Now that the second season of Netflix’s The Witcher has wrapped filming and we’ve had a few more pictures of Henry Cavill in his Geralt costume, cosplayers have a whole new look to recreate for the White Wolf. But making the leather that adorns him and many other fantasy characters can be a massive undertaking, requiring expensive fabric and copious time to get it right.
Or you can make it in an afternoon for a fraction of the cost using some EVA foam and a heat gun.
I’ll be going through everything you need to know to make leather pieces that are light and flexible without breaking the bank. You can use this technique on most things that need to simulate the look and feel of leather, such as armor, scabbards, or baldrics, like the one from my cosplay of Critical Role’s Grog Strongjaw (which you can see at the bottom of this tutorial).
What You’ll Need
Aluminium foil (rolled into a rough ball that you can comfortably hold in your hand)
Paints and Decorations
Step One: Cut the Foam
The first thing to do is cut your foam to the size your project needs. The thickness will depend on what you are making and how much flexibility and bulk the object needs. When making my baldric, pictured above, I used 5mm EVA foam cut into strips.
Step Two: Apply Heat
Holding your heat gun around eight to twelve inches away from the prop, heat the foam until the surface is heat sealed. You’ll know its ready when the foam gets an increased shine and goes a darker color on the surface.
Note that you will want to do this in patches across the surface of your foam. I recommend heating around ten square inches of foam at a time to ensure you can perform the next step before the surface cools.
Step Three: Press with Aluminium Foil Ball
Ensure your foil ball has rough edges on the outside of it. Once your foam is heated, quickly apply pressure with the foil in a rolling motion from your wrist, slightly dragging the foil across the surface to create the desired texture on the foam.
Remember that leather is naturally an uneven, irregular surface, so don’t worry if some places look more treated than others. It’s all part of the effect!
If your aluminium ball gets too smooth, you can unroll it and use different surfaces or just use a fresh bit of foil to make a new ball.
Repeat steps two and three with the rest of the foam.
Optional: If you want your leather to have a stitched, sewn-on effect, you can indent the heated foam using a coin or other thin implement at this stage, taking care to keep each indentation even and regular.
Note: Applying heat to the area you have already textured will cause the foam to “heal”! This is useful if you want to redo your work as you get the hang of the technique but be careful as you can accidentally erase what you’ve just done if you’re a bit reckless with the heat gun.
Step Four: Painting
Once your foam piece has a rough, more natural texture, you’re ready to prime and paint!
For primer, I used simple PVA glue as I needed the leather to flex and bend around my body a bit. The exact color of paint will depend on the item you are trying to recreate, so be sure to experiment a bit before you try it to your final prop. I used an acrylic brown as a base and applied a few coats until it was the shade I was looking for.
Step Five: Weathering
No adventurer walks around with a pristine outfit for long, so we need to add a bit of muck to our leather to really make it pop.
I used a black acrylic paint that I watered down and applied with a brush before quickly wiping it off with some paper towels. This add highlights of black to give it a more realistic finish while not completely covering up the brown underneath. You can also use an airbrush to give the leather a more mottled effect.
Remember that leather is an organic material, so its color should be uneven at places.
Step Six: The Finishing Touches
Apply the finishing touches based on the character you’re cosplaying. I used a couple of googly eyes covered with a bit of paint for my rivets and some Worbla scraps (leftover from a previous project) heated and shaped into a ring for the iron circle over the chest.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully given simple foam a realistic leather effect.