Cosplay and the Dilemma of 3D Printing

Purement BannerThe convention grounds bustle with activity. Walls of photographers form, their cameras flashing as cosplayers pose for photos, each dressed in colourful costumes from various anime, game and TV series.

The cosplay industry is a fairly niche area. The intention is to replicate a specific character from a manga, anime or film. Cosplay costumes vary greatly from simple themed clothing to highly detailed costumes. Many cosplayers create their own outfits, often referencing images of the characters. The skill of a cosplayer may be measured by how difficult the details of the outfit are and how well they have been replicated.

Does 3D Printing help Cosplay?

There is the difficulty of replicating some details and materials, and cosplayers often educate themselves on textiles, sculpture, woodworking, foam crafting and other uses of materials in the effort to render the look and texture of a costume accurately.

Some cosplayers also make props using 3D Printing. These range from 3D printed armour pieces and weapons to wearable accessories. These pieces act as a base and can be fully printed or partially printed then casted. The prototypes are subsequently post-processed.

Examples of cosplayers who use 3D printing in their costumes

Bindi Smalls made her Nova costume from Heroes of the Storm almost entirely from 3D printing. She did a 3D scan of her body and 3d modeled the details before printing her costume. Credit: BindiCosplay

Bindi Smalls made her Nova costume from Heroes of the Storm almost entirely from 3D printing. She did a 3D scan of her body and 3d modeled the details before printing her costume. Credit: BindiCosplay

Pre-processed and post-processed parts of Bindi's Nova costume. Credit: BindiCosplay

Pre-processed and post-processed parts of Bindi’s Nova costume. Credit: BindiCosplay

Cosplayer Alexandra Skarsgard usually designs her own amazing costumes, but for this amazing cosplay of the King of the Dead from Lord of the Rings, she had the skeletal armour chest piece and crown 3D printed. Credit: 3dprint.com

Cosplayer Alexandra Skarsgard usually designs her own amazing costumes, but for this amazing cosplay of the King of the Dead from Lord of the Rings, she had the skeletal armour chest piece and crown 3D printed. Credit: 3dprint.com

King of the Dead WIPs by Alexandra Skarsgard. Credit: 3dprint.com

King of the Dead WIPs by Alexandra Skarsgard. Credit: 3dprint.com

Why 3D Printing?

There are advantages to making props using 3D printing:

1) Saves time and effort

Traditional prop-making methods require very detailed and extensive sculpting, which takes up a lot of time and effort. With 3D printing, it is possible to print an entire part, providing a base to build on. This leaves only the post-processing and assembly to be done. Needless to say, this speeds up the production process significantly. For instance, one can do overnight printing and do the fitting the next day.

2) Durable

Compared to props made from cardboard or foam, 3D printed props are more durable and less likely to break off upon impact. There is the fear of people accidentally knocking into you during conventions. 3D printed parts are strong enough that that entire costume could be built that way.

3) Unique

Can’t find a particular accessory because of its unique design? Or when you do manage to find the original model, the price tag is beyond your budget? Why not design and print it yourself.

Why not 3D Printing?

There are several reasons why cosplayers may not embrace 3D printing.

1) Costs

There are several implicit costs related to 3D printing props. The material cost in 3D printing is usually more expensive than widely available materials such as foam, wood and clay. A desktop 3D printer can cost several hundreds of dollars, not including material costs used in 3D printing. Investing in a printer will require one to understand how to operate the various settings and involves multiple trial and errors to get it to work. Print service bureaus that offer a wider variety of materials may not necessarily be cheaper either.

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2) Time and effort for beginners new to 3D modelling

Designing a prop takes time, especially for beginners new to 3D modelling. There are many modelling software to choose from, including free ones such as Blender, Tinkercad and Sketchup. Or one can use a scanner to build a base. But it takes a lot of work, from working with the models on computer to getting it all made up to adding primers and paint and effects after printing out the prototypes. Alternatively, one can browse the internet for free 3D print files of cosplay props created and shared by users, but not everything is available.

3) Craftsmanship

While there are cosplayers who explore new ways of making their costumes better, traditional makers may find it a struggle to incorporate this into their work flow, especially those who are less proficient with computers. In addition, most prefer the joy of starting with planning a concept sketch on paper to materialising a physical object using the available tools. The handcrafted nature of props is part of the charm.

To 3D print or not

There is amazing potential to have intricate props made through 3D printing. It is an alternate method to build props. Whether you prefer the traditional crafting methods or 3D printing, you must first design the prop in the first place. As the cost of 3D printing drops and the tech improves further, this situation may balance itself out in the long run.

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