How to Shep a Shepard – A cosplay help guide

(Cosplayer: Elizabeth DeLoria)

This isn’t a step-by-step tutorial. Partly I didn’t leave a good paper trail, partly because I found it’s next to impossible to replicate a cosplay armour because of the lack of standardisation. Instead, I hope this works as a good basic guide that helps people to not make all my mistakes, while still allowing them the freedom to create and design on their end.

Many incredible cosplay armour tutorials already exist. I recommend Amythest Angel’s tutorial for foam, or Aaron’s tutorial for fibreglass. Treat this article a Let’s Play of Cosplay, rather than a walkthrough.

If anyone have any questions, feel free to throw me a message on Twitter. I’m BigShellEvent there.

Note, all the BLUE texts are safe Paragon options, exactly what I did and worked enough to the final result. All the RED texts are the riskier Renegade options, what I would test out if I make this armour again .In theory they would work better, but I don’t guarantee it won’t result in having mushrooms growing out of your carpet. Pick your poison.


The Good Rules

I’m all for freestyling, but these are the rules that will make your life easier.

  1. Have a proper dress form. You can easily make one with several rolls of duct tape and all the plastic bags that you were saving up to line the bins in the year 2013. For extras, make one with some arms and legs.
  1. “Plastic” is the least reliable term next to “disorderly behaviours”. Test everything on everything, because the same glue may work perfectly on the first batch of foam and dissolve a new blackhole in the second batch.
  1. If you can help it, buy the clearly named raw materials (e.g. 95% ethanol or xylene), rather than arbitrary purpose specific mixed materials (e.g. paint solvents, primers). See Rule 2 for the reason. Remember that in most countries, non food items do not need to list their ingredients.
  1. Invest on a heat gun. They are about $35 for the cheapest model, and it’s far more pleasant than hoping to roast the foam to medium-rare over the stove top. It’s also great if you don’t have a toaster.

It actually makes a terrible toast. Burns the surface while the core stays cold.

  1. Plan for at least two months in the making, if you wish to follow tutorials as much as possible. Allow more time if you want to experiment, or unable to find some of the items required.
  1. Always mix twice as much paint as what you think you will need. You can’t mix the same colour ever again. Not even then. Nope, not even with that.
  1. Follow the health and safety precautions. Wear safety goggles, masks and gloves. You can always make another set of better armour, but you can’t grow another set of better lungs. Not to mention, covering yourself in black spray paint counts as career suicide in many parts of the world. Trust me on this one.

No comments. No caption.


There are several great online resources, if spinning your own Shepard is difficult for whatever the reasons. Troodon80 has a great listof sample models. I drafted my own, but if you want to be extra precise Narayascreated a beautiful blueprint list.This specific armour is based on the Female N7 model.

Don’t stress about creating a perfect pattern from the go. However, do create a newsprint pattern before cutting the foam. This is especially important for people used to working with fabrics. Foam has less stretch and requires more form precision, but it is also more suited for alterations on the go. If it almost contours with the paper mock up, it will probably work after some heat gun actions. If it does not contours with the paper mock up, absolutely nothing you do will make it wearable. Because of this, other people’s patterns will probably not work on you.

So it may take a while for Shepard to get dressed in the morning. She needs a big closet. And perhaps needs to tip out that fish tank.

For this specific armour, we ended up with 30 piece: Boots x2, Shin armours x2, Shin armour frontal pieces x2, Knee armours x2, Thigh armours x2, Hips all around armour x1, Hips armour attachments x2, Belt x 1, Belt buckle x1, Abdominal plate x1, Chest plate x1, Back LED armour x1, Back full plate x1, Neck armour x1, Shoulder guards x2, Arm guards x2, Forearm tubes x2, Forearm plates x2, Glove pieces x2. Yours is likely to be different.

Youtube video intro in which the armour sits nicely on a chair having a cup of tea.

If you are creating any open armours by proxy and can’t have regular fitting, try to make armours on the smaller side of the range, while the fastening on the larger side. For closed armours it is far harder as you will need to aim for a perfect fit.

Have a budget. Shop at places like Etsy for belts, velcro and clips, building and hardware shops for foam, and local budget stores for bits and pieces. Avoid art and craft stores unless you are very well off. For this piece the total cost is approximately $AU300, however if I make it again knowing what I know now, I can replicate it within $AU200. It does not allow me to do all I want, but it served the purpose sufficiently.

Lastly, said this before, saying this again. Test, test, test. Every material behaves differently.

Base materials

What raw material to use? This depends on what you want your armour to be. Do you need to travel? Do you have a large budget? Do you want to make your armour as long-lasting as possible?

Fibreglass is the god tier of cosplay armours, and they last pretty much forever.  However they are extremely expensive, messy, and require far more space and resource to work with.

EVA pool foam 7mm is tough, flexible, very light, cheap, and can be shaped with heat. As pool foam is treated to withstand chlorine, it behaves drastically differently from untreated foam. It can handle far more pressure and tear, and more importantly it cannot be dissolved by solvents in the same way as untreated foam, or absorbs liquid like untreated foam. I have only found one specific way to make the colouring stick, and yet to find a fool-proof way to make glue stick to it. In theory, this could be solved if the EVA pool foam had its surface thoroughly sanded first. Unable to confirm this, as the brilliance only sparked after it was a bit late. (credit to Fireholly99)

Untreated foam on the other hand, is the top foam of choice by most cosplayers. These eat up glue and paint like a thirsty little sunflower after a week of drought, however they are frail. They are good for private shoots, but they are unlikely to survive a crowded convention unscarthed. I will not use this again.

The best of both worlds is likely to be rubber mat. It’s strong, flexible, but take up paint and glue well. Likely to be heavier and more expensive than foam, though. This is what David Carpenter uses.

Some of the other suggestions include cardboard, vinyl, metal sheets, plastic sheets and plaster. I plead ignorance here.

What to shove on the base

This is the only issue I failed to resolve. Basically, the EVA pool foam has its own anti-gravity field. So far I had most success with solvent based contact foam gluethat works about 80% the time, and hot glue gun overheated right before it becomes uncontrollable that works about 80% the time too. The glues that failed include superglue, PVA, foam spray glue, two part resin glue, hot glue gun that wasn’t overheated, cement glue, and silicon glue. I don’t know why non-stick pans are not made out of these.

However, one thing that guaranteed some sorts of grip is to give the piece texture. In this instance, I used plastic garden mesh. Those things that stops beetles or very small birds eating all your strawberries.


Underneath the steel grey, the armour is actually a Paragon.

For this specific piece, the raised edges are done with strips of the foam.Some other armour tutorial would suggest using hot glue – I would say hot glue is better for organic looking, fantasy based armours for the handcrafted look, say for Skyrim, Dragon Age or Monster Hunter armours, while more square, more mechanical looks are better for the Sci Fi stuff like Mass Effect or Gears or War.


As the armour bends, the paint surface has to be flexible or it will crack. Hence even if you use EVA pool foam, don’t ever try to spray paint it. The cracking will happen before it even dries. I also don’t recommend gesso or acrylic paint for the same reason.

When using EVA pool foam, a specific issue is that it repels almost everything too. In case if anyone want a list, it repelled gesso, acrylics, spray paint, oil paint, outdoor roof paint that guarantees 15 years of grip, and plastic model enamels.

As the black paint shatters away piece by piece, my heart went too. Like debris through Omega Relay. Days of Our Non Sticking Lives.

Plasti-Dip is the best thing ever. Get one that’s similar to the final colour of your armour, in this case I used black. It must be diluted with xylene (2 part Plasti-Dip, 1 part xylene), as painting with straight Plasti-Dip is a bit like painting with molten chocolate in a walk-in freezer. You will need 3-4 coats, just make sure the coats are dry between applications. This serves two purpose – to strengthen armour, and prime it for the painting. There will be patches that still shows the foam’s colour. That’s okay. For this armour, I used 2 litres of Plasti-Dip, and 1 litre of xylene.

Set aside about a month for the next step, as you will need at least 5 layers for best effect. And trust me, it will rain so much that none of us will remember what that yellow shining round thing is anymore.

The paint is a mixture for maximum grip and flexibility. It is one part acrylic paint (#363636 in colour for this armour), one part fabric paint medium, and two part PVA glue. The consistency should be just watery enough to drip off the brush – adding water’s fine. I used 2 litres of this paint mixture.

Use baking paper on top of news paper, and hope to every deity you don't sleep walk.

Next step is to add the red and blue hues. This gives a depth look, and people do associate “red and blue” with the Mass Effect verse, hence it’s a good subtle trick. The best way is to take some of the base paint mixture, and just shove in a handful of pure red acrylics for one batch and another handful of pure blue acrylics for another. Dot them on the armour generously. It will look something like this:


If it looks subtle, you are doing it right. Subtler than that mattress anyway.

It probably don’t look all that different here, but in person, this makes lots of difference to the final results.

Imagine if you were trapped in a foreign planet and had to cook hunted meat over your armour on an open fire. Where would the burnt grits accumulate after you finished your meal and gave it a quick clean? Use a dry brush and apply small amount of black paint into these areas for a rusty look.

After this, you can paint on the white and red strips. Normal thick acrylics will do.I didn’t use masking tape, some others would.

Lastly, it’s the metallic tint. The Rub’n Buff Silver Leaf in a tube is incredible at giving the fake metal look. It is also very, very potent. When it says use fingers to apply, don’t try to be cute and use a paint brush. It will turn your armour into a Gordon Ramsey quality baking foil.

When applying the silver leaf, think about how would an armour wear and tear. Generally speaking,  the bits that sticks out will rub first, hence that’s where the raw metal would show up and that’s a good place to apply the silver. Run your finger across the surface, the bits that touches are the bits that needs the silver. Always apply some silver at the all of the edge line. Every one.

Bits that are hiding = rusty and sooty. Bits that are poking = shiny and buffy.

Some people would seal their armour with a top coat. I already blew my budget by this stage so I didn’t.I don’t think the armour quality suffered.

Phone camera. The real thing is far less blurry.

After stacking up this thing, I joked about "ha ha what if we have an earthquake in Moe". In less than 24 hours, we had a magnitude 5.2 earthquake with epicentre 10 kilometres away. The aesop is do not piss off your cosplay. Ever.


If you have spare $50, use plastic adjustable clips for all of the fastening. This is the only thing that I know for sure that would improve this armour had I had the resource.

Otherwise, elastic belt with hook and loops will do an okay job. Just remember that hook and loops are disturbingly strong. As in, safety boxes should be made out of them. There’s a good chance that you will rip something that isn’t the fastening when you try to unzip it. So be very, very careful handling it.

The back piece is likely to end up as the heaviest piece, and it may require more fiddling than its worth. This is the only time that I’d say, invest on a pair of plastic adjustable clips here.

In terms of staying-upibility, some of the armour pieces only function well in Zero Gravity situations, or video game  verse.  Consider having inside hook and loops that attaches directly to the hook and loops sewn on the  clothes underneath. It’s likely to feel much nicer than hot gluing the armour onto your own skin Cosplayers, you are real legends.

LED lighting

Figured a tenner on eBay is enough to cover both Renegade red and Paragon Blue, so I bought two pairs of each coloured LED shoe laces. Feel free to wire your own, I just found it’s cheaper , easier, and can easily be changed on the day.

Youtube link in which I tried to explain how the shoe lace LEDS work.

If you are to drill holes on a foam armour, the easiest way is to heat up a metal screw driver and push it through, rather than playing with drills.

Lastly, the best way to amplify the LED lights is to paint the underlying part with the Rub’nBuff Silver Leaf, it acts like a coat of mirrors. right  there.

How to wear this thing.

You will probably need three helpers at least. Putting these link on, partly because I like to torture my audience with videos of me talking about absolute drivels, partly because this  gives further ideas on how this specific armour is planned. It might at least give some ideas, even if our armours are completely different.  Oh, I also accidentally ripped a part because of tough hook and loop, right after explaining how to not accidentally rip it. Be warned, these videos are long and tedious. Fast forward recommended.

Commander Assbutt Shepard, ready to butt a few asses.

All is done. Now go, go and save the galaxy!

(Cosplayer: Elizabeth DeLoria)


  1. ChaosSmurf

    @AGBear some of my best mates at uni are cosplayers. They’re seriously into their shit and their shit is seriously rad.

  2. Gygaxis

    @BigShellEvent ty for the tutorial, think I’m going to try some of that out

    • BigShellEvent

      @Gygaxis thank you. hope that helps!

  3. BigShellEvent

    @AGBear thank you so mucha

    • AGBear

      @BigShellEvent If I need a suit of armour, I know who to ask!

  4. Firkraags

    @BigShellEvent @nitemaremodenet @RashiChandra @razer_i7 @theWolfandOwl Yikes. Can’t say I’m into cosplay. But that’s freaking fascinating.

    • BigShellEvent

      @Firkraags thank you! I’m actually more a maker than cosplayer, and that is why this is my first completed armour.

      • Firkraags

        @BigShellEvent I love the making techniques and you’ve put your own stamp on the style too. Great stuff!

        • BigShellEvent

          @Firkraags thank you, you are so kind. <3

        • Firkraags

          @BigShellEvent Hardly. You’ve put in heaps of effort. (And, ’tis interesting.)

    • BigShellEvent

      @Firkraags mad props to @elizabethdanger for being such an awesome cosplayer too.

  5. richardbbrookes

    @fireholly99 @BigShellEvent ENCREDIBLÉ.

    • BigShellEvent

      @richardbbrookes thank you!

  6. BigShellEvent

    @fireholly99 ♥ most amazing compliment, especially coming from you