FilaMojo’s Guide to 3D Printing for Cosplayers

3D Printing for Cosplayers
Pose photo created by stockking –

It’s remarkable how Additive manufacturing, a technology once predominantly used to prototype airplane and automobile parts is now publicly available to create 3D-printed shoes, dresses, suits, toys, action figures, display busts, and kitchen utensils (Yes, you read that right, you can print clothing items with 3D printers now). 

In fact, a week back, FilaMojo’s research team found a study conducted by Online 3D printing company Sculpteo for the year 2021. It revealed that more than 25% of 3D printer users are printing for personal interests and hobbies. Almost 71% of the users preferred FDM and FFF printers at their home. 

What could possibly the 71% do more than 3D-print tabletop models for D&D session, Warhammer 40k miniatures, and display vases? The answer can be found when you perform a simple ‘3D printing’ Search on YouTube and eliminate the items mentioned above. You will find a lot of YouTube creators are offering guides on how to create solid items for superhero costumes. Enter ‘cosplay’, a major use case of 3D printing.

3D Printing in the World of Cosplaying

According to Wikipedia, the term ‘cosplay’ is a portmanteau of ‘costume’ and ‘play’. Studio Hard’s Nobuyuki Takahashi first used this word in his My Anime article which was published in 1983. He witnessed anime fans wearing costumes of their favorite anime characters, both in the United States and Japan. The costumes were mostly made of spandex, foam, cotton, and a few synthetic materials.

Fast forward to the late second decade of the 21st century. Cosplayers started including 3D-printed components in their costume. This mostly applied to armored characters like Aloy (Horizon Zero Dawn), and Din Djarin (The Mandalorian), who possess distinctive head gears and chest armor. Designing and detailing the gears using conventional design techniques and foam is not easy, nor does it yield the best results. Soon cosplayers could easily invest in a 3D printer, as one can buy a 3D printer for as low as $200. 

Cosplayers on YouTube started showing off their 3D prints and made guides on how the community can print the same. This is where FilaMojo will be helping you as well, as we bring you a step-by-step guide on how to 3D-print armor, weapons, and helmets for your cosplay. So, let’s get started!    

3D Printing Guide for Cosplayers

Before you start:        

Use a resin SLA/DLP printer if you intend to print small figurines for board games, high-resolution models, fantasy weapons, and production-quality parts. Resin printers can bring about a higher degree of details, it’s an exceptional experience to see them print!  

For large-scale models and cosplay items, use an FDM 3D printer as the prints will be cheaper in price and you might not have to deal with intricate carvings. The finishing is better with SLA/DLP printers, sans sharp resolution.

This can cost a little more but for best results, cosplayers can print everything using resin SLA/DLP printers, and then use sand paper to make the prints look smoother.     

1. Create a rough sketch of your cosplay

Visualize in your mind what you want your cosplay to be about. Get a body image from Google, and you can start to sketch the key details of your visualized costume. You’ll be able to deduce which part of your costume requires 3D printing. In the example image above, you can see a ‘Captain India’ sketch with Star Lord. Here, the Ashok Chakra emblem on the chest, the helmet, and the shoulder guards will be 3D-printed.    

2. Draft a measurement-accurate prototype of your sketch

3D Cosplay
Superhero mask vector created by brgfx –

Once you agree on a rough sketch for your cosplay, it’s time to make things official. You’ll need to create a colored concept art of the final look. Take body measurements, especially your forehead circumference, chest width, hips width, inseam length, and whichever parameter seems relevant to the cosplay parts you are 3D-printing. 

3. Create a 3D model on Blender

It would be extremely easy and speed up the process of 3D-printing cosplay props if you find some files from Thingiverse. You can later tweak the design to your requirements. If There are too many tweaks to be made, it’s better to create a fresh design on Blender. Of course, you‘ll want to know how to work on Blender, and there’s a steep learning curve to operate the same.   

4. Check for inconsistencies and scaling

3D-printing is not exactly a cheap affair. A helmet that does not fit or an armor with loose fitting on the chest can force you to reprint the problematic parts. That’s a lot of time and filament wasted, where a roll of PLA can cost more than $20 and a bottle of resin can go up to $60.

Hence, you’ll have to scale your 3D prints and ensure proper fitting even though your measurements may be correct. You can check out this YouTube video for a proper scaling guide, where Yosh Studios has used ArmorSmith Designer to scale a helmet according to a specific head size. The software costs $35, but hey, you won’t have to worry about wasting time and money on faulty 3D prints.    

Alternatively, you can use MakeHuman plugin in Blender to generate a custom 3D model true to your size. Fitting trials of the 3D prints can be done on MakeHuman’s generated model, like in ArmorSmith Designer. 

5. Painting the props

Before you start painting, you’ll need an N95 mask to protect yourselves against sanded plastic particles and aerosol paint as they can create a lot of health hazards. Start by sanding down and smoothing out the surface of your 3D print. You can use sandpaper with grits ranging from 80 to 320. Then, use a primer to get rid of 3D print lines. Once the print is primed, use acrylic metal spray paints for the base colors. Paint in small details using acrylic color tubes and a 0.8 mm flat paintbrush. Check out an in-depth painting tutorial for 3D parts here.

Finally, you’re done with your cosplay armor and helmet/mask. Comic conventions and superhero fairs usually host a slew of cosplay competitions. You might want to research your character and polish your acting if you really want to win these competitions. For more guides and helpful blogs, stay tuned to the FilaMojo website!

Also read: 20 Applications of 3D Printing | Complete Guide

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