Striking the Books: How 3D printing assisted make cosplay outfits a lot more precise

A dditive production is among the most crucial technological advances of the 21 st century. It’s changed the method we construct whatever from planes and wind turbines to medical implants and nano-machinery– not to point out the tidal bore of imagination released when the tech made its method into the maker neighborhood. In Cosplay: A History, veteran cosplayer and 501 st Legion member, Andrew Liptak checks out the theatrical origins of the craft and its advancement from costuming interest to full-fledged fandom. Liptak likewise takes a look at how advances in innovation have actually affected the cosplay neighborhood– whether that’s the web online forums and social networks platforms they utilize to link, the phones and video cameras they utilize to advertise their works, and, in the excerpt listed below, the 3D printers utilized to develop outfit elements.

Cosplay cover

Simon and Schuster

Excerpted from Cosplay: A History – The Builders, Fans, and Makers Who Bring Your Favorite Stories to Life by Andrew Liptak, released by Simon & & Schuster. © 2022 by Andrew Liptak.

In the summertime of 2017, I got a Nintendo Switch and started playing the most recent installation of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series, Breath of the Wild My child, Bram, and I hacked and slashed our method through Hyrule. Including an enormous open world, the video game has lots of remarkable outfits, things, and weapons, and, without concern, we picked a Halloween outfit for that year: among the primary character Link’s vibrant attire, to be accompanied by a handful of cool-looking products: a sword, guard, bow with quiver of arrows, and a wonderful tablet called a Sheikah Slate (a wonderful information pad).

My public library had actually simply set up a 3D printer, and after a little bit of poking around online, I discovered the apply for the Sheikah Slate, then sent them a file to print. A day approximately later on, I had the white tablet in hand. After a little sanding, some paint, and a ribbon, I had a functional reproduction. When I encountered another set of prepare for a lightsaber-like Guardian Sword++ (1 ), I had a buddy with a 3D printer of his own print me one. Prior to I understood it, I had 2 of my products for the character.

My personal 3D printer: a Snapmaker, which I’ve used to print a variety of parts for
costumes. The expiration of 3D-printing patents has helped the home-printer market explode.

Courtesy of Andrew Liptak

The procedure of 3D printing likewise passes “additive production,” “computer system automated production,” “layered production,” or “quick prototyping.”( 2) The procedure begins with a designer-developed 3D things referred to as a Computer Aided Design (CAD), which the software application transforms to a file that can be checked out by a printer (normally a Standard Tessellation Language file, or STL). This STL file guides the computer system to put down plastic in a series of great layers. As the maker puts down each succeeding layer, one can gradually develop a three-dimensional item like a part for an outfit. While sluggish, the procedure enables makers to print very in-depth items that you may not have the ability to develop with standard production techniques.

There are 3 primary 3D printing approaches makers can utilize. The most typical is merged filament fabrication (FFF), in which a spindle of thermoplastic (like ABS or PLA) is melted in a heated nozzle and extruded onto a develop surface area to form the things. The next approach is stereolithography (SLA), in which a printer beams a laser into a barrel of resin, bonding the product into a strong things, layer by layer, as it gradually works its method from bottom to top (or leading to bottom). The 3rd approach is called selective laser sintering (SLS), in which a maker puts down a layer of powdered product like great resin or metal. When the layer remains in location, the maker utilizes a laser to trace the preferred pattern, merging the layer into the best shape. As soon as one layer is total, the maker sets another layer of powdered product, and the procedure repeats itself.

Each of these techniques can be utilized in a range of methods. Chemist David E. H. Jones had actually at first proposed the procedure in his New Scientist publication column in 1974, observing that “lots of liquid monomers can be polymerised to strong by ultraviolet light, or perhaps noticeable light. Appropriately, a laser-beam shone through a tank of monomer ought to leave an optically straight fiber in its course,” he composed. “A laser beam intended in the best instructions zig-zags all around the tank to produce an interlaced web of fibers. By correct settings of the mirrors anything from a Brillo-pad to a vest can be made: and without any moving parts at all (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 here, engineers and researchers started to develop systems to understand his theory. In 1981, Japanese researcher Hideo Kodama composed a paper for the Review of Scientific Instruments–” Automatic approach for making a three-dimensional plastic design with photo-hardening polymer”– in which he explained the technique for printing up a things (4 ), which a number of business and business owners followed a number of years later on in the past signing up a series of patents for particular systems. Therefore, 3D printing was born.

The automatic procedure at first discovered a house as a production strategy. It enabled business to build brand-new kinds of designs, however likewise ended up being a simple method to produce a model of a things: one simply required to establish a computer system design and print it up, without needing to make a brand-new set of molds or a maker part. The procedure didn’t instantly end up being extensive, thanks in part to the patents that people and business held on these methods. That started to alter in the mid-2010 s as those patents ended, triggering a boom in the schedule of 3D printers. As Filemon Schöffer composed in TechCrunch, “When the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printing procedure patent ended in 2009, costs for FDM printers dropped from over $10,000 to less than $1,000, and a brand-new crop of consumer-friendly 3D printer producers, like MakerBot and Ultimaker, led the way for available 3D printing (5 ).”

Prop-making studios in Hollywood have actually utilized the innovation for several years to develop outfits, however the newly found accessibility of house gadgets has actually been an advantage for cosplayers, enabling them to produce specific props or whole outfits (6 ).

Before the extensive schedule of 3D printers, carvers needed to depend on a range of methods to duplicate outfit parts: taking EVA foam, making resin molds, machining metal parts, shaping dollars for vacuum formers, and other strategies– a great deal of effort if you’re wanting to construct just one product or a restricted run of products. Now, a cosplayer can print up a whole predetermined match of armor with a 3D printer.

Ahead of Dragon Con 2019, Jack Durnin of Charleston, South Carolina, chose to develop a Martian marine from Syfy’s science-fiction series The Expanse “I saw the promotion for season 2,” he informed me at the convention, “and I saw the Martian marines in the teaser, and resembled, ‘What is this program?’ “and wound up binging the whole series.

Durnin was currently a skilled hand when it concerned costuming. In high school and college, he made brief movies, for which he constructed a number of the sets, outfits, and props himself. As he entered cosplay, he constructed Commander Shepard’s N7 armor from Mass Effect When he enjoyed The Expanse, he recognized that he might assemble his own set of the Martian marine power armor.

While a few of the program’s fans had actually found the real-world helmets and elements that the studio’s makers had actually utilized to produce the onscreen outfits, the Martian marine outfit was various. It was totally initial to the series, and if he desired his own variation, he ‘d need to make it himself, from the ground up. “I began with the helmet,” he described, “due to the fact that I understood that would be the hardest and would take the most time. I began with screenshots and after that the preliminary shape, trading the 3 measurements of the helmet, and after that began shaping it.” From there, he went to deal with shaping the lower arms and armor, utilizing the very same EVA foam that he had actually utilized for his Mass Effect armor. Durnin and his then-girlfriend (now better half), Jenni Tyler, debuted their outfits at that year’s convention. Their work was rewarded by astonished observers and even gathered appreciation from the cast and team of the program.

Access to a printer has another result on the costuming neighborhood: it equalizes the field in an entirely unmatched method. In earlier days, an experienced modeler might produce an in-depth design to offer to or show the neighborhood at big. This technique naturally came with a traffic jam: stated maker might produce their items just one by one. By developing a file and sharing it with others, 10 or more makers might create the piece at the very same time. Numerous similar outfits might emerge around the world nearly all at once.

In the lead-up to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, interested cosplayers began a variety of groups to produce outfits for among the movie’s brand-new cannon fodder classes: the shoretrooper. While some makers chose to go the conventional path of sculpting and vacuum forming their own variations, one maker chose to design up his own variation.

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 released a site including a Dropbox link which contained all of the files needed to create the outfit. Most importantly, he launched the files at no charge for anybody to download by themselves. As an outcome, hundreds throughout the world constructed their outfits from his style. Fans from the United States, Europe, Asia, and in other places built the outfit, ending up at occasions dressed in it. Others followed: a maker called Paul Prentice established his own set of extremely precise shoretrooper armor, which he provided to interested makers in exchange for a charitable contribution.

This innovation had another, unforeseen negative effects: it assisted to reduce the quantity of time it would take somebody to establish and construct an outfit. “When I was very first ending up being a prop maker,” Brian Anderson described to me at FAN EXPO Boston in 2019, “there was a huge financial investment in having the ability to produce something.”

When Lucasfilm launched the tv series The Clone Wars in 2008, Anderson, a long time member of the 501 st Legion, wished to construct a set of clone cannon fodder armor from the series. “It took me over a year to shape and produce the molds for that match, and a financial investment of a number of thousand dollars and products simply to get to that extremely first set.” Making armor because style, he described, wasn’t something one might do on impulse: it needed a great deal of preparation and financial investment to finish. When that cash was invested, “subsequent matches were simple to make, since I might then vacuum form the armor [onto the existing molds].”

But with those molds currently formed, he could not quickly enhance them, particularly as brand-new information emerged. “Now, with 3D printing, the danger is a lot lower.” At the time we spoke in August 2019, the last Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker, had yet to strike theaters, however he had actually currently printed up a helmet that would appear in the movie. “They were simply displayed in promotion pictures for the very first time a number of weeks earlier,” he stated, however if there was a considerable modification, the initial designer might merely take the design, modify it, and rerelease it online for home builders to print out once again. “That occurred to me with the helmet from The Mandalorian; I’ve currently made that helmet from the file that Sean Fields produced. He stated from the start, ‘This file most likely isn’t precise, and as I discover brand-new information, I’m going to repeat on the design, and anybody who purchases the file now will get every complimentary model through conclusion.’ When I initially began dealing with that, a lot of individuals asked why I was squandering my time on it if I understood it wasn’t going to be precise. It’s twelve dollars’ worth of filament to print one. If I need to print a brand-new one, it’s no huge offer. Therefore, it lets individuals get on patterns extremely early and not need to fret a lot about getting it right on the very first shot.”

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

But while 3D printing has actually shown to be beneficial to cosplayers, it’s not the be-all and end-all strategy that will change the approaches that preceded it. Procedures like standard sculpting, molding, and others stay in usage throughout the world, and printing an item does not suggest that a person can merely pull it off a printing bed and enter a convention with it in hand. These things frequently need postproduction work, typically sanding down the lines left by the printer to a smooth surface area (itself a labor-intensive procedure), filling out fractures and joints made when signing up with 2 parts together, and priming and painting the item.

Even when total, a prop may not be extremely resilient. A maker may decide to print out a hollow variation of their preferred prop, with a honeycomb-like interior structure, to conserve printing time and weight. A number of years earlier, I purchased a reproduction run from Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 movie Elysium The parts were perfectly developed and printed and were very light. I developed the prop, however when it fell (two times!), it broke along a number of powerlessness, needing repairs. When a good friend printed up Link’s Guardian Sword for me, I had him do it as a strong part, recognizing that it would be much tougher.

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

Given that 3D printing typically counts on melting plastic to extrude, props can likewise be incredibly prone to heat: more than one cosplayer has actually kept in mind that they’ve had a prop or costume part that’s melted on them in severe heat, like in a hot vehicle in the sun or if left beside a heating unit. This isn’t to state that other making approaches are naturally much better: things cast in resin can melt, warp, or shatter; fiberglass and plastic can split with age or pressure; and materials can tear.

But in spite of those disadvantages, 3D printing is a game-changing innovation, permitting cosplayers to develop whole clothing and outfit elements rapidly and inexpensively, opening the field to brand-new customers who may not have actually had the ability to participate formerly.


( 1) “Un Bal Costumé Chez Jules Verne” [A Costume Ball at the Home of Jules Verne], Le Monde illustré, 21 st year, no. 1044, April 14, 1877, 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 Convention, at the Royal Albert Hall,” Royal Albert Hall (site), March 2, 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 Aid of the West End Hospital, and the School of Massage and Electricity,’ “Royal Albert Hall (site),

( 5) Alex Palmer, “The Strange Story of the Vril-Ya Bazaar and Fete, the ‘World’s First Sci-Fi Convention,’ “Mental Floss, May 31,. 2021, first-sci-fi-convention-vril-ya-bazaar.

( 6) The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, A D Condo (entry), upgraded May 24, 2017,

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