Printing on 3D objects for Helms of Awesome

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At Frogman's 2009, I took a lot of notes from a class taught by printmaker and graduate professor Dennis McNett of [[]] In addition to standard printing methods, he's gotten into making simple skeletal shapes with cheap materials and covering them in his prints to give them texture. He uses lightweight wood and chicken wire, but for my test run I used project display board, also called foam core. I made one of these for Halloween 2010, and even for a rough prototype the results were satisfying.


  • foam core display board (like you used to use for your science project)
    • cardboard would probably be fine
  • stapler
  • cheap paper
    • bond paper
    • copy paper - what I used
    • newsprint?
  • some kind of paper to use for your top layer of visible skin
  • bucket or some container you don't mind using to hold glue
  • Glue - tons of options here
    • rice paste
    • lyntex
    • gel medium
    • elmer's glue
    • wood glue
    • modge podge

1- Cut your foam core into your basic shapes, and tape them together. To add small details to the shape like a pronounced brow or cheek bones, you can stack more layers of the foam core and tape it down to make it thicker. This is an easy to way to create curves or gradual changes in elevation on the piece's shape - like a pronounced brow, cheek bones, or teeth.

  • For wearable sculpture, a couple of considerations
    • Breathing comfortably
    • Eye holes
    • Drinking?
  • For larger scale work, consider tearing up foam padding or egg crate for comfort.

2- If you're using Elmer's or wood glue, add water until the glue/water ratio is about 3/1. Now take strips of your cheap paper and use your brush to get it thoroughly glued. It needs to stick to the foam core, and it needs to be ready to hold the cheap paper that's going to be attached to it. Start with the sharp corners and edges, and work your way in. You'll want to add as many layers as it takes until you can't see the edges of the board underneath, or maybe not if you want them to show.

3- Print your textures and graphics that will be the visible skin of the sculpture. Note that you may need to tear down the material to match up with the angles and facets of your sculpted surface. You can cut with scissors, but I think tearing it by hand gives a cool look as the segments overlap and meet each other.

5- Same brush, same glue - start attaching the texture skin to the cheap blank paper skin. You can use almost any kind of paper for this layer, I was using some old relief block prints on Rives BFK paper. Because Rives is thick and stiff, it took more glue than the copy paper. I wound up taking the small strip of rives and dipping it completely in the glue, then applying it to the sculpture. I used a small metal bit to hold the paper down around small corners when there wasn't much paper left to wrap around, it worked better than my sticky fingers which usually just pulled the paper with my finger when I pulled it away. A bone folder would have been good too.

6- When the skin is complete, apply one last layer of glue to the whole surface, which will make the material stiff and glossy.

7- (optional) Wear it around, and be kick-ass.