EVA Foam and Stretch Vinyl for Armor - Ligthweight, Flexible and Shiny! [Pic Heavy]

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#1 JoyMason on 7 years ago

Just posted a new tutorial on my blog, [URL="http://joysutton.com"]Joy Sutton Props[/URL], and I wanted to share it here as well.

Today I want to show off a little technique I've been using for one of my commissions. The client has asked me to create a set of Megaman Starforce armor that is lightweight and flexible. I racked my brain a great deal on this, and had a lot of trial and error in developing this technique, but I feel I now have it to the point I can share the method.

Lots of folks in the costuming community make use of EVA foam (foamies, craft foam, yoga mats, ect. Proper name Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate foam) to make armor, props, jewelry and all sorts of bits for their costumes. I've seen everything from angel wings to N7 armor to LOTR armor made from the stuff. It's economical, easy to cut, heat formable and very lightweight. However, I've found that it's a real pain to paint, and the finish will never really be smooth enough to pass for high gloss plastic or metal (though careful weathering can help trick the eye in the case of metal).

The solution? Build the structures you need in EVA foam, and cover the foam in stretch pvc fabric![url=http://joysutton.com/2012/11/26/tutorial-armor-with-eva-foam-and-strech-vinyl/cbhexh/][img]http://joysutton.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/CbhEXh.jpg[/img][/url]
Vinyl fabric is very durable, resists just about anything you throw at it (only second to wig fiber in chemical resistance in the costuming world) and comes in a decent variety of colors nowadays. I get mine from primarily spandex vendors, so the fabric itself is 2 or 4 way stretch spandex with a thin, flexible layer of pvc. There are even passable gold and silver pvc spandex fabrics available; I have used both, silver in Ed's Automail, and Gold for a few recent comic commissions, work fine for non-weathered metallics. I personally get my fabrics from [url=http://spandexworld.com/]Spandex World[/url] (free swatches!) but friends also swear by [url=http://www.spandexhouse.com/index.php?nId=1]Spandex House[/url]. I should also note that this method will work with any stretch fabric coating on the foam, so don't be afraid to try it with other types of spandex and knits.

So, without further ado, on to how this is done.

You'll Need:
[list][*]Foam! I prefer to use 3mm thickness craft foam in complimentary colors to the finished piece, but under an opaque covering it doesn't matter what color foam you use.[*]Stretch Fabric. Stretch PVC, spandex, ect.[*]Contact Cement. I use Super Glue Brand Contact cement, it comes in a yellow and purple tube, but any contact cement that lists vinyl or rubber as an acceptable surface will work.[*]Cotton Swabs, lots of cotton swabs.[*]Fabric scissors.[*]Hobby blade or scissors for the EVA foam. I prefer using a hobby blade as it doesn't crush the cut edge like scissors, which gives a better bonding edge to work with.[/list]

First, you'll need to cut your EVA foam into the shapes you'll need. In this tutorial, I am constructing the backpack for my client's Megaman costume. Once you have your foam pieces cut out, take the time to make sure they fit properly, as this is the last time you'll want to cut the base forms at all. They need to be exactly what you need before applying the fabric. Once you have your foam pieces, lay them out onto the back side of your fabric, with the foam piece's back side facing you. Now, cut out your fabric with some extra to work with on the outside. I usually leave anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 an inch extra when I work with 3mm foam, for thicker foam, leave more fabric.

Next, cover your workspace with something you don't care too much about. If you are working on a wooden table with varnish, cover it up! The contact cement's fumes will melt varnish (trust me, I now have a bit on our dining table to resurface). Now, you'll want a bit of scrap card or paper to put under your tube of contact cement (this stuff is messy coming out) and your cotton swabs to apply it with.I also recommend keeping a very clean workspace here, this stuff has the potential to get messy.

Now, keeping your EVA foam from moving around on the fabric, start applying the contact cement, via cotton swab, to the cut edge of the EVA foam and on the fabric next to it. With a little practice, you can do the two at the same time. You'll want to make sure the cement doesn't get under the EVA foam and onto what will be the "face" of the piece, as the cement can make the vinyl warp and you'll end up with ripples and wrinkles. I usually use one hand to hold the foam in place and one to apply the cement.[url=http://joysutton.com/2012/11/26/tutorial-armor-with-eva-foam-and-strech-vinyl/gvjx4/][img]http://joysutton.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/gvJX4.jpg[/img][/url]

Now, the piece needs to have 3-5 minutes to set up. Contact cement will stick if you just put the two surfaces together immediately, but not very well. You leave the cement exposed to air until it becomes just tacky, then you can press the surfaces together and get a very tough bond. If you have a tight curve or sharp angle, now is the time to cut some slits in the fabric to allow proper give. I find you really only need them on inner curves and angles, but here are a few for demonstration purposes. Cut to within a hair of the foam edge.

Now, once notches are in where necessary, and the cement is tacky, you can fold the edge of the fabric up to touch the cut edge of the foam. The bond will be instant, so be careful as you go. I find the best way to do this is hold the foam down with one hand, and slide your finger underneath the fabric edge, pressing against the foam through the fabric. Try to not stretch the fabric as you do this as well, or the final piece may end up with wrinkles.

Continued in next post!

#2 JoyMason on 7 years ago

After you bond the edges, give them a few more minutes to fully set up before dealing with the excess fabric. Use a nice, sharp set of scissors for the best results. You'll want to angle your scissors so that one blade is resting on top of the back of the foam, parallel. Trim off the excess fabric, getting as close to the foam as possible without shearing bits of it off.
Continue all around the piece, and nip off any folds of fabric from corners. You should end up with a very neat back edge:
Now flip over your piece, and check that the front is nice and smooth.
Shiny! And it can do this:
Bendy! This stuff can be bent, twisted and crushed to a reasonable degree and will return to its form easily while still staying shiny and smooth. Now, repeat this process for all of your pieces and assemble as you see fit. I personally like building an inner structure out of more foam to attach the pieces to. You -can- bond the surface of the vinyl to the eva foam backing of your pieces, but it is not as strong as bonding foam to backing fabric or foam to foam. To bond the foam to foam, you can use contact cement again, or, since it won't show anyways, hot glue. I don't prefer hot glue in places where it might seep out or warp materials, but in places no one will see anyways, well, it's certainly quicker than the cement.Here you can see the support structure I made for the backpack and all of the associated pieces I have skinned in vinyl. Admittedly, black EVA foam may not have been the best for a photo tutorial.
And here we have all of the pieces assembled together. Weighs about 3 ounces!
Hopefully this will be helpful to folks wanting an inexpensive and flexible option for high gloss armors.

#3 kitnip on 7 years ago

Awesome tutorial!

Did you know if it was possible to paint the vinyl? I was considering this for my Samus Aran costume but I couldn't find the right color for her bronze armor.

#4 JoyMason on 7 years ago

I haven't tested too extensively for paint, but everything I have seen, probably not. This stuff is really resistant to any sort of adhesion. I did see a metallic spandex in a fairly close color though: [url]http://www.spandexhouse.com/search-result.php?pline=&searchKye=Meta-175[/url] Wouldn't be as smooth, but might be passable. Maybe I'll try some paint experiments with my numerous vinyl scraps.

#5 kitnip on 7 years ago

Yeah that's a good color for the gold parts. I was looking for a more bronze color like what Pixelninja did for her shoulders here:


She did the same vinyl over foam technique for both of her costumes. You can actually see the progress of her suit on her website.

But it's a really cool technique and definitely looks like shiny armor!

#6 Blood_Sword on 7 years ago

Wow, super cool technique! Thanks for sharing, I'll keep this in mind for future cosplays!

#7 waynefactory on 7 years ago

great idea, how many mm foam you used? 3? or 5?

#8 JoyMason on 7 years ago

I used 3mm, since that was what was most readily available where I live. Any thickness would work though.

#9 PrinceScoobert on 7 years ago

Just making sure I see and understand what you did, you built a foam skeleton (under layer) to attach all of the finished pieces to, and attached them to the foam and each other using either cement or hot glue? That last picture is so clean looking, I want to make sure I do it right. ^^;

This process is so amazing and will help me so much! From your pictures and instructions, everything seems really easy (with the exception of patience... xD) Thank you so much for this! You're great at teaching things, too~ :3

#10 JessicaChan on 7 years ago

Oh my god I love this. Imagine Iron man cosplay with this? Would be so bangin'.

#11 qiancen on 7 years ago


#12 p0p0p0psico on 7 years ago

Hey guys, hope it's okay if I post this here; this thread is what inspired me to start looking for stretch vinyl after all....

Have any of you guys ordered from Distinctive Fabric before? I just ordered some upholstery 2-way stretch vinyl fabric from them that was insanely cheap ($6 a yard, clearance) compared to Spandex World and Spandex House (the $20 minimum killed it for me). They're having a sale on regular vinyl, stretch pvc vinyl and some other types of fabric, so check out the following site if you're interested: [URL="http://www.distinctivefabric.com/clearance.php"]http://www.distinctivefabric.com/clearance.php[/URL]. Shipping was reasonable, and they do have some coupon codes on their site that you can use. :)

I'm hoping I can mold the upholstery stretch vinyl fabric as well as the OP did. Thanks for sharing this tutorial! I was super stressing about what I'd do for my Aisha ClanClan body armor, but this method opens a new door of opportunities. You saved me many more sleepless nights! \(^o^)/

BTW, did you heat mold the final vinyl-backed pieces to make the finished piece? That's quite a nice curve you got there. I wasn't entirely sure if that curve was there from the get-go due to the way the pieces were cut.

#13 KarmaxCore on 7 years ago

I wonder if that would work for Iron Man... I feel like a body suit of armor would need thciker foam (at least 5mm vs the usual 3mm, I say this because I started an Iron Man suit before and I felt the pieces were toooo thin, but I wonder if adding Vinyl might make it for stable?)

This is an awesome tut and I'm def gonna try it out! Maybe use worbla or wonderflex over craft foam (just to test it!)

#14 Unaki on 7 years ago

If anyone is looking, just look up treadmill mats at Sears for EVA foam. They are HUGE and can make about 50% of your build for $25

#15 Unaki on 7 years ago

[QUOTE=KarmaxCore;4613855]I wonder if that would work for Iron Man... I feel like a body suit of armor would need thciker foam (at least 5mm vs the usual 3mm, I say this because I started an Iron Man suit before and I felt the pieces were toooo thin, but I wonder if adding Vinyl might make it for stable?)

This is an awesome tut and I'm def gonna try it out! Maybe use worbla or wonderflex over craft foam (just to test it!)[/QUOTE]
Most IronMan suits (Stark himself, not Warmachine) are typically very thin. I would look up StealthCosplay on youtube. He does a lot of IronMan stuff with EVA foam and uses 3mm thickness.

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