Beginner’s Cosplay Guide #2: Tools of the Trade

When I started cosplaying, I didn’t know anything about how to get things done. I knew that a lot of people sewn their own costumes and I knew a lot of people worked with foam and wood. That was about it. I didn’t know there was something called Thermoplastic, I didn’t know there were groups who worked with leather (or pleather). I didn’t know a lot of the tools people used and honestly, I jumped right into the deep end before I could swim. But, I think that’s how it sort of has to be as a cosplayer.

Cosplay is a crazy craft; cosplayers all begin somewhere and the question is where? How does someone start cosplaying comfortably? Who can cosplay? What are the etiquettes behind cosplay and what does a cosplayer need to know? Can someone with an unsteady hand become a cosplayer? Can someone who has never sewn-up a hole create stunning works of art? What do you need to get started? In a series of mini-guides, I hope to quell some of these questions and more.

GeekOut Media’s Cosplay Guide #2: Tools of the Trade

When I started cosplaying, I didn’t know anything about how to get things done. I knew that a lot of people sewn their own costumes and I knew a lot of people worked with foam and wood. That was about it. I didn’t know there was something called Thermoplastic, I didn’t know there were groups who worked with leather (or pleather). I didn’t know a lot of the tools people used and honestly, I jumped right into the deep end before I could swim. But, I think that’s how it sort of has to be as a cosplayer.

True, you can buy pieces and just make the pieces you hadn’t got up until that point, which is something I ended up doing a lot. However, the more I got into it, the more I wanted to learn how to actually make these wondrous pieces of art for myself. I’m no artist as many people will attest, but I certainly have a creative side. So as soon I started to get more into the cosplay spirit, I started to ask friends and family during Christmas times and during birthday’s to get me another piece towards my slowly growing extensive collection of tools. I started with just some duct tape and ended up with lots of tools which are useful both for cosplay and the real world too.

Timlah’s Recommended Tool Checklist

If you don’t want to read through the merits of every single item I discuss here, this is a quick and easy checklist I’d recommend you tick off for yourself. I would have included this in the HTML of the post, however isn’t a big fan of letting people do intuitive things like this as there’s a security risk. I think they should just disable Submit buttons, but hey ho, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Check out the above checklist and feel free to tick it off. I’d recommend you at least have these tools, but bear in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the tools you’ll need.

Tool Breakdown

Sewing Needles and Thread

Let’s start with the bread and butter of cosplay – You’re not going to get very far in cosplay if you cannot sew, this is a fact. At the same time, I’d not say I was great at sewing. Instead, I’d say I was pretty poor at it, but I can sew fabric together and I can sew together whole pieces. In my early days, I used to laugh at the monstrosities I made, including but not limited to daft looking pockets. I won’t go into too much detail about that, but so long as you learn how to sew fabrics together, you’ll be fine. I’d also recommend at least learning the basics of sewing so you have a valuable life skill behind you, at the very least.

I won’t do a whole section on fabric sheers as it should be fairly obvious why you need one, but basically these are special scissors with special edges, allowing them to cut fabric without damaging and fraying it. Seriously worth investing in one over a pair of kitchen scissors. However…

Scissors and Craft Knives

Whilst the two really are quite different, scissors and craft knives serve hugely different functions in cosplay. Whilst plain old scissors are excellent for card, paper and other stock-like materials, craft knives are the undisputed kings of cutting and detailing foam in the beginner stages. One thing I will say is that craft knives aren’t great for massive blocks of foam – You may want to invest in a proper wire cutter for that sort of thing, but you should judge your project accordingly.

If you’re working with small and simple materials, just use scissors. If you’re working with foams and polystyrene, use a craft knife set. You can get a full set relatively cheap and typically, whilst some brands are better than others, all brands I find are able to do the exact same job. Just find one you’re comfortable with.

Glue Gun

When I started cosplay, I wish I had my glue gun. Instead, I had Pritt Sticks, PVA and other silly glues which I had to learn were not very good. If you’re looking for a good beginner’s guide to glues, then you should check out this Hobbycraft post. A glue gun is honestly very handy, able to glue together foams, card and much more. You will nearly always need to use a glue gun at some point in your cosplay career.

Orbital Sander

Where the bloody hell would I be without an orbital sander? Look at the above image. I never finished that costume off, but I intend to redo it one day. If you’re new to the website, I won’t say what it will become, in hopes that it’ll be made one day. Without an orbital sander, I’d have never gotten that far. It wasn’t finished there, but I basically used a foam gun to create a mass of foam… And I stood there and sanded it for the better part of an hour with an orbital sander. You can only use sanding sheets for so long, before you realise that your project is going to need for a power tool.

For you people wanting to work with big props, you will need an orbital sander. Don’t worry – They’re fairly cheap. This is the one I have. It’s got a lot of power for such a cheap device!

Heat Gun

Every cosplayer will tell you a story of having used a heat gun; well, nearly every cosplayer. They’re useful for speeding up the drying process of many glues, but also useful for if you want to work with thermoplastics, which are an incredible material. If you’ve never seen a thermoplastic before, check out this article on the benefits of two different types of thermoplastic. The past couple of years, the standard thermoplastics have gotten a lot cheaper, but let me tell you this – They can turn a good costume into something truly great. But, do not get me wrong, thermoplastic is expensive. A heat gun, meanwhile, is not, so if you just want something to speed up the drying or curing process a little bit, with patience and know-how, a heat gun will help you.

Also, foam bends in real nice ways with the use of a heat gun!

Duct Tape

I hopefully needn’t tell you why this is important. I also hope you know what tape looks like. If not, then just quickly pop to your local store and see if they have any. A lot of local shops will sell this!

Optional Extras

While this list is not comprehensive, I hope you consider getting some of these optional extras too. I’ve not even gone into electronics yet, which might fall outside of the scope of these articles, but if you have a burning desire to see articles dedicated to electronics within costumes, let me know.

Nitrile Gloves and Masks

Sometimes, you’re going to use materials that are just toxic. No, not in the way we call horrible communities, but rather things that actually will do you harm. You’ll read a lot of materials you use will tell you to use it only in a well ventilated room. Well, this is why you’ll need nitrile gloves and masks. They’re both very cheap and both can genuinely save your life, so if you’re buying toxic materials, I will say this…


Sewing Machine

Now, strangely, I’ve thrown this down into optional. It’s almost a staple of any good costume to have your own home-made pieces, but let me be frank with you – Cosplay is as dedicated as you want it to be. You do not need to make everything, if you don’t want to… However, if you’re going to take yourself seriously as a cosplayer, making everything from scratch, that’s fine..! But you will definitely need to get on with this. You will need to get a sewing machine, as some of the larger pieces will take you hours upon hours for a single stitch.

Okay, slight exaggeration, but I hope you get the point.

Dremel/Rotary Tool

Right, brand placement and all that jazz, but Dremel is a brand name for a rotary tool. I thought I’d clear that up, as a lot of cosplayers talk highly of their Dremels, without explaining what it is. A rotary tool is something you hold with one hand, allowing you to add details, drill holes, sand, buff and much more. A rotary tool is a special tool with detachable heads, allowing you to use it for whatever you need to use it for. They are hugely important, especially when working with props. Using wood as your material? You’ll want one of these. Using big foam? You’ll want one of these. Using fabrics? Uh. Umm… Probably not…

They don’t solve everything, folks!

That’s it for issue 2 of our ongoing series of GeekOut Media’s Beginner’s Cosplay Guide. Issue 1 was last Friday, where I spoke about Beginner’s Resources, which mostly focuses on where you can find some great information. If you haven’t, check it out by clicking on the link at the bottom of the article. Until then however, let me know what you thought about my recommended tools for this week. Were they useful, or do you think some of the tools are completely unnecessary? Do you have anything you just can’t make a costume without? I didn’t include fabrics/paints/foams, because those are materials and not tools – But next week, we’re going to look at a few different types of materials and what you can do with them. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts on today’s article in the comments below, or over on Facebook and Twitter.

Haven’t read it yet? Click here for Issue 1: Beginner’s Resources

Author: Timlah

Certified gaymer with clout. Developing games and writing worlds. Loves people, but loves games and anime a bit more. Sorry people.

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