Worbla’s Finest Art has a rough texture and it can make painting your first project annoying to just plain difficult. There is no ‘official’ method for smoothing Worbla, and different cosplayers prefer different products. I’ve collected all of them here to give you an idea of the pros and cons of each, with a bracer made to show where they excel and where they can be a pain in the butt.
Gesso is an artists primer. It comes in white and black, and in various thicknesses. It’s one of the most common materials used for smoothing Worbla’s Finest Art.
Buying Gesso: You can buy Gesso at any art supply store, and I know I’ve even found it in Walmart on occasion. I highly recommend buying the heavy body version if possible, as it cuts your application time in half.
Application: Apply gesso in layers, allowing them to dry inbetween, until the worbla is completely covered. Sand smooth with sandpaper. Re-apply gesso to areas that need to be filled in. Repeat. For heavy body gesso you will likely apply 3-5 coats. For thinner gesso, close to 10 is normal.
Optional: Apply 1-2 coats of Lacquer or Shellac to help fill in smaller imperfections and create a smoother surface. Wood filler can also be used prior to the gesso to fill in large cracks and imperfections. Paint primer can be used after the lacquer for even more smoothness. These steps are all known in thanks to Coregeek Cosplay and Creations!
Results: It’s possible to get one of the smoothest surfaces possible with gesso, but how smooth will depend entirely upon your time spent sanding.
Pros: Gesso is cheap, easy to use, non-toxic and can be used in mom’s livingroom with easy cleanup. It doesn’t require special tools other than a dust mask while sanding. It can give a very very smooth surface, and does not have any issues with dripping/rippling in the surface, and remains flexible and resistant to chipping. Gesso is very easy to paint afterwards and does not require additional priming, and leaves single layer differences of Worbla detailing intact.
Cons: Gesso is very, very time consuming, requiring multiple coats and a lot of sanding. The larger the project, the more likely you’ll spend hours sanding pieces to get a smooth surface. It’s difficult to work around fine details like filigree or scales. It requires patience and time to achieve the look you want.
Example: I am really really bad at sanding, and after an hour of hacking at the bracer I decided ‘good enough’ for example. Gesso is personally not a good option for me because I have tendonitis – this much sanding by hand is impossible! espeically around all the fiddley bits – my ‘flat’ areas look much better. That said, we know Gesso can give the smoothest surface thanks to the work by Coregeek, who is also the one to introduce me to Shellac.
Gesso and Lacquer, after weathering.
Carpenter Glue or Wood Glue, when used for Worbla, is the yellow glue used to fill in joints in carpentry. It can be thinned with water when applied, but dries hard and yellow and quite smooth. It is the other most commonly used material for smoothing Worbla’s Finest Art.
Buying Wood Glue: Wood glue can be purchased at any hardware section or store, and is quite inexpensive. You can buy it by the gallon for under $20usd.
Application: Apply wood glue in thin layers for best results. Using water to thin the wood glue slightly (usually just with a wet brush or a wet finger) is suggested for the final layers to minimize brush strokes. Depending on the thickness of the glue, anywhere from 3 to 7 coats can be needed – or more – to remove the Worbla texture.
Optional: Like Gesso, 1-2 coats of Lacquer at the end can help further smooth the surface. You can also sand wood glue if needed.
Results: A decently smooth surface, especially on flat areas. Curves can have drips or runs where the glue has shifted. For flat surfaces wood glue can be applied in thicker coats for a faster result. If not applied thickly enough, some of Worbla’s texture will still come through.
Pros: Wood glue is cheap and easily obtained, non-toxic and safe to use in mom’s livingroom. Cleanup can be messy and working over a protected surface is a must. Thin coats dry quickly, allowing for many layers within a short timeframe, and it does not need to be primed before painting. Wood glue works well around filigree work though it’s difficult to fill in all rough details on worbla ‘tubes’ and if carefully applied smooths out ‘scales’ without removing the single layer detail differences.
Cons: Wood glue can be frustrating on curved surfaces, as it will pool or drip or run in areas, creating a wavy, rippled effect. If applied too thickly, it can show brushmarks, and does not self level. Wood glue is not flexible and is prone to cracking if overly flexed or dropped.
Example: My first time around, i stopped at 6 layers because common ‘knowledge’ on Wood Glue was that 3-4 coats should be ‘enough’. I found this wasn’t the case, as you can see here. I added additional layers and Lacquer before weathering (below)
Wood glue, after weathering.
Flexbond is a nontoxic Rosco product designed for use with stage scenery. It’s similar to in consistency to pva or wood glue, but maintains excellent flexibility once dried. It also does excellent double duty for sealing fun foam before paint.
Buying Flexbond: Flexbond is available online, and at many stage and theatre supply stores. It’s around $35 for a gallon, which will last quite a long time.
Application: Apply Flexbond in thin layers for best results, allowing them to dry inbetween. Using water to thin the Flexbond slightly (usually just with a wet brush or a wet finger) is suggested for the final layers to minimize brush strokes.
Results: A smooth surface, especially on flat areas. Curves can have drips or runs where the Flexbond has shifted.
Pros: Non-toxic and multi purpose if you also work with foam, Flexbond is easy to use with easy cleanup, though a protected work surface is a must. Flexbond dries quickly and does not need to be primed before painting. Flexbond will fill in ‘scales’ but does remove some dimension in single layer detailing. Flexbond, as the name suggests, is incredibly flexible and is an excellent choice for pieces that will see a lot of movement, as it is very difficult to chip or crack. It takes less Flexbond to cover Worbla’s grain, 3 coats generally is enough.
Cons: Flexbond, similar to Wood Glue, can be frustrating on curved surfaces. It can pool or drip or run in areas, especially if applied too thick, and create a wavy, rippled effect. Flexbond has an expiry date, and though still useful once Flexbond ‘expires’ it needs to be thinned out with water for regular use. It cannot be frozen or used in temps below 50 fahrenheit, and can be harder to get.
Example: My Flexbond is old, and a bit thicker than I’d like, creating more of a wave/drip finish than I’d prefer for flat surfaces – though like this it makes hammered metal quite well. Thinned out more gives a smoother finish.
Watch to the end as I FLEX the edges. Flexbond after weathering.
Smooth-On’s XTC-3D Resin Coat:
XTC-3D is a new product that Smooth-On created specifically for makerbot/3D printers that leave striations in their final piece, to smooth these out. It’s self leveling (meaning no drips or waves if properly applied), strong, glossy, and can be mixed with pigments and powders to save on painting.
Buying XTC-3D: You can buy from Smooth-On directly in the USA, and from Sculpture Supply Canada. Smooth-On’s website also lists international retailers. A trial kit will make enough to cover between 7-10 bracers, for under $20.
Application: You must read the instructions included with the product. XTC-3D is a resin, similar to what cosplayers cast gems from. It must be used in a WELL VENTILATED AREA with a RESPIRATOR and GLOVES. You mix 2:1 of the liquids, then pour them into a large flat surface (they suggest making a tinfoil container for ease of cleanup). You then apply one coat of XTC-3D to your project and continue to brush at it for ten to fifteen minutes until it sets up. If you don’t do this, it will run and pool just like wood glue or Flexbond, and make a mess wherever you left it…. trust me.
Results: Properly applied, you have a perfectly smooth surface in 15 minutes of work and 4 hours of cure time.
Pros: Incredibly fast and time saving, it cures in approximately 4 hours and can be sped up if low heat is applied to 15 minutes. XTC-3D also gives the smoothest coat, and works very well over filligree detailing that can be difficult to smooth with other methods, and adds a high level of strength to finished pieces.
Cons: If improperly applied, XTC-3D can pool and create a wavy finish that is difficult to fix (it requires a lot of sanding, and sanding must be done with a mask). It requires a properly ventilated work area and specific temperatures, as well as safety gear. If applied too thin, the texture of Worbla still shows through. If too thick, it takes longer to set up and greatly removes single layer detailing such as scales. It removes almost all flexibility from the finished piece, and will crack if flexed. XTC-3D must be primed before applying acrylic paints (spray paints take well to the surface.) it can also be more difficult to get.
Smooth-On has several videos about XTC-3D that give a good idea on the process.
Example: My first attempt at XTC-3D, I didn’t quite make enough and tried to spread it too thin. As a result, you can see the potential for XTC-3D, but there is still Worbla’s texture seen. I then made up a larger batch and tried again, several days later. This time I found an excellent smoothness – but I wasn’t careful enough to keep working until it was set up, and as a result there are drips in areas (inside the top loops, for example)
XTC-3D, second coat, after weathering.
What’s this about durability?
I did several drop and flex tests with my bracers. 4 drops onto concrete from 4 feet, and flexing to put the bracer onto my arm and off again. The Wood Glue and XTC-3D both took damage as shown – the Gesso and Flexbond did not. I actually then threw the Gesso/Flexbond models around a few more times just to see if I could chip. The Gesso started to crack only after I really started to flex it, the Flexbond is still without a mark.
Wait! There’s more! Optional steps!
Buying: Available in any hardware department and online. I suggest using a colour-change formula as they’re handy to know when it’s ready to be sanded.
Application: Apply with a hard tool – a putty knife works, I often use old hotel key cards or popsicle sticks. Skim off excess so that it stays only where it’s needed. Allow to dry, then sand smooth.
Results: Smoothed out hole! Great for joins, also useful for where you’ve popped air bubbles.
Pros/Cons: If it’s planned to be used around an area that flexes, make sure you buy flexible filler – and test your flex before proceeding with primers and paint.
Lacquer (or Shellac):
Buying: Spray Lacquer and Shellac are available at most places that sell spray paint, such as hardware stores.
Application: Follow instructions on the can. Generally apply 1-2 coats, 15-30 minutes apart.
Optional: Sand with 220 grit sandpaper.
Results: They do not smooth Worbla on it’s own, but do help further smooth Gesso and Wood Glue.
Pros: Additional smoothness that doesn’t take much time.
Cons: It can be expensive, and must be used outdoors, in proper temperatures. If doing a large project, a proper respirator is needed.
Buying: Buy your primer anywhere you buy spray paint. Make sure your primer is made for plastics.
Application: Follow the instructions on the can, but generally apply 1-2 coats with between 30-60 minutes between.
Results: Additional smoothness! Again, does not smooth Worbla on its own, but does help further smooth Gesso and Wood Glue.
Pros: Additional smoothing that doesn’t take much time.
Cons: Must be used outdoors, in proper temperatures. If doing a large project, a proper respirator is needed.
Wondering about other options?
Well, I tried Plasti-Dip. Not only did it not do much, it peels away from Worbla easily. Varnish and Lacquer on their own also don’t do much, though they do bond to the Worbla at least, and Clear-Coat goes on too thin to be of any real use.
Things I haven’t tried:
Personally I haven’t used Shellac – the information I have comes from Coregeek, but that’s a source I fully trust. I haven’t been able to find Frogjuice which I hope to try in the future. (If anyone knows of a retailer in Canada, even better in Toronto, I’d appreciate!)
Summary of sorts: Assuming you want a shiny metallic finish
If you need the smoothest surface possible, especially for a high shine finish, and are working indoors/in the winter/your mom’s kitchen, Gesso is the way to go.
If it just needs to be smooth ‘enough’, Wood Glue does the job.
If it needs to be smooth and take a beating or stay flexible, use Flexbond. I also suggest Flexbond if you can get your hands on it in general compared to Wood Glue. (Less coats, more durable!)
If it needs to be the smoothest surface possible and you hate sanding, or you need a smooth surface ASAP and can work outdoors/have a proper respirator, use XTC-3D.
What do you mean there’s EVEN MORE?
What if you plan on weathering your armor? Well, then things change a bit. Examples were weathered with watered down acrylic paint, worked on with a brush and wiped off with paper towel.
Unfinished Worbla shows the texture all the more with weathering.
XTC 3D gives almost no surface for paint to really stick into – since it smooths out many of the cracks and areas weathering would apply to.
Drips and runs with Wood Glue or Flexbond will become more apparent.
While areas on the Gesso you missed sanding pick up every brush stroke and imperfection.
And now after all of that? Have a chart!
Personally, I’ll probably use Flexbond for most things – I like the durability it gives me, and the flexibility as well, plus less work to apply it is always a plus. For extremely complex curves that don’t have a lot of details, gesso if I have access to a hand sander, and XTC-3D if I don’t – assuming of course it’s summer and I can mix resin outdoors. For flat surfaces or things with lots of small details I’ll probably use Wood Glue or Flexbond.
As you can see – there’s no perfect solution, and no ‘right way’ of smoothing Worbla’s Finest Art. What you hopefully have now is an idea of what products will work best for your next project!
That’s all I have for now. I hope this was hopeful, and I still have 2 more bracers waiting for new products to test – so if there’s something you think I should try to add to this comparison, let me know at