Subscribe to Make: for this and more projects and articles.

Adding smoke and flame effects to your costume is easier than you might think, using a vaping e-cig loaded with vegetable glycol and pumped using a small aquarium pump. This effect, combined with some flickering LEDs tucked into inconspicuous places, can give a realistic fire and smoke look to your next costume. See it in action and I’ll show you how to build it

I made this Ghost Rider costume by 3D printing a skull that I found on Thingiverse (free) and modified in Tinkercad (also free), then painting it. The electronics and controls are incredibly simple, controlled by a cluster of buttons held in one hand and operated by momentary switches. The whole thing costs less than $100, assuming you already have black clothes, a motorcycle jacket, and a 3D printer.

YouTube player

Project Steps


I found a 3D skull model and brought into Tinkercad to perform a few simple edits: I hollowed it out, scaled it up a little larger than my head, and removed the back so I could wear it like a mask. Once I was happy with the shape, the model was exported as an STL for printing. See how I did it.

You can use Tinkercad to modify this skull model, or just use the skull mask I created (it’s open source), or substitute your own mask.


Download the parts and print them. There’s the skull face, cap, and mandible, a housing for the controls, hose barbs for the air tubing, an LED holder, and a standoff for the electrical connectors. If you’re using a different mask, you can skip the skull and just print the other parts for the smoke/fire effect.

Knowing that I was going to cover the entire mask with putty to smooth out the shape of the skull, I used low resolution setting for this print. Each section took ~10 hours to print. Plenty of artifacts, and some gnarly voids I missed filling in when I was in Tinkercad, but an easy fix when the putty goes over.


After printing, I sanded all the parts with 80 grit, smoothed the layer lines with Bondo putty, mated the cap and face, and smoothed with Bondo again.

I primed and spray painted the skull parts in ivory satin finish, and then painted the “lowlights”: I thinned some black paint with water, rubbed it into all the divots and scratches, then wiped it off quickly, leaving behind black paint in only the low areas. This effect gives the skull a much more textured appearance. Again, you can get more details at the Instructables page.

Finally, a wide sewing elastic was sewn onto the back of the mask so I could wear it.


The e-cig is placed inside the controller housing and the electrical connections are placed on the standoff, to make removing the controller easy when putting on the costume . A momentary switch mounted in the controller operates the aquarium pump.

The flame LED arrays that I bought are controlled by a small 3-button setup. Power comes from the 12V battery pack into the LED buttons, mounted onto the end of the controller , then back out and into the helmet.

I mounted the two LED flicker arrays around my nose, but wanted more light above my eyes, so I added a simple LED holder that’s installed along the brow line. You can connect your components by following my wiring diagram (in step 5).


The top of the e-cig is attached to a removable mouthpiece which goes into vinyl tubing and into the small 12V pump. Figure  shows what the setup looks like when placed inside the jacket. The vape “smoke” is drawn from the e-cig and into the pump, which then pushes the smoke through a barbed splitter into two tubes: one up into the helmet and another attached to the collar of the jacket with a 3D-printed clip.


Now your Ghost Rider costume is set to scare the neighborhood!

To hide my face while wearing the mask, I cut off one leg of the pantyhose and stretched it over my face, obscuring my eyes but still allowing me to see. Then I put the balaclava over, to cover the rest of my face.

The two different LED arrays, combined with a judicial use of vapor from the e-cig, create an amazing effect. With the controller in one hand, the e-cig is ignited and the pump activated, drawing the smoke from the e-cig through the costume and up out the skull mask and jacket. To clear out the smoke effect, the e-cig trigger is released and the pump left on.

The vapor cloud is from vegetable glycerine, which is the main component in most e-juice vaporizers. Vegetable glycerine is food safe and contains 0% tobacco or flavorings. Do not use tobacco e-juice as it will stink and you’ll smoke yourself out! Even with vegetable glycerine this device can only be used in short bursts. Be smart about how you use this effect.

The effect is striking in person, and from a distance looks incredibly believable! I found the combination of pantyhose and thick smoke almost impossible to see out of, so I could only perform the smoke trick when standing still. Happy making! :)