Just by looking at the reference picture, golden trims look like a major paint in the ass. It actually appears to have a 3D shape to it, meaning my usual tactics of “just painting on” probably isn’t going to work.
Or is it?
For a very nice price of 6.9€, I bought myself a R&D sample of proper gold paint for fabric. The paint was subjected to a series of tests on a strip of the smooth fabric that will be used on the outer side of the robe. At first, the tests didn’t go well, because — as is tradition — we’re probably not using the correct tool for the job.
The bottle has a very thin, possibly even sub-1mm nozzle (but I didn’t measure), and is probably intended for drawing fine details. The thinnest golden lines on the robe appear to be at least 1cm wide (but more on that later) and they appear to be even and smooth, meaning that applying with the bottle nozzle is most definitely not the way to go. Further testing has also ruled out:
- painting with brushes — the fabric does not absorb paint enough, so brush strokes result in not enough gold sticking to the fabric. This is very apparent when reflecting light, or when light shines from behind1But the “light shining from behind” is not expected to be much of a problem with thick, triple-layered fabric.0
- smearing gold between two sheets of smooth fabric separate from the robe, and then cutting out a trim from said separate sheets and sewing it onto the robe. Reason: this method applies gold paint super unevenly
Eventually, I managed to find a winning strategy. I tried “masking” off a line with an old (invalid) ID and credit card, and then used my expired European health insurance card to spread the paint in the gap between the two. The result is smooth, mostly even gold line.
This method has a few drawbacks, though:
- not all lines are straight.
- all lines are long, and credit cards aren’t
So credit cards are out of the question. But there’s other ways to achieve 1mm thick mask. Further research ended up proving that:
- Cardboard is not the way to go. Thick cardboard is too thick. Thinner cardboard is too flexible even after you stack the layers to 1mm thick.
- 3D printing a mask is also not a way to go, at least not on FDM printers that my friends use. 1mm is simply too thin for PLA on a FDM printer. My friend reports my sample mask broke off when he tried to pop it off the printer bed. Resin was rejected as an option for other reasons (mostly price).
I’m not gonna lie, though: 3D printing a mask still looks like a somewhat promising solution. We’ll just have to work a little bit harder with our applicator design.
Paint Applicator Design
I ended up with an applicator design that utilizes two towers that hold a blade between them. The idea is that the blade is adjustable in height — achieved through the use of a screw that will be inserted through the bottom surface of the tower base. You can probably spot the screw hole. The ruler at the side of the towers is a notch every millimeter, with varying intensities on even and mod 5 notches (exception being the lowest notch, which is set at 1mm).
The blades themselves aren’t very special, but the blade has a gentle slope to it in order to push the paint down.
I send the files to a friend with a resin 3D printer. Given I was relatively last-minute with my ask, I hope he’ll be able to print it in time.
Testing the Paints and the Edge Problem
Usually, you need a seam at every piece of fabric if you want to avoid fraying. The neat part of Robe of Archmagi is the golden trim along the edges. Can we hide the seam under the paint?
Not really. Wide seams are absolutely not the way to go, though narrow, single-line seams (not pictured) might be okay. We’ll know for sure once I have my paint applicator.
Another problem with the paints is that the trim is on the edge, and painting an edge of the fabric nicely is not easy. But what if we painted the edge first, and then put on the edge seam later?
This approach seems promising, as long as we can paint over the seam.
Or we can employ the Billy Mitchell strategy and cheat by using glue instead of sewing. It’s endorsed by some people that I know and who are a bit more into the whole cosplay thing than me. No seams necessary.
As you may have guessed after seeing the publish date on this, I did not make my self-imposed deadline. Next deadline? May 8 or NMN (Na Meji Nevidnega, a local fantasy con), whatever comes first. NMN was on May 6th, so the two are borderline the same picture anyway. Spoiler alert: I ended up making that deadline, but just barely.
After mostly-everything asterisk was sewn together, it was time for painting the trim to the costume. And this is just about where all the careful planning went down the drain.
- While the paint applicators were performing very well while the surface was perfectly flat, sewing introduced wrinkles around the seam and made some areas way too wavy.
- Therefore, I had to settle for brushing. Even with brush, getting an even coat of paint on the smooth fabric was very hard. It took a lot of time, and more than one coat at the time.
- Turns out that fabric glue is incredibly fickle and not really the easiest thing to work with. I learned that the hard way. Fortunately for me, the glue is also not very strong, meaning I could undo the glue fuckup after it has dried, and replaced the glue with edge seams
In addition to that, I also learned the hard way that:
- when the paint says “you can wash after 72 hours of drying”, they really mean “you can wash after a week”.
Because washed parts of the costume before heading off to NMN, and bits of paint flaked off along some edges. Nothing too disastrous, but annoying nonetheless.