Working with Worbla: Cosplay Basics 101
Have you ever wanted to create a cosplay outfit, but weren’t sure where to start or what material to work with? Have you ever heard of Worbla and wondered ‘what the heck is that?’ Well today’s post covers all the basics of working with Worbla through a tutorial, tips, and tricks video. While Worbla can be a bit pricey, it’s great for making and holding shapes, plus it’s decently easy to learn how to work with and doesn’t require special work area ventilation!
Video start- What Worbla is & tools for working with it.
2:36- Heating Worbla up to show its malleable properties.
5:44- Making a pattern.
8:19- Worbla tutorial; making a bracelet.
13:37- Touch on painting and priming, final considerations and tips, wearing/attaching Worbla armor, and actual armor example pieces.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links
What is Worbla?
Worbla is a thermoplastic sheet that can now be bought all around the world. It is rigid and can hold shapes when cool, but becomes flexible and malleable once heated up. Worbla can be reheated for additional shaping or reshaping, and the scraps can even be molded together and reused. Furthermore, Worbla contains a built in glue on one side (the smoother, shiny one) that is heat activated; allowing it to stick to itself and create a bond.
In order to work with Worbla, you’ll want a heat source such as an iron or steam. I would highly recommend using a heat gun as a first choice for a heat source, since it tends to provide the most control. These can be found at any hardware or home improvement store for fairly inexpensive (I believe mine was around $60).
I also like to have a pair of scissors on hand for cutting the Worbla, as well as a ball point pen for tracing patterns and indenting designs when using the sandwich method with craft foam.
The first thing you’re going to need before creating a piece is a pattern from which to make it. You can make your own personalized dress form out of duct tape or plaster bandages, or you can use cling wrap and masking/painters tape. Once you have your pattern, you can trace it onto you craft foam and Worbla pieces. If your piece is symmetrical, I’d recommend using half the pattern, then flipping it to trace the remainder of your piece to ensure both sides are the same.Remember to cut the Worbla piece out slightly larger than the craft foam so there’s room to wrap it or to sandwich the front and back pieces together (over using just Worbla alone, both these method create a stronger piece that’s easier to get smooth).Take your time with the pattern and think it through; I would consider this step the most crucial of the whole build process. Without a proper pattern, the piece won’t fit right and it may hinder mobility -remember, your joints and body parts flex and bend; allow for comfortable movement when creating your pieces. Additionally, feel free to test your patterns with paper or a thin foam before going the full way with your Worbla.
Working with Worbla
Heat your Worbla up in order to work with it. If using a heat gun, hold the gun 5 or so inches from the surface and move the heat back and forth across your piece to evenly heat it up. Once it starts to reach the proper temperature, the Worbla will start to darken in color and become limp. Don’t overheat the Worbla, as this can lead to burns, bubbling, and the Worbla tearing easier. If you need to reshape the piece, or it cools and hardens before you finish, reheat it to continue working.
Layer the Worbla or roll it out into long, thin snake-like pieces to add borders and detail work. If you end up with a trapped air bubble, pop it using a pin, then gently smooth the Worbla back out. Heating the Worbla up gradually tends to work better than speed heating it on a high setting. For my Elspeth cosplay, I used roughly 1.5 jumbo sheets of Worbla. I used the edge wrap method as opposed to the full sandwich one. The amount used included “screw up” pieces while figuring out what I was doing for a first-time project with Worbla 🙂 .
Worbla has a slightly rough surface that may not look good as a final surface texture for the project you’re working on. There are many ways to make it smoother. Since this topic could be a whole tutorial itself, I’ll share the following link since I think it does a good job of describing the various methods of priming Worbla and prepping it for paint. For my Elspeth, Sun’s Champion cosplay pieces shown in the video, I used the wood glue method.
Painting pieces is another detailed step that is worthy of its own tutorial. Again, everyone has their own methods from hand brushing, to spray painting, to airbrushing. It’s important to work in layers and high contrast to help bring your piece to life -actually paint in shadows and highlights to give it depth and dimension. For my pieces shown in the video for my Elspeth cosplay, I used metallic spray paint, then added aging and shadowing with black acrylic paint (various techniques can include dry brushing or a paint wash). I sealed my paint with Pledge (Future Finish) floor wax to prevent it from rubbing off and to maintain the metallic shimmer of my paint job.
Attachments and Wearing
There are a number of methods for attaching your cosplay pieces and wearing them. Some common ones include using D-rings and either lacing or straps. Other methods include Velcro, snaps, or clips. It’s important to test this step out too. Again, you don’t want the pieces to be uncomfortable or limit your mobility. Additionally, it’s important to reinforce these areas to ensure they don’t break, resulting in your pieces falling off.