hours to ensure the glue was thoroughly dry and wouldn't affect the first layer of paint

michaelb2 (author)JoshuaGuess2016-08-11

I am sorry I was not clear. I meant the build time without drying time

JoshuaGuess (author)michaelb22016-08-11

Without drying times, the whole project took me 7 days but the majority of that time went to planning and constantly altering the templates. It only took me one day to cut all the pieces and assemble them and the next days were details and waiting for PVA to dry.

Hardik Longakshi (author)2016-08-11

I always wanted to make one, I love the way you made it . It's just awesome !!!

Thanks dude!

Super space ninja (author)2016-08-11

Can you use cardboard instead of foam? Btw your Instructables are awesome! keep it up!

Definitely! It may be tricky around the back of the helmet as the templates rely on the thickness of the material (4mm thick) but if you can get around that, I see no other problems! At this current time, there is a cardboard contest running on Instructables so who knows, I might make an Instructable on an Iron Man cardboard helmet as well!

Awesome! I am looking forward to your Iron Man carboard Helmet!

chienline (author)2016-08-10

Wow! I thought it was fully metal at first glance. Really nice. Suggestion? What about the complete ironman outfit? Hahaha... just joking ;)

JoshuaGuess (author)chienline2016-08-11

I guess I did a good paint job then to look like metal! XD Building a whole suit would be pretty neat, but the time investment is just way too high for me to do that at this current time, but in the future, who knows...

Ethan1023 (author)2016-08-10

Does it fit on your head?

JoshuaGuess (author)Ethan10232016-08-11

Yep!

Jedi_zombie85 (author)2016-08-10

Nice work, Ive done a few of these and I started with foam and since then have tried it with card, cardboard, foam and fiberglass

Great result and write up

My war torn attempt that Im still not sure on so may re do the paint

Thanks man! If you were to repaint your Iron Man helmet, I would consider blending the weathering into the helmet and make it look a little more subtle, maybe break up the pattern a little more and go lighter; There's a ton of potential for that helmet!

Yea unfortunately I didn't get pictures of before and after. It looked good before I decided to go with the battle damaged look and I still kind of like it but thinking of giving it a bit less.

but if you get chance in your local diy store you can get the screw tops for bathrooms and kitchens etc they are like 99p for loads and just stuck on the give the effect of screws etc :)

Yea unfortunately I didn't get pictures of before and after. It looked good before I decided to go with the battle damaged look and I still kind of like it but thinking of giving it a bit less.

but if you get chance in your local diy store you can get the screw tops for bathrooms and kitchens etc they are like 99p for loads and just stuck on the give the effect of screws etc :)

Jesper75 (author)2016-08-09

How did you transfer the template to the foam?

JoshuaGuess (author)Jesper752016-08-09

Oh no, I forgot to write how I actually did that! I'll update that soon. The templates were printed and cut out, then I used a Sharpie to trace the edge of the template on the foam to leave the outline. I also jotted down the notes on the foam (IN, F, OUT) as well so I knew what lines needed cutting as explained further in the Instructable.

Jesper75 (author)2016-08-09

Awesome! I must make one. Did you design the templates?

JoshuaGuess (author)Jesper752016-08-09

Pretty much but not entirely. I used Pepakura models I could find as a reference to sketch a general idea, size and shape but after that, I just kept redrawing, simplifying and recutting my templates until it looked right for the foam, then transferred to my PC and used Inkscape to draw them. It's not 100% accurate but it's good enough for a foam build :)

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Bio: Howdy. The name's Josh and I make dope stuff, mainly real life props from video games as well as other odd entities from time ... More »
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