Props:
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Armor:
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Below is a list of some of the materials I find useful in prop and armor creation. These are mostly available to anyone with internet access, and don’t require special tools to use, other than measured mixing containers and stirring implements.


Building Materials


Foamies/Craft Foam
Available fromhttp://www.joann.com, in store at http://www.michaels.com
Thickness – 2mm, about 1/12″
Flexibility – very flexible in one direction, can be flexed in two directions – especially when warmed
Holds shape – not very well, unless you use a heat gun when shaping
Gluing – Mod Podge, fiberglass resin, Shell Shock Plastic, Hot Glue
Useless for gluing – Friendly Plastic, Aleene’s Fun Craft Foam Glue, Tacky Glue
Thoughts – Craft foam can be sanded, painted, coated with resin, glued together, and cut out in lots of different shapes. It has some thickness to it, which makes it decent for armor, and is very dense, which gives a good, smooth surface. At room temperature, it only curves well in one direction, but if you need a multi-direction curve, heating it up should do the trick. Oddly, tacky glue and special foam glue don’t seem to work very well with craft foam. Hot glue, on the other hand, works great.  Cuts nicely, and has a smooth edge, unlike Volara foam, which is more of an open-cell foam.


Volara Foam
Available fromhttp://www.foambymail.com
Thickness – 1/8″ to 1/2″
Flexibility – flexible in two directions
Holds shape – not at all, unless you use a coating material
Gluing – Fiberglass resin, Shell Shock Plastic, Hot Glue
Useless for gluing – Aleene’s Fun Craft Foam Glue, Tacky Glue
Thoughts – A soft foam, fairly cheap, which has some thickness to it, so good for various armor building needs. However, it is not very dense, so it needs some kind of coating in order to be painted and smoothed.  On the other hand, it is thicker than craft foam, which can be good for outlying armor, such as open shoulder guards.


Blue/Pink Insulation Foam
Available from – Lowe’s, Home Depot
Thickness – 1/4″ to 2″
Flexibility – none
Holds shape – N/A
Gluing – Shell Shock Plastic, Hot Glue
Useless for gluing – Most resins, Aleene’s Fun Craft Foam Glue, Tacky Glue
Thoughts – A rigid foam, usually in pink or blue, excellent for situations where you need flat parts. Very cheap, and also carves/sands well, so good for prop building as well as detailed armor. A Dremel tool is useful for engraving or carving large segments. Most resins will simply melt the foam, however, as will several types of paints or other sealents. Be careful! If you need to paint or fiberglass this material, be sure to coat it with enamel or other coating first, then follow up with the paint or fiberglass. Oddly, it seems that blue foam carves better than pink foam – I’m not sure why this is, but it is my experience.


Plastic Sheeting
Available fromhttp://www.tapplastics.com
Thickness – 1/32″
Flexibility – flexible in one direction, with heat you can shape in two directions
Holds shape – not very well, unless you use a heat gun when shaping
Gluing – Hot Glue (somewhat), fiberglass resin, Shell Shock Plastic, Friendly Plastic
Useless for gluing – Mod Podge, Tacky Glue
Thoughts – Plastic sheets are a great base material for a structure which requires support. It’s thin enough to be cut out fairly easily, but thick enough to support itself in most cases. It makes a good base layer for armor, and can be used to create molds for resin casting – excellent for creating sword blades.


Fiberglass Matting
Available fromhttp://www.tapplastics.com
Thickness – variable, but all are fairly thin
Flexibility – variable, depending on thickness
Holds shape – not well, until you add fiberglass resin
Gluing – fiberglass resin
Useless for gluing – Hot Glue, Mod Podge, Tacky Glue
Thoughts – I don’t like working with thick / standard fiberglass matting. You need to use gloves/eye protection, long sleeves and pants, and shoes to protect yourself, and you’ll get little glass fibers everywhere when you cut, so be sure to do it outside. Fiberglass surfacing veil matting, however, is sheer, easy to cut, and doesn’t drop fibers as you cut nearly as much as the standard weight mat. To work with it, mix up some fiberglass resin and paint it onto your desired surface with a brush. Next apply your fiberglass mat to the desired area, then paint/apply more resin on top of the mat until the matting turns mostly translucent. The first coat of resin will help keep the mat in place while you apply the topcoat of resin. You will likely need another coat of resin on your item after the first has dried for extra strength, or even multiple layers of matting.


Fiberglass Cloth
Available fromhttp://www.tapplastics.com
Thickness – variable, but all are fairly thin
Flexibility – bidirectional, but has trouble forming to sharp curves (like around edges)
Holds shape – not well, until you add fiberglass resin
Gluing – fiberglass resin
Useless for gluing – Hot Glue, Mod Podge, Tacky Glue
Thoughts – Fiberglass cloth is a very soft, woven material. When you cut it into shapes, the woven strands will immediately start coming apart, leaving you with soft glass fiber strands all over the floor, but enough will stay together for you to work with. To work with it, mix up some fiberglass resin in a large container, dip your fiberglass mat, run your (gloved) fingers along either side of the matting to squeeze off excess resin, then apply/shape the cloth to the item you want to coat with fiberglass. Due to fraying of the cloth, you may end up with lots of strands in one direction but not the other of the weave, giving small fiberglassed points that must be sanded down later.


Friendly Plastic – see Friendly Plastic (coating material)


WonderFlex
Available fromhttp://www.cosplaysupplies.com, http://www.dazian.com, other retailers.
Thickness – very thin, perhaps 0.07mm.
Flexibility – extremely flexible, though mostly in one direction
Holds shape – extremely well
Gluing – Friendly Plastic, WonderFlex, fiberglass resin
Useless for gluing – Hot Glue, Mod Podge, Tacky Glue
Thoughts – I wasn’t terribly impressed with WonderFlex. I know many others are, and it is used in a lot of costuming/armor projects. However, for me it just wasn’t flexible enough in multiple directions, it would bond to itself when I didn’t want it to, and didn’t smooth out very easily. In the end, I’d prefer to use Friendly Plastic or Craft Foam.


Coating Materials


Shell Shock Plastic
Available fromhttp://smooth-on.com, http://www.reynoldsam.com, possibly other locations. Check them all, as shipping may be cheaper from one or another depending on location. Shipping from Reynolds is cheaper than from Smooth-On in California.
Odor – Very minor / None
Where to use – Outdoors or Indoors (if you’re careful and put down plastic sheeting to catch drips). Make sure you wear gloves while working with this.
Viscosity – Very thick
Usability time – 5-8 minutes for Shell Shock Slow. Unknown for Shell Shock Fast.
Cure time – 5 hours for Shell Shock Slow. Unknown for Shell Shock Fast.
Good for – Making a surface smooth, making castings, making molds
Doesn’t stick to – Parchment paper
Thoughts – This is the newest coating material I’ve used. It coats very well, comes out smooth, and has very little smell, but thickens/hardens very quickly. The smaller the container you use to mix it in, or the more you mix, the faster it cures, and the hotter it gets as it cures due to the chemical reaction. If possible, I would suggest quickly pouring the mixed liquid onto the surface you want to coat, then spread it with a brush. Once the plastic liquid gets too thick to pour/spread easily, use your hands (while wearing gloves!) to spread the remainder of the plastic onto surfaces where you need strength, but where slighly lumpy surfaces are okay. While the plastic is curing, you can still remove it from at least some surfaces by peeling it off, in case of mistakes.


Coat-It Fiberglass Resin
Available fromhttp://www.tapplastics.com
Odor – Minor
Where to use – Outdoors or Indoors (if you’re careful and put down plastic sheeting to catch drips). Make sure you wear gloves while working with this.
Viscosity – Very thick
Usability time – 20-30 minutes
Cure time – 10-20 hours
Good for – Making a surface hard and smooth
Doesn’t stick to – Parchment paper
Thoughts – By far the best fiberglass resin I’ve used in terms of scent, but it takes quite a while to completely cure, and even then, it sometimes comes out somewhat sticky. Mixing instructions on the container are by weight, which makes things difficult if you don’t have a scale. I tend to mix about 1:4 by volume, which comes out decently. You don’t need fiberglass cloth/matting to use this resin – it will coat just about anything.


Fiberglass Resin (Polyester)
Available fromhttp://www.tapplastics.com
Odor – Major
Where to use – Outdoors ONLY. Make sure you wear gloves while working with this.
Viscosity – Medium – Thick
Usability time – 10-20 minutes
Cure time – 2-4 hours
Good for – Making an absorbant surface hard, smoothing out minor imperfections
Doesn’t stick to – Parchment paper
Thoughts – Very major scent. This stuff can annoy your neighbors if you’re not careful. However, it cures much quicker than Coat-It, and seems to cure better/drier, which can be desireable. You don’t need fiberglass cloth/matting to use this resin, but if you are coating something that will soak it in (like fiberglass cloth, rigid wrap, etc), your item will become much stronger.


General Purpose Fiberglass Resin (Epoxy)
Available fromhttp://www.tapplastics.com
Odor – Very minor
Where to use – Outdoors, unless you are careful and use ventilation. Make sure you wear gloves while working with this.
Viscosity – Medium – Thick
Usability time – 10-20 minutes
Cure time – 2-4 hours
Good for – Making an absorbant surface hard, smoothing out minor imperfections
Doesn’t stick to – Parchment paper, plastic drop sheeting (3 mil or thicker)
Thoughts – This resin is much nicer to work with than its polyester cousin, because it has nearly no detectable scent. You don’t need fiberglass cloth/matting to use this resin, but if you are coating something that will soak it in (like fiberglass cloth, rigid wrap, etc), your item will become much stronger.


Friendly Plastic
Available fromhttp://www.sculpt.com, http://www.jewelrysupply.com
Odor – None
Where to use – Indoors. No need for gloves – in fact, they will stick to the plastic.
Viscosity – Nearly solid
Usability time – A few minutes after each heating
Cure time – A few minutes after each heating
Good for – Making props, armor, glue, fixing dents
Doesn’t stick to – Parchment paper, Craft foam
Thoughts – One of my favorite coating/construction materials. To make it soft, heat it in a cup of water that you boil in the microwave, or (if you need large quantities) heat in an electric skillet with high sides, again in water. Or, if you have already coated your item and need to smooth parts of the plastic together, heat using a hair dryer or heat gun. One downside is that Friendly Plastic is very smooth, so paint doesn’t stick very well to it. Expect paint chipping.


Mod Podge
Available fromhttp://www.dickblick.com, as well as most crafting stores
Odor – Very Minor
Where to use – Indoors/Outdoors. No need for gloves, though they don’t hurt.
Viscosity – Close to oil/water
Usability time – Just keep it lidded when not in use, and it’ll last
Cure time – 10-20 minutes
Good for – Making a surface paintable, glue, slight smoothing
Doesn’t stick to – ???
Thoughts – Mod Podge is very thin, so it doesn’t make much of a coating with just one layer. However, it works well as a glue (in fact, it smells, looks, and feels a lot like Elmer’s Glue), and with enough coats, it will smooth out your surface.