This tutorial is an upgrade to my original Instructable of how to make Samus Aran's Varia Suit from Metroid Prime. After having worn the costume for some time and improved my skills making costumes from foam, this tutorial is an improvement of the original. I recommend reading the original tutorial linked for creating the initial pattern.
What have I changed?
If you look at the photos above, the left shows the armour I am currently working on, and the right shows my old armour. Right away you can notice the difference in quality of colour and materials. The results of this change is that the costume is easier to make, more cost-efficient, and experiences less wear and tear than the original materials. The last photo shows two pieces side-by-side. The original one is covered in stretch pleather. The fabric needed to be taped and glued down to the foam. After the first day of wear at our local convention, the coating on the pleather wore off where friction was happening, which could not be fixed. Using car vinyl, however, can experience a lot of friction and the colour will remain the same. Stretch vinyl also isn't cheap, whereas car vinyl is easier to find in the colours and sheens I needed.
Another change that was made was the material used for the translucent parts. Instead of using plastic file dividers, I used transparent Worbla and coloured translucent vinyl meant for car headlights.
Continue reading to learn how to get this effect on your costumes!
Step 1: Vinyl-Wrapping: a How-to Guide
- 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)
- 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.
Now that your pieces of foam are covered, you can attach them to another piece of foam or fabric. For the Samus costume, I attach all my pieces to another piece of foam. Note that if you are doing this, you will need to expand the size of your pattern you are cutting your pieces from slightly. I recommend cutting out your foam base and patterning over that to get exactly the size you need, either by covering it in tape and tracing what you need, or if it is not a complex shape, wrapping it in paper or foam, or tracing the original piece to get the size you need.
To attach the pieces of covered foam to the base of your costume, attach the pieces together and tape them using painters tape on the front side, and then add your glue to attach them to your base. This will prevent your pieces from being off-center. If you look at the photo of the red chest piece, you will see this works extremely well.
If you have sanded any of your pieces to create curves (see the green arm cannon photo), any form of sanding will not allow adhesion to the vinyl. The dust from sanding foam will prevent the vinyl from sticking, and the dust is impossible to rid of completely. To aid in adhesion of foam to vinyl, add one thin layer of contact cement to the foam. After it is dry, the vinyl will stick wonderfully! I recommend this strategy for all the foam pieces if possible, especially if the piece will flex or bend. The vinyl will start to peel back from the foam after time and will create bubbles. Using the contact cement strategy will definitely help prevent that.
Step 2: Using Translucent Vinyl
In the first two photos above, you can see the rich colour payoff with the translucent car vinyl. in the last 3 photos, you can see the green colour isn't as vivid. After some time, the costume experienced some bending which crinkled the green plastic in the old costume. The transparent Worbla is stronger and doesn't bend. The even greater things about the Worbla is it can be shaped with heat and can be sanded to diffuse the light and make it appear more solidly lit instead of seeing all of the LED bulbs. How is this done?
- Cut the Worbla a bit longer than what is needed so that there is area for securing to your costume.
- Using gloves, shape it with a heat gun on high heat. You can leave the protective plastic on while heating as long as you are not over-heating it or creating very complex shapes.
- Peel one side of the protective plastic off. With medium grit sandpaper, sand the plastic. I like to use side-to-side, then up-and-down, then around-and-around motions to make a uniformly sanded surface.
- Clean off the dust from the sanding.
- Peel back the other protective film.
- Cut the translucent vinyl slightly larger than what is needed to cover your piece.
- Peel back the sticky side of the vinyl and stick it to one end of the piece you are covering on the smooth, unsanded side.
- Using your heat gun on low, heat the vinyl until it becomes softer. Use a squeegee or softer flat surface to adhere the vinyl to the Worbla. You can use your hands, but there is a higher chance of bubbles forming. If you are attaching the vinyl to a curved surface, continue to warm and stretch the vinyl over your piece. You can peel the vinyl up and reattach it if you make a mistake.
- Cut off any excess vinyl and peel the protective cover off.
- Attach to your costume and add your lights as needed!
The improvement made adds shape and dimension to the end product. You can see my costume was quite flat before, and now has the ability to be more curved and smooth.
Step 3: Final Thoughts
You can use the strategies I created to improve on other costumes and props. The changes not only save time and money, but they make the costume last longer and look better.
Let me know if you have created your own Samus cosplay!