3D printing has opened up a whole new way of creating intricate props and cosplay outfits. A process that used to require a lot of cutting, folding and sticking or a manufacturing degree can now be done using a home 3D printer.
You can be the designer, engineer and manufacturer all from the comfort of your own desk chair. While this statement does oversimplify the process of 3D printing your own props. The whole process has become much more accessible, even for those who have never used a 3D printer before!
In this guide, I’m going to run through the whole process of how people 3D print their own props and cosplay outfits. I’ll show you a few of the best 3D printers for doing exactly this. And I’ll also showcase some of the techniques to create intricate, detailed and realistic looking props.
Picking your 3D printer
When looking for a 3D printer to print your props and cosplay, you need to consider a few elements.
You’ll need a 3D printer that meets your budget, whether that is large or small. You’ll require a relatively large print volume, as the larger the print volume, the bigger props you can print. And you should look for a good print resolution to increase the fidelity of your prints.
What type of 3D printer is best?
3D printers come in a few forms, such as resin and filament 3D printers. A quick overview of each is that resin 3D printers can produce more detailed prints at the expense of strength. And filament 3D printers are often cheaper to purchase and operate.
SLS or resin 3D printers use resin within a chamber. A UV laser is then beamed into the resin at specific points, and the resin in these areas turns from a liquid to a solid. As this process is controlled via a laser, precision can be impressive. This is why resin 3D printers will generally produce higher fidelity 3D prints.
Filament 3D printers
Filament printers are the most commonly used 3D printers among home hobbyists. They often come in the form of self-build kits and can be purchased for a relatively small budget. They work via a filament feed which is then passed through a hot nozzle and onto a print bed. The nozzle heats the filament which hardens as it is deposited onto the print bed.
Filament 3D printers work on a layer by layer basis, they start by printing the first layer of an object, and then work up one layer at a time. This is what is responsible for the classic stepped finish you often find on 3D prints. This stepping will need to be sanded after the print has been completed.
The filament itself is cheaper than resin to purchase and is generally easier to work with. The filament 3D printers require much less maintenance over time compared to a resin 3D printer.
Resin 3D printers
The negatives of a resin printer however are the strength of the object and the cost per print. The resin itself, even once hardened isn’t overly strong. If you are handling it for longer periods of time it can become susceptible to failing.
Also, the cost of resin far outways the cost of filament, meaning your prints will cost more to produce. There is also more maintenance involved with keeping a resin 3D printer running.
For items that are going to be worn or handled a lot such as cosplay outfits, armour pieces or props, I would highly recommend a filament 3D printer.
Our recommended 3D printers for cosplay and props
Below are the 3D printers that I would recommend if you are buying with the main intention of printing props and cosplay outfits.
A 3D printer such as the Anycubic Mega S is a fantastic all-around 3D printer. It encompasses almost all of the features that are required for 3D printing props, all at a good price range. It is a relatively new 3D printer, and as such has a good feature set. The print volume is about on par with other 3D printers of this budget, and the print quality is good.
If you are specifically looking to 3D print larger items such as armour pieces or even helmets, then the Creality CR-10 V3 is definitely a good option. It features a much larger print volume than the Mega S and is one of the largest print volumes at this price range.
Alternatively, if you are looking for a beginner-friendly 3D printer that requires little to no knowledge of 3D printers, then the Select Mini V2 3D Printer is fantastic. It comes completely pre-assembled and features some of the most user-friendly features of any budget 3D printer.
Anycubic i3 Mega S
Large Print Bed 3D printer
Creality CR-10 V3
Most accessible 3D printer
Select Mini V2 3D Printer
Finding or creating your design
Once you have chosen a 3D printer, the fun part really starts. Now you can look to either create or source the design of your model. If you are a seasoned 3D modeller, you can jump straight into your 3D modelling application of choice and start creating to your heart’s content.
Alternatively, you can source 3D model print files from the internet. These are files that other creators have produced, and are either distributed on the internet for free, or for a small cost.
Good resources to find 3D print files
Thingiverse is one of the most popular places for content creators to upload their files to. Here are a large number of free 3D print files that are ready to be printed directly from.
Much like Thinigvers, My Mini Factory is a large community-driven library of 3D print files. There are both free and paid-for 3D model files available to download. The selection isn’t as large as on Thingiverse but is slightly more curated.
Yeggi is very similar to Thingiverse in allowing content creators to upload their own creations for others to download for free.
Printing your 3D print
Once you have either sourced or created your 3D print file, now is the time to start printing. This process will differ from one 3D printer to another as each printer manufacturer will have its own method of uploading a file. Most use either a direct connection to your computer or a USB or SD card to upload the files to the printer.
If you are printing larger models, you may need to slice them into multiple parts to fit within your 3D printer’s print volume. This can be done using free slicing software such as Cura or Simplify 3D. Slicing software can be relatively simple to use if you follow the tutorials provided within the software itself.
Once you have your print file ready to go, either sliced or not, you can upload it to your 3D printer. From there, it is simply a task of ensuring your print bed is level to provide the best chance of print success.
Then choose a filament material and load it up into your 3D printer. You can choose from a wide range of materials from ABS and PLA, to more exotic materials such as wood and metal. If you require a bit of flexibility in your 3D prints, some 3D printers can also print a nylon filament.
Ensure your printer is compatible with whichever filament type you choose though. As not all 3D printers are compatible with every filament type.
Smoothing and cleaning your 3D printed prop
The next step towards cosplay greatness is to clean up your 3D print. As I mentioned above in the filament 3D printer section, you will probably have noticeable stepping on your print due to the layered printing technique of FDM 3D printers.
This can be resolved with a bit of love and care, and a good few hours of sanding and prepping. Read our complete guide to smoothing 3D prints here. That guide will run you through everything you need to do to ensure you get a perfectly smooth finish on your 3D print.
To summarise that guide, the steps you need to take are;
If you follow all of these steps you will finish with a really smooth prop. After this stage, it will be completely ready to paint.
Attaching prints together
If you’re reading closely, you’ll notice that I included attaching parts in the section above. This is because you should really look to attach any objects that you split into parts together before you approach the sanding phase.
By assembling your prop or cosplay piece before sanding, while sanding you will be able to create a smooth join. If you attach your parts after sanding you will have a potential join on show, or you’ll need to resand the joined area.
I have written a full how-to guide on how best to assemble 3D prints together. Read our complete guide to assembling 3D printed parts together.
Painting your 3D print
Adding the final touch to your 3D printed prop, armour or outfit really brings it alive. And that final part is painting. By now, you should have a 3D print that is smooth, in one piece, and ready to be painted.
I would always recommend priming your 3D print. This will create a surface that the paint can stick to easier, which will reduce any paint flaking. And it’ll also cover any finer imperfections that may be in your 3D print. Any tricky lines that you couldn’t sand out should be masked by the primer.
What paint to use on 3D prints?
I’ll leave you to decide on your own colour theme but I will recommend the type of paint to use on your 3D prints. You can go a few ways when it comes to painting.
There are acrylic paints that can be applied with a brush. These are generally the most user friendly. They allow for a good level of detail and the precision all depends on how steady your hand is. The great thing about acrylic paint is that you can easily clean it up with water.
Spray painting is a good technique to use for larger props or armour pieces and is great at providing a base coat of paint. You can use almost any type of spray paint, but I’d highly recommend one that is graded for plastics as this will adhere the best.
Mix up different techniques here to achieve a good base coat. By applying different shades of spray paint in certain areas, you can highlight parts of your 3D print, or give the impression of shadow and reflection.
Airbrushing is the pinnacle of painting 3D prints. It gives you a huge amount of ways to apply your paint and can achieve the most convincing results. With the help of masking and by building up multiple paint coats using different colours, there really is no end to how good your paint job can be using an airbrush.
This technique does take time to learn and practice though. So I would highly recommend practising on a print that isn’t the final part!