Hitting the Books: How 3D printing helped make cosplay costumes much more correct

Additive manufacturing is likely one of the most necessary technological advances of the twenty first

Additive manufacturing is likely one of the most necessary technological advances of the twenty first century. It’s revolutionized the way in which we construct all the pieces from airplanes and wind generators to medical implants and nano-machinery — to not point out the tidal wave of creativity unleashed as soon as the tech made its means into the maker group. In Cosplay: A Historical past, veteran cosplayer and 501st Legion member, Andrew Liptak explores the theatrical origins of the craft and its evolution from costuming enthusiasm to full-fledged fandom. Liptak additionally seems to be at how advances in know-how have impacted the cosplay group — whether or not that’s the web boards and social media platforms they use to attach, the telephones and cameras they use to publicize their works, and, within the excerpt under, the 3D printers used to create costume parts.

Simon and Schuster

Excerpted from Cosplay: A Historical past – The Builders, Followers, and Makers Who Carry Your Favourite Tales to Life by Andrew Liptak, printed by Simon & Schuster. © 2022 by Andrew Liptak.

In the summertime of 2017, I picked up a Nintendo Change and started taking part in the newest installment of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda collection, Breath of the Wild. My son, Bram, and I hacked and slashed our means by means of Hyrule. That includes a large open world, the sport is stuffed with fascinating costumes, objects, and weapons, and, with out query, we settled on a Halloween costume for that 12 months: one of many predominant character Hyperlink’s colourful outfits, to be accompanied by a handful of cool-looking objects: a sword, protect, bow with quiver of arrows, and a magical pill referred to as a Sheikah Slate (a magical knowledge pad).

My native library had simply put in a 3D printer, and after a little bit of poking round on-line, I discovered the recordsdata for the Sheikah Slate, then despatched them a file to print. A day or so later, I had the white pill in hand. After just a little sanding, some paint, and a ribbon, I had a serviceable duplicate. Once I got here throughout one other set of plans for a lightsaber-like Guardian Sword++ (1), I had a pal with a 3D printer of his personal print me one. Earlier than I knew it, I had two of my objects for the character.

Courtesy of Andrew Liptak

The method of 3D printing additionally goes by “additive manufacturing,” “laptop automated manufacturing,” “layered manufacturing,” or “speedy prototyping.”(2) The method begins with a designer-developed 3D object referred to as a Laptop Aided Design (CAD), which the software program converts to a file that may be learn by a printer (normally a Normal Tessellation Language file, or STL). This STL file guides the pc to put down plastic in a collection of tremendous layers. Because the machine lays down every successive layer, one can slowly construct up a three-dimensional object like a component for a fancy dress. Whereas sluggish, the method permits makers to print extraordinarily detailed objects that you simply won’t be capable to create with conventional manufacturing strategies.

There are three predominant 3D printing strategies makers can use. The most typical is fused filament fabrication (FFF), through which a spool of thermoplastic (like ABS or PLA) is melted in a heated nozzle and extruded onto a construct floor to type the article. The subsequent methodology is stereolithography (SLA), through which a printer beams a laser right into a vat of resin, bonding the fabric right into a stable object, layer by layer, because it slowly works its means from backside to high (or high to backside). The third methodology is known as selective laser sintering (SLS), through which a machine places down a layer of powdered materials like tremendous resin or metallic. When the layer is in place, the machine makes use of a laser to hint the specified sample, fusing the layer into the appropriate form. As soon as one layer is full, the machine lays down one other layer of powdered materials, and the method repeats itself.

Every of those strategies can be utilized in a wide range of methods. Chemist David E. H. Jones had initially proposed the method in his New Scientist journal column in 1974, observing that “many liquid monomers will be polymerised to stable by ultraviolet gentle, and even seen gentle. Accordingly, a laser-beam shone by means of a tank of monomer ought to depart an optically straight fibre in its path,” he wrote. “A laser beam aimed in the appropriate path zig-zags throughout the tank to create an interlaced net of fibres. By correct settings of the mirrors something from a Brillo-pad to a vest will be made: and with no transferring components in any respect (3)!”

A cosplayer poses as Tony Stark/Iron Man at FAN EXPO Boston in 2019. His armor was entirely 3D-printed.

Courtesy of Andrew Liptak

From right here, engineers and scientists started to plot programs to appreciate his concept. In 1981, Japanese scientist Hideo Kodama wrote a paper for the Evaluate of Scientific Devices—“Computerized methodology for fabricating a three-dimensional plastic mannequin with photo-hardening polymer”—through which he described the tactic for printing up an object (4), which a number of corporations and entrepreneurs adopted a few years later earlier than registering a collection of patents for particular programs. Thus, 3D printing was born.

The automated course of initially discovered a house as a producing approach. It allowed corporations to assemble new sorts of fashions, but additionally turned a simple option to create a prototype of an object: one merely wanted to develop a pc mannequin and print it up, with out having to fabricate a brand new set of molds or a machine half. However the course of didn’t instantly turn into widespread, thanks partially to the patents that people and firms held on these methods. That started to vary within the mid-2010s as these patents expired, inflicting a increase within the availability of 3D printers. As Filemon Schöffer wrote in TechCrunch, “When the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printing course of patent expired in 2009, costs for FDM printers dropped from over $10,000 to lower than $1,000, and a brand new crop of consumer-friendly 3D printer producers, like MakerBot and Ultimaker, paved the way in which for accessible 3D printing (5).”

Prop-making studios in Hollywood have used the know-how for years to create costumes, however the newfound availability of dwelling gadgets has been a boon for cosplayers, permitting them to create particular person props or total costumes (6).

Earlier than the widespread availability of 3D printers, sculptors needed to depend on a wide range of methods to duplicate costume components: carving out EVA foam, making resin molds, machining metallic components, sculpting bucks for vacuum formers, and different methods—numerous effort should you’re seeking to construct just one merchandise or a restricted run of things. Now, a cosplayer can print up a complete preset go well with of armor with a 3D printer.

Forward of Dragon Con 2019, Jack Durnin of Charleston, South Carolina, determined to construct a Martian marine from Syfy’s science-fiction collection The Expanse. “I noticed the promo for season two,” he advised me on the conference, “and I noticed the Martian marines within the teaser, and was like, ‘What is that this present?’ ”and ended up binging all the collection.

Durnin was already an skilled hand when it got here to costuming. In highschool and faculty, he made brief movies, for which he constructed most of the units, costumes, and props himself. As he bought into cosplay, he constructed Commander Shepard’s N7 armor from Mass Impact. When he watched The Expanse, he realized that he may put collectively his personal set of the Martian marine energy armor.

Whereas a number of the present’s followers had tracked down the real-world helmets and parts that the studio’s makers had used to create the onscreen costumes, the Martian marine costume was completely different. It was completely unique to the collection, and if he wished his personal model, he’d must make it himself, from the bottom up. “I began with the helmet,” he defined, “as a result of I knew that will be the toughest and would take essentially the most time. I began with screenshots after which the preliminary form, buying and selling the three dimensions of the helmet, after which began sculpting it.” From there, he went to work on sculpting the forearms and armor, utilizing the identical EVA foam that he had used for his Mass Impact armor. Durnin and his then-girlfriend (now spouse), Jenni Tyler, debuted their costumes at that 12 months’s conference. Their work was rewarded by astonished onlookers and even garnered reward from the solid and crew of the present.

Entry to a printer has one other impact on the costuming group: it democratizes the sector in a totally unprecedented means. In earlier days, a talented modeler may produce an in depth mannequin to promote to or share with the group at giant. However this methodology inherently got here with a bottleneck: mentioned maker may produce their merchandise solely one after the other. By making a file and sharing it with others, ten or extra makers may put collectively the piece on the identical time. A whole lot of equivalent costumes may materialize worldwide nearly concurrently.

Within the lead-up to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, cosplayers began quite a lot of teams to create costumes for one of many movie’s new trooper courses: the shoretrooper. Whereas some makers determined to go the standard route of sculpting and vacuum forming their very own variations, one maker determined to mannequin up his personal printable model.

Brian Anderson sits in the Millennium Falcon’s lounge booth at FAN EXPO Boston in 2019. He’s spent decades building costumes of all types, and has focused extensively on 3D printing, making everything from droids to costumes to the game figures sitting on the table before him.

Courtesy of Andrew Liptak

In 2016, Sean Fields launched a web site that includes a Dropbox hyperlink that contained all the recordsdata required to place collectively the costume. Better of all, he launched the recordsdata for gratis for anybody to obtain on their very own. Because of this, a whole lot the world over constructed their costumes from his design. Followers from the US, Europe, Asia, and elsewhere constructed the costume, turning out at occasions clad in it. Others adopted: a maker named Paul Prentice developed his personal set of extremely correct shoretrooper armor, which he gave to makers in change for a charitable donation.

This know-how had one other, sudden facet impact: it helped to shorten the period of time it could take somebody to develop and construct a fancy dress. “Once I was first changing into a prop maker,” Brian Anderson defined to me at FAN EXPO Boston in 2019, “there was an unlimited funding in having the ability to produce one thing.”

When Lucasfilm launched the tv collection The Clone Wars in 2008, Anderson, a longtime member of the 501st Legion, wished to construct a set of clone trooper armor from the collection. “It took me over a 12 months to sculpt and produce the molds for that go well with, and an funding of a number of thousand {dollars} and supplies simply to get to that very first set.” Making armor in that trend, he defined, wasn’t one thing one may do on impulse: it required numerous planning and funding to finish. However as soon as that cash was spent, “subsequent fits had been straightforward to make, as a result of I may then vacuum type the armor [onto the existing molds].”

However with these molds already fashioned, he couldn’t simply enhance them, particularly as new particulars got here to gentle. “Now, with 3D printing, the chance is a lot decrease.” On the time we spoke in August 2019, the ultimate Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker, had but to hit theaters, however he had already printed up a helmet that would seem within the movie. “They had been simply proven in publicity images for the primary time a few weeks in the past,” he mentioned, but when there was a big change, the unique developer may merely take the mannequin, tweak it, and rerelease it on-line for builders to print out once more. “That occurred to me with the helmet from The Mandalorian; I’ve already made that helmet from the file that Sean Fields produced. He mentioned from the start, ‘This file most likely isn’t correct, and as I discover new particulars, I’m going to iterate on the mannequin, and anybody who buys the file now will get each free iteration by means of completion.’ Once I first began engaged on that, a bunch of individuals requested why I used to be losing my time on it if I knew it wasn’t going to be correct. It’s twelve {dollars}’ value of filament to print one. If I’ve to print a brand new one, it’s no huge deal. And so, it lets individuals soar on traits very early and never have to fret a lot about getting it proper on the primary strive.”

Cosplayer Amie Dansby uses 3D printing extensively in her costumes. This is her take on Vanellope von Schweetz from the Disney film Wreck-It Ralph, and much of the costume features parts that have been separately printed.

Courtesy of Andrew Liptak

However whereas 3D printing has proved to be helpful to cosplayers, it’s not the be-all and end-all approach that can substitute the strategies that preceded it. Processes like conventional sculpting, molding, and others stay in use all through the world, and printing an object doesn’t imply that one can merely pull it off a printing mattress and step right into a conference with it in hand. These objects typically require postproduction work, normally sanding down the traces left by the printer to a clean floor (itself a labor-intensive course of), filling in cracks and seams made when becoming a member of two components collectively, and priming and portray the article.

Even as soon as full, a prop won’t be very sturdy. A maker may decide to print out a hole model of their desired prop, with a honeycomb-like inside construction, to save lots of printing time and weight. A few years in the past, I purchased a reproduction run from Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 movie Elysium. The components had been fantastically designed and printed and had been extraordinarily gentle. I constructed the prop, however when it fell (twice!), it broke alongside a few weak factors, requiring fixes. When a pal printed up Hyperlink’s Guardian Sword for me, I had him do it as a stable half, realizing that it could be a lot sturdier.

Cosplayer Amie Dansby works on a helmet that she’s 3D-printed. Printed parts typically
require a considerable amount of work to produce a finished version.

Courtesy of Andrew Liptak

On condition that 3D printing typically depends on melting plastic to extrude, props will also be extraordinarily inclined to warmth: multiple cosplayer has famous that they’ve had a prop or costume half that’s melted on them in excessive warmth, like in a scorching automobile within the solar or if left subsequent to a heater. This isn’t to say that different manufacturing strategies are inherently higher: objects solid in resin can soften, deform, or shatter; fiberglass and plastic can crack with age or pressure; and materials can tear.

However regardless of these drawbacks, 3D printing is a game-changing know-how, permitting cosplayers to work up total outfits and costume parts shortly and cheaply, opening the sector to new costumers who won’t have been in a position to participate beforehand.


(1) “Un Bal Costumé Chez Jules Verne” [A Costume Ball at the Home of Jules Verne], Le Monde illustré, twenty first 12 months, no. 1044, April 14, 1877, https://laporteouverte.me/2016/11/13/un-bal-costume-chez-jules-verne.

(2) Herbert R. Lottman, Jules Verne: An Exploratory Biography (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 204.

(3) Lydia Smith, “5–10 March 1891: Bovril and the First Ever Sci-Fi Conference, on the Royal Albert Corridor,” Royal Albert Corridor (web site), March 2, 2016, https://www.royalalberthall.com/about-the-hall/information/2016/march/5-10-march-1891-bovril-and-the-first-ever-sci-fi-convention-at-the-royal-albert-hall.

(4) “ ‘The Coming Race’ and ‘Vril-Ya’ Bazaar and Fete, in Joint Help of the West Finish Hospital, and the Faculty of Therapeutic massage and Electrical energy,’ ”Royal Albert Corridor (web site), https://reminiscences.royalalberthall.com/content material/coming-race-and-vril-ya-bazaar-and-fete-joint-aid-west-end-hospital-and-school-massage-and-1.

(5) Alex Palmer, “The Unusual Story of the Vril-Ya Bazaar and Fete, the ‘World’s First Sci-Fi Conference,’ ”Psychological Floss, Might 31, 2021, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/646499/first-sci-fi-convention-vril-ya-bazaar.

(6) The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, A D Rental (entry), up to date Might 24, 2017, http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/condo_a_d.

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