Cosplay Tutorial: Cel Shading Clothing

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As with many characters, be they anime or game or anything in between, a lot of customization lies in the clothing. Many times a character wears something that is one of a kind, something that is so unusual in its color and design that cosplayers who desire to dress as the character are a bit off put. Some costumers get around this by dyeing material or using Photoshop to create custom fabric. Others go complicated routes like embroidery. While there is no right or wrong way to customize a costume there is a simpler route for those just getting started.

In this tutorial I am using Nisha from the Borderlands Pre-Sequel game. She is a cel-shaded character with a whole lot of custom gear. Here were my primary concerns with this character:

    Nisha wears a duo-tone jacket.
    Nisha’s jacket is cel shaded and has seen better days…how the heck am I supposed to emulate that?
    Nisha has a custom t-shirt. I could get it screen printed but that would cost more than the 3 dollar tank top I planned to print on…
    Nisha has a simple pair of jeans that, again, are cel shaded.

OK, let me summarize: NISHA IS CEL SHADED. There, that feels better.

Needless to say, painting on clothing is something I have done before…with puff paint or tie-dye. I had NEVER attempted cel shading nor had I ever attempted to paint a complicated design on a shirt before (sure, I’ve used Iron-Ons but they fade and are really tough to get good color with). So I needed help and where did I look? Why to my very best technological medium: the Internet.

Sadly, the internet failed me. I found TWO articles on painting clothing that were readable. One spoke of cel shading (which was my primary search) but lacked a great deal of detail as to the manner in which one attempts to cel shade or what materials one uses. While the other spoke specifically of a medium I could use to turn acrylic paints into a safe tool for painting on any fabric. Combining this information gave me the knowledge I needed to pursue creating Nisha. It’s this knowledge that I would now like to pass to all of you so you aren’t stuck in Internet limbo wondering where all the creative DIY articles on painting fabric went.

Skill Lesson #1: How to take water-based acrylic paint and turn it into something AWESOME!
While doing my research I located something called “Textile Medium”.

Textile Medium

Textile Medium

It can be purchased just about anywhere (fair warning: it’s actually more expensive to buy online than in a craft store) and comes in 2 oz. or 8 oz sizes. I purchased two 2 oz. bottles and didn’t even get through half of the first bottle for Nisha (I painted the jacket AND shirt so a little bit of this medium goes a LONG way). The instructions suggested 2:1 to mix (which is two parts paint:1 part textile medium). I added a little extra textile medium (about 1:1) and it helped the paint to spread more evenly. The brand I used was “Americana” and its titled “Fabric Painting Medium”. I found this at JoAnn’s for a little over $2 a bottle. I would suggest higher quality acrylic as I later learned that my canvas paints went on much smoother than the cheap bottles of paint I picked up at WalMart.

 

Skill Lesson #2: Cel Shading Clothing like a boss!
Cel Shading is a lot like normal shading. If you are familiar with drawing or painting principles then this endeavor should not be very difficult for you. You’ll just need to recognize that this is a delicate medium and to be careful about avoiding drip (try to dry your brush as much as possible without removing too much moisture so you avoid painting areas that are not meant to be painted). If you have never drawn or painted or colored…or completed anything similar check out some shading videos on YouTube OR visit DeviantArt for step by step cel shading tutorials (there are a plethora of them out there and you will need those instructions to move forward). Once you are comfortable with the concept of cel shading take a sharpie (I chose a black sharpie for the jacket and a yellow for the shirt) and layout your drawing/painting path(s). Here is how I mapped out my painting paths for Nisha…

Jacket

Jacket

Shirt

Shirt

With your painting pattern ready start laying in the shadows. Be sure to use natural creases as your guide. Allow the paint to pool in areas where gravity takes it and don’t be afraid to use creative freedom. Also, be sure to make your shadows as DARK as possible. This will punch up the intensity when you add your highlights. For cel shading, highlights are generally on the brightest end of the color spectrum or, in some instances, they are simply white. I chose white as my highlight and limited my use of it. Once I was finished I took a picture. PICTURES ARE IMPORTANT! Not only do they remind you of the steps you took to achieve your look they also tell you how lighting affects your work. If something looks irregular get in there and adjust the shadow, add a low light or increase your use of highlights. Don’t be afraid to edit your work. Here are a few snapshots of how I cel shaded Nisha’s jacket…

Lay in shadows

Lay in shadows

Build Up Shadows

Build Up Shadows

Add Highlights

Add Highlights

Painting/cel shading the shirt was a not much different than Nisha other than requiring more creative/artistic skill and some knowledge on color blending. I used many variations of purple in layers to achieve the blended design originally represented on the character. There were times when I painted too heavy handed and had to come in with a lighter shade of purple to correct my error. I also discovered that some of the yellow sharpie (used to outline the design) was still present so I incorporated it into the pattern, treating it as a glow effect. Here is a side by side of the original drawing from Borderlands, progress steps and the final result…

Design Reference

Design Reference

Color Blocking

Color Blocking

Highlight and Shadow

Highlight and Shadow

Skill Lesson #3: Setting and Washing
Now that you have everything painted you can wear and wash, right? Unfortunately, the fabric/textile medium requires 24-48 hours of drying time. If you would like, you can expedite this process by waiting 24 hours then sealing the design/paint in with an iron, hair dryer or a heat gun set on low temperature. Once the paint is heat set it should be safe to wash (if you are worried about the paint washing out test your shading on a spare piece of fabric and wash it to determine how well it keeps). ALWAYS wash on cold and note that some fabrics take better to this process than others (cotton blends are known to keep color longer than silks or lycras so keep in mind that the paint may require some touch up). So what does a complete project look like? Feast your eyes (this took 12 hours from sew to finish):

Final Result

Final Result

Remember that this is NOT a quick fix project. It takes time, patience, dedication and the willingness to make mistakes. For more progress photos on Nisha stop by ThermoCosplay’s Facebook page. Good luck and happy creating!

Summary
Cosplay Tutorial: Cel Shading Clothing
Article Name
Cosplay Tutorial: Cel Shading Clothing
Description
This tutorial uses making clothing for Nisha from the Borderlands Pre-Sequel game to show how cosplayers can make cel shaded clothing.
Author
Publisher Name
FangirlNation
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4 Comments

  1. Dallas May 31, 2015 Reply
    • Samantha Kitts Samantha Kitts June 2, 2015 Reply
  2. Jesse July 21, 2016 Reply
    • Samantha Kitts Samantha Kitts July 24, 2016 Reply

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