Good evening Ladies and Gents, In this fine Instructable I will be showing and instructing you how to work with EVA Foam for costuming and prop creation.
If you have any questions regarding the tutorial, making of your own cosplay/costume or just want to say hi please send me a message on my facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ToweringProps). Its much easier and faster to get back to you there. :)
Over the several steps listed here ill demonstrate a handful of good techniques when working with EVA foam for the new and experienced cosplayers or costume enthusiast. Ill be demonstrating cutting, forming, edging, gluing and a few other tricks. I learn better ways and new techniques every time I do a costume so check back often for improved or new tricks and examples.
What you'll need!
Poster card/ card stock
Xacto blade/Razor knife
High temp Glue Gun
Velcro/Hook and Loop
Fine point marker
So lets get started!
I do not claim ownership of all the reference material such as product images and the space marine images. these are used as examples to help display what is needed and can be done with the material. All credit goes to the respected owner.
Step 1: EVA Foam & the Differnt Types Youll Use
First we shall start with the material.
EVA Foam also known as Ethylene-vinyl acetate. "Ethylene vinyl acetate is the copolymer of ethylene and vinyl acetate. The weight percent vinyl acetate usually varies from 10 to 40%, with the remainder being ethylene."\
Science and chemistry jargon aside, EVA is one of the most important materials out there to all levels of cosplayers. It is a strong, flexible, formable and cheap material. It can be used for nearly everything cosplay from armors to props. Its main use is for metal or composite replication, meaning armor and all kinds of it! If painted properly the foam can look just like metal or composite materials like Iron Man Armor, Mass Effect Armor or even Dragon Age Armor.
Picking the right foam for you:
There are three main types of EVA foam. There are tile packs, roll mats and craft foam sheets which can range in size, thickness and price. Both the roll and the tiles have two finishes with one side smooth and the other patterned. The two most popular patterns are the "diamond plate" and "Cross Pattern" finish. I much prefer to work with the cross pattern as it has less gaps when gluing together but it tends to be more scarce. Youll notice the differences with the links below. They can be acquired at a number of places such as Home-Depot, Lowes, Harbor Freight, Walmart or similar stores. The price ranges from store to store but tile packs tend to run around the $17 range and the rolls around the $24 range. Great for the cosplayers budget! One key thing to remember is the color does not matter it will be painted and covered up, dont be afraid to buy the multi colored foam.
The main source of EVA foam will be tile packs, these packs usually consist of 2' x 2' tiles containing either 4 pieces or 6 pieces to a pack and is.375" thick. These can be found in flooring or automotive sections of stores or ordered online.
Number one: Tiles! Tiles are used for the main pieces of armor. Armors that required a thick edge to it to resemble a heavy armor such as the Mass Effect Armor. Speaking of mass effect the cross pattern finish is nearly identical to the texture of the armor in the series here's a link to the foam tiles that match the armor if that is your next cosplay.
Number two: Roll Mats! Roll mats come in a 2' x 6' solid piece roll which comes in a thinner .25" thickness. The rolls are slightly harder to find. These are great for thin edge costumes like Iron Man and is also a must if your making a helmet. Its much easier to work with as well as leaving enough space for you head... and yes I found that out the hard way.
Number three: Craft Foam! You can get this nearly anywhere and has varying thickness. This is great for detailing costumes, adding that extra layer to give it some flare or used to cover seams. This is how you would do the smooth/textured combination you get with the mass effect armor.
For larger projects you can order it from a number of sites but be sure your ordering EVA grade foam. EVA foam has a sealed, soft feel to it and other types of closed cell foam are rough and porous. If you need large and thick sheets you can order up to 1.5" thick 40x80 sheets from the link below. The prices are fair but its best to order bulk as the shipping can be expensive.
Step 2: Templates & Patterns
Templates & Patterns
Templates & patterns are a must to get the shape of what your creating or recreating. Most of the time its a fairly painless process. Other times it can be a nightmare especially if there are no existing "Pep" files and have to figure out the shape and size by comparing pictures.
Pepakura or Paper Craft are the best way to set up your patterns. If you have an idea for a costume more then likely it already has a pep file. A pep file is a 3D model mapped in 2D. Think of it as a 3D model or puzzle, select the pep file you want but before you print remove the "tabs" and any small pieces that are deemed useless due to the thickness of the foam. after that you simply print it out on card stock, cut them out and trace them onto the "show side" of the foam, the side that will be painted and facing towards the camera.
QUICK TIPS: If your costume is symmetrical you only need to print and cut out one side of the pep files, by printing out just the left or just the right of the model you can just flip the pieces over and voila! You have the other side of the that piece. Also be sure to label left and right pieces accordingly.... otherwise your gonna have a bad time.
The other way which is mainly used for creating original costumes is by taking body measurements and making a template out of poster board. Play with the fitting by wrapping it around your body or tacking to other pieces to replicate the armor and then tracing it out on the foam. This is done way easier with a mannequin or if you have friends but who are we kidding we dress up to make friends... :'(
Step 3: Cutting & Trimming
Next well discuss Cutting and Trimming the foam
This is where most people have their issues. EVA is relatively easy to cut but destroys blades. It can be cut using a number of different tools and some work better then others in different applications. The most popular are Xacto Blades, hot knifes and scissors. Each work better in different scenarios but strongly dependent on what you feel most comfortable with.
So I will break it down like funky town for you.
Xacto and Razor type blades:
These will be your main tool, they're sharp, easy to control, safe to use (as in not 300 degrees, please don't cut your finger off.) and cost effective. Razor knives or box cutters are good for cutting up to .375" thick EVA, anything more then that and the standard blade wont be able to cut all the way through the foam but you can get longer blades. They're also very good at creating angle cuts and curves in the foam. The main issue with razor knifes and Xacto blades is that the blades dull crazy fast and you'll either need to get yourself a blade sharpener or lots of extra blades. I personally prefer the sharpener because I don't like having to deal with the used blades. Its also a little easier on my wallet with a cheap sharpener costing $9 and a pack of 5 blades costings $6. Dull blades will require lots more pressure to cut the foam and will have a skipping effect that will tear the foam instead of cutting it. You don't want that as it creates more work down the line. When cutting straight lines keep a metal ruler handy as a straight edge, line up the ruler along the lines and glide the knife along the ruler, this wont damage the blades or the ruler and it will give you a perfectly straight line. You also want to make each cut once as doing 2 or more cuts will create pockets in the foam and you don't want that either.
QUICK TIPS: To counter the skipping effect, change blades every 2 tiles or every roll of foam, if you have a sharpener quickly sharpen the blades 2 or 3 times between every other cut. You should also Invest in a large rotary map or self healing mat, these can be found in the craft knife section of a store or online, these will save your blades and your cutting surface. It will also help make neater, cleaner cuts and wont have the "skipping effect" when cutting the foam but if your on a budget use a spare tile as a cutting surface.
Some people feel much more confident using scissors while cutting EVA foam. They are ideal for cutting the .125" thick foam from the roll mats. They are much easier to control and will make a clean edge. I recommend getting a decent pair of scissors around $8+ but again the foam will dull the edge just like the razor blades so you can expect to get through 2 or 3 projects with a pair of scissors you'll know when they're dull when your hand cramps up. You can either toss them or you can buy a scissor sharpener for another $7 to $9. this will keep your scissors nice and sharp and save your hand. They're also good for adding 45 degree angles on the foam to line up certain pieces to glue together.
Hot knifes and soldering blade attachments are also popular a way of cutting foam. As you can imagine this is the easiest way to cut the foam and has less blade wear. Hot knifes are ideal for cutting .375" and above, there are obvious reasons people don't like to use these how ever. Reason one: Its hot. Things are flammable like your house. Reason two: Its hot. It will burn you. Reason Three: Its hot and requires maintenance. When I mean maintenance I mean you'll want to keep it clean, the foam is cut half by the blade and half by the heat. The heat will burn on the iron and it will smoke. If the foam isnt cleaned from the tool it will build up to a white dusting and will reducing the heat and cutting ability.
Quick Tips: To combat the build up on the iron keep some medium grit sand paper near by and sand off the build up. It will come right off if the blade and iron and wont damage it. DO NOT use a hot knife and a self healing mat, it will burn and ruin the mat. Its much better to put a spare foam tile down under it to protect your table or a piece of wood.
Cutting the material is easy after you have chosen your tool. Simply trace your cut out and using a metal ruler as a guide and you'll be able to make clean cuts. I personally use the scissors for thin foam and a xacto knife for the thicker foam. I like the thinner handled xacto knifes such as the Z series and a #11 blade due to them being super narrow.
Trimming the Foam can be done a number of ways. Trimming consists of removing foam from the edges to be able to glue the pieces together with no gaps, we call these seams and the smaller the gap the better. You can do this with scissors, a rotary tool or your razor knife.
The most popular is using your scissors. Holding the foam piece use your scissors to cut a 45 degree angle along the edge and then do the same to the piece your gluing it too. This will help tremendously when trying to get angles and better seams. You can also use your rotary tool to do the same although it creates a huge mess. You can get perfect angles by just sanding down the edge of the foam but its down side is its time consuming and very messy. if Your using sandpaper or the rotary tool for this do it outside or in your garage. For smaller pieces and finer cuts you can use the razor knife to quickly trim down the edge, sometimes if your scissors are dulling it will just bend the foam or tear it versus cutting it because the piece is so small.
The rotary tool does allow you to do some crazy shapes and angles like creating swords and detailing in armor.
Quick Tip: There is another way to get those angles in the foam with out having multiple pieces using a soldering iron, well get into that in the next step.
Step 4: Forming & Shaping
This step we'll tackle forming and shaping.
Your main tool here is the heat gun, they come in many different shapes and sizes but you really only need a small basic one. I personally have the Wagner 200 watt heat gun, you can find this model nearly anywhere.
The Process is simple but takes time and patience to master. Using your heat gun go from one end of the foam to the other. You can visually see whats been heated and what has not, this is because the heat gun seals the outer layer of foam further and softens it. Once you've heated the foam evenly, start to shape it. Simple forms such as curves and angles will retain their shape after one treatment. When you get into more complex shapes such as a pauldrons or armor with flanges or domes you'll need to heat it more then once. This is tricky because you need to heat the area of the second angle with out heating the rest of the piece, Putting to much heat on the entire piece will undo everything you just did. To avoid having your piece lose shape heat it in small increments followed by shaping. Keep the parts you don't want to reheat by covering it with your hand or a scrap piece of foam. Keep in mind certain parts will take quite awhile, the starkiller pauldron displayed here took nearly an hour to shape. I heated the whole piece then waited for it to cool and heated the edges little by little to get the flange in the piece, so don't be discouraged if your piece isn't forming right, set it down and come back after its cool and try it again.
Quick Tip: Its a great Idea to heat the foam regardless if it needs to be shaped or not. Once the foam cools it stiffens and seals it self making it tougher and keep its shape as well as being easier to paint.
Your secondary tool here is a Soldering Iron. I personally use a 60 Watt $10 one but its always good to use a wood burning kit, the extra end pieces will come in handy later on. This can be used many different ways such as stiffening edges and boring holes in the foam but your main use for it is scoring the foam to make folds. Scoring the foam is great because it will allow you to make folds and hard angles with one piece. It also keeps you from having you to clean up seams.
To do this take your ruler and a marker and draw a line where you want the fold to be. Once you draw the line take your soldering iron and using your ruler as a guide gently run the iron across the foam following the line. Run over the line multiple times till you get the angle you want with the fold you want the groove to be 2/3 thickness of the foam. Once you have the angle you want grab your heat gun and heat up the seam and fold it over till it cools. For added strength you can run. the soldering iron tip along the edge of a piece. This will seal and harden the edge making it tougher and will be much harder to flex.
Quick Tip: Using the soldering iron technique works well but if you want a welded looking seam like the mark 1 iron man, you'll want to cut the pieces on an angle and glue them together.
If your building a prop, its good to build a support into it. With swords you can get a rectangular piece of aluminum in the metal siding and rod section of a home improvement store. This will add the support you want but wont add much weight to it. Also wooden dowels are a good alternatives and can be used in all sorts of props like pistols and rifles.
Step 5: Gluing & Adhesives
This step well discuss how to glue your pieces together.
There are only a few ways to glue EVA foam together and by far the most common and easiest to use is the High Temp Glue Gun with high temp glue sticks. you can get these nearly anywhere and range in price. Just be sure when it says "cordless" it sits on a charging station rather then the cord just being able to come out of the handle.
Dear hot glue companies,
- Your truly
Hot glue guns work incredibly well and is cost effective for big or small projects. When doing larger projects when you have to layer foam together you can use 3M Spray adhesive (Super 77). this will hold well and you wont have to use 3 glue sticks to glue it together.
Quick Tip: Cut off the rubber end of the glue gun, this comes in hand went you want to smooth out excess glue. Only use high temp glue sticks other wise you run the risk of your costume melting in your car if its left in the sun. While gluing your project together keep in mind where and how you'll be fitting in the harness or how the pieces will attach to each other.
Using your glue gun is pretty self explanatory but there are a couple tricks to keeping it easy and painless. Put glue along the edge of what your gluing and using the tip evenly spread the glue across the edge and press the two pieces together. When you spread the glue out it will cool and harden much faster as well as creating a better seam. you don't need to do the whole piece at once some of the larger pieces its better to do half at a time, especially when you have supports for a prop. After the piece is secure from the glue on the inside or back side of the foam put some more glue to help support the two pieces.
Quick Tip: you may also do this on the show side of the seam and evenly spread it out to fill gaps and strengthen the bond. For larger gaps in the seams there is an alternative filler method using latex caulk, well get to that next step.
Step 6: Seams & Gaps
Well be discussing seams and gaps this step
In your build you'll have gaps in your seams or two much glue, its inevitable but don't fret! There are many ways to fix seams and Ill talk about the two main ones.
Technique one: If you prefer to fill your gaps and seams with hot glue this is the method for you. You'll need a mouse sander with 50/60 and 300 or higher grit paper for it. You can pick up a mouse sander at Walmart or home depot for around $20 to $30. Starting with the 50/60 grit paper sand over the glue on the seam till the excess glue is removed and the seam is even. After this you'll notice the foam has become very rough, this is where the high grit paper comes into play. Using the 300 or higher grit paper run over all the rough spots of the foam, this will smooth it out and bring it back to nearly the same smoothness as it was new.
Quick Tip: You may also use your heat gun to quickly seal the foam again, this will remove and burrs left from the sand paper but be careful not to heat it too much as it will melt the hot glue!
Technique two: Use the nozzle of your hot glue gun to fill the gaps in the seam. Get a tube of latex caulk and put a bead down the seam, using your finger simply smooth the caulk down the seam. The water will thin the latex and make it easier to create a smooth seam. Once its all evened out you'll notice your gaps are filled and will be easily painted.
Quick Tip: Wetting your finger will make spreading out the latex much easier, have a cup or bowl of water near by for this purpose and keep a damp rag or paper towel with close by in case you get latex where you don't want it.
Test each technique to see what works best for you, you may find mixing the two techniques together works the best.
Step 7: Weathering & Detailing
Here well discuss the option of weathering and detailing.
Weathering is a term used by costumers to describe the technique of adding the appearance of use or damage. This step is optional but can really pull the look and feel of your costume together. you'll need your rotary tool and Soldering iron for this step.
To weather a costume, you'll need to randomly damage your pieces with the rotary tool and soldering iron by creating pits, scratches and dents. It helps to predetermine where are scarring will be by using a marker. Mark up where you want dents, scratches and pits in the rough shape you want them to be. It takes some practice so you'll want lots of examples to look at. Try put scratches and chips on the edges of the armor and dents towards the center, make it look realistic and try to not get carried away.
Quick tip: Practice, practice, practice on scrap foam. Get used to the thickness of your foam and how your tools work with it before weathering it and keep lots of reference photo's handy to generate ideas.
To create detailing such as bullet lines or shrapnel scratches use your soldering iron. Start with a round area created by the rotary tool and drag your soldering iron away from it with gradually less pressure. It will create a ridge in the foam and in the paint process you can color the ridge accordingly. If you ever damage the foam to deep and go straight through it don't worry! Just put a scrap piece of foam behind it and glue it, you can either fill it with the caulk or just seal the gaps with glue and keep it as a dent.
These images where used from a brilliant foam Space Marine build on obscurus crusade forum. You can check out the full build and costume here. http://z6.invisionfree.com/Obscurus_Crusade/index.php?showtopic=1421&st=0
Step 8: Prep & Painting
This step is Prep and painting.
Once your seams are filled and your armor is weathered its time to start the painting process. Now... EVA foam does not accept large amount of paint well by it self. It tends to soak up some paint and after its hardened it cracks. The best way to keep your paint from cracking or loosing color is to seal the painted areas with Plasti Dip or Mod Podge. I prefer the spray Plasti Dip but It's expensive because it needs 2-3 layers before its ready for paint. Plasti dip seals the foam as well as creates a rubber coating over the foam allowing it to still be malleable. It dries smooth and in most cases will fill small gaps.
DO NOT PAINT THE INSIDE OF YOUR ARMOR its pointless and will chip paint everywhere plus your harness cannot be glued to the paint.
Plasti dip can be found at lowes or home depot in the paint section, around $6 a can. The spray can version works just like any other can of spray paint, once the surface of your armor is clean, spray it with 2 or 3 layers over the course of an hour. Let it cure for a day before working with it again.
Once your costume has been sealed you can paint it! This part its pretty straight forward just pick your choice of colors and paint 2-3 layers of paint. I find Rustoleum paint works best cause ive just had way to many defective cans of krylon. If your going for a metal effect do a base layer of bright metallic silver followed by a layer of "hammered" silver. the hammered silver gives a slight texture to the paint giving it that worn or beaten look. It also comes in almost any metallic color so its also great for black or gold.
There are a couple different ways you can simulate chipping in the paint. You can do this by either creating real chips in the paint or paint on scratch with a silver paint. In creating real chips you start with a metallic base coat. Next you apply toothpaste or mustard (yes the stuff you put in your mouth) on the areas you wish to have chipped paint, such as around edges or in the scratches or dents you made then simply paint over it. It works by letting the mustard or tooth paste become hard after being exposed the air. This allows you to paint over it and easily remove it. Once your choice of chipping sauce selected and you paint cured cured you can use your finger, ruler or a butter knife to scrape it off but don't use anything sharp like a chisel or scraper, it may puncture the foam.
Quick Tip: Any tooth paste or mustard will do so buy the cheapest you can.
In post-application scratching technique apply a base coat of silver metallic spray let cure then add your next color over it. Once the paint has set for a minute take take a variety of sand paper and scratch off bits of paint. This will simulate the chipping and scratch. After it cures you can go back with a medium grit and smooth out the scratches and add wear areas.
After you have completed your painting and chipping process go back and fill your dents, scratches etc with black paint. I just use a bottle of acrylic craft paint you can get at walmart in the art supplies section. This will give it a dirty and heavy use look, you can also use dark grey and browns to simulate ash or dirt.
Quick tip: When doing the post weathering paint, experiment with the colors and layer them, you can get some really incredible results.
Once that's all done and you've let it cure for 24 hours you'll notice there may be a few gaps in the chipping paints and the weathering paint doesn't stay on great this is solved with a clear coat of spray paint. You'll want to do a satin clear coat if your going for a weathered look and a gloss for a newer look. Even if you don't weather at all you'll still want to do this, it makes the paint look much more realistic
These images where used from a brilliant foam Space Marine build on obscurus crusade forum. you can check out the full build and costume here. http://z6.invisionfree.com/Obscurus_Crusade/index.php?showtopic=1421&st=0
Step 9: Assembly & Fitting
Almost there! This is the assembly and fitting step!
Now that your project is cured and ready to go you'll need to be able to wear it and fit it to your body. The most popular method is to attach it with straps with buckles. Be aware of where these straps and buckles are visible and hide them to the best of your ability. If they costume has visible straps use those for your fitting straps. Use nylon webbing for costumes like the mass effect armors and leather straps and cording for costumes like dragon age. It all depends on how you want it to look and fit. I use nylon straps and buckles in varying sizes for the harness and hide the buckles under the armor plates. its also an option to glue certain pieces to the costume or soft goods it self but this can be kind of tricky to get on an off. You can get both the nylon strapping and buckles at craft stores how ever a great alternative is camping straps or luggage straps at your local Walmart.
Quick tip: The most common mistake is making the harness not adjustable. If gain or loose 5 lbs it wont fit any more and you'll have to alter the costume to fit in it again. So always leave extra strapping on the buckles or add some elastic the the straps to give them a little give.
Bigger pieces like full plate armor or a space marine you'll want to create a harness. Simply make one out of nylon straps using a suspenders style connector in the back about shoulder height, don't make it too high up or it'll dig into your neck and not to low or it wont stay on your shoulders.
When attaching it to the costume you can simply glue the straps with the buckle connectors to the costume it self. Hot glue will keep it there no problem as long as there is no paint over the area your gluing. If it fails to stay onto the foam just use some basic lochtite epoxy.
Quick Tip: If your having trouble hiding the straps or the buckles just give them some paint and they'll blend into the costume more.
There is also the velcro/hook and loop method where you glue wide pieces of velcro to the armor and sew or glue strips onto the costume underneath it. This works well for smaller pieces but but you sacrifice the fitted feel you would otherwise have with the harness. I would highly recommend that you sew or stitch the velcro to a piece of nylon webbing or any durable fabric. Hot glue doesn't grip well to Velcro by itself. If you sew it to a section of of webbing or fabric then it will have something to grip to.
When fitting you costume fit it comfortably to you, make it look like it was made exactly to fit you. There shouldn't be any gaps between your costume and your armor and it shouldn't look bulky but it also shouldn't look to small. You don't want to be blue in the face because your chest piece is cutting off blood to your head. Wear it to your body and wear it COMFORTABLY, the last thing you want is to spend months on a costume and after being at a con for an hour your exhausted because your costume is resting all on one shoulder.
Step 10: Finished Product
Break that costume in! Make sure it fits right and its comfortable, Then bring it to a con and show it off!
The sky's the limit when working with eva foam, you can make small costumes or huge ones, it all just takes practice.
This will be updated monthly because i'm always learning new trick and better ways to do things so check back often!
Hope you enjoyed reading and hope this instructable gives you the confidence to make your first costume or ideas for your next project! Feel free to visit Towering Props on facebook and send me pictures of what you've completed using this tutorial. I love seeing the feedback from you guys!