This is an incredibly simple Instructable about how to turn your costume/cosplay into a perfect metal or plastic-looking masterpiece! This technique may save you some time and money when creating your next masterpiece, and is very useful for projects that need to look perfect and clean, which is a look that is not easy to obtain and maintain in cosplay. I am currently working on Samus' Gravity Suit from Metroid Prime (pictured above), which has a very flawless and toy-like appearance. To achieve this, I chose vinyl over paint.
- Car vinyl
- Heat gun or hair dryer
- EVA/craft foam (also can be used on Worbla and other materials)
- Contact cement (preferably the scent-free LePage brand)
- Painters tape (not required, but useful)
How to acquire vinyl:
There are many sources for obtaining car vinyl. You will buy it by the roll. Pay attention to the size of the roll - if you have extra large pieces, some rolls will be too small. You can get it from Amazon, but I have had a lot of luck shopping for vinyl through Wish.com. It takes longer to get it, but it is cheaper and I have found a larger variety of colours and sheens through Wish and you can get discounts using their codes. You can also purchase vinyl with cool patterns on it and vinyl that is translucent for lighting work or colouring transparent plastic/glass. The vinyl I get from Wish is about $10-15 for a 1.5m roll. The costume I am working on now is a full armour set plus an arm cannon/blaster, which took up about 7 rolls. Some of the vinyl I have used is pictured above.
Why use vinyl?
Consider that the arm cannon took 1 roll to cover. The standard way to colour a prop would be to prime it and paint it with spray paint. One piece may take an entire can to cover, plus time to cover it. It may also start to peel or crack over time. In Canada, each can of Flexi-Dip and paint costs about $10/ea for results not as flush, so the savings start adding up with this strategy. You also don't need to work outside, so working in the winter is easy!
Step 1: Covering With Vinyl
- Cut the pieces you need for your costume from EVA foam.
- Place your piece on the back of the vinyl with the wrong
- side facing up and trace around it. Add at least 1cm of space around it so that the piece can be wrapped.
- Cut out the vinyl where you made your lines.
- Peel the backing off of the vinyl.
- Place your foam on the vinyl with the wrong side up. Make sure your foam is free of debris. You can use the painters tape to remove any lint or hair that is stuck to it. The vinyl picks up these details, so clean pieces mean clean results.
- Press down on the foam to stick it to the vinyl.
- Flip over the piece and use your heat gun on low or your hair dryer to warm up the vinyl. Press down on the piece to help the vinyl stick. Heated vinyl sticks better.
- If you are working with a curved piece, you will need to heat the vinyl and stretch it over your piece. You can watch videos on YouTube showing how people put vinyl on curves of cars in shops.
- Flip over your piece to the back. Cut darts if there are curves in your piece or if your flat piece will be bent (this will aid in buckling/unwanted folds).
- Using the heat gun/hair dryer again, heat the vinyl until it becomes a little softer and fold the pieces around the back of the foam. Tip: to keep darts on rounded edges from becoming rough and jagged, use your hand in a curved shape to fold the pieces inward at the same time instead of individually. Don’t worry about the back looking pretty – that will be covered up.
That’s it! Keep reading for more tips for finishing and creating even more flawless results.
Step 2: Tips for Covering and Finishing
Now that you have a bunch of pieces covered in vinyl, you will need to connect them. What I do to attach the pieces together is create a foam base. I cover the base and the back of my pieces in contact cement and stick them down. Easy! Note that if you do this, you will want to slightly expand the size of your vinyl-covered pieces as the foam base will cause the outside to become larger. The difference between this technique and painting is you are essentially colouring the pieces and then attaching them to a base rather than attaching and then painting. See first photo above for covering the back in foam to cover edges. The next photo shows cutting darts on a flat side as I had to curve the piece. The last photo shows a few completed pieces.
You can also attach your vinyl-covered pieces to other kinds of fabric using contact cement as well.
If you do not wish to attach the pieces to anything, I recommend covering the backs with something to help prevent the vinyl from peeling up. Adding contact cement or another glue should work fine. I don't recommend using hot glue as it will melt the vinyl.
If you want double-sided pieces, you can either leave out the seam allowance for wrapping and attach it directly on both sides, or put two covered sides together.
Vinyl connects very well to itself. You can easily wrap other objects with vinyl as well!
You can use translucent vinyl in a similar way. If you want to cover a clear item to make it coloured, you can purchase vinyl meant for headlights and use a squeegee or other softer flat surface to smooth it out after heating. You don't need to wrap this kind of vinyl if it is on a perfectly smooth surface. This is how I coloured the light-up section of my glove and the shin armour blue and the gun section orange (transparent Worbla is underneath).
After some time, your vinyl may start to form bubbles or pop up of the foam. Foam is soft and vinyl sticks best to very smooth surfaces. To prevent this from happening, you can cover your foam in one thin layer of contact cement. Once dry, it sticks very well to the vinyl. This is perfect for pieces that have been sanded. Sanded and dusty pieces will not stick to the vinyl. With one coat of cement, it works perfectly!
What did I recommend painters tape for? Well, if you are building something with multiple parts that need to go side-by-side perfectly (see photos above), you can use the tape to attack the pieces together on the front first, then flip it over, add the glue, and then attack it to your backing. Contact cement is super strong and once something is connected, it is almost impossible to get it off again. This prevents any misplaced/off-center pieces from being placed.
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments.