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Unread 01-12-2013, 02:01 AM   #1
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Thick Armor - Foam vs Molding

Need help getting a gameplan for this armor:

I've never worked with foam or molds before, but I know foam is squishy, and molding can be expensive. With it being armor... squishy just... doesn't sit well with me. My friend mentioned wonderflex? Looked it up... looks like it's a non-vacuum form of vacuform. Is this correct?
Could I made the shape out of foam, then coat it in wonderflex? Will it be hard?
If it doesn't, will something else do that?

The goal is something I can easily make into those shapes, that will be hard (or at least a hard shell) Easily paintable and preferably light.

Sorry if I sound like an idiot, once again this is all new to me. I've made armor in the past... but not for cosplay.
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Unread 01-12-2013, 11:50 PM   #2
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Use EVA Foam. Also known as puzzle mat foam or anti-fatigue floor mat. Also get posterboard, use it to draw out the templates, cut, trace to the foam and cut the pieces from the foam. I use a exacto knife myself as it's much better than trying to cut the foam with scissors. After that just use a heat gun to shape the foam how you want and paint.
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Unread 01-13-2013, 12:34 AM   #3
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Foam comes in different types. The most common foam to use for armor is EVA foam. This comes in many forms, from the anti-fatigue floor mats stated above, to the "Foamies" you find in craft stores. It's all the same stuff, just different thicknesses. It easily forms with heat, and you can obtain rounded objects by forming the foam over bowls, styrofoam balls, etc. The really squishy stuff you're referring to might be upholstery foam (usually green, found in fabric stores) used for cushions, pillows, etc. This foam, while not necessarily good for stiffened-but-flexible armor, is useful for padding and fabric applications (muscle suits, sewn-in details, etc).

Wonderflex is a form of thermoplastic. It comes in sheets, and it becomes pliable and formable when warmed with a heat source (blow dryer, heat gun, over the stove, etc). Once cool, it holds the shape and becomes hard. Like foam, you can form it over round objects for things like shoulder pauldrons or breastplates.

Sandwiching craft foam (which is just a thin version of EVA foam, like the floor mats) between layers of wonderflex is common practice. You'll still need to coat the wonderflex, as it has this bumpy, waffley grid texture in its normal state, but it can provide lightweight, easy to form armor.
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Unread 01-13-2013, 07:02 PM   #4
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I always have trouble with wonderflex as a coating for anything - it's one of the more difficult thermoplastics to shape over a form that isn't completely hard and solid, because the advantage of wonderflex - the grid mesh inside that allows it to be heat-shaped in compound curves and folds - is also its disadvantage. It moves around more easily, it takes impressions of your fingertips while you're trying to press and grab and move it, and too much repeated heating and twisting will rip the plastic away from the mesh.

Other thermoplastics like Sintra and Kydex are much easier to heat-mold without needing a mold or form, all you need is a heat gun and you can shape and curve it by hand. However, they have a tough time forming compound curves and complex shapes.

If you don't have a way to vacform large pieces like that (I sure as hell don't), there's a variety of different methods and I think the choice comes down to a combination of budget, workspace/tools, and personal preference. Some folks love fiberglass, some hate it, some simply don't have a safe workspace in which to use it. Some love foam covered with bondo or modpodge or plasti-dip or any number of other substances. I don't, because I think it still looks like foam. Then there's always things like papier mache and plaster wrap, which are good for forming base shapes but need something on top of them as a finishing coat if you want a sturdy, smooth finish like plastic.

There's a lot of options, quite frankly. Look into all of them before making a decision on which way to go. And really, in the end, the under-structure and shaping materials of armor like this may be any combination of the above. What makes the armor look like solid, shiny, smooth plastic with no flaws is your finish - how you prime it, paint it, and coat it. For all you know, you could fool a lot of people just by finishing the top layer perfectly, they would have no idea that the under-structure is foam or papier mache or whatever it turns out to be. This is actually how I plan to approach my Wild Tiger armor - I have some research and experimenting to do before I declare that I will or won't use such-and-such method on each part of the armor.
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