Armor made with this technique is solid and lightweight. It is prone to cracking if you drop it outright, but even still, it’s surprisingly stable. I’ve used this technique for my Ritz armor (used in this tutorial), and other various projects. It is relatively inexpensive except for the Paperclay, and sands easily to a very smooth finish. Look for coupons in the Sunday paper for craft stores; I stock up on my supplies week by week doing this.
newspaper for drafting patterns and paper mache
corrugated cardboard (get it for free – ask grocery and retail stores for their used boxes that they store in back!)
Paperclay – amount depends on project. For my Ritz shoulder armor, gauntlet, and staff I used 2 1/2 lb. packages, to give you a gauge.
Sandpaper in varying grits
VERY HELPFUL: electric mouse sander cuts sanding time drastically
spray primer or gesso
texture paint (optional)
acrylic paint or spray paint for color
clear sealant spray in glossy, matte, or satin finish depending on desired effect
I use newspaper for this part. I draw some blob I think might work, cut it out, bend it and hold it up to my body. I take mental notes, retrace it, adding and subtracting where appropriate. This is going to become your pattern for your cardboard, and is the part that requires the most brain power. It is the most frustrating part, but spending time perfecting your pattern pays off when you don’t have to start all over from scratch much later down the road.
This is the pattern for my Ritz gauntlet. Trace your pattern onto corrugated cardboard, paying attention to the direction the corrugation is running. The cardboard wants to bend in the way of the wavy lines, so use this to your advantage when doing rounded shapes.
You want to use the corrugation to help you bend your pieces the right way. When bending, don’t be afraid to CRUSH it with your hands, making it malleable and rounding shapes. If you need to, cut slits or darts (like sewing) to get extreme rounded areas. Tape seams/slits on top and bottom with the masking tape. Use masking tape, not clear packaging/scotch tape or duct tape, as these tapes have a plastic finish that will resist the glue from the paper mache from setting in. Try it on! Is everything in proportion? Do pieces fit together like they should? If not, hack away with scissors/add tape as needed. You might have to draft another pattern. It’s okay, I spend the most time doing this pre-fitting and frequently re-cut cardboard armor until it’s acceptable.
This is messy, so wear an apron or old sweats, and do it somewhere where you won’t ruin the carpet. Lay down newspaper in the garage or something. Be prepared for lots of drips. Water down the Elmer’s glue approximately 3 parts glue to 1 part water. Make sure it’s still spreadable without being too watery. Rip up a bunch of newspaper into various sizes; larger pieces for flat surfaces, and thinner pieces for rounded areas. Coat one side of your armor with a thin layer of the glue mixture. Next, wet your newspaper pieces with the glue mixture, and cover the entire area including the edges. You want to coat both top and bottom of your armor with newspaper, without any cardboard showing through. I just find it’s easier to coat only one side with glue at a time instead of handling a sticky mess. Make sure to smooth out any air bubbles, and keep the area as smooth as possible. Wait for pieces to dry to the touch, about 45 mins. average depending on size. Coat with an additional layer of paper mache.
While it’s drying, it might be wise to rig the piece so that it dries in the desired shape. For instance, if you’re doing a rounded shoulder piece, you may want to tie a piece of string around it to ensure that it dries at the proper bend and not too flat/too curved. I’ve used jars, string, chairs; a whole variety of things for this purpose. Just make sure to clean off the glue when you’re done! I put at LEAST 2 layers of paper mache on every project, front and back. You might need more if the pieces are large or funny-shaped. Basically, you want it to be sturdy enough so it’s not bending/squishing under regular pressure, if not stronger.
(Shown in example are my Ritz shoulder pauldrons.) Make sure your paper mache is 100% dry before moving on; probably 24 hours is best. Do a rough sanding to get rid of glue drips, and take scissors to edges of hard paper that may be hanging off. It doesn’t need to be perfect; the Paperclay will cover tiny bumps. You will only be putting Paperclay on the TOP of whatever is showing, i.e. don’t put it on both sides of shoulder armor, gauntlets, or the like. Just the outside surface is fine. :) But if it’s a staff, etc. then you’ll be putting it all around, obviously!
When I work with Paperclay, I have a giant bowl of warm water next to me at all times. This is messy, just like paper mache, so protect the floor and yourself. Wet the paper mached surface you’ll be working on. Just rub water over it with your hands; don’t soak it or it will warp! It is just paper and glue, after all. Wetting the surface makes it sticky, so the Paperclay will adhere to it and not slide off. Next, tear a piece of paperclay, work it with your wet hands to get it soft and malleable. Spread it thin like a pancake, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, and press it onto the paper mache surface. Keep working around the piece until completely covered. It will not dry for hours, so take your time. Smooth lumps the best you can, wetting your hands often. Make sure no part of the paper mache is showing! It’s not going to look perfect by any means at this point; it’s going to be heavy, bumpy, and crappy looking. That means things are going well! Let this dry overnight.
(Shown in example are my Ritz shoulder pauldrons and staff.) When completely dry (24 hours for large pieces if not more, 12 hours for smaller pieces), the surface may have cracks all over it. That’s okay, you didn’t fail. We will go fill in the cracks later, but now it’s time to do a rough sanding. Get a heavy grit sandpaper (80-100) and A MASK. You can get throwaway masks at hardware stores, or spend a little more on a permanant one. Sand outside, because it will get everywhere, including places you didn’t think could get dusty. This is where an electric mouse sander really helps. When I did my first project (berserker armor), sanding alone took 20 hours. It was all done by hand. I had an electric mouse sander for my Ritz armor, and sanding only took 3 hours! So I highly recommend the electric sander, but if you don’t have one, just persevere. I’ve been there. You will notice that the more you sand, the more cracks appear. That is fine. Sand off as much as you can without exposing the paper mache underneath. If you hit the mache, don’t worry. Just don’t sand there anymore!
When you’ve sanded most of the Paperclay off and have a mostly smooth surface, now is the time to go fill in those cracks! Wet the cracks, and smoosh some paperclay into them. Smooth with watered fingers, let dry an hour or so, and go back and GENTLY sand by hand. No need for the mouse sander, since this is all detail work. You may need to fill cracks 2 or 3 times, but the more time you spend here, the smoother your results! Now is the time to use a finer grade sandpaper, around 120.
Now you have your smooth armor! Some tiny cracks are still acceptable, as these can be filled with paint. Always use a base coat/primer on Paperclay, as it is super absorbent (i.e. like paper) and needs something to seal it. Use 2 coats primer following directions on the can, or paint on a layer or two of gesso. When completely dry, go back and sand with a fine grit paper. NOW you’re done sanding. Haha, I tricked you.
Now here’s my personal preference, but I pretty much always spray on Make It Suede! next. It is a very light texture, one like sand, that is unnoticable yet fills in tiny imperfections. After this, paint the surface whatever color you want. I usually use acrylic paint because I can mix an exact shade, but you can use spraypaint as well. I just find that spraypaint rarely comes in the exact shade I need, but if you’re lucky, go for it. It’s a good idea to paint the underside too, either in the same color or in the color of the fabric that will be worn underneath it. For metallic armor, I usually paint the underside in the fabric color I’ll be wearing with it, or in a matte black. This is in case any part of the underside flashes in a picture, I don’t want shiny spraypainted ragged paper mache to be showing up, its ghettoness magnified in the photo. Finish up with a topcoat to seal the color so it doesn’t chip or rub off, and you’re set!
A note about top coats – unless the surface is obviously shiny, I opt for a matte/satin top coat to avoid glare in flash photos. Also, glossy finishes magnify tiny flaws, so you are now warned!
Sometimes the trickiest part is figuring out how to attach your armor to your costume! Sometimes instead of painting the underside of the armor, I line it in felt. I choose a color to either compliment the armor or the color of the costume, and hotglue it on. I can then glue on various attachment methods, like snaps, velcro, or pins. It all depends on the project. If anyone has specific questions, don’t be afraid to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope this tutorial wasn’t too boring and that it was helpful!