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Painting Your Armor

First step in painting your armor is to find a nice, flat place outside that's out of the path of the wind and sun. The next step is to lay down enough newspaper to cover Mount Rushmore at least three times over. (The first coating of your armor will be made using spray paint, which you don't want to be getting it all over the place.) There are many different kinds of spray paint, of course, but the kind I prefer to use is Testor's model spray paint at For steel/silver armor, I sometimes like to use chrome spray paint which can be found in fine automotive departments everywhere. Of course, automotive paints --being paints that were designed to go on flexible surfaces like fenders--are a good choice to use when painting your armor, but I prefer the Testor's. (Whatever paint you use, make sure it's compatible with polystyrene. Test it on a scrap of your plastic sheeting if you're unsure how the two will react together.)

Before you apply paint to your armor piece, make sure the surface of said piece is completely clean and free of globs or strings of hotglue. You may have to go over the surface of the armor with a damp cloth. You can scrape stubborn gluespots off the surface of your armor, although this might leave streaks. If you want to smooth over a dirty or scratched section of your armor, you can use special hobby sandpaper, usually sold in craft stores in the model section. Since the plastic sheeting you're working with is pure polystyrene --the exact same stuff model cars and planes are made out of-- this sandpaper works really well on it. (Of course, your best bet is to just be careful and not randomly dribble glue all over the surface of your armor so such sanding and cleaning will not be necessary...)

Lay down your armor piece onto the newspaper and then begin coating it with the paint, taking care not to breathe in any of the fumes or to accidentally spray it all over yourself so you wind up looking like Shirley Eaton in that Goldfinger movie. Spray evenly, making sure you give the piece an adequate coating from all directions. Don't spray too much paint at once. Several light coatings of paint are preferable to one heavy, dripping coat.

As I mentioned before, you want to keep your piece out of the path of the wind, so dust, twigs and other debris don't get blown onto it. Also, make sure your armor (or prop or weapon, or whatever it is you made using this method) is set in a place where it's shady. Styrene and hotglue are both thermo-sensitive, meaning they can melt when subjected to prolonged heat, (like... oh...that given off by the sun, fr'instance...) It doesn't take long for the spray paint to dry. Once it has, you can then begin fine detailing the piece. I prefer to use Testor's enamel paint --the kind that comes in the small bottles--for this step. Remember to shake the bottle of paint thoroughly before you open it, and keep in mind that this sort of paint will NOT wash out with water. (If you want to reuse your brushes, you should buy a bottle of brush cleaner or paint thinner to wash them in. Also, buy model brushes--don't use soft or natural fiber brushes as the hair will fall out and get all over the piece as you paint it.) This kind of paint is dangerous to breathe so, if you're working with it indoors, make sure you do so in a well-ventilated area, (near an open window, or in a vent hood if you're lucky enough to have one...)

A long long time ago, back in my days as a theater minor in a college costume shop, I learned a method of painting armor so that it looked realistic and "fought in". Using a scrap piece of plastic sheeting as a palette, mix silver (or gold, if you're making bronze or golden armor) and black paint together. Dab the mixed paint over the surface of the armor using a large plastic brush. Dab darker paint around the edges and shinier paint near the middle of the piece, where the most wear would be. (This technique is basically using the same principle as antiquing where you take a cloth dipped in black paint and rub it all over the surface of a shiny object to make it appear older. That's another technique you could use for painting your armor, although I prefer my mixing and dabbing technique because I feel it gives me more control over the armor's final appearance.) Once the surface of the armor has been painted, dip your brush in pure silver (or gold) paint and apply it to the raised decoration in long, smooth strokes. This will make the decoration stand out more and help achieve the antiquing effect.

One benefit to this technique, besides giving the armor a more realistic metal appearance, is that it can conceal a lot of surface flaws. (Just dab darker paint into those areas you wish to hide. But don't do it excessively or else it will draw attention TO the area, not AWAY from it.) You can see examples of my painting techniques in the various descriptions of my armoring projects in the other areas of this site.

Another alternative to using Testor's paint on armor - Rub 'n' Buff gold and silver leaf. It's a metallic wax paste which comes in a tube and which can be rubbed onto the surface of your armor. It creates a more reflective surface than paint, but it's also prone to streaking. (It's probably allright if you're going to use it on a small item--like a piece of jewelry, fr'instance, but you may want to use chrome paint on your larger armor pieces.)

One caveat about using Testor's paint. It will react negatively to vinyl. (Specifically, it will rub off onto anything vinyl that comes into contact with it.) This is important to remember if any part of the costume you're wearing is made of vinyl fabric or if you're thinking of securing the armor to your body with vinyl straps. (You could try using acrylic paint to paint your armor instead of Testor's--acrylic paint will NOT react negatively to vinyl-- but be warned, it will not stick to the surface of the plastic sheeting as well. You should sand the plastic first and then coat the painted acrylic surface with an acrylic varnish.) If Testor's paint should come into contact with vinyl and stain it, it can be easily removed with paint thinner or brush cleaner, so don't worry if that happens. (For the record, leather and suede will NOT react negatively to testor's paint, so it should be safe to use for your costumes.)

Once your armor pieces have been painted, you can spray them with a clear sealant (although be warned, this can take some of the sheen off the surface of the armor and can cause the paint to run if excessively applied. Also, some clear sealants/ top coats you can buy are heat-sensitive, meaning they will cloud up if the armor is heated in any way. Even a short ride in a hot car may be enough to initiate this process. Be sure if you buy a clear sealant/top coat/clear coat spray, that it's the kind that can be used on outdoor and/or waterproof surfaces. )

Now that you've finished painting the armor, it's time to assemble it. This can be accomplished by hotgluing one piece to another, although I prefer to sew the pieces together. Just fit the pieces together and draw a needle and thread through them both a few times. Secure the thread in the back of the armor with a knot and then dab it with hotglue for extra security. You'll have exposed threads on the front surface of the armor, but these can be effectively covered up with paint (My advice: try to get the attaching threads close to the edges of your armor--or in some other equally inconspicuous place. In some cases, the threads can be covered up with decorative denim studs--these studs in turn will look just like metal rivets and add a touch of authenticity to your armor.) However you attach the pieces together, the armor should be durable and the joints slightly flexible.

This is, once again, how my Zelda armor looked once I had finished it.

After finishing the shoulder armor, I went and made a headpiece for my Zelda ensemble. I did this by buying one of those "prom tiaras" from a mall boutique and gluing sculpey pieces to the front of it. Sculpey is a kind of bakeable clay, and it's another useful material to make armor and accessories out of, but be warned,--Testor's and spray paint WILL NOT DRY when directly applied to it. You'll HAVE to cover its surface with a primer before painting it. Sculpey is also not very flexible and is rather heavy. If you're tying to make a big piece, you might want to consider using Paperclay instead. (A useful site for reading up on paperclay and other molding materials is cosplay goddess Sarcasm-hime's Tips, Tricks and Useful Sites. )

I made a pair of Triforce earings using thin (2mm) craft foam covered on both sides with plastic sheeting and painted gold. The foam and plastic are fairly lightweight materials, so if you're looking to make earrings that look huge, but won't place undue strain on your earlobes, this method is probably your best bet.

Well, that's my armoring method in a nutshell. Since you've been such good listeners thus far, I'll reward you with some

Bonus Armoring Advice

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All anime characters featured are copyright their respective owners.
All costumes created by and all pictures property of Amethyst Angel c. 2005