SPECIAL - Wonderflex Tutorial

Wonderflex is a thin plastic sheet with a layer of gauzelike fabric embedded into it. The plastic becomes malleable when heated –at which point it can be shaped with one’s fingers or over a mold. I had read about this material online for quite a while and finally decided to order a sheet to see if it lived up to its hype. I ordered a sheet from the following website:

http://www.cosplaysupplies.com/wonderflex/wonderflex.html



It cost me 24 dollars for a 19" x 28” sheet. Styrene is a cheaper material inch for inch, but there ARE some things that styrene just can’t re-create. (Rounded surfaces, for instance.) This was primarily what I had planned on using the wonderflex for when I ordered it.

What follows is a picture tutorial detailing how I made a rounded shoulder pauldron using wonderflex, a paper mache mold, and a material called Friendly Plastic (which I’ll talk about in more detail later.)

Step One for this project was to acquire a sheet of wonderflex (see above).

The next thing I had to do was to get my hands on a mold around which to shape my heated wonderflex. I decided to make one out of paper mache, since I figured that would probably be the material MOST people would have to use to create a rounded mold. At some point I'll post a tutorial that deals with the making of paper mache objects, but for now, all I have to say is that I made THIS object using a balloon coated with newspaper strips soaked in wallpaper paste.



Lovely, isn't it? Okay, then, I took the mold and drew the outline of the shoulder pauldron onto it. (I'm making Cloud's ubiquitous AC shoulder pauldron, for the record.)



Now in my first attempt at shaping the wonderflex, I cut off a large piece and then tried heating it and shaping it around the mold all at once (using a blow dryer on a high heat setting to melt the plastic.) This did not work well as there were too many wrinkles appearing in the surface. (In other words, it was impossible to apply the wonderflex without darting and cutting notches into its surface.) So I hit upon a different solution: cut up the large sheet of wonderflex into a bunch of smaller pieces and apply those to the mold one by one.



There we go. You can see already how the heat has caused the wonderflex piece to bend and conform to the shape of the mold. Once I had finished applying the heat, I smoothed out the surface of the plastic as best I could with my fingers.



I then cut out another small rounded piece of wonderflex and placed it next to the first, overlapping it slightly. (I made the pieces rounded because I thought that would help their edges to blend into each other better.)



Here you can see the placement of the wonderflex pieces. It looked a bit lumpy at this point in the process, but I decided to go on figuring I would find a way to smooth down the surface later.…



One end of the pauldron that I'm making, (the end closest to the neck) had a raised lipped edge. I was able to recreate this by warming the wonderflex and holding it in place with my fingers until it cooled. (Note: wonderflex can get fairly hot when melted. You may want to don a pair of leather gloves before you begin working with it.)



After I had placed one coating of wonderflex onto the mold, I decided to place another coating over it for added strength (this involved cutting more rounded pieces and then applying them over what I had put down before. As a result, you can see hat the surface of the pauldron is now lumpier than ever.)



Once I had covered all the areas that had needed covering, I re-traced out the edges of my pauldron, inserted a scissors into the paper mache mold and started cutting. (I was unable to separate the wonderflex from the paper mache so I simply incorporated the paper mache into the project.)



The plastic and paper mache were thin enough for me to be able to cut through both layers with a heavy scissors. I shaped the outer edges of the pauldron as precisely as I could…



The next step was to take some scraps of wonderflex, (I had plenty lying around by this point) heat them up and then press them into the interior of the pauldron, covering up the edges and seams where the paper mache and wonderflex met.



I made sure to go all around the edges with the wonderflex scraps, making the edges as clean and as smooth-looking as possible. Later on I would coat the interior of the paper mache lining with varnish and black acrylic paint to give it some durability.



Here is what I have at this point in the process. Kind of a turtle-shell-looking thing with a lumpy surface. (Wonderflex has a gauzy texture thanks to the fabric it’s embedded in. That and the lumps I made ensured that some way would have to be found to make the surface of this project appear smooth and armorlike.)



I would now need to find some way of smoothing it out so I would make it look less like a 3rd-grader's paper sculpture and more like a piece of actual armor.

Enter...Friendly Plastic!



What is Friendly Plastic? Well, it’s pretty much the same thing as Wonderflex, only it’s not embedded in a gauzy fabric,-- instead, it comes in pellet form. You may have heard of colorful friendly plastic sticks (which could be heated and shaped into jewelry,) but for cosplay sculpting purposes, the pellets are far superior. Most craft stores that I know of stopped selling the sticks long ago, and the pellet form isn’t sold at any brick-and-mortar store that I know of, (although you may be able to find them selling at a local art and stationary store in your area.)

Here are a few links to places that offer them online:

The Compleat Sculptor: (bottom of the page:)
http://www.sculpt.com/catalog_98/craft/craft.htm

Stewart-MacDonald:
http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tools/Clamps,_support_tools/Friendly_Plastic.html

JewelrySupply.com:
http://www.jewelrysupply.com/craft_supply/friendly_plastics_pellets.html

So you’ve gotten your hands on some Friendly Plastic. What do you do with it? Well, the first thing you do is get a pan (I recommend getting a junky old one from a thrift store) and fill it with water. Heat the water until it starts to simmer and then pour in a large spoonful of the Friendly Plastic Pellets.



After a few seconds, they’ll start to melt and go clear. Once they’re completely melted, use your spoon to stir them into a big gooey glob.



Take the glob and spread the plastic a little bit with your fingers. The plastic will be hot, so you should take care not to burn yourself. (Friendly plastic will stick to certain types of fabrics and materials, so if you’re going to wear protective gloves of any sort, you should test them first by pressing a tiny bit of the melted plastic to their surface .)



Spread the melty glob of friendly plastic over the surface of your armor, pressing it in with your fingers. Try to spread it over as large an area as possible. (Your primary goal is to cover the gauzy texture of the wonderflex. Don’t worry about making everything perfectly smooth quite yet.)



Repeat the process, laying on more Friendly Plastic and blending it in with the plastic you’ve already applied. Do this until the entire surface area of the pauldron has been covered. The gauzy texture is mostly gone, but as you can see, those lumpy areas still remain (if anything, they’ve gotten worse.) So now you’ll have to do something about them…



Take a large pot and fill it with water (there’s no real danger that this one will get gummed up, since you won’t be melting or stirring Friendly Plastic inside of it.) Make sure the pot you use is large enough to allow your entire shoulder pauldron to be dipped inside. Once the water inside the pot starts boiling, take your pauldron and set it into the hot water (taking care not to let any of the water run onto the paper mache lining.) Hold the pauldron in place for about 30 seconds or so.



Now comes the fun part – put the section of the pauldron that you just heated up onto a formica countertop, put your hand into the pauldron itself, and press down hard, rocking the pauldron back and forth with a grinding motion until the surface grows cool.



If you do it right, you will see that the surface area that you heated and pressed will be much smoother than before. You’ll have to continue this process, alternatively heating and pressing the surface of the pauldron until you’ve manage to smooth out the entire surface. It will take a lot of time, trial, and patience, (and quite a bit of elbow grease as well.)



This was what I had when the pressing and smoothing was finished. I did not smooth out the surface quite as much as I could have, because I wanted there to be some wrinkles and roughness in the texture of the pauldron. (It had to look like battle-worn leather, after all…)



When the pauldron had cooled completely, I brushed a coating of black glossy Testor’s enamel paint over its surface. (I coated the interior of the pauldron with varnish and black acrylic paint at this time as well.)



Here’s what it looked like after the first coating of paint. Already it’s starting to look more like armor. I still had a long ways to go before it was finished, though…



Here’s what the pauldron looked like after I dry-brushed its surface with a mixture of silver and black testor’s paint and glued a layer of braided trim along its bottom edge. (I also glued a cast resin wolf ornament to the front of the pauldron with Liquid Nails. ) You can see how rough-looking the pauldron’s surface is. (This was intentional, of course – the dry brushing over the solid black really helped to bring out the texture.)



Here’s another view of the pauldron. I will have to attach a leather strap to it before I can be worn. (I’m thinking of boring small holes into the bottom edge of the pauldron where I want the strap to go and then sewing the strap to it with a heavy needle and 4-ply black thread.)



I have heard that a common way of covering wonderflex is to use layers of acrylic gesso, (a white, paintlike substance that is often used by artists to prepare their canvasses for painting.) There’s a problem with painting gesso over wonderflex however,(something you'll know if you've read the comments for this tutorual) --it tends to flake off when damaged. (Sometimes whole chunks can come off.) Some advantages that gesso DOES have is that it can be sanded—which is something you can’t do with Friendly Plastic—and gesso is, of course, much less expensive than Friendly Plastic. (A bottle of gesso might run you 8 dollars at an art store while a container of friendly plastic pellets costs about 30 dollars.) Still, I personally think that the extra cost and the extra work involved with the use of Friendly Plastic are well worth the investment, considering the results you can get with it.

As far as wonderflex as a material goes, I think it’s worthwhile for those things which just can’t be made using styrene. I’ve only just started experimenting with it and, no doubt, there’s all sorts of things it can do that I haven’t even thought of. The only way to really be sure how well it will work for you is to buy a sheet and start experimenting with it yourself. See the different ways that you can shape it and see what kinds of coatings work best to cover it. And share what you learn with other people. I’m sure they’ll be interested in all the wonderful things you’ve managed to do with it.


here are some good wonderflex-related links:

Cosplaysupplies.com Wonderflex and Fosshape Ordering Page:
http://www.cosplaysupplies.com/wonderflex/wonderflex.html

Cosplaysupplies.com’s Wonderflex FAQ:
http://www.cosplaysupplies.com/wonderflex/WonderflexFAQ.html

Cosworx Wonderflex Ordering Page:
http://www.cosworx.com/product.php?productid=25784&cat=11&page=1

Cosplay.com’s Wonderflex Discussion Thread:
http://forums.cosplay.com/showthread.php?t=60768

I hope you've found this helpful.

Questions? Comments? Leave 'em below or e-mail me at dietzt@REMOVEMEcloudnet.com
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Thank you.