Making Metal Cosplay Pieces: Material Guide

Have you ever gone truly above and beyond for a cosplay? In one way or another, you probably have. For some passionate and skilled cosplayers, going above and beyond means making cosplay out of the real materials their character would wear — like metal. Using real metal for armor and props is one of the most advanced cosplay techniques, but you can also use smaller metal pieces to make details and hidden supports as well. In this post, we’ll discuss making metal cosplay pieces of all sizes as well as the benefits and challenges of working with this advanced material.

Best Uses for Metal in Cosplay

Metal is a serious material. If you’re going to go all out, it’s possible to use actual metalworking techniques and tools to make a real suit of armor or prop weapon. Some cosplayers love the process of metalworking and are devoted to the authenticity of their builds, and these builds can yield amazing results. However, these projects take a lot of practiced skill, a huge devotion of time, and are much more complicated than working with something like foam or thermoplastic. Some events and conventions don’t allow real metal cosplay for safety reasons, however. While these builds are a blacksmithing passion project for many, these reasons and more are why they’re not incredibly common in the cosplay community.

What’s much more popular is using smaller pieces of metal, or even different forms of “metal,” to create smaller items, details, or even unseen infrastructure inside the actual cosplay. There are plenty of examples of smaller metal applications in cosplay that are a lot smaller and more manageable for the average maker.

In many cases, aluminum foil is a great base material that can be used to fill out a design before being covered by something else, like foam or clay. You can crush and mold the foil into a sculptural shape and then cover it with something smoother and paintable to made 3D pieces such as antlers, horns, orbs, and other costume or prop details. Raw metal, like steel or aluminum, can also be cut and ground down with tools like saws and Dremels to make real metal detailing for armor or props. Some cosplayers also choose to use real bolts and screws to hold pieces of plastic or Worbla together at their seams for a more authentic, metal look.

To bridge the gap, thin sheet metal, like a door kick plate from a hardware store, can be used to make small metal accessories like arm bracers, head and neck pieces, jewelry, or any other smaller pieces you might need. While the edges of the sheet will be sharp and you’ll need to sand them down, this thinner, more flexible metal is much more wearable and easier to work with, especially for smaller items, than real sheet metal would be if you’re going for an authentic, metallic look.

Metal Cosplay Benefits

No matter how you use it, there are benefits to building your cosplay using metal pieces. Here are some of the reasons why it makes a great cosplay material:

  • Metal is strong and rigid, so it holds its shape well and lasts against regular wear and tear.
  • Metal foil is especially flexible and moldable while still holding a shape, making it easy to use as a core for sculptural elements. It can be covered with foam, clay, and more, but using it can actually take weight out of your item while building up the bulk of its shape. Foil is inexpensive and easy to get.
  • Your metal details will be stable and rigid. As long as they’re securely adhered or held in place, you shouldn’t have to worry about them drooping or losing their design.
  • Metal can add a huge amount of realism to your cosplay. The texture and color of real metal, while it can be imitated, can take your cosplay to the next level when used strategically as a design choice. Even just metal accents like small plates or nuts and bolts help bring your character to life by enhancing the look of any other materials you used.

Metal Challenges

However, there are also various challenges that come along with metalworking for cosplay. Here are some potential disadvantages you should be aware of:

  • Metal can be very heavy. If you do build armored pieces or props out of metal, they will most likely be harder to carry or wear than something made of foam, fabric, thermoplastic, etc.
  • Metal can also be uncomfortable to wear because it does not have much flexibility or give. To even make most metal pieces wearable directly on the body, you’ll also have to do a lot of sanding down on all of your edges.
  • Some metal techniques will require more advanced tools than you may have at home. For anything more than foil, you might need aviation snips (which are stronger than regular scissors) for cutting out your pieces, files, hammers, sanders, Dremels, and more. You can work with metal with both hand and power tools, depending on what you can get or have available.
  • Some metal cosplays and weapons may not be allowed at certain cons or events. It’s always in your best interests to check the rules and regulations of the event ahead of time so you know exactly what is allowed. In some cases, you may have to reserve larger metal pieces for photoshoots only.
  • Working with metal is a bit more dangerous than working with softer materials, like foam or fabric. Because both your tools and materials will have sharp edges, you’ll need to work with caution and get comfortable with your tools before trying anything too advanced. You should also wear safety goggles and closed toe shoes when working with metal.

Imitating Metal with Other Materials

A lot of popular characters wear metal. They have suits of armor, both traditional and futuristic, and they carry props and weapons that, if they were made in reality, would have a lot of metal on them. However, as we’ve discussed, while making cosplay out of the same exact material that a character would wear is a goal and a passion for some, not all of us are interested in learning and investing in real metalworking in order to make our cosplays. The good news for folks in that situation is that there are plenty of other materials that, with a little effort and some creative techniques, can imitate the look of metal almost exactly.

We’d wager that most cosplayers who are making armor, metal pieces, and weapons are using lighter, more user-friendly materials like foam, thermoplastic, or even 3D printing to make their pieces, which are still incredibly realistic-looking when they’re finished. Once you’ve got your basic shapes cut and assembled from your material of choice, most of the trick is actually in the painting and weathering that helps make your piece look like real metal. With metallic paints, sometimes with acrylic smudging to emulate dirt and grease, and careful placing and highlighting of nicks and scuff marks, your cosplay can look a lot like metal, most times with a lot less work and effort than using the real thing.