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Unread 07-03-2008, 09:52 PM   #1
Katsumiyo
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Tutorial - Working with Porous Styrofoam

Pictures will be coming soon. ^^;

Porous styrofoam is a really overlooked substance that can be used for tons of stuff, particularly large objects that need to be lightweight. I used it for my Maya necklace and hair ornaments, ball on Horo's sash, and, most notably, my Adiane tail.
Working with porous styrofoam can be a time-consuming project. However, it's widely available in many different shapes and sizes--spheres, boards, discs, cones, cubes, and even cylinders or halo shapes. You can find them online, at your local craft store, or at Michael's.

Pros:
-lightweight
-can be carved using even a butter knife
-durable

Cons:
-needs at least 2 weeks for absolute completion
-can be fairly heavy for larger projects
-can get a little messy P:

What you'll need:
-styrofoam bases
-regular, NOT SERRATED knife (only if you're carving)
-acrylic gesso
-cheap paint brushes
-sanding sponges
-paint (spraypaint is recommended)
-liquid epoxy, if you're attaching pieces

Recommended additions:
-spray-on clearcoat
-spray-on primer
-rubber gloves
-smock/cover shirt

If you see special styrofoam-smoothing paint in the craft store, do not buy it! This stuff is more expensive than it's worth, it does not apply smoothly, and it's unsandable.

If you're carving:
Take the styrofoam object in your hand, and, using your knife, cut through towards your fingers or thumb and carve the object into the shape you desire. If you're using a butter knife, which I'd recommend you do, you don't need to worry about cutting yourself this way. Once it's carved to the shape you'd like, sweep up and throw away the shaved-away pieces. :3

If you're attaching pieces together:
Use liquid epoxy to attach pieces together. Do NOT use superglue or crazy glue; it won't hold during sanding. Hot glue will melt the styrofoam. You can also use your leftover epoxy to fill in major dents, nicks, or gaps in the styrofoam.

If you need to make holes in your styrofoam:
Use wooden skewers or another long, very narrow object to poke a hole through the middle (or necessary area) of the object. While coating your styrofoam later, poke a skewer back through the hole now and then to makre sure the hole stays unclogged.

Now...we can finally really get started!
Set up your work area. I suggest using newspaper to paint over and set objects down on. If you have spheres, you can use rocks to keep them from rolling away while they dry. While painting, you can suspend smaller objects on the skewers if you want to paint both ends at once without having the gesso stick to the newspaper.

Take one object in hand at a time and get painting. Be sure you stir the gesso well before starting. Just coat one side at a time, use extra gesso to fill in little holes or gaps that appear. Be sure you set down the styrofoam to dry so the freshly coated surface isn't touching the ground or newspaper; it's a pain to peel off. You can use the skewers later to paint around each side without covering the hole you punctured, if holes were necessary.
In warmer weather, you can paint as much as 3 or 4 times a day. This is good if you're working with a close deadline. Gesso will take much longer to dry in cold weather, and may not dry at all in extreme humidity (read: rain).

Use your sanding sponges after 3-4 coats have been painted on. Keep sanding until the surface is smooth or you have sanded to the point where you can see the styrofoam. I suggest beginning with 80 grit, then moving down to 60 grit for rougher spots. 100 is good for getting rid of streaks your brush may leave.

After the styrofoam is as smooth as you can get it, layer on more gesso. This is why you will need at least 2 weeks, possibly more for this project. Each object will take 7-10 coats at minimum and sandings between every 2-3 layers.

When the styrofoam is smooth, if you'd like to you can spray on some primer. Gesso acts as a sort of primer, so you don't NEED to do this step, and whether you do or not will not have an effect on how the color appears once painted. This step is good if you're pressed for time and couldn't sand the styrofoam as well as you'd have liked to.

Paint your styrofoam! Augh, finally. If you're using acrylic paint, use a GOOD acrylic paint brush and paint on 2-3 layers. If you're using spray paint, use 2-4 light coats. Be sure to not leave any gaps or missed spots where the white of the gesso will show through.

Clearcoat. Depending on the spray paint you used, it may not require this step. However, if your styrofoam will be rubbing against anything, or ESPECIALLY if you're using an arts/graffiti-purpose spray paint brand such as Montana, you'll want to clearcoat, or else it could begin to flake off during wear. If you choose to clearcoat, be sure to choose appropriately: matte clearcoat will not be very shiny or reflective, but glossy clear coats will give a much more shiny appearance.

Are you stringing your styrofoam on something? If so, try this: tape one end of your string to a skewer or something even narrower, and push the skewer/other object through the hole to bring the end of the string to the other side. Then, remove the string from the skewer, and pull the skewer back through the first side. Now your object should have string going through one end and emerging out the other. :3
I used deep sea fishing line for my Adiane tail, so that's why it can hang and curve as I'd like it to. :3
For Maya, I used this same method and won 2nd place because of it. ^^; So I thought I should share.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment and I'll do my best to reply promptly. I may have left something out, and I'd like to add pictures and more details as well, so I'll be returning to edit this post now and then.
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Last edited by Katsumiyo : 03-17-2010 at 01:04 AM.
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Unread 07-05-2008, 12:11 AM   #2
Ita istar
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awesome post! This method is a great one~~~ Keep it up :3
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Unread 07-05-2008, 05:42 AM   #3
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I use polystyrene a lot when making props, which is a bit like styrofoam in its properties, and I have to add in some things that I've discovered.

When painting polystyrene, only use paints that are water-based. Alcohol based paints can crumple and melt your polystyrene.

If you're attaching things together, then a hot glue gun is an excellent thing to get your hands on. I've found that it's really durable and works wonders. :3

Aaaaand one more thing. ^^'

Another great thing for working with polystyrene (although the sheets I've been working with are from a specialty polystyrene supplier) is a hot wire cutter. Basically, a hot wire cutter is a device that heats up a thin strand of wire to a heat where it ploughs through the polystyrene effortlessly and it makes your life so much easier when cutting and shaping.

I guess the best example of something that I've made using these techniques is my Demyx sitar, if anyone's interested.
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Unread 07-05-2008, 10:44 AM   #4
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thanks for writing this katsumiyo! i cant wait to get to use this method
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Unread 07-09-2008, 08:29 PM   #5
Katsumiyo
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mittenkitten View Post
-snip-
Thing is, that's what the gesso's for--not only does it make it stronger, you can paint it with pretty much whatever you wish.
And a hot wire cutter might melt the styrofoam...that, and not many people actually have a hot-wire cutter. ^^;
Also, hot glue won't hold with my method; hot glue isn't strong enough, nor can you sand it as well as epoxy. Thanks, though.

Thank you, Ita!
And you're welcome, Jessi! Don't forget to show pictures in the GL thread~
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Last edited by Katsumiyo : 07-09-2008 at 08:59 PM.
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Unread 07-09-2008, 10:53 PM   #6
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A quicker alternative to the gesso is wood filler, i covered a styrofoam ball in it to make my friend's haro and you can get it really smooth, it takes about 2 layers but it's really hard, easily sandable but i put in a layer or two of gesso just as a good primer. The only problem is it's a little more pricey than gesso but not too bad.
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Unread 08-23-2008, 03:43 AM   #7
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You are fantastic for posting this. Some of what you said we've learned from trial and error a la Rebellion and Red Queen, but it's nice to know that gesso is a viable alternative instead of paper mache! (Why didn't I remember gesso from art class? WHY?)

Thanks!
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Unread 08-23-2008, 12:09 PM   #8
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I was wondering where different size styrofoam balls can be found? It seems that at the art stores around here i can only find the small size...Maybe online somewhere?
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Unread 08-23-2008, 01:51 PM   #9
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JoAnn's also has them in several sizes. Looks like they go up to 6 inches in diameter.
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Unread 08-23-2008, 02:07 PM   #10
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ah, thanks killa. I dont have a JoAnns anywhere NEAR me (closest one is like 2 1/2 hrs away) so i wouldnt have known that. But maybe i'll order them from there or take a field trip to a JoAnns
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Unread 08-25-2008, 12:02 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by !*Jessi-Chan*! View Post
ah, thanks killa. I dont have a JoAnns anywhere NEAR me (closest one is like 2 1/2 hrs away) so i wouldnt have known that. But maybe i'll order them from there or take a field trip to a JoAnns
They have them at Michaels as well.
Most craft stores should have them since Styrofoam is often used in flower arranging, and many other miscellaneous projects.

Also Katsumiyo, I Notice that you didn't mention Styrofoam Cutters ( Sold at Michaels, for around twenty bucks. ). Is there any reason you didnít talk about them? I find that they cut through Styrofoam really well.

Thanks for the tutorial it's a big help.

Last edited by Ashleythedragon : 08-25-2008 at 12:12 AM.
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Unread 08-25-2008, 12:51 AM   #12
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i was needing some small ones and i couldn't find any gems but i was wondering what to do so that the holes wouldn't show, thanks so much!!
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Unread 08-25-2008, 01:07 AM   #13
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Thanks so much! I've been wondering how to properly make use of porous foam..This will definitely be useful for future cosplay stuffs. ^.^
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Unread 09-26-2008, 05:31 PM   #14
Katsumiyo
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So sorry for the necrobump, I forgot to answer some questions and I feel terrible. xD;
Netto: Thanks for the info!
Ashley: Personally, I'm an enormous 'tard with cutters like those, so I prefer doing it by hand. This tutorial was really just how I did it. But if you, or anyone else, have good control over those, go for it!
Jessi, Killabee: Styrofoam balls can easily be up to 10 inches in diameter, they're mostly at Michael's but I found mine at a small, local craft store.
Everyone else: Thanks so much! So glad I could help. :3
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Unread 09-26-2008, 09:39 PM   #15
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Hrmm, I wonder if that is also useable with that absorbent live flower arranging foam, the kind that you can mold with you bare hands...or would it be too fragile?
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