There are a lot of great tutorials, on this site and others, explaining how to make faux armor for cosplay out of foam. Most often you'll see techniques that carve into the foam or layer pieces of foam to make the decorative touches.
In this Ible, I'll be showing you a different technique to add to your arsenal; freehand detailing with hot glue to create embossed-look designs, as if they were drawn with molten metal or hammered in from the back, as in the metal working technique "repousse". It's easy to execute, versatile, and when you're all done nobody will suspect it's all from a glue gun! I'll be creating a simple gauntlet type piece in the photos, but know that you can apply this method to helmets, masquerade masks, breastplates, and more. The third photo shows the costume this piece was built to compliment.
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Step 1: You Will Need...
Tracing paper or Parchment --for making a pattern if you don't already have one.
Measuring Tape --for taking measurements of your arm.
Craft Foam --thinner weights will cooperate more readily with our process.
Sharpie, gel pen, or pencil --find a color that contrasts with your foam
Heat Gun or Hair Dryer
Hair Elastics --the best for this project would be those with a soft outer coating and not too tight.
Hot Glue Gun and size appropriate Glue Sticks
Metallic Spray Paint --color of your choosing
Black Craft Acrylic Paint
Other Acrylic Colors (optional)
Step 2: Gauntlet Pattern
Since I used to do some fantasy costuming for an annual event, I had a gauntlet pattern ready to go. Making a pattern for yourself is pretty straightforward.
The LENGTH should be the measurement from your wrist to 1-1.5 inches before your elbow. If you're going to do any decorative shaping (like I did at the wrist) keep that in mind.
Next, measure 2 WIDTHS: 1 around your wrist and 1 around your forearm about an inch from where your gauntlet stops.
Mapping out these 3 measurements will give you what you need to form a basic gauntlet shape.
Before finalizing your pattern, decide what your attachment method will be.If you plan to use velcro to keep the piece on, add an inch to your WIDTH measurements, so your gauntlet can overlap and secure.
If you're using grommets and lacing, or simple elastic straps, you might consider subtracting 1 inch from your widths so there's a gap on the underside.I have very small forearms, so I usually go for elastic because I know it'll cling tight and stay put.
Step 3: Trace and Cut
Trace your gauntlet pattern on craft foam of your choosing, roll or single sheet.I usually opt for a thin foam because it's easier to cut and will cooperate more readily with shaping.
Cut out the shape. Thin craft foams cut smooth and easy with a pair of decent fabric scissors.
Now is a good time to do a quick test fitting.Use hair elastics to hold the piece on your arm. Check to see if it's the proper length and make sure the shape allows you to been your elbow and move your wrist.
Step 4: Drawing Your Line Work
Use a contrasting Sharpie or gel pen to map out your designs. The line work you make here is what will look "embossed" when you trace over it with hot glue later. You can freehand your lines or utilize templates that suit the tone of your costume.
I'm making this gauntlet to go with an existing Jaguar Priestess masquerade costume, so I used some chunky, geometric kiragami cut outs as stencils because they reminded me of the bold shapes in Aztec art.
*If your foam is from a roll your gauntlet may want to curl up on you. Use a weighted object on each side to keep the piece flat and steady while you draw.
Step 5: Heat Shaping
Now that the art is in place we can let that foam curl! If you used flat sheet foam this step will be especially important. You want your foam armor to conform to your body in a way that looks sturdy, but tailored.
Applying heat via a heat gun or hairdryer will cause the foam to retain the curvature you apply to it.
Find an object roughly the width of your arm and wrap the gauntlet around it. Using soft hair ties to secure it to the object keeps your hands out of the way and also won't leave any harsh dents in your foam. I used a contact lens solution bottle since the contents would not be harmed by the brief heat.
*SAFETY NOTE:Do NOT use spray cans/ bottles of flammable material like hairs rap or spray paint. While they are conveniently arm sized for some of us, it could be a really bad idea to stand there zapping it with a heat gun.
Apply heat evenly over all sides of the foam. Go back and forth, up and down. Rotate your arm form to be sure you hit everything. Check after 2 minutes. If the curve isn't adequate, re-secure and apply heat evenly for another 3 minutes. The thicker your foam, the more time it may take. The curve we need from a gauntlet isn't complex, so it should come pretty easily.
Step 6: Embossing
Plug in your hot glue gun. I'm using a super cheap, basic low temp gun.
*SAFETY NOTE: Observe basic hot glue gun safety to avoid fires and burn injuries.
Do NOT leave a heating glue gun where pets and children might touch it.
Do NOT leave a heating glue gun resting on a flammable surface. If you glue gun has a little stand to keep it upright, use it!
Do NOT walk away from a plugged in hot glue gun. It's just too easy to leave the room and get distracted by the phone/ the cats/ tv/food/ another project. Leaving an unattended glue gun plugged in creates a fire hazard, not to mention a waste of electricity and your glue sticks.
When your glue is up to temperature and dispenses from the gun freely, begin tracing your line work. Move slowly and apply steady pressure to your glue gun trigger. Take care around corners so you don't smear the glue you just laid down.
To avoid stray hot glue "hairs" at your start and stop points, press the tip into the foam just slightly before lifting away. You can use the tip of the glue gun to guide your excess hot glue back over where you were just drawing and meld it seamlessly with your existing line.Keep a toothpick on hand to cut off and swipe away unwanted glue hairs and peaks when you're done.
Step 7: Painting
Apply an even coating of metallic spray paint. This should be done outdoors or in another well- ventilated area, with proper surface protection underneath. Allow the piece to dry and apply a second coat, if desired.
Since your foam is porous and matte, don't expect a blingy chrome coat out of your spray paint. I find that the foam absorbs it a little and produces some natural variances in sheen throughout the piece. I really like this because the materials are doing some of the work for me; making the gauntlet look a bit worn and antiqued.
If you want a bright, brand new chrome look, you will need to do a base coat of resin or acrylic paint for the spray paint to sit on.
*Note: Spray paint is not universally a good match with foam. I'm using it here based on pervious experience and the finish results it yields on standard craft foam. If you're not certain whether your chosen foam will hold up to spray paint, test a scrap first. If the results aren't what you're looking for, do a base coat sealer or use acrylics instead.
Sparingly load the tip of your paintbrush (I like a firm, flat brush for this step).
Loosely outline your hot glue shapes.
Do NOT allow the outlines to dry. Go back in immediately and use a circular motion to scrub/ blend the black outward.
Use any leftover paint on your brush to outline the interior of smaller shapes, so that you don't overwhelm them with black. If that happens, you can always go back in with a little metallic acrylic to bright up spots.
Detail and highlight. You may wish to add some more color to your piece to make it feel more authentic. Think about your character: Where have they been? What were they doing last time they wore this? This is also a good time to carve in any scratches for battle damage.
Use a finer tipped paintbrush with white or lighter metallic shades for controlled highlights on top of your hot glue lines.
Use a dry, bushy brush to scrub on deep brown for battlefield dirt, or dab on patches of rusty red or minty patina green to indicate aging metals.
Flick a diluted paint loaded brush at your armor for a little blood spatter!
If you like, do a final spray clear coat layer to seal. I like a satin finish for worn armor. Adding a clear coat will also help unify the luster of your different paints.
Step 8: DONE!
Secure the piece using your preferred attachment method and you'r ready to rock! I installed elastic with E-6000 for a quick and easy snug fit. Again, velcro, lace up, and snaps are all viable wear options, depending on your desired aesthetic and purpose. The silver piece pictured here was done a few years ago for a different costume. The base was a kid's soccer shin guard --second hand sports gear makes great armor foundation if you don't want to build from scratch!
Considering the low cost and relatively low time investment for this method, I find it delivers some very nice results. Use this method in combination with foam carving and layering to get really great custom pieces for cosplay, Halloween, prop making, and more.
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