Wonderflex FAQby Elemental
The following is the FAQ regarding Wonderflex that I have created for Dani at cosplaysupplies.com. It is also linked in the first post of the cosplay.com forum, as it is too large for a single post. Permission for this FAQ to be mirrored on costuming.org has also been given. Please do not copy or post without permission. Feel free to link to this or the cosplay.com forum, and please feel free to comment with questions or your own finished work with Wonderflex.
If you are purchasing from Dani and have found some use of this FAQ, please mention me in your form, as he allows me a free sheet for every ten full sheets he sells due to my assistance, and the more Wonderflex I have, the more I can practice and attempt different methods to inform you of.
Who am I? Elemental, on Cosplay.com, and one of the first cosplayers to use Wonderflex (or at least I'm the first to be talking about it). Because there is nothing available online about working with Wonderflex, I've taken the most commonly asked questions I recieve and created a FAQ for anyone looking to use Wonderflex. I hope you find it useful. I am not an expert, remember, and if you think you have a better method to achieve something, please do it your own way- and share the results here.
What Is Wonderflex?
Wonderflex is a type of thermoplastic that is shaped with heat. Thermoplastic has been around for a long time, but unlike other forms of thermoplastic you don't need to put this in your oven, and it doesn't smell like burning DEATH when you work with it. (It's non-toxic too, which cosplayers tend to ignore for their hobby, but is a nice side bonus anyway). It is also unique because, on the bias (diagonal line) it will stretch when heated, allowing full, round shapes and bell curves.
Where can I buy Wonderflex?
Wonderflex is available through very few distributors. You can’t buy it from Wallmart, Home Hardware/Depot, or any commercial store.
The main distributor (I.E. the person everyone purchases their Wonderflex from to re-sell) is Dazian. If you can physically get to their East or West coast stores (Secaucus, NJ and North Hollywood, CA) you can purchase from them and see their finished examples. You can purchase through their website as well, though you need a credit card.
Another option is Dani at Cosplaysupplies.com. His prices are higher, but if you don’t live in the US, shipping from Dani ensures that your *shipping* costs are the lowest possible, as Wonderflex can be expensive to ship, and Dani has been working with different companies for the lowest transport prices possible. He accepts paypal, (Dazian is credit only) and if you don’t need a full sheet, Dani will cut to any specification- 1/3, 1/4, 1/2, 1/8, and send small ‘sample pieces’ a little larger than a sheet of legal paper. So if you’re working on a smaller project, he’s definitely the way to go.
I also get a bit of a bonus from Dani for referring people to Wonderflex, so if you’re purchasing through him, mention me. For every ten full sheets I help him sell, he gives me a free one, which goes into experimenting more with Wonderflex and sharing with you what I learn.
What does it cost?
Wonderflex differs in price depending on whom you purchase from. A full sheet ranges from $27.50 to $50.00 US before shipping.
What do I need to use Wonderflex?
The basics of Wonderflex working is a hard surface (I’m fond of cement floors, and you don’t want to work on carpet), Wonderflex, a pencil, some craft scissors, a heat gun (also known as a paint stripper and available at almost any Wallmart/Home Depot/Canadian Tire you visit, usually under $30), some paper and/or fun foam for patterning, and tape to help you hold pieces together for mockups and testing. Also, any reference image you can get your grubby hands on.
Tools of the trade.
What can I make with Wonderflex?
If you can think of it, you can probably make it. I have successfully made armor, chest plates, kneepads, staff tops, swords, and automail. My next projects include a shield, more automail, persocom ears, a Boogiepop Phantom hat and floaty-ribbon-o-death, and a bunch of small daggers and knives. With practice and work you can make it take just about any form.
Wonderflex and insulation foam staffs by Lauren and Hannah of Idjit.
Lord Seshoumaru of Inuyasha and Edward Elric of Full Metal Alchemist.
Wonderflex does things craft foam can’t -- like bell curves. This means you can make a close fitting chest plate, or do exaggerated shoulder armor (from Clamp’s Rayearth, or Yu-Gi-Oh!’s Dark Magician, for example). Unlike other kinds of thermoplastic, Wonderflex does not develop stress marks or wrinkles, and does not weaken along curves.
Automail fingers that circle the finger and are rounded, not square, at the tip.
And because there’s no drying time for Wonderflex itself, unlike paper mache, you can work on a project until it’s done.
Wonderflex is not fragile like Sculpey or Paper Clay. A staff top made of Wonderflex can be dropped, banged, or used to discourage an over-enthusiastic fanboy/girls and not react in the slightest. Stepping on it will probably crack your paint job, and may pop a joint, but the plastic itself is near-indestructible. It can, under areas of *extreme* stress, over a period of time and with two loose areas rubbing against each other, develop a rip at the bottom, exposed edge. However this is easy to repair, and has only occurred once of everything we’ve completed so far, on the bottom edge of Seshoumaru’s chest armor where the sword had been rubbing for two days. (The tear was a centimeter deep and didn’t spread at all, even though it was under constant pressure.)
What can’t I make with Wonderflex?
Wonderflex needs to be coated in some form of base in order to smooth it out, as in its raw, shaped form, it has a texture similar to duct tape. Those ridges will show up when painted, especially if the surface is to be silver or gold and shiny. Therefore Wonderflex is not very suitable for very fine detailing like filigree work. Very thin pieces less than half a centimeter wide can snap under pressure, and will not support themselves upright unless given a double thickness.
Is it easy to use?
Yes! Wonderflex is really quite user friendly. I had never worked with any form of plastic before using Wonderflex, and it took very little time to grow accustomed to. Because it is activated by heat, you can play with it at different temperatures to achieve different results. If you make a mistake, you can reheat it to reform it. Joints are made by heating two pieces and pressing them FIRMLY together. If you make a mistake heating the joints again allows you to separate them, but once cooled fully bonded joints will not separate.
Remember, I am not an expert! One of the reasons I’m creating this FAQ is because I’m one of the most experienced people in the cosplay community using Wonderflex right now, but that in no means makes me the resident-know-it-all. If you find another way of doing something, please let us know so this FAQ can stay updated with the latest techniques.
How do I shape it? Can I use my bare hands?
Wonderflex is suggested to be shaped while wearing gloves, but I find as long as you allow it to cool slightly I can shape with my fingers without problem. There IS some discomfort, and it does require a high heat tolerance -- if you are very sensitive, or worried, a pair of tight fitting leather gloves may be advisable.
Wonderflex can be shaped in three ways.
The first method is free form. Take your Wonderflex, heat it, shape it, let it cool. If it needs further shaping, heat it again. Easy!
The second method is a positive mold or form. This is what I use to make chest plates and automail. Making a duct tape from (Instructions can be found HERE and HERE) I shape the Wonderflex over the form. This is also the method I suggest for staff tops with dimensions and things like Ed’s spear. Create a shape out of foam (upholstery foam, or pink insulation foam) and cover it in a layer or two of electrical tape. Then simply shape the Wonderflex over it. This allows for large shapes that look hollow and are lightweight, and is especially useful if you cannot do the third method. The Luna and Solaris staffs shown below are made of this method.
Insulation foam covered in duct tape, Wonderflex formed overtop. Unpainted.
The third method is a negative mould. This is a hollow shape you push the Wonderflex into to take a form, similar to vacuforming. I have yet to try making negative moulds, so I can’t comment on the process. I do know this is how Disney makes their Wonderflex items, and this allows for hollow shapes in any size.
As for cutting? I use plain old scissors, and a utility knife for shaving down tricky, tight curves.
How do I pattern it?
I create my pattern first by experimenting with shapes drawn onto newspaper, then cut out of fun foam when I think I have the right size/shape. When everything is cut out of fun foam and pieced together properly, I then transfer the fun foam pattern onto Wonderflex. See examples below.
Automail pattern and spear base.
If I am making something with curves, like a chest plate or bell-curved shoulders, I make fabric patterns out of broadcloth to give me a better idea of how the Wonderflex will actually sit, as paper and fun foam only curve one way.
How much will I need?
It’s very difficult to guestimate the amount you'll need. Finish your pattern first. Then, on concrete or a rug you won't mind putting tape down on, Measure out a rectangle 39" by 57". Start laying out your pieces on it like a puzzle, trying to keep them as close together as possible without touching. When that square is full start another one, and another, until you are out of pieces. The amount of squares you have is how much Wonderflex you'll need. I'd then add half a sheet more to that for mistakes and second guessing.
Also, ALWAYS keep your scraps of Wonderflex- I never throw it out, as even small scraps can be used later for reinforcing joints or raised details.
How do I smooth it out?
As previously mentioned, Wonderflex has a raised texture, similar to duct tape. To smooth it out I use layers of gesso, sanded between applications, to fill in the bumps. If you are sanding something curved, do yourself a favor and invest in a handful of sanding sponges. They are easier to use, come in many degrees of roughness (I use a fairly coarse sponge for the most part), sand faster than paper, and are much, much easier to use on curves and corners.
I purchase gesso from Wallmart’s art department and Michael’s art stores, and it’s available at most online art retailers.
For areas that will bend (Areas that are without support, such as the wings on the Ed Spear) you may stress the gesso and cause it to crack and flake. The easiest way to prevent this is to ensure anything that is not held ion your body is supported- use doweling in swords, and foam bases for staff tops.
I am experimenting with Bondo at the moment, and will add my results to this when I have them.
How do I join pieces together?
Joints are made by heating two pieces and pressing them FIRMLY together. If you make a mistake heating the joints again allows you to separate them, but once cooled fully bonded joints will not separate.
How do I join Wonderflex to other materials?
I use snaps, hot glue, epoxy, ‘Goop’ glue, and double sided foam tape (the GOOD stuff) to join Wonderflex to foam, fabric, and anything else needed. I’ve also used nails and screws for the spear, but I would suggest utilizing screws for the most part, or nails with a large head.
Note: hot glue and spray paint to not mix well. I.e., the hot glue will peel off and you loose the join.
How do I paint it?
Any paint that's made for plastic works. I use Tremclad Hammertone Rust paint for my Automail, for the 'hammered metal' look, and for a highly silver/gold look I use Krylon Short Cuts Craft Enamel. If the Wonderflex has been gessoed acrylic paint will apply with no issues, and I’ve used fabric paint for raised detailing. Be aware that with paint, especially spray paint, you will get what you pay for, and cheap paint likes to flake.
Will it break under stress?
No. Don’t make a ladder of the stuff, but Wonderflex is a very resilient plastic- it will bend under pressure, but not break. I have yet to manage to tear or break anything I’ve made, and I’ve tried to tear/snap raw pieces with no luck.
Will it lose its shape during a hot day of wear?
No. Wonderflex WILL soften if left in a car on a hot day (not a good idea) and if you have painted your prop black (like Seshoumaru’s armor) and leave it out under direct summer sunlight, again it may soften, but simply moving it back inside the house, or even under shade, will set it again.
If you are traveling long distances in a car that is not air conditioned, it is a good idea to ensure your prop is well supported and does not have any pressure on top of it. If it is small, pack it in the cooler with your food.
Is it flexible when it’s cool?
As standard plastic, yes, it bends, but it will not bend out of shape. In other words, a sheet can be rolled for transport, but will unroll flat if untied.
Can I make it stronger?
Yes. Two layers of Wonderflex will bend much less, three layers won’t want to bend at ALL. To create the immobile floating silver arch of Seshoumaru’s armor, we used a piece of aquarium tubing for support. For swords I use wooden doweling to base the handle on and line the middle of the blade, to ensure it won’t bend while being used. It also insures I won’t have any weakness between the hilt and sword, as they’re essentially one piece.
Seshoumaru’s Spikes do not move in this costume at ALL, and are never lying against Jen’s arm.
Can I use it to make full body armor?
Yes. Be aware that pieces that are not being supported by you but are being built out, you will either need to make a negative mould, or build over foam to ensure support.
Can I use it to make a large prop, such as Vash’s angel arm or Wolfwood’s Cross?
Yes. Something like Vash's arm would be very difficult without building some sort of support frame within it, and Wolfwood's cross would likely need dowel support along half the edges to ensure that the prop didn't bend along the joint 'weak' points while being used. But with the proper framework Wonderflex would work wonderfully, be very sturdy, and very lightweight.
For an example of how I work with framework and patterning, here’s how I’d plan out Vash’s angel arm.
A) Decide that I would be holding it a bit higher, and therefore be supporting it on my SHOULDER, as opposed to just below the shoulder blade.
B) Decide where (and how) the arm would come apart for travel and storage.
C) Build a base form for what the interior would look like out of balls of newspaper and duct tape so that I could form over it. I'd make the main tube by wrapping that form with my sections of Wonderflex, and then building on top of that. It allows me to heat and modify pieces directly on top of my base without running the risk of the base falling in on itself while heated.
D) Build into the shape long wooden dowels, probably two running the whole length, possibly three for additional strength. While Wonderflex is strong, the arm is VERY large- and the sheer weight of itself could cause it to bend from stress. I may build each end’s form out of foam for added stability.
E) Go absolutely batty gessoing to smooth it, and looking for the right feathers. Eventually give up and decide to make my own from organza and Wonderflex. XD
Here's a basic design for both the cross and arm.
For Vash, red is doweling- I'd build a frame like that to support the weight of the arm (which really wouldn't be that much, all told, but would still need support) the purple is a COUNTERWEIGHT- something you are GOING to need for a prop that big that’s intended to balance on your shoulder. The orange is Vash's 'arm', and the blue is just an idea of lining the 'feather; with a few strips of bonded Wonderflex to actually make it hold that shape.
The top right image is the silhouette of the arm- I'd make that a touch thinner than what I want my final project, from duct tape and newspaper, and build my base overtop. Removing the newspaper ducttape form, I’d then make sure my dowel frame fit inside and would probably make STRAPS (green) to anchor it in several places in the arm (and since I always think of travel, and a whole dowel framework is just as hard as the whole arm to transport) figure out how I was breaking apart the doweling so that I could break it down if necessary. I'd put the base back into my form, and build the arm up from there.
I’d be tempted to make each ‘end’ with insulation foam and duct tape covered in Wonderflex for stability, but that might be more weight than I’m interested in. I’d definitely experiment before deciding on one plan.
Now, there's probably a hundred ways of going at this, so this is just my methodology- if you have a project, don't hesitate to do it your own way- and share the results here!
Tips and Tricks:
Examples of Wonderflex props and accessories.
Questions? Comments? Email Elemental, or drop a note on the cosplay.com forums