History of Materials/Techniques (w/ focus on Cosplay)

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New Member
Hi folks,

I'm interested in getting a sense of the history of the adoption and use of certain materials in costumes/prop making - particularly in the cosplay community....Naturally many techniques/materials that were taken up in cosplay may have ordinated in film, television, theater, and other sorts of creative industries prior to the development of cosplay as we now know it. A note on that last point. Cosplay proper (if you want to call it that) can be said to have originated in 1939 in the US at the first WorldCon (there were pop culture-themed costumed events prior to this, but stick with me)....SO I'm trying to determine what archaeologists call the terminus post quem (earliest a thing could have happened) and the terminus ante quem (just the opposite) for various tools and materials used in fan costuming, prop making, and cosplay.

^The 3D software application Pepakura Designer was released by Tama Software Ltd. in 2004. Obviously, paper craft existed well before this, so any costumes/props/etc. made out of paper that was probably hardened in some way.

Likewise, things like spray foams (invented in the 50s, commercial popularized in the 60s) pre-existed (as best I can tell) EVA foam. Earliest costume/prop use saw or
made using this material

Thermoplastics (particularly Worlba, WonderFlex, TerraFlex): Same question...earliest known usage.

Vacuum Forming: Same question with regards to

Mold Making: Obviously mold making is a 6,000 + year old human practice.....but what about in the application for props/costumes in cosplay

3D Printing (a caveat, see below)
As I understand it....although additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping have been used in industrial design since the mid 1980s (perhaps even before, correct me if
I'm wrong here), it wasn’t until around 2010 that 3D printing began to reach general consumers. In 2008, the Dutch-founded and New York-based company
Shapeways, a 3D printing service provider and online marketplace, launched its printing services. The following year, the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printing
process patent expired and as a result, prices for FDM printers dropped from $10,000 to about $1,000 per unit. This lead companies like MakerBot, Ultimaker, and
Formlabs to release the first wave of affordable consumer targeted 3D printers. From 2010 onward, the number of personal 3D printers on the market increased rapidly,
prices plummeted, print accuracy improved, and machines became more user-friendly and thus, readily available/used in cosplaying/replica prop making and so forth.

I'm a professor who researches and writes about fandom and material culture. I'm trying to piece together the history of the material culture of cosplay/costuming.
Any info you can provide will help me on an article I'm working on at the moment.


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Master Member
From my understanding of things, vacuforming was the way to go for armors and things for the longest time. Then Pepakura became popular, likely because it was a little less involved than vacuforming. I'm not sure when things like Worbla and other thermal plastics started to come into use, but I think it was at the same time or a little after Pepakura started to gain popularity. But, from what I've seen, thermal plastics never really seemed to have caught on and relatively few costumers use them. Next is EVA foam, it's probably the most popular method of crafting the same kinds of things people used to use vacuforming for. Lastly is 3D printing, it's still in its infancy and seems to be use mostly for props or smallish pieces for a costume.

Mr Mold Maker

Master Member
A lot of the chrome/metal painting and urethane painting techniques used today were pioneered by Legacy Effects.

They were experimenting with chrome paints as early as Terminator III, which laid the ground for techniques that were later built upon during Iron Man. On Iron Man, they had to take hard parts and soft urethane rubber parts and give them a perfectly matching metallic finish. Products like Imperiflex and Alumaluster were developed out of that necessity, and are still industry standards today. If you’ve ever seen a marvel film, you’ve seen these products and techniques hundreds of times.

Everything I know about metal painting is built on those foundations laid by Legacy.

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