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How to Work with Worbla
Article by Svetlana Quindt
aka “Kamui”

Worbla, Worbla, Worbla. Over the years this thermoplastic material has become not just super popular, but was also the base for many stunning armors, props and accessories of an uncountable amount of costumes. Is there really a reason for such a hype, or is Worbla just an overrated and overprized material? In the following tutorial I’ll try to clear questions like this one and hope to inspire Worbla-newcomers and even some armor-experts of you.

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Let’s cover the basics first:

Worbla is a thermoplastic sheet from Germany, which can already be bought all over the world. It’s available in several sizes and can be easily heated with a hot air gun, water or steam, to be shaped in any desired form. Similar to Wonderflex (another thermoplastic material), it stays in shape after it cools down again and can be used in this way to create different costume parts. In addition, heat also activates the built-in glue, which allows you to connect different material parts easily. Compared to Wonderflex, Worbla has one huge difference: It doesn’t have any fabric grit inside, which allows the use of leftovers for a new project. This feature allows you to sculpt, mold, form and stretch it in many different ways. But be careful: This means also that Worbla can be easily torn apart.

Necessary tools:

To heat Worbla I use a simple iron or a hot air gun, which can be found in every home depot. After it has reached its working temperature (about 70°C or 80°C), it becomes slightly shiny and can be shaped into any form you wish, as long as it stays warm enough. You have about one minute for this work step before you have to reheat it again. After cooling down it stays in the shape you’ve chosen, but can also be reshaped by heating it up again.

However, once the material is activated, it can be pretty hard to get a clean and bump-less surface only by using your hands. One solution is to strengthen the material by using several layers or adding craft foam inside the base of your creation. Since this is a very easy way to shape a piece of armor, it became a very popular method. Begin by creating a pattern for the armor part you desire.

 

Time for patterns:

Similar to sewn costumes, you need to create your patterns first. Since this step is the base of all your following work, it’s important not to rush and plan well ahead of time. Luckily, there is an easy way to find the perfect base for your work. Just wrap the part of your body you need an armor for with plastic wrap. Then cover this layer with painters tape and draw the shape of your armor on top. By cutting along these lines and unwrapping yourself again you’ll get a perfect pattern for your armor. All you need to do now is transferring your pattern onto your armor material.

 

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Test your patterns:

As easy as it sounds, creating patterns can be anything but. The size and also the shape of a pattern decide if your final breastplate will fit your body or not. So try to test your patterns beforehand, on your own body or a dress form by using a paper test dummy. In addition it’s important not to forget that you have to move in your costume later on. Study your body and find a way to create armor without limiting your freedom. Remember that your foot is not just a solid piece of bones and flesh, but consists of many different movable parts. Think about your necessary movement freedom and change your armor parts not only based on your costume references, but also on your own body. Sure, it’s important to always keep in mind your inspiration artwork, but a costume which is uncomfortable and painful is not fun to wear.

 

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Basic armor:

Since Worbla is getting very flexible once it’s heated up, it can be very hard to create an even and clean surface only by using your hands for shaping. To solve this problem you can mold it over a special form or add some craft foam to control the final shape better. For this step you have to transfer the patterns you created to craft foam before and cut those pieces out. Afterwards use two pieces of Worbla which are slightly bigger than your craft foam, one for each side. Heat both pieces and connect this armor ‘sandwich’ by pressing around the borders of the inner foam. At the end all you need to do is cut cantilevers away. Now just heat up your armor parts again and sculpt them into the final shape. For this step you can shape it directly on your body or search for some help in your household. Bottles, dishes and furniture can be awesome assistants. Just keep your eyes open!

 

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Adding details:

To connect several armor parts you need to heat your pieces again a bit. Same goes for details like borders, spikes, layers and anything else you want to add. Even if your reference is simple and smooth, try to create some highlights. The difference between a good and an exceptional armor is often given by the level of detail and its complexity. Ornaments and lines can be easily adjusted with a double-layer of Worbla and more complex armor parts can be built by connecting several Worbla-craft foam-Worbla layers.

 

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Priming:

Besides the wide range of its applications, Worbla has one huge disadvantage: Its surface is rough and needs a special preparation until you can start with the paintjob. For getting a clean and flat surface it’s necessary to add a primer like Gesso. If the surface of the armor piece or accessory is more complex and has many details, it’s often better to use spray filler. Apply five to ten layers and sand those when they are dry and became solid. This will give you not only a clean surface, but also a good base for the following painting.

 

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Painting:

When it comes to painting, there are a lot of different methods. You can apply a basic paint by hand, using spray paint, airbrush or simple brushes and acrylics. No matter which way you choose, you always need to apply a basic paint, which should be darker than your final color. This base will give your final color more brilliance and will help you cover the full surface with paint. Notice that cosplay is always fake also when it comes to color. Work with huge contrasts, add dark shadows and brighten highlights with a good portion of white. It always looks better if you add more details than the original prop has. In addition a final touch like dirt, blood or scratches will give your armor a more sophisticated look and is a good way to bring your character to life with every possible detail.

 

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Armor fixing:

The way you’ve fixed your armor is a huge factor that decides the comfort of your final costume. Despite of that, there is no right or wrong way. However, the single most important thing is testing, testing and testing. You can fix armor by applying different kind of buckles, magnets, strings, belts or Velcro tape and by connecting several armor or fabric parts. You always need a place where you can connect with your armor – no matter if visible or invisible. And to come to the last point, just take your time and test every single part of your armor. Walk around with it, jump and move your body. If you feel fine and nothing hurts even after one hour of wearing it, you’ll have an awesome convention in a stunning costume!

 

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