I started with cosplay in 2003 and a lot of things changed since then. My first crafting materials were simple paper maché, expanding foam and cheap shiny satin fabric. Later I switched to the thermoplastic material Wonderflex and Worbla and am now building mostly costumes and props with EVA foam. In addition, my husband Benni discovered the magical world of 3D printing and became a real pro in sculpting with the 3D program Blender. In 20 years our art and craftsmanship evolved and so did our favorite tools and materials. So, a lot of people who follow our work and use our tutorials ask now: Is cosplay still an accessible hobby?
3D Printers and Laser Cutters speed up the craft!
These days we are working with two 3D FDM printers and one 3D resin printer for smaller details. 3D printers are just awesome for pieces with clear shapes and sharp edges like all those elements from Genshin Impact costumes for example. We also use those machines for technical looking pieces and extra durable builds like Aloy’s Sharpshot Bow or the light up Katana from Wildhearts. Also, when it comes to time critical projects, the 3D printer allows Benni to support me while I’m still busy with other parts of a costume. Without him Beidou wouldn’t have her massive Blackcliff Slasher sword for example. Overall, a 3D printer is a machine we really don’t want to miss anymore!
In addition to that, Benni helps me to cut fabric and foam with our massive laser cutter from Flux. This speeds up our work and costume progress and the tool is incredibly useful especially with tight schedules. And to be honest with you, I don’t miss the pleasure of cutting out 1000 foam scales by hand anyway. I think it’s understandable, that as full-time crafters and professional artists we surely try to improve our workflow when it comes to speed, quality and efficiency. Not everyone can afford to get a laser cutter and a 3D printer though and we do get some messages from frustrated followers occasionally.
Crafting can be quite expensive!
Cosplay can be indeed a pricy hobby, even without investing into those tools. Fabrics can be cheap, but especially the fancy ones can cost $50 or even over $100 a yard. Large armor builds require tons of EVA foam sheets and tiny details can empty your pouch super fast! And while LEDs make everything even more awesome, electronics can be super expensive as well. And yes, especially in the last few years it might look like cosplay became less and less accessible. These days everyone seems to use 3D printers, embroidery machines, laser cutters and expensive tools. Apparently you won’t get far with just a got glue gun, a box cutter and some foam laying around anymore. Without a proper budget you don’t even need to start with cosplay, right?
I still think that cosplay is an incredibly accessible hobby!
What many people often ignore is, that you don’t need the best tools and materials to get started with cosplay or to create something cool! A good chef doesn’t need a professional kitchen and the best ingredients to prepare something delicious. A good artist is also defined by the passion and love they put into their work and not by the available tools. Simply owning a 3D printer or laser cutter doesn’t magically turn you into an amazing master crafter. It’s not like you press a button and the machine creates an awesome costume for you. Instead, you still need to invest a lot of time and patience to learn any skill and to properly use a 3D printer, laser cutter or an embroidery machine. This is something many people actually seem to forget.
Back in 2003 I also made my first costume with cheap fabric and 5€ shoes from a second hand shop. Everything barely held together with safety pins, but I still had fun and enjoyed an awesome convention. My most fancy tool was actually the old, rusty sewing machine of Grandma and even this one broke in the middle of my first project. I was forced to finish my cosplay by hand stitching, but this didn’t stop me from getting everything done in time.
Looking back especially at my first cosplay years, I think this lack of better tools and materials was actually the reason why I learned so many valuable skills in a pretty short amount of time. I always kept my eyes open for ordinary household items and ended up using quite weird stuff for my costumes. I still remember people asking me how I got the idea to carve my armor and props out of expanding foam. Back then, this was simply the most affordable and easy crafting materials I could find in my local hardware store!
Getting into cosplay was never easier!
Today, I personally would say that getting into cosplay and creating something cool has never been so easy! These days you are able to order ready to wear costumes in amazing quality and for a great price. Back in 2003 I was not even able to find proper wigs! And there is nothing wrong about buying costumes. It’s a great way to get into the hobby and find friends within the community. You might even get inspired to craft little accessories, style a wig or even build a glorious sword for your cosplay! I love cosplay shops like DokiDoki and think they made cosplay super accessible and beginner friendly! Pro tip: Get these cosplays second hand, safe money and invest it into self-made accessories!
And just like buying a costume, it’s totally fine to use already existing clothes as well! I also did a Casual Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn and altered my Gunslinger cosplay outfit from store bought clothes! Nothing wrong with that. Cosplay doesn’t mean you have to create everything from scratch. I’ve met already so many cosplayers who are repurposing second hand clothes and doing casual outfits of their favorite characters.
In addition, there is an insane amount of video tutorials, helpful guides, cosplay crafting books and full costume patterns available. Professional cosplay material stores focus on developing the best and easy to use foam sheets, paints and wigs. Plus, plenty of cosplayers found ways to turn their passion into a full-time job. However, not just the opportunities to get into cosplay that grew! You probably also have higher expectations of yourself regarding the quality of your art. All those cosplayers on Instagram look amazing and you surely want to be just as good as them right from the start. So many amazing artists are working with professional equipment these days. Everyone seams to have a 3D printer, laser cutters and even a professional photo studio. You easily might get the idea that, without this equipment, you’ll never be as good as them. It’s definitely a struggle.
Most of my own costumes and props however are still made out of simple EVA foam though. I love how versatile the material is and especially installing lights and sculpting with foam clay is incredibly fun. In addition, once you get enough practice with foam, you’ll get faster and more efficient in what you are doing. For example I made all the basic amor pieces for my Necromancer cosplay in just one day! A 3D printer would probably take at least 2 weeks to finish the same work. I personally always prefer foam over a 3D prints as I can finish anything I want in no time and can easily adjust and resize my builds. Since Benni’s skills are more focused on 3D printing and sculpting though, a lot of our work is made using 3D printers.
So, I hope you get my point. Good crafting isn’t defined by fancy tools and materials, but by skill, patience and persistence. There are people creating incredible costumes like Iron Man from cardboard. I even saw a cosplayer who built a whole samurai armor out of paint buckets. And just a few weeks ago I judged the AniMotto Cosplay Competition in Cuba. The average monthly income in Cuba is $150 and still people were able to create so many amazing outfits, including a Nergigante Armor from Monster Hunter World!
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It’s not about having fancy tools and expensive materials
At the end of the day I get why people want to get a 3D printer or a laser cutter. It’s only natural to desire those machines and to feel left behind from time to time. These tools are indeed incredibly useful, open up new crafting options and can greatly improve the quality of your work. Luckily 3D printers became very affordable. You can get a great machine already for ~$200 – the same price of a decent sewing machine. However, you still need to invest the time to learn how to actually use the 3D printer and might even want to learn 3D sculpting yourself. Benni uploaded already some awesome 3D sculpting tutorials to our Youtube channel btw! Plus, the 3D sculpting software Blender is completely free!
To safe some money you can also buy a second hand 3D printers on eBay or use online printing services. Same goes for laser cutters, even though these tools are clearly a little bit more pricy. However, a laser cutter is mostly just there to speed things up! You can still cut almost everything by hand as well! A great example for this is @spartan_workshop with his amazing Gauss Rifle from Fallout 4. While Benni laser cut me every single EVA foam piece for my own Guass Rifle, this artist made everything by hand! It must be so much work and taken forever! But the result looks just as good as my own build! Super impressive!
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I think another great example is Aloy’s Spear from Horizon Zero Dawn or my Tzeentch Staff from Warhammer. We had 3D files for both of these props, but I decided to use EVA foam instead. Same goes for the Mask for Benni’s Voice of the Court Cosplay from Gotham Knights! Yes, 3D printers are amazing tools! However, just because you don’t have access to them doesn’t mean you cannot craft using your own hands! I feel like it’s often more of an excuse for someone not to get into cosplay and build something in the first place. Just like “I don’t have time! I don’t have money! I don’t have the tools!”. If you really want to create an awesome costume or prop, you’ll find ways to do it – even with very limited resources!
Everyone stars small!
Finally: Cosplay is a journey! Your artistic skills grows over the years just like your tool box or your material expertise. I also wasn’t born with a hot glue gun and scissors in my hands (just imagine, my poor mum). Instead I bought everything I own today over two decades! I got my very first own sewing machine in 2005, my first heat gun in 2009 and my first 3D printer and airbrush kit in 2015.
I still remember how Benni and I spent a massive amount of money only for shipping costs for a now quite outdated laser cutter from the US. We worked super hard to afford it and it still took us a lot of time to get enough savings. This was in 2016. The machine arrived with bumps and needed a lot of maintenance to do it’s magic. We finally replaced it with a more powerful laser cutter in 2022, but it was an business investment well worth it.
However, even without all those fancy tools we still would be able to do all our art! Even though I admit that having a proper sewing machine will save you a lot of frustration, time and tears! I hope though that by now you agree with me: Cosplay isn’t about having the best tools or fancy materials, but about passion and love for the art and fandom! It’s about having fun and dressing up! And as long as you have a great time and enjoy it, you’ll improve and eventually start to invest into some better equipment yourself. You won’t need all of this to create something awesome though!
Don’t compare yourself with others!
And yes, I know it’s tempting to compare yourself to others: But keep in mind that all those people you follow might cosplay already for 5, 10 or even 15 years. Most of them barely show their early beginnings and surely only focus on their newer, more impressive projects. You probably wouldn’t do it any different, right? Everyone starts small though and with enough time, patience and skill you’ll be just as good your idols!
So, what do you say? Is Cosplay still an accessible hobby? Please leave me a comment down below! I would love to hear your opinions on this topic!
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