Updated: Sep 4
G’day nerds! I decided to make a handy little tutorial for you all about how to use thermoplastic beads to make stuff for your costume. These beads melt with a little bit of heat and can be rolled and shaped just like play-doh. It’s zero waste because you can keep re-melting them to make stuff, and it’s food safe so you can put it in your mouth if you’re making orc or ogre tusks. It’s lightweight and really easy to use!
Today I made Wood Fae horns. Keep in mind it’s only a good option if the thing you’re making is pretty small and/or thin. It doesn’t scale very well for larger horns. I would advise only small horns up to about 4 inches long with a base of 1/2″, or antlers with average diameter abo
ut 1/2″ and not much more. If making antlers, I strongly advise having a heat gun. I don’t think there’s a good way to heat up a lot of beads and form them in the time you have before it hardens if you were making something large. It would be a lot easier to heat it, form, and stick in sections.
Stuff you need:
A heat source – I use an electric griddle because I work on a table in my workshop, but your stove is fine, and I like to have a heat gun handy for re-heating the piece as I work
Thermoplastic beads – I use Friendly Plastic which you can buy on Amazon, www.sculpturesupplycanada.com, and I’ve been told it’s available at Michael’s but I have not personally looked for it there so it could depend on where you live
A non-stick surface – I use a cutting board
A cup of water – You will need to wet your fingers before forming the plastic, it helps you not get burned
A utensil for removing the beads from the water – I use a popsicle stick
Optional: Bowl or pot for water
Optional: Acrylic paint or food dye
Pour some beads out. About this much is all you need for one Wood Fae horn or a pair of orc tusks.
If you are working on the stove, fill your pot with about 1 inch of water. You don’t need very much and the more water you have in the pot, the longer it will take. I actually prefer to work right on the griddle’s non-stick surface but not everyone has this tool. You need to bring the water up to about 85C/180F for the beads to melt.
Put the beads in the water and wait for it to warm up. You will see them start to go clear and start sticking to each other. Wait for them all to turn clear before you remove them. You can gently stir them as they start to change and make them stick to each other in a clump for easier removal.
THIS PART IS OPTIONAL!
Meanwhile, as the beads are melting you can prepare some acrylic paint (as long as it’s not going in your mouth), or food dye (any brand meant for icings and such are fine) to color the plastic. It’s not totally necessary, but I think it’s better than just plain white. Keep in mind the plastic will harden to white, so any color you mix will be a bit lighter in the end. If you are using food dye for orc/ogre teeth, consider wearing gloves or else you will dye your fingers.
In this picture I mixed a light taupe with some yellow and white to get a sort of bone color as my base.
When the plastic is all melted together, it will be a clear putty.
WET YOUR FINGERS FIRST!!
Stick the putty in the paint/dye and use your fingers to smoosh it until it’s well mixed. You might need to reheat it after this, which is why a heat gun is really handy. If you don’t have a heat gun, just place it back in the water to soften up again.
Now put it on your non-stick surface and roll your soft putty plastic into a worm and shape to whatever you need!
I find that I always need to reheat it a little bit as I’m working, so if you don’t have a heat gun or other method to keep re-softening it, you need to work fast.
If you’re making horns like I did, remember to use something pointy to poke holes in it to thread an elastic through for the headband.
It takes only a few minutes to cool and harden, so once it has, you can go ahead and paint it if you like. I did a dark wash on mine to make them look more bone-like.