View Full Version : Tutorial: Cheaper Materials

09-12-2007, 10:51 PM
Why make this tutorial, you ask? Well, not everyone has the money or the means to get wonderflex, insulation foam, resin epoxy, and so on (like younger cosplayers without credit cards for online orders). Also, with most of these materials, they're easy enough to find and cheap enough so that if you mess up and have to start over you don't really lose anything but time, as opposed to losing 50$ in wonderflex and model magic, for example.

Cardboard - This Material is gaining more and more popularity mostly because it's free, it's lightweight, and it has uses in most common cosplay props (Swords, armor, etc)
Where to Find/Buy - I've worked at a Borders Bookstore and currently at GameStop. Both of those businesses throw out tons and tons of cardboard every week. For mall stores they build up their garbage before tossing it, so you're likely to get some if you just ask. For stand alone locations they probably have a dumpster in back, but I wouldn't suggest that because you'd end up dumpster diving for a sheet that's probably been soaking in garbage water for a few days.

I suggest GameStop or Borders because they both get very tall boxes from time to time which means wide and unspoiled sheets of cardboard which really come in hands for some projects. The easiest way is to just ask the employees there. Some companies are weird about their trash, but most will hand over their over-abundance of boxes happily.

Tips - the biggest one for making strong and durable props is to cross the corrugate. The corrugate on cardboard is the ridges from the zig-zaggy middle layer. Having one layer vertical, then horizontal, then vertical again, for example, would make a sword much more durable. Of course, though, there's always FeatherWeight's dowel rod method, which involves slicing a long hole through the middle layer and inserting a wooden dowel rod for an extra solid weapon.
Also, when trying to cut a clean shape, it's best to use a box cutter or X-acto-knife (BE CAREFUL) Scissors have a way of crimping and smashing the edges of what you're cutting out while also bending and mangling the sheet of cardboard while you try to position your scissors through it. It's best to take the box cutter and slowly work along the traced shape (or whatever you're using) slowly. Don't be afraid to go over it lightly several times since that allows you to get the exact shape you want while also giving you room for error.

Poster Board - A great finishing layer for any cardboard prop. Smooth and equally lightweight.
Where to Find/Buy - Yet again, GameStop or Borders, since they use the stuff constantly for all the signs and advertisements they hang up in the store. When they're done with them they usually got straight in the trash. If you know someone who works there ask them if they can help you out there. Those signs change at least once a month as new games come out and new promotions come up.

If you can't get the freebies, Walmart, Walgreens, or any store that sells school supplies should have sheets of it for sale. I avoid that because I'm cheap as hell.

Tips - A wonderful material for finishing that cardboard prop before you paint. I inadvertently picked up this Technique for FeatherWeight, since he does the same thing.
The big thing to keep in mind is that you should always cut a few extra inches out for whatever you're covering since you never know how the poster board will lay against the prop. Also, if you have too much, you can fix that with some scissors, rather than having to rip off the whole thing and start over because you cut too little.

PVC Pipe - Similar to Cardboard, it's lightweight, durable, and great for swords and most other weaponry. It's rather cheap, and comes in a variety of thicknesses. The other great thing about PVC pipe is that the various connectors and joints allow you to make deconstructible weapons which are ALWAYS a great thing for cons. Oh! and it comes in 10ft pieces, which is great, and I assume you understand why, by now.

Where to Find/Buy - Check Home Depot if you can, or any other nearby hardware store. I'd suggest Menard's but that's a home improvement store so you're not likely to find any.

Tips - This is another material where the "More is always a good thing" rule comes in. If you cut something too long it's not as hard to cut it shorter. You can't cut a pipe longer if you made a segment too short.

Hot Glue - A somewhat strange material because it has various applications in molding, shaping and finishing. Simply sealing two things together is easy enough to do, but doing it well and efficiently takes practice.

Where to Find/Buy - Michaels crafts, Jo-ann Fabrics, etc. It's not a hard thing to find.

Tips - As we know, Featherweight can do some amazing stuff with Hot glue, but I'm not going to instruct you how to do that. too hard for a casual cosplayer... Also, I can't quite do that.
The things to keep in mind is that Hot glue can be melted and dried over and over and over. So, saying you glue up the edge of your prop and it leaves those bumpy drops because the glue doesn't always come out smoothly. Well, if you just take the metal tip of the glue gun you used and run it against the glue again it will start to melt and you can smooth it out, giving it a better finishing touch.
Hot Glue also comes in handy in small scale mold making. I've used hot glue to make a number of spikes for a prop and it's a rather quick process as long as you have the right materials. The big thing when using it for mold making is to use some mold release or something so the object you're molding doesn't stick to the mold and ruin itself and the mold you made. This is a useful thing for those who don't know how to cast with resin and all that.

Duct Tape - Not really that cheap at all but VERY useful in tons of projects. Basic applications are easy to figure out, but, as a full fledged craft material it's often thought to just be used for wallets.
Even if not used for a top finish, it makes for a great material for holding something together on the inside.

Where to Find/Buy - Any hardware store, Michaels, Wal Mart, Duct Tape Sales (http://www.ducttapesales.com/)
You can find Duct Tape in just about any color imaginable now, so it also comes in handy for last minute repairs.

Tips - Duct tape is not very good for building shoes since even the highest quality duct tape with melt and slip around under foot-heat. On top of that, even if you think you have your shoes sealed solid, the dust of floors and streets will creep under the tape and slowly peel it off.
I should also warn you that duct tape doesn't breathe at all when used as a fabric and it contains heat quite efficiently. So, if you decide to make an all duct tape costume be prepared to sweat.

Wire - Comes in a few different varieties and thicknesses. What I mean though, is the cylindrical copper (or any other metal) wire that can be bent, shaped, and so on. Wonderful for making wire-frames for a prop you're building. Also comes in handy for creating supportive structure in costumes that have unnaturally stiff parts that technically can't be done with cloth.

Where to Find/Buy - Can be found at a hardware store like Home Depot in a decent sized spool. If you happen to go by Menards they also sell them in loops.

Tips - Same as PVC pipe, take more than you think you'll need since you can't make an already cut piece longer. Better to just sacrifice the few inches of wire you'd snip instead of anything else.
A Technique I use with wire is to create a frame then attach cardboard around it in a polygon fashion. This doesn't make for a very smooth finished product, but it makes a wonderful base for the rest of the prop.


Basic Tools

TOOLS: The very basics you need for working with these kind of materials. This list should be completely devoid of Power Tools for good reason.

-Scissors: I have several pair, including a needle-pointed pair, utility scissors for cutting through thicker materials.

-Box Cutter: This sort of tool comes in handy in all sorts of ways but it's also the one that you're most likely to hurt yourself, badly, with. A good kind to have is one that allows you to easy swap out new and old blades, since blades do wear out kind of quickly.

-Pliers: Always good to have around for Wire-frame uses.

-Hot Glue Gun: I have the basic kind that you can find at any craft store which is good for the melting and sculpting part since the tip is metal and it heats up like crazy. I also own a Coldheat glue gun that's not as good, but it's wireless so it does come in handy for getting to those spots that a corded unit can't reach.

-Duct Tape: It's a tool and a material, yes. I keep various colored rolls around for just about anything I need. DT comes in handy with cardboard props because it allows you to test some things before you seal them up with a few pieces of tape.

-Ruler / Measuring Tape: Even if you're using more fancy and respectable materials, it's still good to have one, or both, of these are.

-Hand Saw/Hack Saw: For cutting segments of PVC or Dowel rod.

09-12-2007, 11:45 PM
Excellent post ChrowX. This has always been a weakpoint for me, and you're the resident master at this stuff.

Alexia Ishtar
09-13-2007, 12:04 AM
Nothing wrong with using cheap materials to make props. Almost anything can look good if it's finished correctly.

v^.^ I <3 this post

09-13-2007, 06:53 AM
Woo! I'm glad to see someone else has been using posterboard for a finishing surface too - I keep meaning to post up my tutorial about craft-foam/posterboard armor, since that went ridiculously well...

09-13-2007, 07:10 AM
a good list but you've left out the almight dowel! i'd be helpless with out thoose cheap light wieght wonderful sticks never endley useful and so many sizes !

09-13-2007, 09:07 AM
Excellent post ChrowX. This has always been a weakpoint for me, and you're the resident master at this stuff.

*points up at the FeatherWeight post above him*
Me? No no, he's the resident expert.

09-13-2007, 09:27 AM
NOTE: BAH! 10,000 character limit? Who needs it.

Dowel Rod - By request of Featherweight, the almighty Dowel! Which is actually a wonderful material for the hot glue based props. PVC is nice since you can get so much of it, but since the surface is smooth, you have a much harder time hot gluing to it. The dowel rod is made of which which has a natural porous nature that allows the glue to seep in better.
Also, you can find wooden dowel rods in various thicknesses that are drastically smaller than you'd find with PVC, which may be more useful for certain projects.

Where to Find/Buy - As long as you're hitting up Jo-ann, Michaels, or any other craft store looking for the glue sticks, poster board, or whatever, you could probably find the dowel rods there too.

Tips - I refer you to the Cardboard Katana 101 (http://forums.cosplay.com/showthread.php?t=76828) thread again for this

09-13-2007, 02:57 PM
Excellent list. I'll keep an eye on this post.

Until then consider my post both praise and a BUMP. ;)

09-13-2007, 06:46 PM
Thank you very much for posting this, it really helps to novice cosplayers such as myself, especially since most modeling clay and stuff cost an arm and a leg! Thanks again.

09-14-2007, 03:17 AM
I suppose Papier-mâché (paper mache) is also valid for this list...though I suppose it's debatable whether that's a material or a technique.

09-14-2007, 09:00 AM
I'd say craft foam is pretty cheap- especially if you get it on sale from craft stores and it gets a nice smooth surface with wood glue. :) Get it along with those little acrylic paint bottles and hot glue and craft wire all in one fell swoop. Plus, you can heat form it/hot glue it a bit to get curves and even tiny compound curves using your stove.

09-14-2007, 10:09 AM
Hmm.. Lemme put together a few more things for the list... I may need to borrow your second post, Verdatum.
Papier-mâché is a material in my case. Works as a good finishing layer for my cardboard monstrosities.

The Hag
09-14-2007, 11:46 AM
Tips -
I should also warn you that duct tape doesn't breathe at all when used as a fabric and it contains heat quite efficiently. So, if you decide to make an all duct tape costume be prepared to sweat.

LOL! Duct tape as fabric! That had never occurred to me. Not surprised to hear that it doesn't breathe well.

Because I'm a seamstress, sewing takes up all my time and money so I've yet to make a prop that didn't involve cardboard, glue and spray paint. I love this list! I would add colored electrical tape to it. Not a strong enough adhesive on it's own, but good for a last coat over duct tape or covering glued joins.