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Armor Construction Part Two: Making A Surface Decoration

Let's look again at our Gaia Online Pauldron Project:

See that gold stuff on the edges of the shoulder armor? That's a raised scroll decoration and it's what I had to create once I had finished with the rough construction of the pauldron.

One of the best ways to create a raised design is through the use of hotglue. By squeezing out a light layer of it onto an armor surface, you can create virtually any kind of decoration. (I would recommend using an "all-purpose, multi-temp" hotglue with a gun set to "low" or "medium" heat.)
I started my decoration by taking a pen and marking out its shape onto the surface of the pauldron.
Next, I began applying the hotglue. I had to pay close attention to what I was doing. As styrene is white and warm hotglue is clear, it can be very hard to see where one's hotglue is going. (I find it helps if you turn your project slightly as you work so you can see how the light is reflecting off of the surface of your hotglue.).
When doing this yourself, you'll probably notice a lot of fine "strings" hanging off of the tip of your gluegun as you pull it away from your project. Those strings can be bothersome. Just wait for your hotglue to cool and brush them away from your project. (If they stick to the surface of your project, you may have to lightly dig at them with your fingernail or sand them with some hobby sandpaper.)

Make sure while you're waiting for your hotglued decoration to cool that you hold your armor piece, or set it down in such a way so that the warm hotglue doesn't "run." If you tilt your armor piece and your hotglue runs, it may distort your design. (Hotglue takes about a minute to cool, by the way...)
It takes a very steady hand to apply hotglue to a surface neatly. I would advise getting plenty of practice playing with hotglue before you start squeezing it onto an actual project.

(You can get practice by taking a fairly large-sized scrap of cardboard, heating up your gluegun, and squeezing designs onto it. Get a feel for how the glue flows and practice how to make shapes with crisp, well-defined borders.)
Volume One of my book series has a whole section devoted to hotglue application techniques--how to apply the hotglue, how to etch lines into it and how to create multi-layered designs. Hotglue is basically my go-to material when I want to create a shallow relief design. I find it especially useful for creating intricate scroll designs like the one on the armored belt to the right. The design consists mostly of thin lines looped around and criss-crossing each other. (Of course, I could only apply decoration to one small section of the belt at a time; I had to keep that section level until the hotglue had cooled. Then I could move onto decorating the next section.)
This is what the belt looked like after painting. When I paint a design like this, I apply a lighter color to the raised areas to make them stand out more. This is part of a painting process called "antiquing" which is used to make an object appear old, worn, and realistic. I'll discuss painting techniques in the next section of my tutorial.

Decoration: Alternatives to Hotglue

Let's say you want to creat a raised design, but you want it to have a flat surface. A flat raised design will help your armor to look less "hand-crafted" and more "futuristic". Take a look at the example below:



This is some Darth Vader Armor that I made awhile back. The flat raised bands crossing the armor from front to back were made by hotgluing strips of 3mm craft foam to the armor surface. I then covered these strips with strips of styrene that were of an identical width.

It's possible to create more intricate flat raised designs, as you can see in the example below:



Covering a curved surface with a flat raised design is tricky, seeing as how craft foam likes to stretch and distort as it's being curled around a surface. I will often cut my design out of craft foam, lightly tack it to the surface of my armor with dabs of hotglue, hotglue a sheet of styrene over the craft foam design, pull the craft foam and styrene away from the armor once it cools, cut the excess styrene that hangs over the edges of the craft foam and then re-hotglue the design (for real this time) to the surface of the armor. (If all that sounded too complicated, I have a picture tutorial explaining it in detail in --you guessed it-- Volume One of my book series.)

You can create different effects using various layers and thicknesses of craft foam. (You can also bend styrene into 3-dimensional shapes that you can apply to the surface of your prop or armor.) The sky is the limit on what you can create with the materials I've listed so far... (Okay, there are a few things you might not be able to make using my methods, but for things made from flat planes with raised designs, you should be pretty well covered.)

There are other methods of decoration that I haven't touched upon (like engraving) and you can find information about them in my book series and on my Wordpress Cosplay Construction Blog.


Now that you know a little bit about surface decoration, it's time to move onto the next part of our tutorial (where we'll finish our Gaia Online Pauldrons): Painting Your Project