I recently debuted an Imperius costume from Diablo 3 at Blizzcon 2015. I have received an enormous amount of feedback on this costume, and the most common question I’ve received is “What did you make that out of, how did you get it so smooth!”
Well, here is your answer.
I used a type of thermoplastic called Closed Cell PVC Foam, more commonly known as Sintra (brand) or XPVC. XPVC is sort of a hybrid between PVC (like the pipes) and Polyurethane. This mix gives it some truly amazing properties, and makes it surprisingly friendly to use for a thermoplastic. I starts out almost totally smooth, and sands to a near perfect finish. It takes all types of paint, and is by far my favorite material to work with.
It is heat shapable, sandable, cuttable by hand or with a saw, drillable, comes in various colors and thicknesses and is in general a wonderfully versatile material to work with. I have even successfully turned it on a lathe. It is commonly used in the FX industry and for vinyl coated signs you see on the street.
Instead of going into the technical minutia of XPVCs properties, I have included a link to the Wikipedia article on it HERE.
That’s nice you say, what do I need to start?
Things you need:
XPVC: Sintra/Komatex/Celtec (USA) – Forex (UK/AUS) – Link to good price on Amazon
First you need to find it. I get all of my XPVC from a local vendor called San Diego Plastics. It is only really sold by industrial plastic suppliers. If you live near a city, there is likely somewhere nearby that sells it. It comes in 8’x4’ sheets that cannot easily be rolled. I recommend cutting it down to 2’x4’ chunks if you find a local supplier and they allow it. If you cannot find anything locally or want to try your hand at some of it, you can always purchase it from Amazon. If you have trouble finding it, call your local sign maker and ask where he gets his plastic. They might be able to point you in the right direction.
The X-acto knife is my preferred method of cutting XPVC. The thin blades give you the most control, and the finger grip makes doing more intricate cuts possible on thick material. A box cutter works, but theres not much that beats a good x-acto. The one I use is an X-Acto X3000 Knife with Cap, Black (X3730Q) and the blades I use are Techni Edge #11 Hobby Blades – 100 Pack. You go through blades pretty quick, but at $11 for 100 blades.. who cares.
Respirator (Fume Rated):
This section is in bold because I’m not messing around here. This stuff is quite safe up until you sand it or apply heat to it. The dust is mildly toxic, if you’re going to sand it, wear a respirator you don’t want it in your lungs. When heated to the point you can shape it, this stuff releases HYDROGEN CHLORIDE GAS which when inhaled will turn into HYDROCHLORIC ACID and seriously wreck your insides. Do not disrespect this material or forgo the mask stage, it is not worth it. Heat it in a well ventilated or outdoor space, put your pets in another room, and wear your fume rated respirator for the entire duration of heating the material. The gas lingers for a bit after heating, just invest in a comfortable mask and you’ll be fine. MINIMUM RECOMMENDED RESPIRATOR: 3M Paint Project Respirator, Medium
Any standard heat gun will work here. If you build costumes, you likely already have one of these, otherwise you can pick one up at Harbor Freight for $15, or through amazon. The one I use is the Wagner 0503008 HT1000 1,200-watt Heat Gun, which has both high and low settings and gets QUITE hot. Make sure to follow proper safety precautions when heating XPVC, because if you dont the fumes can kill you or cause permanent brain damage. Don’t risk it, wear a respirator.
Thats right, Superglue. This is by far the best adhesive for XPVC/Sintra. Any type of “CA” glue will work, you can also use hotglue or barge or whatever you want, but to me.. superglue is king. Superglue will melt both sides of the sintra you are gluing together, creating what is essentially a chemical weld between the two surfaces that is stronger then the material itself. These bonds are permanent, and you will have to likely destroy parts of your prop to separate them, so be careful you know where you want it to go when you glue it together. You have maybe 5-10 seconds depending on the glue you use to place it before it will never move again. The best superglue I have found for this by far is Loctite 20-Gram Bottle Liquid Professional Super Glue, it sets in 5-10 seconds, flows very well, you get a lot of it for the price and it sands very smooth. Highly recommended out of the 15 or so types I’ve tried.
XPVC is quite similar to other thermoplastics or foams to work with. If you’re familiar with techniques for how to cut and shape foam or worbla, most all of those techniques will apply here. Except with PVC you dont need to coat it with anything, its already rigid and ready for paint. You can fill seams with anything, it is very forgiving. I made a short video below demonstrating some of the more unique or interesting properties of sintra, and may be working on a book full of techniques for cosplay use of this material.. until then check out the video below and try it out! More videos to come, including a tutorial on how to use this material to make a simple shoulder guard.