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Making Worbla Armor and Accessories

Worbla is a thermoplastic that softens when it is heated and rehardens when it cools. There are other brands and types of thermoplastics out there now including clear ones, colored ones, etc. But for the purposes of this tutorial, I'm using original Worbla.

Years ago I wrote a tutorial about doing Worbla armor for bjds, but this one specialized for commercial dolls since there are some steps that can be omitted when you're not working on a super expensive piece of resin.

There are many tutorials out there for using thermoplastics. I think it is still most commonly used in the cosplay community. But I don't think there's quite so many tutorials with dolls in mind. There's a million other ways you could probably think of to engineer pieces, so this tutorial basically gives some tips and guidelines. Thermoplastics are very versatile and easy to work with. When you finish pieces, you want to keep them away from heat, but they will be fine as long as it's not super hot, like I have to put my hairdryer on it's highest heat setting to soften Worbla. Low and medium doesn't do anything to it. Also note that generally the material cools and re-hardens again pretty fast, so you should be working on small sections at a time.

What you'll need:
Worbla or some other thermoplastic like Wonderflex or Friendly Plastic
Hair dryer with a fairly hot setting or a heat gun
a hot knife
masking tape
plastic wrap
tissue paper or something comparable for plotting out the pattern pieces
xacto knife (optional for trimming without heat when needed)

a bait doll (optional for forming the armor on if you don't want your doll to be part of the process)


Step 1: Prepping the model. First thing you want to do is prep your doll, or a bait doll with the same body, by wrapping it a thin layer of plastic wrap, then cover that with masking tape. Use small pieces in more tightly shaped areas to get it to form as close to the body as possible. You want to avoid any bumps and wrinkles. It's best to use a bait doll body because if you're using a heat knife, there's the possibility that either you could slip, or part of the knife could accidentally touch part of the body while you're using the tip on another part. The wrapping is partly to protect the bait doll so it can be used for multiple sessions, but also to provide padding so that there's just a little bit of room inside the armor and it's not totally skin tight so they can be worn over a layer of clothing or lined on the inside.

Step 2: Create your Pattern Pieces. You can sketch out your idea if you want to, but it's not necessary if you're good with working on an idea from your head or you just want to wing it. Whatever your choice, use tissue paper or something else thin to draw out your pattern pieces and fit them to the doll. Where you have rounded areas like the breasts, use little v-shaped cut-ins to remove excess material so it doesn't wrinkle when you get to forming your piece. The way I have mine set up, the front of each base layer reaches a little farther around than the back layer does, because I'm placing pegs on the edges of those for the upper layer of the back piece to overlap and latch onto.

Heat the front pieces and form them to the body.


Step 3: Lay the back side.  Use masking tape to cover the edges of that front layer you just laid down so that the back layer won't stick to it. Heat the back layer pieces, form them to the body and line the edges up with the front piece.


Step 4: Lay the back pieces.   Cut some little pieces of Worbla, heat them and the edge of the armor (by hovering the hot knife over them so that the heat gun or hairdryer don't blow them all over the place) so you can bond the little pieces to the edges to form tabs for the overlapping back to latch onto. If that sounds confusing, hopefully the picture is more explanatory. Cover those tabbed edges in plastic wrap so you can form the overlap to it without it sticking. Make sure the plastic wrap goes UNDER the back side because the overlap will need to stick to the back side.


Step 5: Adding the Details.   Here we start laying down the detail, beginning with the edging. I made the front part longer so that the overlap from the back can hook over the tabs on the front, and that's how the piece stays together when the doll is wearing it.

From here on out, it's best to use a heat knife for softening and merging pieces together because you'll be working with small pieces that can be easily lost if blown away. You can hover the knife over a piece, or hold the 2 surfaces close to each other and hold the hot knife between the 2 pieces, so they both heat at the same time and you don't have to worry about one surface cooling before you can get the 2nd one softened.


Step 6: Back to the other side.   Again use masking tape, this time over the edges of the back, so that it doesn't stick as you're laying down the front edging.


Step 7: Add the rest of the relief details.   Add any other raised details that are part of your design and use the hot knife to carve out other details. This is the rough finish of the torso pieces. I plan to go over it again and look for any rough portions and smooth them over with the hot knife.


   A view of the connections, a bit hard to see, but I think you can get the idea:


Step 8: Priming.   Spraying with primer. Make sure your closure tabs are taped over so that the primer doesn't clog them and keep them from fitting later. Since we're working with small details here, it's better NOT to use a a thick primer like Rust-oleum's Painter's Touch Ultra Cover. That is good for larger pieces, but the primer pools TOO much in the small nooks and crannies in this size and it's harder to press it back in. I tried a couple of primers and really like Krylon K02518000 Fusion For Plastic, Flat White. It covers nicely without being overly thick, has a nice toothy finish, dries fast and is easy to sand. Whatever primer you end up using, follow the directions on the can. 


Step 9: Sharpening the detail/repressing.   The primer will have filled in some of the detail, so once it is dry, use an awl and/or other appropriate tools to press the details back into shape in all the recesses. Don't scratch at it in or you'll chip the primer. Tilt your tool at a fairly steep angle and drag/press it through the areas you're working on, letting the pointed tip trail. 


Step 10: Sanding.   This is when you should really smooth and straighten things out. If necessary you can fold sandpaper and use the corner to clean up some of the lines you pressed in the last step. 


Step 11: Painting.   You can use whatever you want that is compatible with your doll. For this example, I used straight up PearEx mixed with Tamiya gloss and mica powder mixed with Tamiya Gloss. After letting that dry for a day, I finished it with 2 layers of Mr. Super Clear gloss since this is a great use for it and their gloss version is far less temperamental than their matte spray. 


And you're done!   Below is one final closeup for some detail of the mica effects and gloss finish:  

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