When you’re making cosplay, you’re usually doing a lot to balance character accuracy with the materials you can afford and have the skills and tools to work with. While it’s always good to learn something new, sometimes a compromise is the easiest way to make what you want to make and have it look as good as possible. So instead of working with real glass, which is fragile and heavy and pretty advanced to build with, many cosplayers choose to use acrylic sheets, also known as plexiglass, when they want to build a translucent piece for their cosplay or prop.
While acrylic can be used for a variety of applications, it’s pretty unique and specialized to work with for many cosplayers. In this post, we’ll discuss the best times for making cosplay with acrylic/plexiglass and the benefits and challenges of choosing this material.
Best Uses for Acrylic Sheets in Cosplay
The main characteristic that makes acrylic sheets great for cosplay is their translucent color. Whether your cosplay has glass, plastic, or even more *magical* elements that just need to be see-through, acrylic sheets or plexiglass can be a great option for you. Acrylic is pretty ideal for props, armor, and wings that are translucent or have translucent parts, as well as any costume elements that need to have a glass- or plastic-like look. More specifically, acrylic is a common choice for cosplays that require an eye visor of some kind. Whether worn on its own like glasses or as part of a full helmet, if you need to be able to see through it, acrylic is probably your best bet.
Acrylic can also be a good options for elements of your cosplay that you don’t want people to see. If your cosplay has parts that “float,” for example, building the supports for that costume element out of clear acrylic can be one of the easiest ways to make the floating piece look realistic. While you might be able to see the clear acrylic from very close up, it’s easy to disguise from even a slight distance or in pictures as long as your acrylic is smooth and clear.
Benefits of Building with Acrylic
There are several benefits to working with acrylic for multiple applications in cosplay. Here are a few of the main advantages you should know about:
- Acrylic or plexiglass is translucent, which means light can travel through it, allowing you and others to see through the material.
- It’s available in both clear and a wide variety of colors. The clear is easy to find in hardware or home improvement stores in large sheets, while colors can usually be ordered online.
- It’s also paintable if you’d like to tint the color to create gradients, paint details on top, or purchase clear and paint it a different color with translucent paint.
- Acrylic can be heat formed in order to create curved or angular shaped pieces.
- You can sandwich small, flat materials (like glitter) between layers of acrylic using resin in order to create the illusion that there are things “floating” inside the glass.
- Acrylic is rigid, will hold it’s shape, and is generally pretty durable against regular wear and tear.
However, acrylic is also a more challenging material for some cosplayers to work with because of its rigid, heavy-duty nature. Here are some potential challenges to expect:
- While cutting and forming acrylic, the material can snap and break, in which case, you might be stuck starting over with a new sheet. Try to be gentle! In order to make a clean break, you can use a glass technique called scoring: just carve the line you want to cut into the sheet, then bend and snap the piece off carefully.
- In some cases, you might need more advanced tools to work with acrylic sheets. Things like sanders, Dremels, saws, blades, and clamps are just a few examples.
- Jagged or rounded edges can be sanded off to make smoother lines. The edges of acrylic can also be pretty sharp, so you’ll probably want to sand them down for safety.
- You’ll also need to use some safety gear when working with acrylic. Eye protection and closed-toed shoes are a must, and if working with heat, you’ll need something to protect your hands, like oven mitts/gloves. If you’re trying to form the acrylic to a curve on your body, you’ll want to put a towel between yourself and the hot acrylic.
- Acrylic, while lighter than real glass, is still a relatively heavy material to carry and wear. It’s generally heavier than foam and thermoplastic.
- It can take a lot of practice to get used to cutting and assembling acrylic just because it’s texture and strength are much different from other materials you might be used to.
Shaping Acrylic: Hand or Power Tools?
When you’re building cosplay with acrylic sheets/plexiglass, you’ll probably have to make some decisions in terms of what tools you want to use. Depending on what you have available to you and what you prefer in your crafting process, both hand tools and power tools can be viable options. Power tools like power sanders and bandsaws, on one hand, can help you make really precise cuts and construction, and can often speed up the process because of their added power. However, hand saws or blades can also be used if that’s more your style, and your end result can look just as professional and well-designed. It all depends on what you prefer and which tools you have access to. Better yet, if you’re new to working with acrylic, try out both and see what’s easiest for you.