Want to make some cool armor but not so sure how to tackle it? Do you want to make a custom helmet but you don't have any idea what to do? Well I'm going to show you how to make a lightweight, durable, and relatively cheap way to make a helmet! In this tutorial, I'm going to show you how!
- Cardstock paper
- Pepakura designer
- Fiberglass cloth
- Fiberglass resin
- Vacuum former
- PETG sheet/plexiglass
- Plastic cutter
- Exacto knife
- Quick dry glue
- Bondo car filler
- Spot putty
Total Cost Estimate: Around $100
(based off what I had to buy)
Currently selling for: All of your dollars
Project Duration Estimate: Several weeks
A detailed explanation on how to turn a pepakura file into a durable, lightweight helmet, possibly even a master mold for copies. This tutorial includes lots of power tools and potentially dangerous materials, so please get an adult to help you out.
Exacto knives are VERY sharp. Be extremely careful when handling it! Always pay close attention to what you’re doing.
Fiberglass resin is a very toxic and dangerous substance. ALWAYS wear a respirator, goggles, and work in a well ventilated area.
BONDO: Car filler, can be dangerous. It releases very strong fumes and should not be handled without gloves.
This tutorial also calls for multiple power tools and manual tools that may be potentially hazardous if misused. PLEASE get an adult's help when it comes to using things you're unfamiliar with. Don't feel bad, either- I ask my dad for help all the time.
Always make sure you read through the entire process before beginning to avoid mistakes and get a general idea of how the project will progress.
Now let's make get started:
Step 1: Choosing your model
The very first step of starting this project is deciding what type of helmet/armor you’d like to make and finding the appropriate pepakura, adobe reader, photoshop, or whatever type of file for it that you like. Obviously. Well, you’d be surprised. I would strongly recommend using pepakura models, but often it’s hard to find those randomly around the internet and you need to search for a while. The reason I suggest it is because pepakura is DESIGNED for papercrafts, positioning pieces, rescaling the models and arranging the printing orders is very easy in the program. I really have NO idea how to rescale a photoshop or .pdf file, but I know that when you do so, I believe it increases or decreases the size in a ratio (1/3 the size, 2/9 the size) rather than being able to input the height, width, and depth of the model like you can in pepakura. Either way, I would RECOMMEND pepakura. Anyhow, once you decide the item you’d like to make, you need to search the internetz for a file that looks close enough to what you'd like. For halo helmets and daft punk helmets, there are a surprising amount of variations of the SAME style of helmet, so you need to pay close attention to which features you’d like, what looks easier to build, or whatever it is you’re looking for in specific. When you open a pepakura file, you get to see the pieces of the papercraft laid out in front of you along with the model itself with all the pieces arranged. This is great because you can see exactly how complicated and detailed the helmet will be, as well as how difficult and annoying it will be to create it.
Step 2: Scaling the model
I’ve already made a fully detailed tutorial on this step (found HERE), but I’ll talk about it for just a second here as well. When scaling the model, you have to take a few things into account. Are you the only one who’s going to be wearing this helmet? Does it need to fit multiple people? How snug do you want it? Are you going to install LEDs, cooling fans, or any other electronic systems inside the helmet? When considering all these, you can decide on how exact you’d like it to be in according to your calculations that you will be making. Of course, the downside is that in order to scale the model, you need to purchase Pepakura Designer. The free version – Pepakura Viewer, doesn’t have the option to scale models or rearrange the pieces, so if you don’t feel like buying it, you’re going to have to hope that your model’s scale isn’t too large or small. Remember, I am offering to scale models for anyone who needs it and print them on cardstock for you, just shoot me an email for more information.
Sometimes you can get away with not scaling down a model, but often the more detailed ones are purposely made extremely large in order to capture the details well.
Step 3: Cutting and making the model
Once you’ve gotten the model all nice and scaled down, you’re going to have to print it out , cut it, and form the actual craft. You MUST print the model on CARDSTOCK!! Cardstock paper is a thick, durable paper that greeting cards are made of. It can be found readily at any office store for a decent price, arts and crafts stores for much more money, and can be found very cheap at Walmart! Cardstock paper is important to have because it’ll make the model stiff and will be able to hold onto the resin without melting or collapsing like normal paper would. Making the model is probably the most annoying part, especially if you’re doing a detailed helmet. That’s why you need to make sure your pepakura model is favorable. For example, if you have 6 months to make the helmet, a 19 page pepakura model with 40 pieces may not be so bad, but if you have a week and a half to finish, you might need to stick with the 10 page model with 16 pieces.
Anyway, when it comes to cutting the model, you’ll notice many of the pieces have small triangles, squares, or other shapes sticking out from the main piece to aid in putting them together. This usually causes the models to be VERY hard to cut out with scissors. I STRONGLY recommend using an exacto knife. The exacto knife is very accurate, can cut corners sharply, and will allow you to cut the pieces out while they're flat on a table or floor- this will prevent you from bending or messing with your pieces before you’re ready to put them together. If you do go with an exacto knife, you’re probably going to want to buy a few extra blades- the sharper your blades, the easier things are to cut, so you’re going to want to switch out blades, especially if you’ve got a bunch of pieces.
For actually piecing the model together, you’re going to need to use glue. I recommend glue because it binds the pieces VERY well in comparison to tape. Tape is a HUUGE no. It will come apart and annoy the crap out of you while you’re working on another piece or if you tug on the model too hard. It also makes the finished model very flimsy and bendy (trust me, I wasted hours making a model with tape, it was horrible). Glue is the way to go. It gives time to adjust and move the pieces while it dries and once it dries, the glue soaks deeply into the paper and holds tightly and usually won’t come apart. Just make sure you choose a quick drying glue that’s flexible- you don’t want to be sitting there for minutes waiting for ONE thing to dry. I used a glue called “Quick Hold” that I found at Walmart. It’s a super-glue grade glue that dries pretty damn fast while not being totally annoying or extremely strong while it’s wet, so you have lots of time to put things into place. Besides the glue, exacto, and cardstock, you’re pretty much on your own. Just keep the pepakura model open on a computer in front of you so that you can keep track of where you’re going and try to start from one side of the model and completely work your way to the other. For example, if you start from the top, work to the bottom- if you start from the front, work to the back. This isn’t 100% accurate for all models, but it helps prevent you from bending pieces or stressing the model.
Step 3b/5b: Reinforcing your Model
Now this step isn't completely necessary, but I'd highly recommend it. It really helps your model keep a definite shape throughout the entire process of layering and SHOULD be taken before adding bondo. If you're going to be putting fiberglass resin and cloth on the OUTSIDE of your helmet, then it may be best to do this directly after step 3. If you're going to be adding the fiberglass resin and cloth on the INSIDE of the helmet, then you may want to do this directly after step 5 (hence the 3b and 5b).
Either way, all this step includes is adding a few pieces of wood inside your papercraft to keep it stable and in place throughout the entire process of layering bondo and resin. Sometimes resin can warp the model and make it irregular and bondo will weigh the helmet down in different directions which leads to complications later on in the symmetry as well as simply keeping the helmet looking nice. So all we're going to need extra for this step are some thin wooden sticks, paint mixing sticks are a nice option, but since they're wide they might get in the way. Thin, wooden frames can be used for this step, if not, just grab some thin wooden sheets and cut them into strips yourself. The shape and design of your helmet is going to be the determining factor of how you go about this, so it's hard for me to tell you exactly. But you're going to want 2 basic supports, a horizontal and a vertical. The horizontal should run across the inside of the widest part of the helmet and the vertical support should go from the top of the helmet to the base, even past it a bit, to keep the helmet from sinking into itself. Arguably, you only need the horizontal support, but if you're scared you can always add the vertical one just in case. More supports should/can be added to places of weakness (example, the tip/chin of Guy Manuel's helmet or the visor of Thomas Bangalter's helmet). Simply mark the pieces, cut them, and place them inside the models using painter's tape. Don't glue them in or anything, since we're going to want to remove them later on.
Step 4: Coating in Resin
Once your model is nice and put together, it's time to ruin the hell out of it. Nah, it should be fine (in theory). From now on, the steps are going to get more and more tedious, but they will strongly effect how durable your helmet will be. The first step is to coat the model in fiberglass resin. The first thing you're going to want to do is gather all your materials in one place so that once you start, you don't have to run around or get anything. Once the catalyst is added to the resin, it will begin to dry, so you won't have time to do much besides put it on the model. So get your measuring cups, paintbrushes (around 3 or 4 is what I used), mixing sticks, plastic/latex gloves, respirator, apron, goggles, and resin all in one spot. You should also work outside, if possible. If you're going to work in a garage like I did, make sure the door is open and that you have some sort of fan on to shoot all the nasty resin fumes outside. Anyhow, the first coat of resin is the most important. It has to be thick enough so that it will make the helmet hard yet thin enough that it doesn't weigh your model down or make it sag or collapse. Coat the INSIDE of the helmets with the resin in a thin layer using a paintbrush. You should probably use the cheap-O ones at home depot because you're probably going to be tossing it out after. Cleaning resin off paintbrushes is pretty much impossible. Anyway, the first inner coat should be simple enough. Let it dry for about 4-6 hours before adding the next coat. You can coat the outside of the helmet just for good measure, but you should be more concerned with the inside.
Step 5: Adding Fiberglass Cloth
Now this step can be a bit tricky, but it shouldn't take you too long, either. However, it WILL drive you mad. Haha, maybe not, let's hope not. We're basically going to take our fiberglass cloth and put it on our helmet to reinforce it. I added my fiberglass to the outside of the helmet, but I recently found out that adding it to the inside of the helmet is much more favorable AND a lot easier! Either way, it's something that you may decide on personally, but I would recommend the inside. So one thing you've hopefully learned about working with the fiberglass resin is that you're going to want to get everything 100% ready before you mix your resin with the hardener. So the very first step is to cut your fiberglass cloth into small pieces.
Now, before we get into it, I'd like to point out a couple different options. There are 2 different types of fiberglass: there's fiberglass MATTING and fiberglass CLOTH. Fiberglass matting is very random looking. It kind of looks like someone piled a bunch of thin strings together and made them into a matt. It's usually a lot stronger, doesn't come apart as much as cloth, but it's also a lot less flexible. Fiberglass cloth, on the other hand, is very organized looking. It has a definite weave pattern, is much thinner and more flexible, yet comes apart very easily. Fiberglass cloth is probably the best choice for getting into all the cracks of the helmet and it's probably more readily available than fiberglass matting is. With whichever you choose, the following steps are the same, I just wanted to note some differences.
ANYWAY, back to our actual thing. So you're going to cut your fiberglass cloth into thin strips, preferably medium length, of about 4-6 inches. Be extremely careful with the cloth as you cut it, because fiberglass loves to come apart and make a huge mess. Use very sharp scissors and try not to tug or pull on the strips or it will come apart and get EVERYWHERE. We're going to be essentially using these as "paper mache" to reinforce the inside of the helmet. When you cut your pieces, try to leave them inside the helmet so you have an idea of when you have enough strips to fully cover the inside. However, don't use this as an excuse to stop cutting more strips.. ALWAYS CUT MORE THAN WHAT YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING TO USE. It's better to have all the strips pre-cut so you don't have to deal with more resin. Not only that, but you may need to go back and reinforce some areas that aren't covered as well. It's just generally a good idea to just have everything prepared and ready to go before you start so you're not wasting gloves, paintbrushes, or other materials in between layering times.
Anyhow, once you've got all your fiberglass cut, put some gloves on, mix up your resin, and apply a thin coat on the inside of the helmet. This coat doesn't need to be thick at all, it's simply to help you set the pieces into place. So, begin sticking your strips inside the helmet. When you have about 3 or 4 set in place, grab a nice brush-full of resin and dab it on top of the fiberglass strips. DO NOT STROKE THEM as you would if you were painting- for it will make them slide around, simply dab the resin into the strips from straight above until they're completely soaked. You'll notice that as you soak them, they will change color and almost 'disappear'. Simply pat them down until they're flat and soaked, then move on and add more strips, repeating the process until the entire helmet is lined. You may or may not want to add multiple layers of fiberglass. It's really up to you, but usually one layer is plenty. Once you're satisfied, set the helmet aside and allow it to completely dry! This usually takes significantly longer since there is a lot more resin, so allow around double the time.
OPTIONAL STEP 5b: Sanding the Fiberglass
Since there are multiple ways to make the helmet there are multiple ways to go about doing this. In this case, if you added your fiberglass cloth to the INSIDE of your model, you don't have to really worry about sanding anything down. On the other hand, if you've added it to the OUTSIDE of your model (as shown in the pictures) you should probably do your best to sand it down and trim any excess fiberglass handing off the edges. For this step, I had to use a power sander. Fiberglass and fiberglass resin are a bit more obnoxious to sand down than bondo, so I would recommend getting your hands on an electric sander if possible. At this point, I just don't think the sandpaper will cut it. Home Depot sells a very nice detail sander for only about $30 (can be seen HERE). It has good reviews and it's the one I ended up buying and I don't regret it so far. Anyway, this part doesn't have to be perfect anyway, you're just using the sander to get rid of all the uneven edges left behind by the cloth from stacking and simply hanging off the edge. Usually you can trim off some of the dangling pieces with scissors, especially if they're not coated with resin. That's another thing, if you missed a few spots and there are still dry patches of fiberglass cloth, DO NOT SAND. Go over them again with the resin. EVERYTHING SHOULD BE SOAKED: if not, when you go over it with the sander, the sander will simply unravel the threads and cause a big poofball.
Step 6: Adding Bondo
Now for some more caking on. This step we're going to be adding bondo car filler to the model. The bondo is a nice thing to have because it adds volume and weight to your helmet while allowing you to sand it down and make it smooth. The trick to adding the bondo is to make it as smooth as possible to eliminate the chances of bubbles being trapped in between layers. This will reduce your sanding time as well as your chances of needing a lot of spot putty.
If you've never worked with bondo before, it's basically similar to resin in the sense that you have your main product and a hardener. However, bondo dries VERY quickly and has the consistency of thick cake icing, so it's a bit more annoying to work with. The trick is to work in very small samples of bondo rather than mixing the entire amount all at once like you'd do with resin. Only use a small blop of bondo (a blop thats 3inches in diameter) and just a little bit of hardener (make a thin line across the length of the bondo). There are instructions on the actual case, as well, but the 3inch diameter blops work very well.
Spreading the bondo can be a pain if you use the wrong type of stuff and unlike resin, it can't be applied with a paintbrush. If you take a trip to Home Depot or Lowes to get some bondo, you'll notice near the aisle you find it in (painting section), there should be smoothing materials. Bondo sells a specific package of spreading thingies used especially for car filler. They're pink, bendy smoother thingies and they work great. I especially love that they're so flexible, unlike the normal stiff white plastic ones you get for $1. This allows a bit more maneuverability around corners or curved surfaces, but most importantly, it lets you flake off that stupid excess bondo that loves to cling onto the spreaders. They're about $4 but I think they're worth it, the only problem is they don't have small ones. If you don't feel like dishing out $4, that's fine too. Cardboard works surprisingly well when it comes to spreading bondo, the only problem is you'll need to replace it very often so cut a few extra squares of it before you begin, but it's basically free, so you can't lose. Whatever method you use, just make sure you spread your bondo as nicely and evenly as possible. Since you should be adding relatively thin layers, you only really need to put 2 or 3 layers onto the helmet in total. The more layers you put, the more imperfections you'll be able to hide from the pepakura, and the less blocky it'll look when you're done.
Step 7: Wet Sanding
Hopefully you took my advice and added thin, smooth layers of bondo onto your model. If you didn't, sanding is going to be a bitch. You're going to want at least 3 or 4 different grades of sandpaper for this. 60 is nice for starting off and weathering away most of the extra gunk, and 1000 is great for ending and getting the smoothest finish possible. So let's go with 60, 200, 400, 1000. You don't have to be exact like me, just make sure you have a nice range of sandpaper types so sanding will be as smooth as possible. Unfortunately, sanding will always take time, so just be patient. If you have a sponge to attach your sandpaper to, great, if not, just fold it up and sand by hand, it's similar enough that you won't notice.
So anyway, to the actual sanding, you can start off your 60 directly to the model just to get a general "smooth". I put smooth in quotations because you're not going to get it very smooth, but just try to get rid of the major cracks and bumps. Try to chip away most of the excess bondo that you don't need and try to start re-defining any features that you may have over-coated with bondo. Once you're done, it's time to add some water. Take a bucket, fill it with water, and dump a random sponge and all your sandpaper in there. Soak up your sponge and empty it all over your bondo'ed model a couple times until everything is nice and wet. Don't worry about the actual model getting any water damage, either. The resin coats absorbed by the paper make it waterproof. Begin wet sanding with the 60 grade sandpaper again. Don't press very hard and keep a general view on your model so you don't over-sand one area. Even though the 60 is very coarse, it won't strip all the bondo off your model. Once you see the sanding is getting close, switch to your next sandpaper grade. In this case, the 200. Use the next grade up to get closer to the actual shape, in fact, pretend your next sandpaper is your last one and try to get all of your details as nicely done as possible. Only move sandpapers when you're happy with how the helmet looks. The 60 grade should have make the entire helmet smooth and the 200 should be to touch up everything. Everything after is simply to make it COMPLETELY SMOOTH. Since the sandpapers are so fine, they won't make any large or noticeable changes, instead, they'll make the helmet even smoother, so every grade after your first 2 should be simply to make the helmet that much smoother. It's pretty self-explanatory, just make sure to keep your model wet the entire time.
Step 8: Adding Primer and Spot Putty
The first thing you want to do after you've sanded your model down is to add a nice coat of primer on there. The primer helps seal up the bondo and make it less likely to release any more debris (also it looks nice). You may notice the bubbles or spots that I was talking about when it comes to smoothing start to appear as you sand. They will appear in the form of small crevices or dips that come out when you start sanding. Don't worry about these, that's what spot putty is for. Spot putty is available in the same place as normal car bondo is and it works the same, it's just smoother and doesn't require a hardener. It comes in a little toothpaste tube and all you have to do is squirt a bit onto your spreader or piece of cardboard and then smooth it onto the ugly spots. Go around your helmet and locate all the little indents that you can find and circle them with a sharpie. This will keep you from forgetting about any spots. Next, add spot putty to all the ugly places that you'd like to fix up. Unfortunately, this requires more sanding, but it's well worth it. Not just normal sanding, either. Get your bucket and sponge back out and toss out the 60 grit sandpaper. Go around your helmet and start sanding all the spot putty areas again with the last 3 sandpapers until you're pleased with the smoothness once again, then slap on another coat of primer.
Step 9: Cutting out the Visor
Now it's time for the scary part, cutting out the visor. Arguably, you can do this step earlier on, but I prefer later so that you can get a more precise borderline that's easier to fix and define with bondo. Try to use a small dremel or cutter to get as precise as you can. There's not really much else I can tell you besides to be careful and take your time. Once it's cut out, it's all downhill from here. All you have to do is touch up any uneven spots or scratches you may have made from cutting and then it's off to vacuum form your visor!
Step 10: Vacuum Forming
Now this step can be extremely intimidating if you've never done it before, but it's really not as hard as it seems. Once you have the right info, anyway. All you really have to do is get the right supplies, measure everything accurately, and then be efficient in the actual process. Now, you might be saying, "wait, Kanti, I don't have a vacuum former, you never showed me how to make one", well, no, but for now I will give you 2 simple ways to make your own super awesome vacuum former for cheaps.
The first method (seen HERE) is a great and easy way to make one. It only takes about 20 minutes to fully assemble and works pretty nicely for almost anything you will probably be vacuum forming. What I don't like about this one, is that it's a big large, but besides that, it's great and lots of people use it.
The other method (seen HERE) is indeed a bit more complex, but it has a much stronger suction. This is useful for when it comes to getting those overhanging ledges (such as the visor in the Thomas helmet).
Either way, everything is going to be the same process, just a different frame. So, anyway, one thing I learned is you DON'T use acrylic sheets. The first thing you probably think is "yea, they're too thick". Well, they are, but that's not a problem. Simply heat them at a higher temperature. The problem with acrylic is that it's a pain in the arse to cut and it often bubbles after it dries, so steer clear from it. I know I featured a youtube video showing off the acrylic, but disregard it. Acrylic apparently sucks.
What you WANT instead are some PETG sheets. The can be readily found at your local plastic supply, some hardware stores, or online at amazon or eBay. I got mine from this store off eBay for a great price. Where-ever you decide to get them, just make sure they're CLEAR, so this involves reading the descriptions on the items, because often, they will have colored plastic coating (that you later peel off) on them so they won't appear to be clear. Anyway, once you got your PETG sheets (mine was 0.02 inches thick), you need to set them up in your frames to heat in the oven. Before placing them in the oven, you should probably grab a pair of gardening gloves (unused please) and coat every corner of it with foil incase your plastic decides to melt around and get in your oven. This will make your parents very happy and they'll think you're being considerate!
Anyway, the trick to heating the plastic is to watch for when it starts to tighten and then sagg a bit right afterwards. You'll notice the shine of the plastic will really be defined and it will almost start to look as if it's wet. Don't wait too long or let it sagg too much, at the first sign of an arch, turn your vacuum on, take the plastic out of the oven and place it over your visor. Let the vacuum do what it does best and let the plastic get sucked down onto the visor for a few seconds by itself. Then put your gardening gloves on and start smoothing the plastic down around any corners and eliminate any bubbles that may have formed while the plastic is still warm. For the Guy helmet, this step isn't completely necessary since it's generally smooth anyway, but if you're vacuum forming something more complex, you're going to want to pat and smooth it down.
Once the plastic has been sitting for a few minutes, remove it from the mold. You don't want to let it sit there too long or it'll cling to whatever it is you vacuum formed (in this case the bondo) and chip it off.
Step 11: Tinting and Installing your Visor
Finally, a pretty easy part. Well, sort of. I've never actually tinted a window before so it was actually very difficult. Either way, the first thing youre going to want to do is cut out your visor from all the excess plastic on your vacuum mold. So take out a dremel or scissors, if your plastic is thin enough, and start to cut from the main shape. Once it's out and ready, get a spray bottle or sponge, and dampen the inside surface of your visor. For the actual tinting material, I went to Walmart and got something called "Insta-Cling". It's basically a tinting film that can be removed if need be and the advantage to that is that you can take it off if you mess up, which I did several times. Anyway, once you've got the inside of the visor wet, you're going to want to cut out a decently sized piece of film and then CAREFULLY place one side on the end of the visor, then with a damp cloth, sponge, or anything soft, really, you're going to press down firmly and press the film slowly onto the visor. Do this very carefully and do it slowly passing over ONCE. That means, don't slide it all down then go back and fix it, instead, press down completely on one side before going forward, so you basically move in little steps so that when you get to the end, all you have is the other side. It's hard to explain, really, but just work from one side to the next, don't go back, or you'll get airbubbles, and when you get bubbles, it's very hard to get them out. Once the film is nice and set, cut off all the excess with some scissors. The major problem I had with this tinting material is that the ends almost always love to work their ways back up when you handle the visor. Usually you can just stick them back down, but if the water underneath dries they will stay up. Simply wet it again and place it back down. You can pass a heat gun over the tint LIGHTLY to secure it a little, but don't go too much or you might warp the vacumm formed plastic.