Cosplay- A Tale of Do’s and Don’ts

By Lindsay Carter

The year was 2016, the end of April and yours truly had just finished up her second convention ever and I was really determined to not only commit to next year’s con but to bring what I considered, at the time, my ‘A-game’.

I chose two costumes like the ambitious women I am to this day. Spiral from Marvel Comics. A bad ass villainess with 6 arms, magic powers and a whole bunch of swords. The second was my first go at building a Mandalorian Armour kit including 8 armor plates, a helmet, weapons and fabric pieces. The first, I planned to have ready for that year’s Halloween and the other, I would work throughout the year to have it finished for the Convention in April 2017.

Fast forward.

A year later and with the Calgary Comic Expo weeks ago. Spiral, while terribly uncomfortable to wear, was fortunately relatively easy to get on and off. I fashioned a harness for the 4 fake arms out of wire hangers and an old sports bra. Testament that poor cosplay is pain, the harness was uncomfortable as all hell. All the swords, helmet and shoulder bells were crafted out of EVA foam or cardboard. While not the most forgiving of costumes, it survived to tell the tale of Halloween and I was excited to rock it again at the Calgary Comic Expo due to the fact that she is a lesser known, but wildcard character in Marvel comics.

The Mando armor was slow going and I had so much to learn about vertically mounting armor, adhesive and even forming thermoplastic as a whole. It is quite a process and one I would save for another time and another article.

Alas. I am stubborn and after a year of blood, sweat and a plethora of tears, I had nearly everything complete and packed away for travel. Planning has always been one of my strengths and that leads us to the first item on the list.

DO- Give yourself tons of time.

So important. And in a way, I mostly did. Deciding that if I gave myself just under year I would have nothing but time to build not just one, but two costumes. What can I say? I very quickly found myself over my head and so, I can’t stress this enough: for your first few projects, start small and explore new techniques only once you feel ready.

In addition, allocate ample time for not only building, but for gathering all the necessary materials such as fabric, foam, tools and other accessories.

DON’T- Find yourself rushing.

From collecting your materials and building your design on paper, from actually measuring and assembly. Always remember to measure twice and cut once. It will save you time and material, and thus, money. Once you have progressed to assembly or mounting pieces such as armor or other embellishments, never rush the drying process. Hot glue, model adhesive and even the toughest epoxy needs time to dry properly. I recommend a minimum of 24 hours.

A great example, a lesson I learned the hard way. Picture yours truly, trying on her battle armor. It looks great, it fits…okay at best, but within the first few hours of the day, plates are either not sitting properly or in some, sad cases, falling off entirely.

DO- Make a plan

Draw out a basic blueprint.

Even if you think you can not draw well, don’t fret! You don’t need to be a perfect penciler to sketch a basic plan of attack for your costume. You can then use this blueprint to jot down measurements, physical dimensions and even, construction ideas as they come. It’s a handy tool that once you get in the habit of using, you’ll never understand how or even why you ever did otherwise.

I also recommend making cardboard templates for experimenting before you cut into your expensive materials. Cardboard is moldable, can be temporarily bonded with painters tape, is inexpensive (I save beer boxes, personally.) and a great way to test run your designs before you start cutting into material. There is nothing more frustrating than having to throw away material because you rushed the cutting process and admittedly, it is a pain I know all too well.

Set a budget and start with your basic materials.

The almighty dollar. It does move us all but depending on your first project, it is possible to make a rocking cosplay without breaking the bank. Thrift shop, utilize free or cheap material, and research before you jump in. Learning about techniques and alternative materials can not only save money, but time as well. Collect paints and other craft supplies as you need.

DON’T- Use one cutting instrument for every material

From scissors or their more heavy-duty cousin, shears and even Exacto utility knives. Each tool should have an assigned job and should be traded out once they become dull or ineffective. A great example, is using sewing scissors as all-purpose craft scissors will become frustrating quickly as they will tear your fabric, opposed to cut crisp, clean lines.

Exacto blades should be taken seriously, used with due care and should be used without exposing excess blade. Once you need several inches of blade to cut, it is time to use a saw. With Exacto utility knives, the blades should be snapped away as soon as they become dull.

And how can you tell, you may ask?

They are ready to be changed as soon as you have to muscle your knife to cut. I often use a canned good to ensure that the snapped blade doesn’t go flying haphazardly and should be discarded into a container specifically for blades. An old coffee can or margarine container works great.

For thicker material, maximum half an inch in this cosplayer’s opinion, utilize the scoring method. A technique by pressing and tracing the blade along your desired line 2 to 3 times over. I recommend this technique for Sintra, EVA foam and other, moderately dense plastics.

DO- Use safety gear.

Gloves, I recommend mechanic gloves or even fitted leather work gloves. The former tend to have rubber grips on the palm but still provide moderate protection from cutting instruments. Protective eye wear and when necessary, a respirator. A paper dust mask is fine for a starter respirator. Even something as simple as sanding or cutting Sintra and other thermoplastics expels dust that is a nonlethal, but a strong irritant nonetheless.

It only takes a few extra moments to protect your health and well-being.

DON’T- Use your tools improperly.

Don’t use blades to pry, Don’t use hot glue on fabric, you will regret it. Finally, don’t use tape as a long term adhesive… yes even duct tape. These adhesive dry and peel paint. Time and time again they may save time, but will cost you more in the long run.

DO- Work your costume as a whole.

Not only will it aid in keeping everything uniform, it will prove to be a valuable technique once you begin to assemble your costume. Form, functionality and visual aesthetic is the most effective order for the construction process. It has to fit before it functions and it has to do both before it can look good. Finding a balance between all three can be difficult, but it is the most effective order I have found in bringing my cosplay from 2D character or drawing, to a 3D personification that not only looks great, but fits great and is a genuine pleasure to wear.

DO- Learn, be safe and of course, the most important, have fun!

Be open to new ideas, set aside adequate time to avoid rushing and get ready. Before you know it, you will be marching out with your new creation on display!

Links for Products Specifics:

Hardware Supplies- Any big block store such as Canadian Tire or Walmart for your paint supplies and safety needs.

Some items of use, such as basic clamps, sewing materials, paper towels, magnets, rollers, hobby knives, and even model adhesive can be found at some Dollar Stores.

Cosplay Supplies- A great website based in Canada. They have everything from block materials such as Sintra and Worbla, body paint, and accessories such as footwear, makeup, costume jewelry.

Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo- The biggest gathering of pop culture in Western Canada.

Basic Starter Tools, safety gear and Equipment

– Gloves, leather or mechanic style work gloves.
– Protective eye wear
– Respirator for aerosol paint and sanding work
– Exacto knife. Don’t cheap out on this one. Get a decent quality knife with included, snap off,
replacement blades.
– 2 sets of scissors, one for more heavy cutting, the other should be strictly for fabric and
strapping to keep them sharp. I try to get 2 for 1 deals at the fabric store or section of a
department store. Get two different colors to keep their purposes clear.
– Hot glue gun. A dollar store glue mini gun is a get starter tool. Pick up the mega value pack
of mini sticks while you are at it.
– Sharpies
– Pencils
– Paper
– Paint. Acrylic or Aerosol.
– Masking/painters tape, although I prefer frog tape for detailed painting projects. It’s
guaranteed not to bleed paint.
– Sand paper, a couple different grits. 90-120 grit is what I would recommend for plastics and
– Cardboard for templates. I save beer boxes. The lightweight material is moldable, but rigid
enough to hold shapes and forms.


For more great Cosplay ideas and information check out:

**Disclaimer – is not affiliated with any of the above listed websites. Nor is liable for any issues arising from ordering from any of the above listed websites. If you have any issues, or need returns/refunds with orders from the above listed sites, you will have to deal with the vendor/seller directly.

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