Whether you are a nerd or not, creating your own costume armor will give you the satisfying feeling of accomplishment and when worn with other costume components, the visual result will be stunning. This instruction manual will outline several basic techniques for creating costume armor, specifically scaled/layered armor and coloring effects.
This information will be highly relevant and useful to those who are novice, intermediate and hobby costume makers. The main things to consider when building armor that is intended to be worn by a person are; size of the person, length of time the person will wear the armor, how much movement they will be doing while wearing it, materials and cost thereof to make the armor and what type of armor it will be.
The instructions here will focus on the commonly seen scaled armor, armor that looks like large fish or lizard scales, covering a breast plate.
Step 1: Cautions and Warnings
The steps needed to complete this armor will involve sharp tools and an open flame or similar heat sources. Children under the age of 16 should not attempt these methods without an adult present to conduct the indicated steps, or must not conduct them at all.
EVA foam will melt and catch on fire if it comes in contact with flames or a very hot source of heat, please maintain sufficient distance between the heat source and the foam to prevent fire. Keep fire retardant, dowsing products and/or ample amounts of water nearby should the need arise.
Step 2: Materials
The following are all the materials used throughout this instruction manual. Each step of the manual will also contain a subsection highlighting the materials used for that particular step. All materials, save for the clothing top and the heat source (depending on what is used) can be bought at a crafts store such as Michaels, A.C. Moore and Hobby Lobby. For cost effectiveness, some items, like the glue gun sticks, pen and pencil can be bought at stores like Dollar Tree. The clothing top should be provided by the person who will wear the armor and the heat source will be provided by a household item.
Materials; Roll of banner paper, a clothing top that fits the costume wearer, a roll of EVA foam (craft foam), scissors, a heat source (an open flame stove in this case, hair dryer and a heat gun also work), acrylic paint (a main color, a darker color than the main, light and dark metallics in the same color scheme), paint brushes (1 large, 1 small, 1 long, fine bristle brush, 1 fan-bristled brush), a low temperature glue gun, glue gun sticks, pen, tape and pencil.
Work Area: Choose a work area. For this project, a craft or work room with a large table will suffice. However, many spaces in a home can be used to complete a project of this size. At-home costume maker Ihni, maximizes her space, and picks construction materials based on the work area that she has, "I do all my work in my little one-room apartment. Kitchen or living room, that’s it. That’s the biggest reason why I work with materials that won’t need any special machines or tools. I lay everything out on the floor or on my sofa or table or chairs, and then I work from there" (personal communication, June 28, 2013). Cover any surfaces that need to be protected.
Step 3: Outline of the Armor
Using a top that fits your upper body comfortably, lay it out onto a section of unrolled banner paper. Orient the top to fit within the paper margins. Lay top as flat as possible to ensure correct size for outline. Using a pencil, outline the article of clothing onto the banner paper. The pencil outline should be 1 inch bigger on the sides of the clothing article to compensate for clothing's ability to stretch around a body. As scale armor has a section that hangs down below the bellybutton to about knee length, use another section of the banner paper to create the lower section. Lay the top flat again and measure at least 1 ft past the bottom of the clothing article and draw out the preferred shape of the lower section of the base layer. Trace over the pencil lines with a darker color or pen. Cut out the outlines.
In volpin’s (online psuedonym) wonderflex armor tutorial, she begins by drafting the design of the armor onto paper, then tracing the paper design to wonderflex. The paper step is included in this instructional manual to save on expenses for EVA foam (wonderflex is an even more expensive base material than craft/EVA foam).
Materials used: Banner paper, clothing top, pencil, pen.
Total time: 15 minutes
Step 4: Creating the Base Layer
Unroll the EVA foam and flatten it out as much as possible, use heavy objects to hold it down if need be. Take the paper outlines, orient them onto the foam and secure them to the foam with tape or hold them in place with a hand. Trace around the paper outlines with a pen or visible marker onto the foam to create the base layer of the EVA foam armor. Remove the paper outlines. Using scissors, cut out the foam outlines.
Keyoto is also a fan of using EVA foam, "I tend to use craft foam for all [my costumes] due to it being super light , but there are other materials, you could use expanding foam and carve it into shape then paper mache over, or used thermoplastics such has worbla or wonderflex ... you just cut and heat into shape then coat in wood glue then paint" (personal communication, June 28, 2013). Ihni Andern prefers EVA or craft foam for several, practical reasons,"I prefer to work with foam, since it’s easy, flexible and cheap. It’s easy to get a hold of, it’s light to wear (and won’t hurt if I fall down on it...)" (personal communication, June 28, 2013).
Courtney Coulson, owner of Costumes by Courtney states that, "Foam armour needs very few tools and materials and most of them are very cheap and readily available, this is why it is the material of choice for cosplayers. It can work as a substitute for anything from leather to plastic. I buy large foam mats from hardware stores, they are about 1cm thick and for lighter details …I use thinner foam, like yoga mats...For cutting I use a simple art knife or scalpel which cuts through very cleanly, but if I do make mistakes I go over the edges with a dremel"(personal communication, June 28, 2013).
Materials used in this step: paper outlines, EVA foam roll, pen/marker, scissors and tape (optional).
Time: 7 minutes
Note: The picture above contains two foam base layer copies of the armor, the second set is being used to show back-and-front comparison.
Step 5: Straighten the Foam Layer
Warning: This step is to be completed by an adult or close under adult supervision.
The foam outlines will most likely not remain flat without bending or creasing them. This can be remedied by holding the foam over a heat sources and gently pulling them straight. Hold the foam above or slightly away from the heat source, in this case an open flame on a stove, and the foam will begin to sag and relax. As it does so, pull the edges of the foam to make it straighter. While holding the foam in this new shape, remove the foam outline from the heat source's reach and hold until cool. Some slight curling at the edges may occur, however, the main interior of the foam outline is now straight. If the piece is not straight enough, return foam outline to heat source and repeat the stretching until satisfied with the cooled shape. Turn off heat source when done.
Materials: Heat source, EVA foam outlines.
Time: 5-15 minutes per piece.
Step 6: Connecting Sides of the Base Layer
To connect the two pieces of foam outlines together, use a hot glue gun. Arrange the pieces to the length desired for the wearer and glue them together at the line that they connect at. The "top" portion is to be glued behind the "bottom" section. Cut off excess foam flap from the back side of the armor if need be. Trim the edges where the two pieces connect to maintain a smooth outline.
Courtney Coulson enthusiastically recommends using hot glue for adhering two pieces of foam together, "I swear by hot glue, it literally melts the foam together creating a permanent and instant bond, cutting down my construction by half." and also poses the following rules of thumb, "The trick is to test everything before you start constructing your costume, really flex seams and see which glue works best. Same goes for painting, you will want to know just how durable your costume is going to be. Foam can be pretty hardy and is easily repaired, but picking the right foam, the right glue and the right paint are absolutely essential" (personal communication, June 28, 2013). Ihni Andern prefers to use a type of hobby glue and several layers of foam if the armor needs to be thick and sturdy.
Materials: Hot glue gun, glue gun sticks, scissors.
Time to complete: 20 minutes
Step 7: Optional Step: Reshape the Bottom
For aesthetics, The "bottom" section of the armor began with curved edges, these rounded edges were to imitate the look of scales. If desired, cut the curves off and give the base layer an angular look, with enough space at the bottom tip to hold the scales that will be layered onto it. Also make any adjustments to the neck and arm area as needed to accommodate and make the wearer more comfortable.
Time to complete: 5 minutes
Step 8: Creating the Scales
Take another section or scraps of EVA foam and draw out a grid pattern on one side of the foam using a pencil and ruler. The preferable size for the grid spaces is between 2-4 inches. 2 inches for "medium" scales and 4 inch areas for "large" scales. remaining spaces will be used for smaller scales. Within the spaces between the grid lines, draw rounded or pointed ovals.
Materials: EVA foam (use scrap sections), a pencil or pen, ruler.
Time to complete: Varies depending on size, shape and amount of scales needed to cover the base layer.
Step 9: Sealing the EVA Foam Scales
Before cutting the individual scales out, to save both time and cost of materials, apply the sealant product to the EVA foam. On the blank side of the EVA foam scraps, paint on the sealer with a paint brush. The sealant use for this armor is Mod Podge: Matte. Allow pieces to dry. The sealer will make the scales water proof and prevent the acrylic paint from being absorbed by the foam. An unsealed section of foam will require many more layers of paint in order to achieve a solid-looking coat of paint. By using one layer of sealer, less acrylic paint will need purchase and used on this project.
Costume maker Keyoto also recommends the use of water repelling sealant layer, "I've[started] to us[e] a waterproof sealer on my newest armor, that’s seems to be working fine so far, even when I run the piece under water" (personal communication, June 28, 2013). Courtney Coulson also opts to use "...good ol' cheap acrylic paint is all you need and spray paint works just as well" to color a foam costume (personal communication, June 28, 2013). I found that not all paint mediums are friendly to foam. Spray paint tends to melt foam if there is not a thick sealant layer between them.
Ihni Andern echoes the need to use a sealant layer when planning to use spray paint on a foam surface, "The spray paint is ...the reason why I use water-based hobby glue [another option for a sealant]. If I used a non-water-based glue, the spray paint might dissolve [the foam]. I always make sure my glue-coated foam (or ANYTHING that I’m spraying) can handle the spray though, by trying it on a little piece of the material in question and letting it dry, before I apply it to the finished product" (personal communication, June 28, 2013).
Materials: Mod Podge (or other sealant), and a paint brush.
Time to complete: Varies depending on amount of foam scale sections to paint.
Step 10: Applying Main Color to Scales
Once the sealant layer is dry, it is time to paint the scales. On the blank side of the scales, paint 2-4 layers with the main color of the scales using acrylic paint, allow the EVA foam sections to dry between each coat. Apply a new layer of color until the foam is a streak-free, solid color or until you are satisfied with the evenness of the paint color. The last two pictures compare 1 layer of acrylic paint, to 4 layers of acrylic paint.
Materials: Paint brush (large), acrylic paint.
Time to complete: 30 minutes of painting time, at least 1 hour of drying time between layers.
Step 11: Cut Out the Scales
Once satisfied with the main color of the scales, and the EVA foam sections are dry, use scissors to cut out the individual scales. The edges of the scales will be white, this will be remedied in a future painting step.
Time: Varies depending on amount of scales to be cut out.
Step 12: Glue on the Scales
It is best to prearrange the scales before gluing them to the base layer of the foam. Begin at the bottom of the armor and layer the scales in rows, beginning with the largest scales. Allow the scale tips to hang over each other in a way similar to fish scales. The top of the scales will be glued to the white base layer and the tips of the scales will need to be glued to the scale beneath them. The scales that line the edges will also overhang the sides of the base layer. Once placement of the scales is satisfactory, all the white base layer will need to be covered by the scales, use a hot glue gun to begin gluing the scales in order from bottom-most scale, largest to smallest, upwards in rows.
In his work on making cost effective and durable Dragonskin (scaled) armor, Zack_Adams employs thick, corrugated cardboard and the scaled layering technique above. Cardboard is the most cost effective material to build armor from, as cardboard is cheap or free if taken from recycling bins. The individual cardboard scales can be drawn out using the same method as with EVA foam scales and can also be glued using a hot glue gun to a base layer of cardboard. I experimented with cardboard as a base material, while the cardboard was free, it does not provide the level of comfort and flexibility of movement that EVA foam does. As cardboard is also highly water absorbent, it will be necessary to use Mod Podge or a similar sealant on all sides of the scales to prevent structural damage from the water-based acrylic paint. This effectually doubles the drying time required to complete the armor. Using EVA foam as a base for armor produces a much more comfortable armor to wear and uses up less sealant and coloring products.
Materials: EVA foam scales, EVA foam base layer, hot glue gun, glue gun sticks
Time: About 1 hr, possibly more depending on amount of scales to glue.
Step 13: Clean Up & Paint Edges
When finished gluing scales to the base layer, remove all the glue wisps left behind from the gluing process. Using the same main color of acrylic paint, paint the edges of all the scales and allow the scale armor to dry.
Materials: Paint brush, acrylic paint.
Time to complete: 30 mintues
Step 14: Detailing the Scales
With a darker acrylic paint color, employ the "Marbling" technique. "Use [a] long, thin brush to paint veins" (Huber, 2006, pg. 140). Paint on the veins to each individual scale. Begin the veins by painting between the layered scales and continuing 3/4 of the way down each scale towards the tips, 3 veins per scale will suffice. Allow the paint to dry.
Materials: Darker acrylic paint, a long thin-bristle paint brush.
Time to complete: About 20 minutes.
Step 15: Shiny Scales
To give the scales a shiny look to them, use metallic acrylic paints. Begin with a darker colored metallic paint. Use a fan-bristled brush that is lightly dipped into the dark metallic paint. By lightly dipping the brush into the paint, this will ensure that the scales are given many small, thin streaks. Begin the streaking at the top of each scale. Paint each scale lightly and only to its halfway point. Go back over the streaked areas with a dry, paint-free small paint brush. This will help soften the look of the streaks and blend them in better with other two colors of paint. Let dry.
To give armor a more tarnished look, Keyoto recommends, "to make ...armor look old and rusted I tend to get a small bit of black paint and using a brush, put in all the detail areas, … I can move the paint around and spread it out more for a short amount of time using water on a paintbrush if I feel there is too much paint in one place..." (personal communication, June 28, 2013). Sand paper can be used to distress and wear away the foam and rust or general weathering can be achieved by dry-brushing or spray painting a cloth and rubbing it into the costume (Courtney Coulson, personal communication, June 28, 2013).
Materials: Dark Metallic acrylic paint, fan-bristle paint brush and a small paint brush.
Time to complete: 25 minutes
Step 16: Speckle Effect
Note: Cover all times, articles of clothing and surfaces for protection before completing the following technique.
The final effect in play to create a scaled armor made from EVA foam is the "Speckle" technique. As the name suggests, this step will require flecks of color be applied to the foam armor. This is accomplished by using a large or small paint brush, a thumb and a lighter colored Metallic acrylic paint. In a bowl, add water the the lighter Metallic acrylic paint until the consistency is that of creamy soup. The added water will allow the paint to fly off the bristles of the brush easier and in a wider spray. The "Speckle" effect is created by dipping the paint brush in the watered-down Metallic paint and running a thumb over the edge of the bristles in similar fashion to starting up a cigarette lighter. Practice speckling banner paper to see the effects that different distances and angles of holding the paint brush will create. Once a particular method of speckling is chosen, hold paint-dipped brush above the armor and apply the "Speckle" effect. Allow to dry.
Materials: Lighter Metallic acrylic paint, water, bowl, small paint brush, and a hand.
Time to complete: 10 minutes
Step 17: Complete the Look
Placeholder: Photo Finished Armor Chest Piece
Congratulations, the scaled armor breast plate is now constructed. The manner in which to wear it is dependent on the look the wearer of the costume armor is going for. It can be held to the body using a belt, attaching a cape to the shoulder straps or, repeat the previous steps to construct a copy of the breast plate, attach the two together at the shoulder straps using a hot glue gun. Slide head through the opening between the two pieces in order to wear it. The EVA foam armor is light weight and flexible. The techniques shown in this instruction manual can be applied to a variety of armor designs, types and color schemes. Experiment with heating the foam to better conform to the body of the wearer. Zack_Adams also inserts notes that the armor can be attached to “...any vest or jacket by any means you feel are necessary. You can sew them in the lining [of a vest], or you can simply duct tape them, depending on the level of quality you want” (Zack_Adams, 2011).
Step 18: References
volpin. (2012, Oct 23). Creating costume armor with wonderflex.
Retrieved from https://www.instructables.com/id/Creating-Costume-Armor-with-
Zack_Adams. (2011, Dec 4). Cheap/ free diy airsoft armor (dragonskin). Retrieved from