The Essential Cosplay Arsenal, Part 1 – Safety Equipment

Alena demonstrates safety equipment

Alena demonstrates safety equipment

It’s pretty clear that in cosplay, the fabric bits do not make up the entire costume. We have a variety of other tutorials and workshops dealing with wigs, makeup, and presentation, so here’s an entry for those who want to get their toes wet in the props and accessories pool — a basic overview of some of the equipment I tend to use most often when crafting my props and non-fabric costume pieces. (This information is intended as a supplement to our introductory prop and armor-making workshops, but hopefully it can also serve as a primer for future website tutorials.)

Part 1: Safety Equipment

In any battle, the warrior needs proper weapons and armor!  This article will focus on the armor — the must-have safety equipment you should know about before you start working with power tools and other dangerous beasts.

Personal safety should always come first. Cosplay may be life and breath to some people, but it’s hard to pull off your favorite character after you’ve accidentally cut off your arm. (Unless you’re cosplaying Ku– oh, wait, that’s a spoiler.)

1) Safety Glasses.

safety eyewear wikimedia

eye and face protection

Protecting your eyes is very important, especially if you’re working with power tools, sandpaper or noxious chemicals. And while losing an eye may make you a perfect cosplay match for most CLAMP characters, we’re pretty sure you’d regret it eventually.

What to get: Unless you’re breaking out the uber-power tools, you’ll just need a deflecting layer between your eyes and what you’re working on. If you wear glasses, pick up a pair of high-impact goggles (the big flexible kind) that fit over eyeglasses. If not, you can use the hard plastic safety glasses that look like 1980s sunglasses; just make sure they’re impact-resistant.

If you’re doing a lot of sanding (which is likely to flip small bits of material toward your face at high velocity), you may also want to look into a full-face shield. This is especially a good idea if you have sensitive skin that may be irritated by dust or particles.

Where to find:All home-improvement stores, many sporting-goods stores and most discount stores carry safety goggles. Cheap ones start at $1; or, if you want fancy wraparound UV-resistant models, you can pay up to $35. Full-face shields are available at home improvement stores and range from $4 to $20.

2) Protective Clothing.

Not only do you want to keep all those icky chemicals and abrasive fibers off your skin, but you don’t want to ruin your clothes when the resin mold leaks liquid epoxy all over your good jeans (uh, not that that’s ever happened to me…).

nitrile gloves wikimedia

nitrile gloves

What to get: If you’re working with particulates such as sawdust, you want loose clothing that is easy to shake out and cheap enough to be disposed of if something gets really messy. If you’re working with something caustic, you should cover all exposed skin, including hands and arms. For resin or some types of adhesives and paints, you’ll probably want disposable gloves. (Read the safety labels on your materials to know how much protection you’ll need.)

Where to find: You may have old clothes in your closet that you can write off as cosplay gear. Personally, I buy $2 medical scrubs at my local thrift store — they’re loose, lightweight, and washable — and I have several old canvas aprons that I use if I need heavier protection (you can buy aprons at big box stores, craft stores, art supply stores and home improvement stores). Cheap work gloves can be obtained at discount stores for $1 or any home improvement or gardening shop for slightly more. Latex, nitrile or vinyl gloves are available at any pharmacy or home improvement store. You can even use rubber kitchen gloves for many projects, as long as they’re chemical-resistant.

(Note: When choosing disposable gloves, remember 1) if anyone in your group has a latex allergy, be sure you use latex-free gloves, and 2) some materials you work with may be reactive to certain types of gloves. For example, contact with latex can prevent silicone from curing properly. If you’re not sure what type to buy, vinyl is usually the safest option)

3) Respirator.



When working with materials that produce sawdust, resin dust, foam dust, fiberglass or any other kind of particulate, inhaling those little bits of powder can cause serious, potentially lethal lung damage. It may be annoying to wear a respirator, but it’s better to look like Darth Vader while you’re working than it is to look like unmasked Anakin Skywalker when you’re in the hospital being treated for pulmonary fibrosis.

Resin, paint, plastic and foam can all release toxic fumes that you don’t want to be breathing, either — so even if you have a mask, make sure your work space is properly ventilated!

What to get: You want a respirator with filters rated for the material you’ll be working with. Check the NIOSH rating (represented by N, R or P and a number, such as P100) and choose a filter appropriate for the materials you’re using. Don’t rely on paper pollen masks or surgical masks to block hazardous materials; although they’re better than nothing, they don’t seal completely around the nose and mouth, and they aren’t designed to block oily paint particles at all.

Where to find: Disposable masks are fairly cheap, but you don’t want to skimp on protection here, so I’d recommend going to the paint section of a home improvement store and buying a high-quality reusable respirator. You can often find good ones for as little as $15 or $20. Replacement filters range from $5 to $15, depending on type.

4) Hearing protection.

earplugsThis applies if you’re working with any motorized power tools such as drills, sanders, power saws and shop vacuums. Repeated noise in the same frequency can cause you to lose hearing in that range, and power tools are LOUD, even if they don’t seem to hurt your ears while you’re working. (Note: Noise-canceling headphones do not qualify as ear protection. If you want to listen to music, put in earplugs, then put your headphones on over them. You will still be able to hear the music, but your eardrums will be protected.)

What to get: Conical foam earplugs are the cheapest, but check the NRR (noise reduction rating) to determine how much protection they give. Some foam earplugs block only 5dBA, while others block 30+dBA. Although they are disposable, each pair of earplugs can be used several times – pretty much until they start to look dirty or questionable (at which point you should probably stop sticking them in your ears, because it’s icky).

If you can’t wear in-ear plugs for medical or comfort reasons, pick up a set of traditional over-the-ear protectors. These also can have dramatically different NRRs. They also come in electronic variety (like really, really high-powered noise-canceling headphones), which is useful if you want to have the ability to hear normally in between bursts of sanding/sawing/etc.

ear protection wikimedia

Where to find: Any big box store, drug store or home improvement store, as well as most sporting-goods stores, will carry foam earplugs. They’re available in quantities of 5 to 200 pair, ranging $2 to $30 depending on quantity. Over-the-ear protectors are available at home improvement stores, gun shops, or any place that sells lawnmowers, and range from $10 to $50. High-grade electronic earmuffs are available at gun stores and are typically much more expensive ($70+).

A note about where to obtain these items: I’m listing dollar amounts and retailers based on what’s available in the Midwest region of the United States. If you live in a different area, your mileage (and cost) may vary. If you’re not sure which stores I mean when I describe where to buy the items listed, here’s a quick reference:

  • Big box stores are large multi-purpose retailers such as Target, Meijer, or Walmart.
  • Discount stores are smaller retailers offering low-priced off-brand merchandise, such as Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, or Dollar General.
  • Drug stores would include CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, or most places with a pharmacy counter (also many grocery chains such as Kroger and Marsh).
  • Home improvement stores would include Lowes, Home Depot, and Menards. Harbor Freight is a similar store that specializes in tools.
  • Sporting-goods stores would include Gander Mountain, Dick’s Sporting Goods or (for the purposes of the safety equipment mentioned in this article) any store that sells firearms or ammunition.

Obviously, anything on this list can also be purchased online from a variety of retailers! But I like to include brick-and-mortar stores for those who need to go out and buy it RIGHT NOW because they’re in the middle of a project and can’t wait on shipping. 🙂

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  1. I am glad to see that you take protection seriously! Hearing protection is one of the most important and least thought about devices to use. Great write up and love the Cosplay.

  2. Hey Laura,

    This is a great resource for cosplayers, crafters and DIYers! Wearing safety equipment is easy to do and can prevent many small injuries that happen when you don’t think they will!

    Thanks for sharing the article 🙂

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