Cosplay: The days of paper mache and foam are about to come to an end

Many companies are starting to discover the benefits of CAD tools like SOLIDWORKS and 3D printing. This design approach can rapidly reduce product development time and concept creation costs. While this was previously something only major corporations had access to, cosplayers can now take advantage of these powerful tools.

A portmanteau of costume and play, cosplaying is a form of performance art that involves developing accurate replicas of character costumes from famous films, television shows, games and anime. It's a hobby that's really exploded in recent years, becoming more than just a trend confined to the convention halls of Comic Con.

Understandably, the development of cosplay costumes is often laborious, requiring hours of cutting foam, sewing fabric and adding details to paper mache armour. What's more, there's little room for error and it can often be a challenge to translate what's on the page to a real object. So, with design software making it easy to quickly whip up concepts, and 3D printing helping users to print models in a matter of hours in a range of colours and using different materials, there's a reason Electronic Design's Iliza Sokol called 3D printing and cosplay "the perfect geek marriage". 

A match made in heaven

In the past, paper mache and even foam would be the only real options to develop costumes. Cosplayers would need to spend countless hours slaving away over pots of glue and paper, not to mention applying paint to establish details on suits, weapons and other parts of the costume.

Speaking to, designer Lloyd Roberts explained that, prior to having access to the right design tools, he was unable to recreate his favourite video game costumes as he lacked the necessary tools. After getting his first 3D printer, he was finally able to create any model he could think of – including suits from the Halo video game series.

On a more complex level, 3D printing news website 3Ders explained the process of creating a villain from a Batman game. Crimson Coscrafts, along with Graphix Monster and Armory Props, created a custom Arkham Knight costume. After a complex modelling process using CAD software, in which the designers used reference material to closely model the costume, the creators could print off the different materials and assemble a real-life interpretation of the new villain.

"We worked closely together and got as many reference pictures as possible, CONSTANTLY changing the 3D models when new material would be released on the Arkham Knight. Russell eventually hit the print button and started getting the helmet followed by the armour and then the Arkham Knights guns," Steve Dee of Crimson Coscrafts explained to the website.

It's easy to see why CAD software and 3D printing was required to create costumes, as they include extremely complex geometry that would either take hours to craft by hand or fall apart when exposed to water. Models designed, stress tested and revised in software, and then printed from plastic and metal, are as resilient and accurate as anything from a store.

Where to from here?

The design tools used to send objects for manufacturing, along with 3D printing, continue to advance every year. Just a few years ago, CAD software tools were complex pieces of software that would require a degree to operate effectively. This isn't to mention the level of complexity achievable with a limited set of tools. Now, companies around the world are taking advantage of the advancements to develop increasingly complex objects, and then send them for printing using plastics and metals.

For cosplayers, more user friendly design tools are going to mean access to a whole suite of new possibilities, and they may soon be wearing suits of armour made of similar materials to the characters on screen or on the page.

Cosplaying isn't the only hobby likely to benefit from new and more powerful design tools, there are opportunities everywhere. Take model aircraft as a clear example: CAD software can be used to design custom flaps and ailerons with ease. On the other hand, furniture makers could use the software to design intricate sliding mechanisms in drawers, and pins to hold shelves in place.

The sky really is the limit with CAD software continually being made easier to use, year after year.