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

Additive production is among the most crucial technological advances of the 21st century. It’s changed the method we construct whatever from aircrafts and wind turbines to medical implants and nano-machinery– not to point out the tidal bore of imagination released as soon as the tech made its method into the maker neighborhood. In Cosplay: A History, veteran cosplayer and 501st Legion member, Andrew Liptak checks out the theatrical origins of the craft and its development 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 electronic cameras they utilize to advertise their works, and, in the excerpt listed below, the 3D printers utilized to develop outfit parts.

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 summer season of 2017, I got a Nintendo Change 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 interesting outfits, things, and weapons, and, without concern, we chose a Halloween outfit for that year: among the primary character Link’s vibrant clothing, 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 declare the Sheikah Slate, then sent them a file to print. A day or two 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 discovered another set of prepare for a lightsaber-like Guardian Sword++ (1 ), I had a pal 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.

Thanks To 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 item called a Computer system Helped Style (CAD), which the software application transforms to a file that can be checked out by a printer (generally a Basic Tessellation Language file, or STL). This STL file guides the computer system to set plastic in a series of great layers. As the maker sets each succeeding layer, one can gradually develop a three-dimensional item like a part for an outfit. While sluggish, the procedure permits makers to print exceptionally in-depth things that you may not have the ability to develop with standard production techniques.

There are 3 primary 3D printing techniques 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 item. The next approach is stereolithography (RUN-DOWN NEIGHBORHOOD), in which a printer beams a laser into a barrel of resin, bonding the product into a strong item, 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 device 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 wanted pattern, merging the layer into the best shape. When 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 Researcher publication column in 1974, observing that “numerous liquid monomers can be polymerised to strong by ultraviolet light, or perhaps noticeable light. Appropriately, a laser-beam shone through a tank of monomer must 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 develop an interlaced web of fibers. By appropriate 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.

Thanks To Andrew Liptak

From here, engineers and researchers started to design systems to recognize his theory. In 1981, Japanese researcher Hideo Kodama composed a paper for the Evaluation of Scientific Instruments–“Automatic approach for making a three-dimensional plastic design with photo-hardening polymer”– in which he explained the approach for printing up a things (4 ), which numerous business and business owners followed a number of years later on previously 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 develop 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 device part. However the procedure didn’t instantly end up being prevalent, thanks in part to the patents that people and business hung on these methods. That started to alter in the mid-2010s as those patents ended, triggering a boom in the schedule of 3D printers. As Filemon Schöffer composed in TechCrunch, “When the Merged 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 schedule of house gadgets has actually been a benefit for cosplayers, permitting them to develop specific props or whole outfits (6 ).

Prior to the prevalent schedule of 3D printers, carvers needed to depend on a range of methods to reproduce outfit parts: taking EVA foam, making resin molds, machining metal parts, shaping dollars for vacuum formers, and other methods– 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 pre-programmed match of armor with a 3D printer.

Ahead of Dragon Con 2019, Jack Durnin of Charleston, South Carolina, chose to construct a Martian marine from Syfy’s science-fiction series The Stretch. “I saw the discount 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 pertained to costuming. In high school and college, he made brief movies, for which he constructed much of the sets, outfits, and props himself. As he entered cosplay, he constructed Leader Shepard’s N7 armor from Mass Result. When he viewed The Stretch, he understood 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 parts that the studio’s makers had actually utilized to develop the onscreen outfits, the Martian marine outfit was various. It was completely 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 discussed, “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 exact same EVA foam that he had actually utilized for his Mass Result armor. Durnin and his then-girlfriend (now partner), Jenni Tyler, debuted their outfits at that year’s convention. Their work was rewarded by astonished observers and even amassed 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 extraordinary method. In earlier days, an experienced modeler might produce a comprehensive design to offer to or show the neighborhood at big. However this approach naturally included 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 assemble the piece at the exact same time. Numerous similar outfits might emerge around the world practically concurrently.

In the lead-up to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, interested cosplayers began a variety of groups to develop outfits for among the movie’s brand-new cannon fodder classes: the shoretrooper. While some makers chose to go the standard 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.

Thanks To Andrew Liptak

In 2016, Sean Fields introduced a site including a Dropbox link which contained all of the files needed to assemble 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 somewhere else built the outfit, ending up at occasions outfitted in it. Others followed: a maker called Paul Prentice established his own set of extremely precise shoretrooper armor, which he offered to interested makers in exchange for a charitable contribution.

This innovation had another, unanticipated adverse 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 discussed to me at FAN Exposition 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 501st 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 numerous thousand dollars and products simply to get to that extremely first set.” Making armor because style, he discussed, wasn’t something one might do on impulse: it needed a great deal of preparation and financial investment to finish. Once that cash was invested, “subsequent fits were simple to make, due to the fact that I might then vacuum form the armor [onto the existing molds].”

However with those molds currently formed, he could not quickly enhance them, specifically 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 Increase 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 have actually 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 totally free version through conclusion.’ When I initially began dealing with that, a lot of individuals asked why I was losing 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.

Thanks To Andrew Liptak

However 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 techniques that preceded it. Procedures like standard sculpting, molding, and others stay in usage throughout the world, and printing a things does not indicate 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, generally 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 as soon as total, a prop may not be extremely long lasting. A maker may decide to print out a hollow variation of their wanted 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 created and printed and were exceptionally light. I constructed the prop, however when it fell (two times!), it broke along a number of powerlessness, needing repairs. When a pal printed up Link’s Guardian Sword for me, I had him do it as a strong part, understanding that it would be much stronger.

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.

Thanks To Andrew Liptak

Considered that 3D printing frequently depends on melting plastic to extrude, props can likewise be exceptionally vulnerable to heat: more than one cosplayer has actually kept in mind that they have actually had a prop or costume part that’s melted on them in severe heat, like in a hot automobile in the sun or if left beside a heating system. This isn’t to state that other producing techniques are naturally much better: things cast in resin can melt, warp, or shatter; fiberglass and plastic can break with age or stress; and materials can tear.

However in spite of those downsides, 3D printing is a game-changing innovation, permitting cosplayers to develop whole attires and outfit parts 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, 21st year, no. 1044, April 14, 1877,

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

( 3) Lydia Smith, “5– 10 March 1891: Bovril and the Very First Sci-Fi Convention, at the Royal Albert Hall,” Royal Albert Hall (site), March 2, 2016,

( 4)” ‘The Coming Race’ and ‘Vril-Ya’ Exchange and Fete, in Joint Help of the West End Health Center, and the School of Massage and Electrical energy,’ “Royal Albert Hall (site),

( 5) Alex Palmer, “The Strange Story of the Vril-Ya Exchange and Fete, the ‘World’s First Sci-Fi Convention,’ “Psychological Floss, Might 31, 2021,

( 6) The Encyclopedia of Sci-fi, A D Apartment (entry), upgraded Might 24, 2017,

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