By Eli Ebberts
The question that all cosplayers ask. Which is better for armor; Craft Foam, Wonderflex or Worbla?
Everyone has a different opinion of which is the best, however everyone agrees that all 3 have their own strong points.
I have actually had the opportunity to work with all 3, so I feel I can give the pros and cons of each.
First off is Craft Foam. Craft foam is easily bought in almost any craft store. It can either come by the sheet, by the pack of sheets or by the roll. The size of the sheets depends on where you get it, but generally when you buy by the sheet it’s smallest and gets bigger as you buy larger quantities. This is important to know since many times of armor cannot have seam lines. Craft foam can be heated with a hairdryer or heat gun and once it cools it will mostly hold it’s shape (though I’ve found the shape to be more flimsy). There are ways to make the foam hold it’s shape better. Many people will coat the back of their foam in glue and scraps of fabric, this makes it more ridged and less likely to lose shape.
The best thing about craft foam is that it is very very very cheap! A Pack of 12 sheets is around $7. To put it in perspective a pair of my pony wings shown bellow take a pack an a half of craft foam. Another wonderful thing about craft foam is that it is smooth on both sides, so you don’t have to gesso and sand it to make a smooth surface. However it does soak up most acrylic paints like nobody’s business! So unless you use a sealer first you will probably need to use 4-5 coats of paint.
Another down side to craft foam is that it cannot handle full curves. Meaning that it can be shaped or have a simple curve however it cannot create a circle (such as for a chest plate) unless you add unattractive darts or seam lines to your armor. However the good part of this is that craft foam does not get bumpy when heated meaning the curves are smooth. Finally craft foam cannot stick to it’s self and must be glued together.
I suggest using craft foam for large flat pieces, details and the base of your armor or accessory.
If building your armor out of craft foam take a look at this tutorial!
Second is Wonderflex. Wonderflex is a thermo plastic that must be heated in order to do anything with. Also it must be specially ordered online (I suggest Cosplaysupplies.com). However it comes in varying sizes and prices, so you can easily get just as much as you need. It can be heated with a hair dryer or a heat gun and one cooled holds it’s shape perfectly. Also if you shape it and it makes the wrong shape you can easily re-heat and re-shape it. Another amazing thing about wonderflex is it can be stuck to itself without adhesive! That also means that you can hide all seam lines by pressing the pieces together at the seam with a hard tool (such as a spoon), this also means that all scraps from your wonderflex can be melded into a clay like object.
Another plus to Wonderflex is that it has a ‘smooth side’, which means you do not have to prime it in order to paint it and have it be smooth and beautiful! Like craft foam wonderflex cannot make complete curves (circles) without a dart (However remember that these can be hidden) it also is good at making smooth shapes, though with too much heating/reshaping/difficult shapes it can become bumpy and un-smooth.
I suggest using Wonderflex for large curved pieces and the base of your armor.
If making your armor out of Wonderflex look at this tutorial or this tutorial!
Finally is Worbla. Worbla is alot like Wonderflex in that is is a thermo plastic. It also can be stuck to it’s self, however only one side is the ‘glue side’ which sticks not only to it’s self but everything else, the other side does not stick. It can be heated with a hair dryer, heat gun or steam (such as from an iron).
Amazingly Worbla, once heated, is able to stretch to create complete curves (circles). So it works very well for chest plates and pauldrons. Worbla however is the most flimsy thermo plastic. Without something behind it is is very flimsy and when making curves without a template is becomes extremely bumpy and textured. Also, Worbla does not have a smooth side and thus needs to be primed before it is painted in order for it to be smooth like armor.
I suggest using Worbla for round shapes such as chest plates, small details (when used as a puddy/clay) and a smooth top over a craft foam base.
If using Worbla take a look at this tutorial or this tutorial!
None of these plastics/foams are perfect. However all of them have their advantages. when building a suit of armor I suggest looking at all the pieces then seeing what plastics would work best for what parts. Such as using Worbla for round parts, wonderflex for sturdy curves and craft foam for details or flat pieces. Also! It is smart to use many together. It’s very common to create armor out of worbla that is backed with craft foam this makes it so the worbla is more sturdy and does not get bumpy, this also makes it so the craft foam holds it’s shape and adds depth and details. I also suggest making your base out of wonderflex then adding details via craft foam. This gives you a sturdy base and easily cut and manipulated details.
No matter what kind of armor you are building using one or more of these materials should help you along your way!
With thanks to Eli Ebberts