Cosplay Pro Tips

Costumes, Cosplay, and Props Craft & Design
Cosplay Pro Tips

In Make: Volume 86, we asked star cosplayers to share their favorite tools, techniques, and communities. Here’s what they told us. Check out more of the cosplay-themed issue.

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Tristian Johnson aka TrisRex

Chicago, Illinois


This year my favorite tools have been the Dremel and soldering irons for detailing foam! They make foam projects much faster and more versatile due to the endless types of textures they can create.

I’ve also been using a lot of garbage bags and shrink wrap for creating wrinkles or more organic detailing. Melting them with a heat gun can create some cool effects!

Create your own characters! My latest character is the Empress Alien, which is my take on an older, more evolved version of the Queen Xenomorph from Aliens (1986), the movie that started this journey for me as a child. She’s my favorite creature, beautiful and majestic but terrifying at the same time, which made this project a lot of fun and very personal for me. When I started my Aliens: Resurgence (For The Hive) universe I knew I had to tell a new story of the Queen — to pay respect to the past, acknowledge the present, but give audiences a look into the future of how an evolved Queen can truly look practically.


The Stan Winston School of Character Arts is a really cool resource to have as a monster maker because now we can learn how our favorite creatures were made from the artist who made them. I try to apply the course I’m taking to whatever projects I’m working on, which has been very helpful for me. It’s also been cool to connect with other monster makers and FX artists because at times it seems like an art of the past … but we’re still here!

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Beverly Downen aka Downen Creative Studios

Portland, Oregon


I use EVA foam to create most of my props and costumes. My most important and favorite tool I use to transform this versatile material is my Dremel rotary tool with a flex shaft attachment — it makes the Dremel easy to hold while I’m manipulating and carving elaborate textures and details into EVA foam, and reduces hand and wrist fatigue when I’m working on a big project.

When trying a material or process for the first time, experiment on scraps. Keep a few scraps nearby and apply the same processes and products to those scraps as you work, being sure to document the steps along the way with photos and notes. These samples provide you with a place to safely experiment with products, processes, and techniques before applying them to your final project pieces. For instance, discovering a paint incompatibility is better on scraps than on your final project! You can then keep the samples for future reference, replications, paint touch-ups, and more!


Of course SheProp, a supportive and safe space for cosplayers and makers who identify as female, nonbinary, and the trans umbrella. This is my favorite space to connect with other creators from a diverse background of experience, abilities, and specialties. I founded this group several years ago and we now have over 5,000 members worldwide! Our community is very active online (Facebook and Discord) and our members host SheProp panels, meetups, and events at conventions around the world. No matter where you are on your maker journey, you are welcome to join our supportive group!

SheProp meetup at Emerald City Comic Con. Photo by Josh Shot Photo

Props to SheProp

SheProp is a safe space and supportive community for cosplayers and artists that identify with a marginalized gender, including women, two-spirit, and the trans umbrella. In the SheProp Community space, members can post work-in-progress images, ask questions, and fully engage with a robust maker community without fear of receiving unsolicited “advice” and degrading commentary, a common issue within most other online maker spaces. SheProp was founded in 2018 by Beverly of Downen Creative Studios.

Cal Kestis from Star Wars: Jedi Survivor. Photo by Patrick Sun

Joshua Duart aka Artemistyck

Atlanta, Georgia


When sewing a new costume, always always always make a mock-up in a fabric similar to the final fabric you’ll be using. It will allow you to fix any fit issues and make sure proportions are correct, etc.


Dragon Con! I have met so many incredible makers, professionals, industry folks — plus made a lot of my closest friends at this convergence of geeks, cosplayers, and enthusiasts. It’s a great environment for creativity and fun to celebrate your favorite fandoms!

Regency-inspired Cruella DeVille. Photo by Shintaro Design

Con of Pros and Cons Cosplay

Kansas City, Missouri


Don’t get hung up on the way you approach a project. Really get to know your own learning style, and go about cosplay crafting in a way that is in alignment to your way of processing information. You don’t have to learn the way your friends, favorites, and colleagues do! If you know an application-based, “get your hands dirty” approach is the way you learn best, and that is the only way you’ll be motivated to work, start there! Or if you need to do a lot of research, and understand the ins and outs of a project before attempting it, take your time and learn the theory before jumping in. There isn’t a right or wrong way to approach learning. What works for one builder might not work for another.

Learning to style your wigs will take your cosplay to another level! Wig styling can be difficult, and I often see that cosplayers have anxiety about it, but it really brings your costume to life. For styling lace front wigs, I really love using the latch hook style ventilating tool. If ventilating frightens you, a latch hook style tool may take some of the fear out of it! The needle-style ones tend to work best for very fine lace, but for almost every lace front wig, the latch hook style works quite well. It is much easier to control and catch the hairs. If you’re not as light with your fingers or need a bit more control, I highly recommend it! It is very similar to making latch hook rugs (something I did a lot as a kid) and saves quite a bit of time.


One of the places I’ve bonded with a lot of cosplayers has been in the “green room” staging area at cosplay contests. Many of my cosplay friendships have been forged backstage, waiting to hear the results of a contest. It is a great time to visit and learn from other makers. You are there to compete, but it is also a fantastic avenue to meet others, learn, and celebrate the art of creating together. I have had the fortune of meeting people from many cultures, backgrounds, and identities through contests (though these arenas can always use more representation from marginalized groups), and have made friendships and connections I couldn’t make anywhere else. It takes a certain kind of person to pour that much time, energy and effort in a costume, and it’s wonderful to share that feeling with others.

Regan and Scone aka Cowbutt Crunchies

Boston, Massachusetts


Remember that most cosplay wigs are made of plastic! And when working with plastic, your number one wig styling tool should be heat, not hairspray! Heat styling lasts forever, unlike temporary glues, which can fade away after a few hours. So while styling be sure to add a little heat from a blow dryer, steamer, or flat iron to soften those wig fibers and shape them into a new, permanent direction!


We love both crafting and original cosplay design, and so one of our favorite places to meet like-minded makers is at the Cosplay Met Gala, a yearly event we host that features a design prompt, a makeshift runway, and our favorite part, the social mixer! It’s a great opportunity to highlight the talented designers in the cosplay community, admire their incredible outfits, and make new friends!

Stephanie Chan of Foam Armory

Calgary, Alberta, Canada


I carry around a travel size bottle of contact cement. I tossed it in my bag with some cheap sponge brushes. It’s surprising how often I pull it out for all kinds of repair assistance and for sudden cosplaying on the fly!

Last year I wore my Black Knight costume as normal, but this year on a spontaneous lark, I instead used party streamers to simulate the gory blood pouring effect! I hopped around a recent con on one leg and the response was exactly what I was hoping for: laughs! Our company, Foam Armory, makes lightweight EVA foam chainmaille, and that’s what I used for the maille coif.

I cosplayed as a sugar cube at the SUGA concert in Los Angeles. SUGA hosts a celebrity guest interview show called Suchwita. Before each new episode drops, they run a teaser showing footage of the guest with their face censored out by a sugar cube graphic. I was torn between dressing fashionable or doing last-minute cosplay making to be funny at the show. Funny won, and I went viral across BTS Army fandom and in South Korea and Japan.


Evil Ted’s Foam Fanatics on Facebook.

Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher. David Morel/Singer Sewing Company

Philip Odango aka Canvas Cosplay

Virginia Beach, Virginia


Don’t be afraid to flat pattern. If you’re not comfortable draping fabric to visualize a design, you can take measurements and plot a pattern on paper. Gift wrapping paper is helpful since the reverse side often has 1″ graph line marks.


I started the Instagram online community called Bros Who Sew to empower and amplify male and male-identifying sewists. Posts shared with the hashtag #BrosWhoSew often include sewing tutorials, patterns and finished projects.

Marie Antoinette EVA foam wig. Photo by Norm Chan

Jen Schachter aka SchacAttack

San Francisco, California


Play with scale and contrast in your designs — don’t be afraid to push things a little farther than you think you need to for impact. This is a trick I learned from watching Adam Savage work. Post production can certainly work magic for color and contrast, but things tend to seem flatter and less punchy on camera, or from a distance (like on stage).

My take on Marie Antoinette is almost a caricature — sort of an 80s glam/Versailles mashup with a massive, larger-than-life wig and poufy sleeves. Once you get the broad strokes of your design, you can start going in and adding little details, textures, highlights, embellishments that viewers discover as they come closer. But be judicious about details — everything at a high level of detail means no part really pops.


Halloween costume contests! An obvious choice, but this was certainly the gateway for many pro cosplayers. I have seen some of the most outrageous and clever ensembles made by novice crafters out of household materials. The ingenuity and playfulness always inspires me.

Love costumes and props? Get more tips, tutorials, and projects in our free Cosplay Collection PDF.

This article first appeared in Make: Volume 86.

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