AMS Spring 2023

The Nexus of 3D Printing and Cosplay

6K SmarTech

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If ever there was a niche for 3D printing, it would be cosplay. Cosplay (the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game) is the perfect avenue to utilize the technology. Before the  availability of desktop 3D printers, most cosplayers relied upon materials like EVA foam, craft foam, Worbla, etc. to make intricate cosplay armor and props. 3D printing can now easily replace most of these items, and it has become a key component for producing outfits and props.

Professional costumers and prop makers have always worked closely with cosplayers. However, once 3D printing entered the arena, it was a match made in Asgard. As a child, Lloyd Roberts dreamt of making his very own Spartan suit from Halo. When he finally became a 3D designer and got his first 3D printer in 2012, he suddenly had the ability to produce anything he could dream of. After designing an incredible sword from The Legend of Zelda that went viral, he realized he could open his own costume and cosplay prop business, Forg3d Props.

3D printed cosplay from Forg3D.

Roberts is very fervent about making things, 3D printing, and 3D design, and has always dreamt of starting his own business. Giving people what is intangible in a game or film drove him to build an arsenal of weapons and props for people. Forg3d Props is a company that will bring anyone’s wishes to life with 3D design and 3D printing. The company specializes in creating for those who don’t have access to a 3D printer, lack the design skills, or are unable to find an off-the-shelf item.

It’s not just individuals who are seeking out cosplayers to see what they can create with 3D printing. Just a few years back, when Marvel was designing its replacement for Iron Man, the media giant reached out to self-taught 3D artist, designer and dreamer Melissa Ng for her take on parts of the Ironheart armor.

Melissa Ng with her 3D printed Iron Man cosplay. Image courtesy of Melissa Ng.

When the company first contacted her, Ng thought that Marvel had mistaken her for a prop maker, which she is not. Her assumption was that they wanted only replicas, but she was quite surprised when they said they wanted her to share her own take on the Ironheart armor.

Of course, no discussion about the intersection of 3D printing and cosplay would be complete without analyzing how it’s used to prepare for conventions. The prodigious Bindi Smalls works hard year-round preparing for events such as Dragon Con. 3D printing is such a core component of her cosplay creations that she now runs the Geek Fab Lab, a 3D printing hub and authorized reseller of LulzBot 3D printers.

Bindi Smalls with a fleet of LulzBot 3D printers. Image courtesy of Smalls on Facebook.

Smalls owns an astounding 11 different 3D printers, including those from Formlabs and LulzBot. At times, she has even had to unplug household appliances to be able to run all of them at the same time. Astonishingly, around 90 percent of her non-cloth cosplay pieces are 3D printed.

“It’s a movement of personal manufacturing,” Smalls said of 3D printing. “It’s the movement where people can … essentially make a complete product in their house from start to finish, and I think that’s the coolest thing about 3D printing.”

Whether you are a newcomer to the realm of cosplay or you have been cosplaying for years, 3D printing has changed the game and continues to evolve with the increase in cosplay popularity. Your imagination is the only limitation of what 3D printed cosplay can be made. What are you going to create today?

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