So you want to start cosplaying, but you don’t know where to start. Cosplay can be an in-depth hobby with many different specialties, and, like all hobbies, there are different levels of dedication and investment that you can put into cosplay.
Each level has a different amount of stress, cost and time investments. At the intro levels, you can purchase pre-built costumes from other artists, Kigus that match a character and closet cosplays. These are going to be the lowest stress costumes, and normally the comfiest ones as well. As you start pursuing increasingly complex or difficult projects, the costs and time investments associated with them will also increase. For every part of a cosplay, you’ll need to decide if you want to purchase it pre-made, commission another artist, or build it yourself. For the purpose of this article, I’ll be assuming that you’re choosing to build almost everything yourself. While cosplay is an amazing and rewarding hobby, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that most people don’t see until they start doing it themselves.
After deciding the character you’d like to cosplay, you’ll need to decide how much time and money you’d like to commit to finishing the project. As you complete more costumes, you’ll have a better idea of how long a project will take and how much it will cost. Until then, a majority of your time should be spent researching. If you’re still asking questions like “How do I build a Mega Man cosplay?” or “How do I make Widowmaker's gun?” you still have a lot of things to research. If you're still in that stage, I suggest looking up artists like Kamui and Evil Ted, they both have fantastic beginner tutorials. After you feel like you have an accurate time estimation for the number of hours it will take to build the project, triple it. Yes, it seems like a lot, but I’ll talk more on that later.
To determine how many hours a project will take, you’ll need to look into all the ways your specific project can be completed and decide which one is the best fit. For weapons like guns and swords you can use a 3D printer, cast them from resins or build them from a combination of foam, PVC and wood. All of these methods have a variety of pros and cons and require different kinds of tools, materials, skillsets, and price points. While exhaustively researching them all is ideal, it won't be necessary for chosing one method over another. Once you reach the point where you asking questions like “Is this foam stable enough to support itself for this prop?” and “Will acrylic crack if I use it for this armor set?” you’re probably reaching the end of researching stage and ready to move towards patterning and testing.
Having a pattern is a key part for every costume because it acts as the blueprint for your build. Patterns can be purchased, altered or completely hand made. For now we'll focus on purchased patterns and mock ups, but know that if you draft a pattern by hand it will take up a large amount of time. For fabrics, once you have a pattern you'll need to make a mock up. With the mock-up you’ll be practicing using a specific pattern and determining if it fits well, how much you can move in it and how to best take it on and off. You can also make alterations at this step to ensure that your garment has the best fit. If you’re building a prop, you’ll be doing dry fits to find gaps and determine if it's sized correctly.
Costs & Expenses
There are many hidden costs of cosplay, between mock up materials, tools, paints and adhesives, you’ll be surprised at how quickly everything adds up. Your largest costs are going to be tools, a sewing machine, heat gun, 3D printer, box cutters, or quality scissors. For these, I try to think of them as investments. Yes, right now you’re spending $20, $50, $100+ on a single item, but this is a tool that you’ll be using for every costume you make until it breaks. After making 13+ projects, a sewing machine that costs $100 will average out at less than $10 a project. Don’t forget that these are also investments that you can make with another person. Having a local cosplay buddy allowed the two of us to cut our costs down by sharing supplies that we purchased together. The $30 heatgun we both needed was now $15 and we now had someone we could ask for advice if something was going wrong.
The large upfront costs of larger tools can be a reason for cosplayers to specialize in a certain area. By specializing, you can afford to invest the extra $20 into higher quality tools and you force yourself to practice more. As you put more hours into practicing, testing and building, you’ll find yourself making fewer mistakes, and you’ll be finishing larger and more complex projects faster than you ever thought you would.
Everyone starts somewhere. When you first start learning any new skill, you're going to make a lot of mistakes, and cosplay is no different. It's important to recognize this before you start costuming, because mistakes add up quickly and can undo hours of work in seconds. The stress from traveling and wearing a costume can turn those mistakes into cracks, tears and major break. For the first 2 years I spent cosplaying, every costume I made had something that broke on it between the time we left the house for the convention and getting home four days later. This is so common that many conventions now have rooms dedicated to hot-fixing costumes that are breaking. Having a prop break can be heartbreaking, especially when it’s caused by someone else mishandling the prop. The most important thing to remember is that these are all learning opportunities, and mistakes that you won't be making in the future.
Fixing props and costumes on the fly can be very difficult, but as you make more projects you’ll notice that your builds are becoming more stable, lasting longer and taking less wear & tear. As you continue to improve and grow as an artist, you'll see yourself making mistakes fewer, and hopefully repeating old ones less and less. One of the key points to remember about cosplay is that everyone starts somewhere, and that the first step to improvement is failure.
It’s extremely difficult to describe how it feels to be in character at an event, interacting with other characters from your favorite games, or the looks on peoples faces when they see their favorite character, or how clean it feels to have Valentine's Bonesaw mounted above your computer. But all I can say is that it’s probably one of the coolest feelings ever, and it’s why I continue to push myself to become a better & better artist every day. Watching yourself improve over the years while also having amazingly cool props, photos and videos to mark your progress is why I love cosplaying, and why I’ll probably never stop. The most important thing to remember about cosplay (probably while you’re yelling at your sewing machine for becoming unthreaded for 15,000th time) is that all the work is worth it. The experiences you gain from being a cosplay are amazing, incredibly unique and the friends you gain are going to make it even better.