Is Cosplay still an accessible hobby?

Jan 9, 2024Community, Featured Articles14 comments

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?

Yelan Genshin Impact by Kamui Cosplay

Yelan took us 6 weeks and required a lot of 3D printing and laser cutting

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. 

Kamui Cosplay Workshop

This is how our current crafting room looks like!

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? 

Master Nova - Heroes of the Storm by Kamui Cosplay

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!

First costumes by Kamui Cosplay

These were my first costumes from 2003 (The Great Saiyaman from Dragonball and a Moogle from Final Fantasy)

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. 

Gunslinger - Remnant II by Kamui Cosplay

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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A post shared by AniMotto | Concursos Cosplay (@animottoallstar)

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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A post shared by Spartan Workshop (@spartan_workshop)

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!

Aloy's Spear Horizon Zero Dawn by Kamui Cosplay

Kamui Cosplay Warhammer Tzeentch Staff

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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14 Comments

  1. I’ve been cosplaying for 20 years, and absolutely agree that cosplay is still accessible. What fundamentally has changed is people’s perception of cosplay. That was caused by social media, especially in the last 5 years or so. More specifically the shift in social media – cosplay and social media went from people posting on forums, to people having their own websites, dedicated cosplay sharing websites like cosplay.com to people using exclusively things like Facebook, then Instagram, Twitter and now TikTok. As opposed to dedicated websites, in most social media you end up only seeing what the algorithm suggest to you, and that can be very fickle.

    People easily forget that those cosplayers with massive followings or super elaborate costumes have either a)over a decade of experience b)are newish but have a background in sewing/crafting due to education or learning from family with experience c)commission their costumes and wigs, they’re essentially just the model d)buy the costumes and got lucky with the algorithm. Thus it’s easy to think that money is the quick fix solution, and that lacking money means you cannot cosplay.

    People need to remember that money might buy you the stuff, but you still need to know how to use it. A 3d printer and a fancy embroidery machine are useless if you don’t know how to use the 3d printer or do a basic stich. That 3d printed weapon can be done with cardboard, papier mache and paint – it just requires more time. But at the same time you do need to learn the skills and probably make that prop 3 or 4 times until it comes right if you’ve never crafted before. You can hand embroider things, it will just take you months as opposed to hours or days if using a machine. And learning how to use an embroidery machine is probably easier and produce a cleaner finish than to do a long hand embroidery if you’ve never embroidered before. A good example of cosplay on a budget is probably Alyson Tabbitha – most of her costumes were done by using cheap wigs and upcycled clothes, transformed with expert use of paint. And they look absolutely fantastic. But at the same time it requires knowledge and skill in painting to obtain her results – I certainly couldn’t do what she does.

    People need to stop comparing themselves to others, to stop seeking validation through numbers on social media. People need to ask themselves why they want to cosplay – if it’s because they love the hobby, then they should stop worrying about expensive materials and focus on learning skills that they can then apply to making their own costumes, set realistic expectations (highly unlikely you can make an Iron Man suit with only $20), and have fun. Or save money and buy a costume, no shame in that. If you’re cosplaying because you want to be popular and have a career, you need to stop, take a step back and realise you’re coming into an oversaturated market with people who’ve had a head start of over a decade, and in the end you’ll probably just feel disappointed and frustrated.

    Reply
  2. This I think is a really important topic to bring, I’ve been fighting my whole cosplay journey to find cheaper and more accessible way to do cosplay.. you mentions thrifting and recycling and today it’s clearly my base for every project. I think today every project I have is under 100$ for the materials (most around 20$ actually), even tho I put many hours of craft for each one.

    I highly appreciate you for using your audience to talk about that, because the visibility for the “eco” cosplayers are so low and it makes me sad..
    Being in a cosplay association for years and having a “SOS cosplay” stand (where we basically help cosplayers fix their cosplay that broke during the convention) I always hear “it didn’t work because I didn’t have enough money for better material” .. while I had demonstration that it doesn’t have to be expensive to be a good material !

    By the way, you already did this it a little with the owl mask, but could you show multiple ways to make a small craft (from card board to Eva foam passing through recycled materials and 3d printing?) just to show that it can look good whatever the material you are using…(off course the results can be different, but can look good anyway..)
    I think it would make and awesome video!

    thank for reading all this.. I got a little carried away..
    and thank you for all the things you share, I love to see you both work on any project!
    @jinsei_cosplay

    Reply
  3. I’m becoming more and more committed to using ‘trash’ for my cosplays! I inspired a complete project around a bunch of mussel shells that were about to be thrown away. It took me a lot of time to paint each shell by hand, but it was fun to do and I’m very happy with the end result. I actually used one of your body armor patterns for the project!

    And for my new project, I’m using a whole bunch of old bandages. They’re unused (don’t worry), but they’re not sterile anymore so they cannot be medically used anymore. This way I pay less for materials and it’s more sustainable since it would’ve been trashed otherwise!

    I’ve also often bought second hand clothes online on websites like Vinted, that works great for me too.

    So I think cosplay is doable on a budget – as long as you’re willing to spend some extra time. Totally worth it if you ask me, it’s a hobby! 😊

    Reply
  4. I like your point that you have to start somewhere and that you can find a way to do it if you really want to make it happen. I think cosplay is accessible, but you have to acknowledge that you’re just starting and maybe accept that it may not look perfect but it will be so much fun and you will learn a lot and if you keep doing it each one will be better!

    I would like to add as a fan that I absolutely love seeing people at conventions with costumes that they have made with love and creative accessories. I think it’s so amazing seeing the inventiveness and what can be done with every day items when you put your mind to it!

    Reply
  5. Thanks for this amazing blog!

    I love the “Pro tip: Get these cosplays second hand, safe money and invest it into self-made accessories!”. I’m not good with sewing but I love to make eva-foam or resin accesories!!! and I would like to learn how to use 3d printer correctly!
    “Is Cosplay still an accessible hobby?” Yes!! It all depends what character would you like to make cosplay! and as casual hobby it’s ok! And also I would like to add that if you want to work it’s very neccesary to have a partner! Alone is impossible to be effective and also fast, or even you need help with emails and contracts…
    I think as a hobby it’s great to socialize and have friends, and support each other! Helping with the photos and funny tiktoks, carry bags hahah

    Thanks for this amazing blog!

    Reply
    • Thanks so much! really happy enjoyed the blog entry so much!
      And yes, totally agree that it’s easier to have a partner. I know plenty of friends who are doing cosplay professionally all by themselves. While it’s surely challenging, it’s still doable though. :)

      Reply
    • I am someone who goes above and beyond when finding a new hobby. I ned and want to buy everything, cause I want to make the same great stuff my idols do. But I had to learn that what my idols do is not what I want to do. It makes total sense that when you do something professionally, that you have up to date machinery/techniques to boost your projects. In the end you client expects the best quality. But for hobby, one doesn’t need all that stuff. What would be great though, would be you showing what you do and use professionally, but also give advice on how to do it with hobby material, as an alternative. we tend to want to do stuff like our idols, would be nice to also get advice on how they would tackle a situation without sophisticated technical help.

      Reply
  6. When people say “It’s what you put into it that counts” they don’t mean the cost of the materials or tools. They mean the heart. Sometimes people forget that.

    Reply
    • This is so very true!!!

      Reply
  7. Thank you for taking the time for putting it into words. I am walking the same path here in Bolivia. i have to tell you that your way of seeing it all that way, makes my way of seeing cosplay more clear.

    Reply
  8. First!

    Sorry I’m not a serious cosplayer… but i’m really astonished from what some cosplayers can achieve with very little expenses :)

    Thank you for your Work, really enjoy following you on the *medias…

    Best regards, Stefan

    Reply
  9. I read everything and it’s true,you can’t start like a pro because everyone has to start at some point,I started using cardboard,as I didn’t have enough money.. But I got inspired by watching Kamuicosplay and my teacher who sees your channel and has taught other cosplayers how to make such impressive looks!
    I learned about Inkscape by your videos and I started to sell in Facebook templates in cosplay groups, when I got enough money my mom and I bought:
    -a Heat gun
    -Eva Foam
    -Box cutter
    -a cutting board (idk what it’s called)
    And more thing,I bought them in Mercado libre,a cheap option in México for the materials as I got the eva foam for like 10 Dollars, 1.5M x 1M
    And the heat gun for 12 dollars,even tho they were cheap,they were good quality and now the vendor is always sending my orders quickly as I buy a lot,lol

    This year i started thinking of doing a cosplay of the cool:
    BLACK BELT ARMOR,from monster hunter

    and so I bought a mini sewing machine in the same page for only 8 dollars,it’s good to start learning;is what my sewing aunt told me,I can’t do a single straight line but I did a t-shirt and a pair of shorts now :P

    Reply
    • Oh my god, this is such an amazing story! Congratulations! I absolutely love that you are selling patterns and use the money to buy new crafting tools and materials. This is super inspiring! Keep on the great work!

      Also, if you need more ideas to generate some income with cosplay, you might like this blog entry as well! :)

      https://www.kamuicosplay.com/2021/01/22/making-money-as-artist/

      Reply
      • Will do! I will try to upload my process of doing the armor and hope you see it someday,haha

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