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Superhero Costume Class
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Lesson 7: Painting and Finishing
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So we've constructed the form of our costume accessories, now we have to define their identities with color! Before we get to the painting part we have to make sure the surfaces of our pieces are prepared, which can be a fairly time consuming process.

The process of finishing both EVA foam and Worbla is a crucial step that will define the look of your pieces. If you want to create something that looks like a very realistic piece of armor, or some other specific material, the process of finishing can really make or break the look of your costume. I am a bit impatient, and more interested in creating interesting original designs than trying to emulate something that already exists, so I usually don't spend an immense amount of time on finishing techniques.

In this lesson I'll introduce you to some of the most common ways to finish EVA foam and Worbla, then show some materials and techniques for painting. If you have a specific look that you are trying to achieve, or just want to dive deeper into the world of Worbla and EVA foam finishing, check out the future projects at the bottom of the main class page for some good resources.


Priming EVA Foam

After you've glued your EVA foam pieces together, and before you paint them, you need to give them some kind of primer coat. One reason is that if you try to paint directly on the surface of the foam your paint will soak in somewhat, creating a rough uneven surface, so you need to seal the cells of the foam with something first.

Also, foam is not an extremely strong material and without some kind of sturdy finish it's more likely to tear at points of pressure when you're wearing it. This second reason is really more of a factor when you're making foam armor or weapons that are going to see some action, but it's still a good idea to seal your foam so your costume will be more likely to last a long time.

A great priming material that accomplishes both these goals and still leaves your foam with it's natural flexibility, is Plastidip. Plastidip is a liquid plastic material that comes in both spray and paint-on varieties, and is usually used to rubberize the handles of tools and other things. You can get it at any hardware store in a few different colors. It's a fairly nasty smelling material, so make sure you use it in a ventilated area.

I think the most effective way to apply Plastidip to foam is to paint on a few layers, then add a top coat or two of spray to smooth out the brush strokes. The best tool for painting on the Plastidip is actually not a paintbrush but just a few scraps of couch foam cut into small wedges, or even makeup sponges. Paintbrushes will just get ruined, plus they'll leave too many brush strokes and sometimes drop bristles. Also, make sure you're wearing a pair of gloves because this can get a bit messy.

Before you start working on your actual piece try spreading some Plastidip on a scrap piece of foam to get the hang of applying it. Try to spread as even a coat as you can, not leaving too many blobs or streaks, though some of this will even out as it dries. Test pieces like this are also useful to have later when you want to test paint colors.

Spread layers of Plastidip on your piece, getting all the surfaces and edges of the foam, except the underside where you want to attach straps.

With a relatively large piece like this, by the time I was done putting a coat on the second piece the first piece would usually be dry enough to take a second coat.

I painted three coats on each shoulder, but if you really wanted it give your piece extra stability you could add as many as 10 coats.

Once my painted coats were dry, I added two spray coats of Plastidip on top. The spray Plastidip is a bit tricky to work with, you have to work quickly to get an even coat because it dries fairly fast, and can start to build up a speckled texture. But when you get it right, it gives a nice smooth finish.

Plastidip has a really cool look all by itself, so if you were creating a black costume piece, especially something that that was supposed to look like rubber, you could even just stop here or add a sealer without any painting. In fact, I liked the look of my plastidipped shoulders so much that I almost just left them the way they were. But painting is fun to, so it really depends on your design.


Priming Worbla

For similar reasons Worbla also needs primed before it can be painted. The surface of regular Worbla is somewhat rough, and depending on what kind of look you are trying to achieve you may need to add quite a few layers of primer, and possibly some sanding time to your Worbla.

There are many kinds of primers that will work on Worbla, and if you want to read about all of them in loving detail you just aren't going to find a better list of smoothers and primers than this one on the worbla.com website. I usually use Flexbond for my Worbla priming. Flexbond is a lot like wood glue, it's non-toxic, non-smelly, water soluble, extremely flexible, dries relatively quickly, and covers the grain of Worbla fairly effectively in 3-4 coats.

To use Flexbond on your Worbla just paint it on with a paintbrush, watching for drips and pools as the Flexbond dries.

When it's dry it will be clear and you can continue adding more coats. On your top coats you might want to dilute the Flexbond a little with water to help prevent visible brushstrokes.

If you have more patience than me, you can also wet-sand the flex bond to get especially smooth surfaces, though smoothing materials like gesso are really better if you want an extremely smooth surface.


Painting

Now comes another one of my favorite parts in this costume making process, painting!

There are a lot of different ways to paint both EVA foam and Worbla, but I think the simplest and most fun usually involves acrylic paint. Having a good collection of acrylic paint colors around is a great idea whenever you're trying to mix specific colors for a project. Using a combination of fluorescent and standard paints works great on superhero costumes if you really want your colors to pop, and I also like to have a few different acrylic mediums around with different gloss finishes to mix with my paints.

To create metallic colors you can use metallic spray paints, buy pre-mixed metallic acrylics, or mix your own with metallic pigments. This last method is my favorite and another great use of the acrylic mediums. This collection of metallic Pearl EX powders in every shade of the rainbow is one of the smartest purchases I ever made. Mixing these pigments into a medium like acrylic Polymer Gloss, and even adding small touches of flat colors, lets you create an infinite variety of metallic and pearlescent finishes that you could never get from a spray can.

For example, when I was choosing the metallic paint for my helmet and shoulder armor I tested a few different kinds of spray paint and out of the bottle paint, but found that nothing was quite the metallic sheen that I wanted to match the warm brown in my wing fabric.

So instead I used my pearl powders and gloss medium to mix just the right color.

Start with your base coats and larger areas, then add details. Have a range of brush sizes available and use the right brush for the job at hand.

When you are painting your pieces you may or may not want to add a primer color or base coat before you paint, depending on what color you are trying to create.

The color of Worbla itself is neutral enough that it often doesn't need a primer for most colors. The metallic I mixed worked well on the Worbla with a few coats, but I had a hard time getting coverage with the fluorescent purple I used on the antennae, so for a color like that priming would be helpful. In general, if you are having a hard time getting good coverage from a color adding a little white can help, as long as it doesn't ruin the color tint you're going for.

Black can be a good base for metallics, especially if you're going for a more aged, gunmetal sort of look, not a brand new titanium look. My metallic worked fairly well over the black Plastidip, but required a few coats for good coverage.

Lighter colors like my fluorescent red, should really be given a white primer coat before they are painted over black as you can see on the right below.

Once you've added your main colors you may want to add some shading and weathering in some areas. While real armor may not have this same kind of shading, it can actually add a very nice effect to your pieces and make the details really show up.

To add shading to my pieces I usually like to work over a still wet area of base color and use a darker color to add definition to cracks and crannies, spreading the darkness out and fading it into the base color.


Top Coats and Sealing

If you really want to protect the surface of your pieces after they're painted, or give them a nice shine, you can add a layer of some kind of sealant after your paint is dry.

Spray sealants like Mod Podge or acrylic mediums are convenient, but if you really want hard core protection, my friends in the foam weapons community recommend using Through The Roof - which is a clear roof sealant you can get at a hardware store.

Like many of the substances we've used here it's fairly nasty smelling stuff, so use it in a well ventilated area. Through the roof is a very shiny finish, and good for every type of look, but it's great for metallics.


Finish and Paint Your Super Armor

Whatever you've created, show us how you've brought it to life with color! If you've discovered any interesting finishing techniques or ways to paint certain effects, share them below!

Your transformation is almost complete. Now all you need to do is add some attachments to keep your armor in place and you can assume your new identity!!

CLASS PROJECT

Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

Nice work! You've completed the class project