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17 Mar 2015 - 21:36117621
Getting Into Props - Any Tips?
Hey guys!

I'm looking to try something new and challenging. I've never really made props properly before and was wondering if people would have any tips on good prop making?

(I also realise I should really engage in the cosplay community more and stop being such a hermit)

18 Mar 2015 - 23:07117633
It really depends on what prop you want to make and what you will be using it for (convention or photoshoot) as both of these factors will influence the materials that you use, which will in turn influence which glues and paints need to be used.

You'll probably receive more advice if you provide a reference picture of a specific prop or at least give us an idea of the general type of prop you want to make (weapon/accessory/plushie/etc).

I've only made a few props myself but I can at least list some of the more common materials that you might need:

Craft foam
Foam board
Plastic tubes
Cardboard tubes
Balsa wood
Wooden dowel rods
Plastic drink bottles
Cereal packet card

And some of the tools/supplies that you might need:

Craft knife
Glue gun and hot melt glue
PVA glue
Epoxy resin glue
Impact adhesive
Acrylic paint
Enamel paint
Spray paint

Also you can gather a lot of useful advice by looking through peoples' journal entries, as there are quite a few people on here that document how they made their props (most of my costumes have journals that cover the associated props that I made)

19 Mar 2015 - 12:33117646
Quote ArcaneArchery:
It really depends on what prop you want to make and what you will be using it for (convention or photoshoot) as both of these factors will influence the materials that you use, which will in turn influence which glues and paints need to be used.

Hey ArcaneArchery!

Thanks! That's the kind of thing I was looking for really. The problem is I have a lot of prop ideas right now ranging from full body armour type, to smaller weapons ones. (Although I'm not going to attempt larger ones any time soon)

I suppose the most upcoming one would be Edea Lee's sword (Bravely Default). Although I don't plan to have it come out of the sheath, so it'll just be that and the handle.

Also parts of her armour, although I have an idea how I can make those with foam or worbla.

Last edited by Yotsuba (19 Mar 2015 - 12:34)
19 Mar 2015 - 14:38117648
Also worth thinking about where the props are to be used.

If you're doing private photoshoots, the world is your oyster. But if they are for conventions or competitions, the event rules may limit your choice of materials, and the dimensions of items.

20 Mar 2015 - 14:25117656
Props, I’m not an expert but I’ve done a few things, armour, weapons, belt buckles and various other bits an pieces, have a look at my costumes.
Basically its all about compromise, getting something that looks the part, but still works in the real world and doesn’t break your budget.

More often than not I’ve found animated and game characters props and especially armour to not actually work very well in the real world on a living breathing human being, so when planning your stuff think about how am you (or the person you are making for) is going to get it on, and off (can they do it, can they do it solo or will you need a helper etc), if you can get it on, will it stay on after walking around for a hour (tip don’t trust velcro) , can you walk normally in it, can you use stairs in it (seriously Mass Effect and Star Wars Storm trooper armour makes it really difficult to walk down stairs), how hot/cold are your going to be in it, how heavy is it and even how to you get it to and from the con. There’s also the matter of con safety guidelines, as mentioned above, there are usually size and material guidelines you have to follow. Think about this sort of stuff before you start building and it will save you a lot of pain later. Sometimes, especially for armour, it good to make a quick mockup of of the piece in cheap material like cardboard just to make sure it fits properly and it doesn’t restrict movement too much.

Worlba isn’t the answer to everything. My main materials are PVC foam board (Sintra/Foamex/Palight etc) and EVA foam from exercise mats, but I also make use of styrene, cardboard, PVC, leatherette, Craft foam, balsa and other woods, styrofoam, cardboard, basically anything, its a about choosing the best material for the job, the best means taking into account cost, availability, toxicity (for example I can’t use fibreglass in my flat) , ease of use, strength, weight, ease of finishing/painting etc, as I said its always a comprises. With a bit of experience you tend to find your favourites. Other things to look for is stuff to repurpose for detailing etc, screws and washers often come in handy, as do all sorts random objexct, I’ve used pens, a torch, plumbing supplies, bottle tops etc. Sometimes you just have to wander around DIY, hardware, Model and Pound shops until something jumps out at you and its yes I can use that to make that! Also keep a “bits box” of just small interesting bits of stuff that might come in useful one day.

Which is the best glue to use, erm well that depends, my general go to glue is super glue, cyanoacrylate, but note, not all brands are equal, it also comes in different thicknesses. But I also find use for 5 minute epoxy, hot glue, contact adhesive, Bostick, balsa cement and PVA, it all depends on what is being glued, porous and non porous maters glue differently for example, also working time can be important, sometime you want the instant grab of contact adhesive, sometimes you need a bit of working time. Be doubly careful if you are using Styrofoam or expanded polystyrene etc, some glues can dissolve it. As well as lots of glue, I use a lot of filler, to mostly cover up holes and mistakes etc, again different brands, Humbrol model filler is good for little holes, but for something substantial and needing strength Milliput or P-38 is required.

Basic tool is a sharp knife, used for everything, get one with a handle you can get a good grip on, some materials like EVA foam and PVC foam board need quite a bit of pressure to cut. Also change the blades often, they dull rapidly. Other useful tools are files, steel rule, set square, pens and pencils that work on the materials you are using, a bradawl to make holes, a hacksaw or even a fret saw, a hammer, pliers, clamps and clips to hold things in place, masking tape, dress making pins and sand paper, lots of sandpaper, in various grades. Power tools might be useful if you are using large bits of wood etc, but I manage with just a heat gun (cheap one from Argos) and a Dremel multitool fitted with sandpaper drums.

As for 3d printing, CNC machines and all sorts of automated gadgets I’m afraid I know nothing, but the way 3d printing is going I might get one in the future.

Oh and please be careful, sharp/hot/abrasive tools can do some serious damage to flesh, cut away from you if possible, wear hand/eye protection when necessary and just keep safe. I have a permanent scar on a finger where a knife slipped and I cut myself very deeply (lots of blood), yes Cosplay has scared my for life, others have had worse accidents.

Making props if usually messy, can be smelly and can be a bit dangerous, so think about where you are going to do it, and where the offcuts and sawdust etc is going to end up, if you have a workshop or a shed or garage to use, brilliant, but I have to make do with my kitchen floor, which can be limiting. I said smelly, yes, some materials, glues and paints pong a bit, so make sure there is ventilation, some are in fact down right dangerous to breath in (polyester resins etc) and require masks etc, so read the labels on the packs. Get a good cutting board as well, so you don’t leave knife marks in everything

A poor paint finish will make the best made prop look poor, and a good paint job can rescue a bodge job. But to put on paint well you need a good surface for it and that mostly involves sanding, filling and primmer and then going back and doing that again, and maybe again, its time consuming and messy and quite hard work, but with enough elbow grease you can get foam or wood to be a smooth as metal or plastic. I think this stage is often the longest stage of my projects. I’ve mentioned filler above and sandpaper should be used in various grades, starting at a medium and working down to a extra extra fine (about 800 grade) on the last coat of primer. I like to use grey acrylic spray primer, almost any brand will do, but I kind of prefer Halfords own brand, it dries fast, goes on smooth, sands easily and comes in big cans.

So you have it nice and smooth and all the little gaps and holes are filled in, so on to the final colour, which, IMHO has to be sprayed, unless you want something to look like its been brush painted, spray is the only way to go. I use spray cans, they’re easy to get and use and come in a huge variety of colours. Down side is mostly cost, I suspect the most of the money I’ve spent on armour projects has actually been on spray paint. An airbrush and a compressor would probably work out cheaper in the long run because you can use watered down regular paint, but they have quite a learning curve to them and they need a fair amount of maintenance and cleaning etc.

So pray cans for the main coat then, I mostly use car spray paints, usually acrylic and again Halford’s own brand seems to work well, but they aren’t cheap. When spraying multiple thin coats are better than one thick coat (MIST from a DIST I keep telling myself) , watch out for runs, and spray from a distance keeping the can moving. If you are using spray paint, watch out for overspray, you might have to rig up a spray booth or at least put a plastic sheet down (I get plastic groundsheets from pound shops). I often use my bath as a spray booth (shush don’t tell my landlady)for large peices as if any over spray hits it it will rub off with a scowering pad and some Mr Muscle, for small things I use a cardboard box. After spraying give it at least 8 hours, preferable 24 to dry properly.

Things to be careful of not all types or brands of paint like each other, they can go nasty and react in funny ways, so always test first on scrap materials. The other thing is masking, if you want multiple colours you have to spray one, make sure its completely dry (24 hrs usually) , mask it off and then spray the other, it takes time, but don’t take short cuts and use good quality masking tape where you want sharp lines between the colours.

After praying you can marvel at your lovely smooth finish, but sometimes it can be missing something and it feels a bit sort of flat. What it needs is detailing and weathering, black or dark lines or washes of thin paint in crevasses and grooves or around edges can bring out the shape, use thinned down paint (I prefer Tamiya acrylics for this) and a regular paint brush (you might want a reasonable quality water colour brush for this) for washes, thicker paint or even a fine marker pen for fine lines and pick out edges with a lighter colour, also if your piece is meant to be a old and well used try some weathering, dirty it up a little with brown paint, paint on cracks and scuffs, make use of any mistake or breaks and turn them into battle damage etc .

For things that should be metal dry brushing can really make them pop, use a small old worn out brush and dip it in some silver/steel/aluminium colour paint (what ever metal the thing should be made of) and then wipe most of the paint off on a paper towel, then go over edges and ridges on your prop with the brush very lightly, it will leave a tiny bit of paint just on the edge and will look like the paints worn off due to use and the metal is showing underneath, it takes a bit of practice but it can really bring something to life.

All these detailing techniques are similar to ones aircraft/ship/tank etc scale modellers have been using for years.

After you’ve finished your paint job you might want to clear coat it with a spray varnish to protect it. But be careful, not all clear coats are compatible with all paints, so test as mentioned before, and be careful they might leave a slight tint to the colour and they might make the whole prop too glossy (or to matt) . I’ve sort of gone off clear coating actually.

Other than that, read, watch you tube tutorial videos and just experiment

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