EVA foam 101
Never worked with EVA foam ? (maybe you don't even know what I'm talking about)
Would you like to make more elaborate costumes?
But you don't know how to make your props or armor pieces?
You want to level up your skills ?
Well, let's talk about it a bit.
If you already know EVA foam, I may not teach you much... But who knows? Sometimes we find interesting little things everywhere. Right ?
So what is EVA foam?
You may have some at home. You know, the anti-fatigue mats that connect to each other, with the shape of a puzzle? Well, that's EVA foam. It's really cool material for several reasons:
📌 It's super light
📌 It's easy to work with
📌 It's not expensive
📌 It holds up well, but it's flexible enough to create various shapes
And where do we find it?
To buy your material, you have 2 options:📌 Either you go to the store
📌 Or you order it online.
AT THE STORE
If you're in a hurry, chances are that you're going to want to buy your stuff in store. In that case, you won't have much choice. You'll probably have to work with anti-fatigue mat.
It can be found in most hardware stores, at Canadian Tire, Walmart… That kind of store.
The most common format is the pack of 4 squares of 2'X2 '. It's pretty much always ½” thick (10mm), regardless of the brand. If you are looking for something a little thinner, I found it at Can Tire. It is about a 3'X6 'big roll, and it is ¼ ”thick (5mm).
In both cases, the foam is not smooth on both sides (you will have a texture on the back). It's not always a big deal, but if you want to stick several layers one on top of the other, it's easier when it's smooth.
To make details and add design layers, you might want something thinner. For this, look for craft foam. It's like EVA foam, but in sheets about 2mm thick. This is usually found in 8 ”X10” format in craft stores.
With that, you have something to start, do some tests and experiment a little with your new material.
But, let's say you have the time to wait for shiping. You can choose to order your foam online in specialized stores.
There, the big advantage is that all their EVA sheets are smooth on both sides… And you have more choice. Most online stores offer a fairly large selection of thicknesses. So you can easily buy large foam sheets of 2mm, 5mm, 8mm or 10mm thick. And you'll often have other related products.
My favorite online stores are TrueNorthCosplay.com and CosplaySupplies.com.
TrueNorthCosplay is in Montreal (by the way, it's possible to save shipping costs by picking it up directly - on appointment).
CosplaySupplies are in Toronto.
So in both cases, no surprise costs of exchange rates, customs clearance, etc. (assuming you're in Canada, like me).
Now that you have your material, you will want to cut it, shape it, glue it, paint it ...
How do we cut that?
Me, I use an x-acto. I have a bunch of them, but the 2 formats I use the most are the big ones heavy-duty and the small, thin scalpel.
Warning, you should know that the foam dull the blades very quickly. So if you don't want to waste an astronomical amount of blades for nothing, it's better to have something for sharpen them so you can use them longer.
Personally, I use a block for sharpening knives . There are a bunch of options available in the market. This one is mine, and I like it * .
But, it's also possible to use a very fine sand paper (like 600 to 800, maybe?). It does the job when you start.
To sharpen your x-acto, it's really simple, you just have to rub your blade, at an angle (15 degrees) on your block. On both sides.
By the way, the thin foam (2mm) can be cut very well with a scissors. But you'll wear out the blade. So I suggest you use a cheap pair of scissors. Don't even think about using your fabric scissors.
* You can definitely sharpen your scissors too. But the technique is more complex than for a simple blade (like an exacto) and personally, I don't have the twist at all. I won't be able to help you on that ...
How do you form that, EVA foam?
To form your foam, it will take you a heat gun. By heating it, you will soften it a little, and that will allow you to form it. You will therefore be able to bend and round it.
While you have your heat gun in hand, take the opportunity to seal your foam. It's like closing the skin pores on the surface of your room. It will allow your glue and your paint to adhere better.
What do we stick it with?
Here you have a few choices.
If you're just starting out and just want to give it a try, you can always use some hot glue. I suggest this to you because we all have a glue gun at home. On the other hand, it's not my favorite glue for assembling EVA foam.
The most effective glue is glue Barge (you can order it online at True North Cosplay ). It's a really strong and really effective glue… but also quite toxic. Make sure you have good ventilation, a mask, and whatnot when using that glue.
Another glue that does the job well is Lepage green contact glue * . Super important to choose the contact glue with green label. This is the one that sticks the foam well. It has some good advantages:📌 You can find it in pretty much any hardware store.
📌 It's not as toxic.
📌 And its texture is easier to manage (it doesn't have that awful slimy-like texture).
On the other hand, it takes a little more elbow grease to make it stick. And sometimes you need to put more than one layer of glue on your piece.
Small important note: when I spoke to you about sealing the surface of your foam? Well this also applies to the edge if you glue pieces side by side.
What are finishing techniques?
Now that the base of your piece is done, you might want to do a special finish. Or a decoration. I kinda wanna tell you sky's the limit... And I will surely come back to the subject in another article. But for now, I'll tell you about 2 things:📌 Sanding your pieces.
📌 Patching your seams.
Sanding is moreor less unavoidable when you work the foam. The idea is to clean the cuts that may not have been perfect, polish the edges, round the corners, adjust the seams… that sort of thing. Some do it by hand. I definitely don't have enough patience.
So I present to you my great friend: the rotary tool . If you see people talking about Dremel, it's that tool. Dremel it's a brand. I have the Mastercraft version - from Canadian Tire (which is cheaper but does the job).
It takes a little practice to handle the tool well. But once you get there, you won't want to work without it.
Psst! After sanding, don't forget to re-seal your foam.
It is also possible that you find that your foam seam are not perfect. And you may want them to look a little cleaner. In this case, I use Kwik Seal. It is a flexible caulking which can be painted. There are surely other brands that do the job just as well, but I haven't tested. This one works well.
I put a little along my seam, and I smooth by passing my finger (gloved), wet. It'll fill your holes and imperfections.
What do we paint EVA foam with?
Now that you have sealed your piece, you can primer and paint it.
What is important to remember is especially to use products that remain "stretchy". What I mean is that some primers and paints can crack if the part they are applied to is bent. And since one of the main characteristics of EVA foam is that it is flexible, there is a good chance that your pieces will crease (at least a little - if not a lot) when you wear them. So you don't want your painting to crack at the first opportunity.
As a primer, no matter what you choose, it's always good to put several layers to really protect your foam. And because it'll hide any imperfections.
I really like the Plastidip. It is a spray rubber primer, which can be found in hardware stores. It makes a nice finish, smooth and uniform. On the other hand, you may find that it a bit expensive. And if you don't have a well-ventilated area, that's not a good idea (we don't like toxic fumes). In this case, the Flexbond works well. It looks a lot like white glue, but it's still flexible. It can be ordered online. And I even saw it at Fabricville.
What is good of Flexbond it's that it always stays vaguely sticky, even when it's dry (it's a glue - sometimes glues do that). So what it does is your paint is going to adhere really well. And a paint that adheres well is a paint that chip less.
Regarding painting, I like acrylic : you can find it everywhere, in lots of color and it's not too expensive. But I also use my airbrush (and therefore, airbrush paints) and some spray paint.
There is a lot of stuff that works. In doubt, don't be shy to try things out . That being said, if you do, don't do it straight on your costume. Test on a piece of foam beforehand (with the primer and all if you want a good overview of the adhesion, the texture and the finish).
How to protect it?
Like pretty much anything I paint, I always prefer to protect my EVA foam pieces. I most often use the varnish in spray of Rust-Oleum. But there are really plenty of options on the market.
Warning: if you are using a paint for the first time, or a varnish that you have never used before, do a little compatibility test. The varnish, sometimes, can interacts with the paint. And, sometimes, it does unexpected things. And there's nothing more frustrating than to ruin a piece on the last stage of the build, right ?
So if you want to avoid finding yourself curled up in the corner of your workshop crying because your costume has cracked, melted or exploded... trust me, test your new products.
Hope this demystifies EVA foam a bit for you.
If it's a product that interests you, don't wait! Go get some materials, borrow the tools you need, and do some experiments. Start with a simple project (like bracers or a shortsword), just for fun. It will give you an idea of the material.
We'll talk soon.
waiting for… Keep on crafting!
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