We asked Neocoolstar Cosplay to create a tutorial for us using Worbla’s Black Art, and she created this writeup on how she created her Shoulder Pauldron for Sarah Kerrigan from Star Craft 2.
Materials used: Black Worbla Foam Paper Pencil Box Knife Weldwood Contact Cement Heat Gun Googly Eyes
The Process: Human Sarah Kerrigan doesn’t have a lot of reference photos, but before she became part of the Zerg, she was a Confederate ghost. Since Nova is a ghost in the same universe, you can use her armor design as reference. But I’ll be using the cut scenes in Star Craft 2 to get my references for Kerrigan’s armor.
I started out with a free template from PunishedProps.com, cut it out, and traced the pattern over foam.
Once the foam is cut, I use Weldwood Contact Cement to glue the two foam pieces together. Pro Tip: To speed up the contact cement curing process, use a heat gun on the glue until it bubbles and dries.
I placed the glued foam on my shoulder to test how it would look relative to my body. Then I made marks to redefine the shape so it looked like Kerrigan’s armor piece. The tip is more pointed so I added more foam to the end with contact cement.
Now the piece is ready for details. Here I just eyeballed the design, drew it on the foam, and made shallow cuts with a box knife. I then heated up the cuts to open the foam. I also added googly eyes for the rivets.
Here was the difficult part. Worbla does well with uniform caved objects like spheres. My shoulder armor had caved and concave areas as well as a cut out which would be where I’d include transparent Worbla to the piece. Since I didn’t have transparent worbla at the time, I had to leave it as an open hole.
This whole process takes time and requires a bit of coaxing for the Worbla to wrap around certain areas. It did break in certain points where I’ve stretched it too thin, but I patched it with scrap Worbla since the new Worbla still maintains its self-stick property.
Here I finished wrapping worbla around the piece and took some of the extra worbla lying around to see if I can still roll it into a pipe which is typically used for decoration.
Here I’m cleaning underneath the Worbla where the cutout is. I did the wrap method since that’s the method I’m most familiar with and it has saved me money in the past. Also, people won’t typically see underneath your armor piece.
Kat at HealtoDeath shares a video explaining how she prevents air bubbles when working with EVA foam and Worbla, and also offers more detailed advice on popping bubbles that do form. Take a look below!
One of the best introduction videos I have seen, this one deserved its own page! Eric Heart is a prop builder and the Props Master at Triad Stage in North Carolina, and has a book on Prop Making that includes a section on thermoplastics (that you can see here).
This video includes information on working with Worbla’s Finest Art, moulding over a form, basic shapes, heating and shaping options, as well as attaching multiple pieces. It shows the process of creating a bull’s head over a positive mould.
Have you been told by someone that ‘you should try Worbla’ when you asked for advice on a project? Or have you seen something awesome that was made from Worbla and you want to see what the fuss is about? Did your school, wardrobe manager or designer tell you to ‘look into Worbla’ and you have no idea where to even start? Do you want to make durable props and costumes that take less time to construct, with less noxious chemicals?
This was designed for you.
I’m Amanda, I’m known as Elemental Photography and I have been working with and teaching Worbla for the last two years for Worbla.com, and as a result I field a LOT of beginners questions. This page isn’t designed to be an in-depth breakdown on how to build any one specific thing, and it won’t go into the history of Worbla or even tips and tricks: This is a primer for the completely uninitiated, to help you figure out if Worbla is Right For You and How It Works. I will also try to break down some of the common terms used when looking at Worbla writeups, blogs and tutorials so you can better understand those if you search for additional information.
First things First: What is Worbla?
Worbla is the brand name for a line of thermoplastics. There are (at this moment) 9 Worbla products: Worbla’s Finest Art (the first one) Worbla’s TranspArt (the clear one) Worbla’s Black Art (the smoother black one) Worbla’s Mesh Art (the stronger one) Worbla’s FlameRed Art (the fire retardant one) Worbla’s Deco Art (moldable hard white plastic pellets) Worbla’s Crystal Art (moldable rubbery translucent plastic pellets) Worbla’s Kobracast Art (the fabric-like, interfacing one)
What is a Thermoplastic? In very short, it is a plastic that you can heat and shape to your desire and it will hold that shape when it is cool. It can be a lot more complicated, but we aren’t here for complicated today.
I am still confused: Imagine you had a thin sheet of plastic that you could easily heat up, and when heated up it acted like a sheet of warm clay or beeswax. You take that sheet and drape it over a bowl and let it cool. Take it off, and suddenly you have a copy of that bowl for a hat. You heat that bowl up again and mush it into a ball, then shape that ball into a heart. Now you have a solid plastic heart. Heat it up again and you can carve your name in it. Heat it up again and you can roll it out flat and make something else completely. And each time, it is solid and fairly durable when cool. That is the basic idea of the Worbla product line.
Why is Worbla ‘Special’
Worbla is often considered special in comparison to other thermoplastics that have been on the market for ages for various reasons:
It’s non toxic, which is fantastic for those who are working indoors or with younger artists or who have health complications.
It doesn’t require much in specialized tools – a heat gun regularly retails for less than $30 pretty much everywhere.
It’s self adhesive – you heat up two pieces and they will stick together, no glue needed. (This does not include TranspArt)
It can be heated endlessly.
There is no ‘shelf life’.
You never have any waste, as the scraps can be mushed together and reused – and that means Worbla is much more forgiving for mistakes for the new artist.
Worbla takes deep complex curves without requiring a vacuform, something very few plastics can do.
Important Note: Worbla can be divided up into three categories: Standard Sheet Plastics, Specialized Sheet Plastics, and Pellet Products. As a beginner’s guide, we won’t be focusing too heavily on the specialized plastics, so be warned that they can be slightly different. Their differences are outlined on their product pages, but we will also touch on them briefly here.
How is Worbla used?
Worbla has been used in just about everything at this point:
• set design • industrial use • home repair • shoes • and we find more every day!
How does it work?
Tricky question – let’s break that down into something easier.
Worbla is generally used in two forms: Flat and Sculpted.
Working with Flat(ish) Shapes: For armor, helmets, building props or wings or corsets – Worbla is often used in small to large flat pieces that are shaped as needed. When you receive Worbla it’s a thin sheet of plastic in a roll. It’s around 1mm thick, can be cut with scissors, and when heated has the consistency of fruit leather.
Our customers heat their pieces and shape them – by hand, over forms such as acrylic spheres, bottles or molds, or (carefully) directly onto body parts or life casts. For domes and curves, Worbla can be stretched into shape. For layers, depth and dimension, Worbla can be layered over itself (it is self adhesive) or wrapped around a ‘fill’ material which will be explained below.
How does using a filler material work, and why would you do that? One of the most common ways Worbla is used in ‘sheet’ form is for artists to create a shape out of another material – I’ve seen cardstock, various thicknesses and types of foams, aluminum foil and paper mache – and wrap that with Worbla.
Why you do so is twofold: 1: Covering something with Worbla means that the final product will be durable – very durable. Falls, travel in luggage, mock battles and public display are no issue for Worbla products. 2: Using a filler gives Worbla more ‘body’ and strength than on its own, and is far less expensive and lighter than simply layering Worbla to the required thickness. It also allows you to build up ‘levels’ or layers of detail with inexpensive foam first,
How it is done is also simple: Worbla Products (excepting TranspArt) are self adhesive and will ‘stick’ to most materials as well as to itself. Worbla can be wrapped around a filler material where it will adhere, or be ‘sandwiched’ with a filler material in the middle.
Working with Sculpted Shapes: Worbla’s Finest Art, Black Art, and FlameRed Art are specifically suited to sculpting details. Mesh Art scraps can absolutely be used for similar purposes, but the mesh means I usually suggest you don’t plan that to be the ‘main’ purpose of the material. TranspArt can be sculpted, but is more limited in how it can be worked especially as it becomes cloudy as it is ‘mashed’ together and that must be the effect you want.
If you have ever worked with any clay, even just Play-Doh or Plasticine, you can sculpt with Worbla. I’ve seen jewelry, puppets, props, scale models, fine art, figures – the list goes on, and there is little it can’t do – though don’t use it for food! Non Toxic doesn’t mean food grade!
Sculpting with Worbla is simple: Heat a piece – or heat the scraps saved from another project – and mush them together. Now you have a ball of plastic ‘clay’ that will stay warm and shapeable for 3-5 minutes. You can heat areas as you need to work on them, shape with your hands and sculpting tools, easily add more material and when you need to stop for the day or week, your project does not need any protective care. The cat can knock it over and it will be fine. You can set it aside for a year and the material will be just the same as you have left it, ready to continue – or be scrapped and reworked. It does not need to be baked to ‘finish’ it. When you are done, you can move onto painting as soon as it is cool, eliminating the wait time inherent in most clay. You can see a video of the process of heating scraps and how they can be shaped, created by Atashi Cosplay.
You can also still use a filler material to make large projects without a large expense, and to keep weight down.
A note about foam: Use of foam with Worbla could be its own page (and might be one day). For simplicity’s sake, the types of foam most commonly used are craft foam (also known as eva foam, foamies, fun foam), anti-stress floor matting (that comes either as a roll, or in ‘puzzle pieces’ for children’s playrooms), expanding foam (a canned foam that is sprayed into general shape and expands and then cures hard, and is then carved into a final shape), pink insulation foam, and sometimes L200 or Cross-Link Polyethylene 2lbs density foam, though those are harder to come across. Type of foam depends largely on your project and what you have available. Check out the suggested links at the bottom of the page for more examples of foam as a filler for Worbla projects.
What Sort Of Worbla Should I Use (and what makes TranspArt and Deco Art different?)
If you read or watch tutorials, Worbla can sometimes be used as a catchall phrase for several Worbla products, and that gets confusing. Plus, when the first Worbla came out – Worbla’s Finest Art – no one knew it was going to be part of a whole line and so many early tutorials just say ‘Worbla’ because there was only one when it was written.
In truth, the differences between Finest Art, Black Art, Mesh Art and FlameRed Art are all small, and one can be used in place of the other for a similar to near-identical result. This creates confusion on what product you ‘should’ use, and I get asked often ‘What should I use for X project?’
Generally Speaking: Start With Worbla’s Finest Art or Black Art Worbla’s Finest Art and Black Art are sister products. There are many differences between them technically, but for the first time user all you need to know are these points: Worbla’s Finest Art is ‘stickier’ and less prone to tearing when stretched over shapes. It is very slightly more user friendly as a result. Many cosplayers like this product best. Worbla’s Black Art is smoother, meaning it will take less time to prime before painting, and it takes fine detail exceptionally well – it can be sculpted into very very fine detail without crumbling. It is a bit less ‘sticky’ so joining pieces means you need to pay a bit more attention to ensure a good bond.
That’s it. Once you’ve used both, you may find you like one more than the other, or that you’ll use both depending on your needs. I know people who only use Black Art, only use Finest Art, and myself? I absolutely mix both as I need. Finest Art for bigger shapes and lots of curves, Black Art for quick builds that need to be painted quickly and any small details I want made.
Use Mesh Art when it needs to be stronger: Worbla’s Mesh Art is meant to be used when you need strength, especially when creating something that will be pulled, twisted or potentially crushed. There is a harder plastic mesh that runs through the sheet to help reinforce it. It is also noticeably more ‘sticky’, and joins can be blended to almost invisible seams. In tutorials that suggest you use Wonderflex to reinforce things, Mesh Art works even better, especially as the scraps can still be recycled.
Use FlameRed when it has to meet fire code: Worbla’s FlameRed art is the best properties of Finest Art and Black Art, but is not aimed at consumer level use – you absolutely can use it for your projects, but the higher price means we suggest it only for those who actually need to meet a fire code rating, as it is specifically formulated to be Certified DIN (German Industry Norms) 4102-1 as B1. If you don’t know what that means, you probably don’t need to use FlameRed.
TranspArt: Fire, Ice, Water, and when it needs to be REALLY hard to break: Worbla’s TranspArt is quite different than the other Worbla products, which can be confusing to many! It is a clear plastic sheet that has very noticeable lines from manufacture through it. It is meant to be heated and shaped more than used as a flat piece, and those lines disappear when it is stretched. It makes fantastic water, ice and fire effects and unlike traditional acrylics TranspArt is not brittle – it can be bent, struck, even crushed – all without damage. It doesn’t have the same self-adhesive properties, so glue is needed to join pieces, and it does require a higher working temperature to activate. This means TranspArt needs more patience to get the hang of using. In other words: give yourself time, extra material and do some research in advance of using TranspArt for the first time!
What about Deco Art? Worbla’s Deco Art is only really referenced from European artists, as it is not carried in North America. The reason is Deco Art is very similar to Friendly Plastic, which is readily available in North America – importing Deco Art would be too expensive, and so you can easily replace Friendly Plastic for any project that calls for Deco Art. For those who don’t know Friendly Plastic: white plastic pellets that when heated turn clear, can be sculpted and shaped, and then cool back to a solid white. It can be worked on its own, or added to Worbla for detail work, and Friendly Plastic is also used for tooth appliances such as fangs. Friendly plastic is much more commonly known and has great primers available if you need more information on working with it.
Worbla can be painted with acrylics, spray paint, paint markers, wax finishes, airbrush paints – you should always test your paint in advance, but generally most paints that are formulated for plastic or wood work well. TranspArt can be painted with alcohol markers, glass paints, and also dyed with polyester dyes as well as taking most other paints well. Again, always test in advance.
Priming Worbla can be a very important step for pieces that will be seen close up, or items that require a glossy metallic finish. Worbla products in general have a textured surface, from leather-like to orange peel, and this can show through paint. If you need a smoother finish there are a wide range of primers that can be used before applying paint. You can see a more detailed writeup about primers here, at the ultimate smoothing Worbla guide.
Some Frequently Asked Questions:
How do I heat it up? And will it melt in the sun? Using a heat gun is the most suggested way to heat Worbla. Working over a heat-proof work surface, you heat Worbla by pointing the heatgun (which looks like a beefed-up hair dryer) at your piece, moving back and forth. Worbla is ready to use when it is pliable and tacky to the touch. Worbla’s Finest Art, Black Art, Mesh Art and FlameRed Art all activate between 80-90C – that’s 175-195F. Worbla’s Deco Art activates at 60C or 140F. Worbla’s TranspArt activates at 120C or 250F. Worbla will not melt in the sun, however it can get ‘soft’ and large unsupported pieces (such as spikes or floating straps) may sag if you are standing in direct sunlight for extended periods of time in extreme weather – if you have known your hot glue to melt off, you should take precautions regarding worbla in the same situation.
Importantly Worbla cannot be left in your car, the shed, or stored next to your radiator. (A car can reach an indoor temp of 80C in the sun, for example.)
Where do I buy Worbla? There is a where to buy page on Worbla.com. If you are looking for Worbla in your country, type “Worbla Your Country Name Here” into Google.
What do I cut it with? Can it be lasercut? Die Cut? Worbla cuts with regular craft scissors as well as craft knives. Worbla can be sent through Die Cut machines, though results depend on your specific dies. Worbla can be lasercut. There are pages dedicated to both questions: Die Cutting Worbla. Lasercutting Worbla.
Does Worbla have Latex? I am allergic to everything. Worbla is Latex-Free and I have not heard a single case of an allergic reaction to Worbla.
Can I use Worbla for food displays, chocolate molds, etc? No. Worbla has not been tested for food safety and does not have a food-grade rating.
Okay, well how do I make ________________? Do your research. Look at the tutorials on Worbla.com. Find people who have made similar things and written about their process. Look at the list of suggested links at the bottom of this page. Experiment. Like all materials and skillsets, the more you work with Worbla the easier it will be to create things exactly as you imagine them.
What are the downsides of Worbla? It can’t all be roses and butterflies.
Well personally I do think it’s pretty awesome and one of my main go-to materials, but nothing is perfect! Here’s a short list of Worbla’s potential failings I can think of: Finishing Worbla (ie: priming before paint) to get a really smooth surface can be time consuming. Worbla is more expensive than many other materials commonly used, like foam. You can’t store it in a hot car. A costume made of several jumbo sheets of Worbla can be pretty heavy compared to foam. Worbla can only be bought online or at specialty retailers, so you can’t just pick some up at a WalMart when you’re in a hurry. If you have a large molded ‘chunk’ of Worbla, you need to heat it all the way through to cut it down. (The fix for this is to add as you build, not subtract, and if you have to really break down a project or reshape something thick, I will let it sit in hot water until soft.)
That’s it for this write-up. If you have additional questions you can direct them to Lenore@worbla.com but please do check that your question isn’t already answered in these fantastic links of additional information below:
Not sure what type of Worbla to use where? Alice in Cosplayland created this infographic guideline on making a breastplate with Worbla’s Finest, Mesh, Black and TranspArt. (Click to enlarge)
Of course, you can mix and match Worbla’s Thermoplastics and find which type suits your needs and style best – there’s no hard ‘rules’ for what to use where! Experiment, and use this as a guideline if you’re getting started or stuck on a project!
Jessica from The Nifty Nerd shared this fantastic writup and video of the very basics of using Worbla’s Finest Art. If you don’t know how to get started, this is a great breakdown of what you need and how to begin!
The Ultimate Guide to Smoothing Worbla’s Finest Art (as of April 2015) by Amanda/Elemental
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!
Wood filler is a paste used to fill in gouges and holes in wood. It works well to fill in more extreme holes or edges in Worbla. If you need a brand suggestion, Elmer’s is good.
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 and Shellac are hard, protective finishes usually used for wood. Mentioned above as an optional step for Gesso and Wood Glue because they help fill in small imperfections.
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.
Paint Primer is exactly what it sounds like – something to help prime your surface for paint. It adds an extra level of smoothness.
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!
Final takeaway: 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 Lenore@Worbla.com
Start by making a paper or foam pattern, and then lay your pieces out. Try to jigsaw them close together to leave as little space between them as possible. Once you have all of your pieces laid out, you can see just how large of a sheet of Worbla you will need. Remember if you are sandwiching foam between your Worbla pieces you will need to double your Worbla.
This guide is for making a work space for using Worbla’s Finest Craft in your home. In case you haven’t heard of it, Worbla is basically thermoplastic that comes in sheets. I’ve been using it a lot recently to craft cosplay armor. When heated, Worbla can be molded into whatever shape you want and becomes rigid when cool. It is really great, because it is easy to use and doesn’t put out toxins while heated like some of the other crafting materials, like foam or PVC sheets.
The easiest way to shape Worbla is using a heat gun (or hair dryer in a pinch) and heat knife. The drawback is that both these items create a lot of heat and heat BURNS things. Heat guns, in particular, can burn things without you even realizing it. This creates the problem of figuring out where to put your Worbla to heat it without setting things on fire.
Ever blow dry your hair too long and start smelling that burnt hair smell? Try hitting the carpet too long with a heat gun. You will inevitably end up toxic fumes and something that looks like this:
I know this from very personal and painful experience! (Yes, that was Berber.) Clearly carpet makes a poor work surface and wood and vinyl are not any better. Cool metal or smooth stone work surfaces work best. Unfortunately, I don’t have a garage with a nice cool cement floor or metal table to work on, so I make my own aluminum workspace that I can move to wherever I am working that day!
To make it, I start with a foam display board from the craft store that is big enough for the Worbla pieces I’m working on. Then, I wrap it in metal insulation tape.
That’s all you need to do. Metal insulation tape is available at any hardware store and is used to seal ducts. Note: it is not duck tape. Duck tape sheds water like the skin of a duck. This is the shiny aluminum metallic tape used for heated HVAC ducts. Prices for this vary, and at $6-$15, it might seem expensive for a roll, but weighed against the damage you can create without it you are getting a bargain! If the tape is impossible for you to get, you can also wrap the board in aluminum foil. However, the tape is much better and much safer, because it stays securely in place.
And Voila! You have a mobile workspace! The heated Worbla will not stick to the aluminum tape and the board will not catch on fire with the heat gun or knife. The aluminum will reflect heat when you hit it with a heat gun, but this actually helps you heat up your Worbla more evenly.
((Worbla.com Note: I’ve found it helps to use a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper on top of the board to keep my Worbla from sticking to the aluminimum tape and tearing, especially for small pieces.))
Watch out for your fingers! The board can get hot.
Make sure to heat things in the middle of the board to avoid inadvertently hitting what’s next to your work surface with the heat gun. It just takes a few seconds of even indirect heat gun heat to discolor most carpet, vinyl or wood.
The metal tip of your heat gun is REALLY hot! When you are done heating, don’t set it down anywhere but on the aluminum board. It will insta-burn through carpet. And for heaven’s sake do not touch it! This goes for heat knifes, too.
If your aluminum board is losing pieces of tape or looking a little worse for wear, there is no need to replace it, just add more aluminum tape.
Keep a bucket of cool water handy to dip your hands in when they start getting a little too warm and to treat burns with immediately.
Another item I find helpful is an aluminum cutting board:
The large board we just made is great for heating, but will not last long if you are cutting into it excessively. I make my cutting board out of a 4ml piece of foam. I wrap the foam first in duck tape to add rigidity.
Then wrap the whole thing in Aluminum tape.
This gives me a surface with give that I can cut on multiple times. I usually set it on top of my rigid board, so if I accidentally cut through one board I will hit the other. It is also nice to use it as a heat gun holder while heating so you can set your heat gun farther from you while shaping your Worbla. When the tape starts getting too cut up to stay together, you will need to re-tape your cutting board. That happens a lot, which is why I like using a smaller board for cutting: less tape.
In an ideal world, I would have a giant aluminum work table and could luxuriously stretch out my Worbla, shaping it to my every desire, as I casually fling around my heat gun like Han Solo would a laser gun. That dream, however, would require a garage and possibly burn defying superpowers. In the meantime, I find this to be a good work around.
I hope this is helpful and if you have any questions or suggestions on avoiding burns or even your favorite home cosplay catastrophe stories, please post a comment!