Cosplay from a Maker Perspective

Cosplay and the Maker Movement have a storied history of interconnecting geekdom. Parallel nerd cultures that have maintained a quiet mutual respect, despite their tendency to be quite unique in both their members and their culture.  Cosplay (a portmanteau of the words “costume” and “play”) has been around since the late 90’s and involves dressing up as ones favorite fictional characters. It encompasses both the creation of the costume and the wearing/performance of your work in a specific setting (such as ComicCon), and tends to stem from fandom. However, these costumes can be highly customized and therefore often require an intersection with the Maker Movement.

Homemade Batman costume made by

In the Maker Movement specifically, a creation that you can wear is aptly dubbed a “wearable”. A wearable is not necessarily cosplay, but cosplay (if it involves technology and isn’t just a prop) is a wearable.

And with a little tech and a lot of creativity, one can make some awesome things. Whether it be more focused on fashion or to perform a function, adding some circuitry opens a lot of doors for cosplay, costumes, and clothes of all kinds.


We will be talking a bit about Cosplay from the Maker perspective, detailing tips and tricks for wrangling cool tech effects into your next costume!

First off we will discuss some of the fabulous different materials that you can use to make your cosplay come to life. We won’t be going into great detail about the aesthetic materials (craft foam, etc.) but there are a wealth of great tutorials out there about that side of it. These materials are more focused on helping add functionality to your getup!


EL Wire in action

Materials Commercially Available

EL Wire: Glowing wire.

Thermochoromatic Ink: Ink that changes color depending on temperature.

Kanthal Wire: Wire that generates heat when electricity is applied.

Memory/Smart Wire: Wire that remembers and can revert back to its original shape.

Muscle/Nitinol Wire:  Wire that shrinks 5% in length when  heated, and returns to original shape when cooled.

Conductive Foam, Conductive Textiles, Conductive Velcro, Conductive Paint: Various materials that electricity can pass through. Keep in mind human skin is also conductive!

In addition to the more obscure materials out there, there are of course the staple components commonly used in functional costumes, namely LEDs. planetchristmas

LEDs and LED strips are excellent additions to a costume, but there are a few things to keep in mind when using them. First off, if you are wiring the circuit yourself make sure you use a resistor, otherwise you run the risk of burning out the bulb either immediately or over time. 330 Ohms is usually a good bet to protect your LED.

If you intend to make the lights blink or do much more than simply turn on and off, you will need a way to control your system. The chipKIT Max32 is an excellent microcontroller for this purpose, and you can find instruction on how to incorporate it with your LED strips here.

Another thing fun thing to add is sound. Here you can find an excellent post on creating custom sounds, so the next time your Lightsaber lights or your Thor hammer strikes everyone can hear!


Things to Avoid:

  • Overheating the the LEDs. They can get hot enough to burn skin or potentially start a fire, and if you are wearing them (and/or they are not easy to take off/close to your body) this can be dangerous. Make absolutely certain that your circuit is sound, your LEDs are not touching any flammable materials, and that you have a way to take them off in an emergency.
  • Battery Explosion/Overheating. Make sure you insulate any exposed wire that are connected to batteries, because if they touch you will within seconds have either a ruined battery, or a much bigger, hotter problem.
  • Timeline. Adding an electronic component tends to take a lot of time, especially if you are newer to electronics. Keep that in mind when you budget time for your idea, especially if you are creating the costume for a convention or other event.


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About Miranda Hansen

I enjoy creative writing, engineering, thinking, building, exploring and sharing with people. Huge aficionado of spending time thinking about things that “don’t matter.” I am very interested in unconstrained creativity. I love cross-discipline ideas and all of their integration into complete original systems. And I like things that do things.

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