Instructables
Making castings of things is a lot of fun, and casting a face is fun PLUS all the weirdness of having something looking like you lying around, hard, cold, and unmoving. Creepy! On a recent Build Day we cast Bilal's and Josh's faces, and this Instructable explains how.

There are 3 general body molding techniques: pat-on, dip-into, and pour-around. They're pretty self-explanatory. For a face you need to use the pat-on method, which is more annoying but allows you to make the all-important nostril holes.
 
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Step 1: Prepare your work area

Picture of Prepare your work area
You're going to make a mess. Know this and prepare in advance. Lay down a drop cloth if you have one, or ensure that all nearby porous surfaces are covered with plastic or newspaper. Gather all your materials together as it will be difficult to get, say, another bucket when your hands are covered in alginate.

You will need:

  • alginate, the stuff dentists use to cast your teeth. There are a couple different brands, we used Dermagel brand from Douglas & Sturgess.
  • three measuring cups of at least one quart capacity: one for the alginate, one for the plaster powder, and one for the water (don't get any of these materials mixed together at all until you are ready to use them)
  • a bucket to mix the alginate in
  • some plaster-impregnated cheesecloth, again from Douglas & Sturgess
  • a couple of bowls for water, one for each helper
  • two measuring cup
  • a big bucket to mix the plaster in
  • something to mix the powdered plaster with; a power drill mixer attachment is ideal but a metal whisk will do
  • paper towels
  • something to rest the mold in while you pour; a cardboard box with a towel or some packing material in it works well
  • a brave volunteer! wearing an old t-shirt that can get tossed out afterwards (the castee will get very gloopy but the casters won't usually ruin their clothing)

Before getting started, cut some of the plaster-impregnated cheesecloth into strips, about an inch or two wide and three or four inches long. You need about 2-3 times as many as are in the picture. Also cut some much smaller pieces, an inch or two by a quarter inch, to use in the nostril area.
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Is the mold broken when you remove the plaster or does it stay intact? If it doesn't stay intact is the plaster bust pretty durable?
rachel (author)  GnowledgedGnome21 hours ago

Alginate is not the strongest of mold materials, but with care you are likely to be able to make several castings from one mold. These have to be done right away though, as the alginate will dry out and start to crumble. The plaster casting is quite durable although if dropped from a height it will break :)

Thank you.

Very nice instructable! You can make the nostril thing a bit less scary for the castee by using short pieces of straws in their nostrils so they can breathe more easily and so you don't accidently get alginate up them.

rachel (author)  lisa.dukes.39121 hours ago

I've been advised by professionals not to put straws in people's nostrils due to the risk of cutting them. As another commenter put it below,

"The reason why you do not put straws in any orifices you are going to mold is because when you apply the alginate or mold material gravity takes over and tends to drag the straws out pf place. When this happens the model cannot breath and when panic sets in the mold maker trys to force the straws back in place. This is when things tend to get bloody. Rule of thumb do not insert things into your models ever!!!!"

fxguy20001 year ago
I have read your instructable and I agree with some of what is being said but I have to disagree with leaving your hair not covered by a bald cap. alginate is not a forgiving substance and neither is plaster. when alginate forms around hair it tends to not want to let go. anyone who wants to try this process please get a bald cap and mask off your hair line or else you run the risk of having a halo effect until your hair grows back. I have been perfecting my craft for over 13 years and I do know what I am talking about! thank god you didn't tell people to put straws up their nose while the process is being done? that is another big no no that could get your model hurt seriously. please take every precaution needed shortcuts in this business can get people hurt or worse!

Vasline is a good release agent to use to keep plaster from sticking to things. Last year I started making molds in college for my sculpture class and that's something we used. Of course, you have to apply generously, but in the end the mold just pops right off.

It is a good release agent for sculptures if you are careful to apply the layers uniform. The issue that i was refering to was the application of a head cast. While putting vaseline on your eyebrows and facial hair is fine applying it to your hair runs the risk of your mold bonding to part or all of your hair. This is not a risk i would like to endanger my models with. You will never get a do over with that person if they have to shave their head! The safe way is glueing a bald cap to their head using prosaide and covering that with vaseline. The mold doesnt stick to anything and everybody is happy. I really cringe when people suggest using straws up the nose so the person can breathe or trying to cut corners when it comes to the safety of the model. It is paramount that people doing this need to understand many things can happen if it is rushed mostly bad things! Please take your time doing it the right way and be aware if you are the lead person doing the mold that you are responsible for two things. The mold coming out properly and the safety of your model. That means doing things by the book when doing a head mold.

Question for you: What woud be the reasoning behind not using straws? I ask because I am genuinely curious. They seem logical to me and without having seen your comment I would probably have used them so I'm glad I read it. I'm just curious as to the reasoning ehind the warning.

The reason why you do not put straws in any orifices you are going to mold is because when you apply the alginate or mold material gravity takes over and tends to drag the straws out pf place. When this happens the model cannot breath and when panic sets in the mold maker trys to force the straws back in place. This is when things tend to get bloody. Rule of thumb do not insert things into your models ever!!!! Ruins you as a serious mold maker and endangers your models. Doing a face mold get the model to take a deep breath and exhale through their nose to make breathing holes. It is safer and you will have repeat models for the future. It is only professional courtesy not to hurt or kill your models? Now you go have fun and be safe. Love to see what you make in the future

Ah, that makes a lot of sense. Haha, yeah I would say not hurting or killing your models is a pretty good business practice. After I commented I also saw another person say that things in your nose can itch and cause you to sneeze, ruining the mold, so all things considered they definitely appear to be a bad idea. Thanks for answering my question. I realized after posting it that your comment was from a year ago.

I saw another set of instructions on this site who did use straws I kindly told them to not do this and explained why those in the industry dislike them. I am in no way as experienced as you, I am just a student of make-up. We have not always gone for a bald cap though, we have often used Clingfilm.

It is perfecty ok to use a rubber or plastic film just to cover the persons hair. I hope that I didnt come off as a know it all but I get concerned when people see how to do things one way and pick up others bad habits. This cripples you when you are trying to learn a very fun and speacialized craft. I encourage you to keep learning and dont ever take my advice as discouraging. I hope to continue seeing your work and nice job on the lifecasts to you and your team. If you ever want to talk shop add me on face book my name is glen simon from antigonish. Hope to hear from you soon. ;)
WeiG fxguy20005 months ago

Hello! I'm a master student in the Uni Heidelberg. May I ask you some questions about this? Currently we are trying to make a human head mold of latex, to mimic the skin characteristics. So our idea is also first to make a alginate negative form like this, and then "brush" inside the alginate form with liquid latex. But one of our question is, how to make the final latex layer in a certain thickness like skin, which is 2 to 3 mm. Thank you in advance, Mr. Simon!

The Rambler4 months ago

Very cool. This might come in handy for me very soon. Did you dress like Chell (from Portal) on purpose? Haha

efarrow28 months ago

Pouring can leave air bubbles in your cast. It is much better to start by a scooping action, little by little, and then you can push the plaster gently into the recesses before pouring more into the negative cast. I would apply vaseline (Stuart Bray uses Nivea) on any exposed hairs including the beard to be careful.

Bitsi6 years ago
I had one of these done for me somewhat differently at an arts fair (oh, about 30+ years ago). Here are some distinctions that that craftsman made -- 1) positioned me prone on my back on a table. 2) did the vaseline bit on my hairline and face. 3)inserted straws in my nostrils so that I was assured that I would not suffocate 4) poured simple plaster of paris over my entire face (causing a moment of panic when it covered my mouth and nose) and removed it when it got warm 5) used a cardboard frame around my face to keep the plaster out of my hair and ears. The resulting plaster mold lasted a good 20 years and was used often to make halloween masks and wall sculptures. :-)
efarrow2 Bitsi8 months ago

Seriously plaster heats up drastically and tightens this is not recommended and is never practiced within the industry by a respected professional.

dcarroll3 Bitsi3 years ago
With respect - if anybody is reading, please do not follow this advice.

Plaster has a rapid chemical reaction when it sets, heating up - Chemical burns to your face are not fun. It's what Alginate was designed for.

See the BBC link above for good reasons why you shouldn't use plaster for this job.
MoRoToRiUm6 years ago
Back when I did a series of clay faces as a concentration piece, I skipped a bunch of steps. Lets just say it involves straws up my nose, Vaseline, and plaster straight onto the face. Worked just as good, but faster (for those even more daring :-).

Seriously misguided and dangerous. As a student in make-up, we do not even like plaster bandage touching any of the skin. Markp.com and dcarroll3 are right.

Putting plaster direct on your face is one of the most stupid things you can do!

As mentioned in the article, it heats up drastically! See this BBC article about a poor girl who lost most of fingers when using plaster direct on to skin!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6485481.stm
You're much braver than I am! I'll only let alginate touch my face.
spaceanimal9 months ago

what's a good substitute for alginate?

KDS44441 year ago
Some questions: If you did not use vaseline on the one fellow's beard, how did you get the casting off his face? Next, does alginate not stick to plaster? Or does it work like a rubber mold? Next: is the alginate mold destroyed once used? Next: does alginate make a "truer" casting than plaster would have? In other words, tell me about the magic of alginate. I have never used it and am very curious.
rachel (author)  KDS44441 year ago
As I recall, I peeled the alginate off his beard slowly and carefully. It was a fairly dense and tight beard and maybe we got lucky - see fxguy2000's comment just below for a different view on alginate + hair.

Alginate doesn't stick to plaster at all, it doesn't stick to much. It's kinda jello-y when set up, and wet feeling. It's not as strong (thus the plaster "mother" mold) but is otherwise much like rubber, but it's much easier on the skin than plaster directly. You can usually make a couple castings from one alginate mold but it will degrade fairly quickly and I wouldn't count on more than a few uses before it starts tearing apart. If you have undercuts at all, you will probably only get one casting as those will almost certainly tear when you take the casting out. It's a bit more fine-grained than plaster, so the mold is slightly finer, but not significant. The reason to use it, in my mind, is that it's easier for the model to deal with as it doesn't get hot or hard on their face like plaster directly does.
iongets1 year ago
I only made plaster molds by pressing the face into fine damp sand in a box, then pressing the sand around it with my hands ( need to be able to hole your breath for 30 sec or so) withdrawing the face carefully- there may be a few sand crumbles that fall inside but can be removed if you careful otherwise just flatten them out with a fine art brush. Then slowly pour in your plaster of paris . It has a pretty good look to it when it hardens.
Lorddrake3 years ago
how much alginate was required to make the casts? Trying to figure out what size container i would need for the casts that I want to do.
A 1-lb jar from Douglas and Sturgess was good to make a couple of casts with some trial and error. I'm actually in the process of writing up my own version of this 'ible.
thomasready2 years ago
You got to be kidding us you really want people to burn, I once tried this to make a mode of my Woodie damn that hurt. Woodie never been the sane!!! just saying.
antboy4 years ago
Hey, how about a light dusting of baby-powder/chalk/powdered-sugar during step 2? Why just the eyebrows anyway? GREASE IT UP I SAY! Your whole face. There would be no "dark 'spots'" ; it would be evenly-contaminated by the vaseline or whatever...
Also, how can we make a food-safe mold for buntcakes and jellO so we can eat our own faces? There are silicone pans at the pampered chef...
You can, in fact purchase silicone mould making materials that are approved for use in the food industry. That would allow you to eat your face. Check at www.smooth-on.com for their selection of materials.
timdomul5 years ago
there are something you can do better, like drop the plaster over the water instead of the water over the plaster, and mix it up with your hands like you mixed the alginate and you will have less bubbles, and if you put some food wrapper plastic around the forehead will protect the person's hair from the plaster and alginate.

Great job!!
PCPkillz6 years ago
Thank you so much for posting this. I've been wondering how to do this for the last 2 years, as I wanted to do a "family portrait" for my mother, who has been blind since long before I was born. She will absolutely love this.
wow that is smart
Brilliant idea
vicsouders6 years ago
Not bad, one suggestion though. During step number nine embed some thick gauge wire into the plaster to form a handle to assist with de-molding. I generally use coat-hanger, about 16 inches long and folded in half, bent to form a loop with large nut twisted onto each end (as an extra precaution to prevent the wire from pulling out of the plaster). By doing this the plaster positive usually comes out of the alginate negative cleaner and I’m often able to pour two plaster positives from the same negative. Enjoy!
rachel (author)  vicsouders6 years ago
That's a great idea, I'll use it next casting I do.
the_keiser6 years ago
best and most detailed how to of life casting I've seen, that you don't have to pay for ;) great work. I'm a caster too and this post is great. love it. keep it up.
Kiteman6 years ago
It looks like Josh found the whole thing more relaxing that Bilal.
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