Costume Musings

Worbla Black: Everything you need to know (and why it’s awesome!)

It’s been a while since we’ve done a blog post, and part of that has been because we’ve been working hard over the end of summer convention rush. One of the most exciting things to come out of that hard work has been the newest in Worbla’s line of thermoplastics: Worbla’s Black Art, now available for pre-order!

Image from Erza Cosplay

Image from Erza Cosplay

Worbla’s Black Art (WBA, Worbla Black or Black Worbla, depending on naming conventions) takes the aspects of Worbla’s Finest Art (the ‘original’ Worbla, so to speak) and adjusts it specifically with cosplayers and crafters in mind. There are some fantastic benefits – but also some setbacks – to the new material, and I want to give you as FULL a possible breakdown on this new thermoplastic as possible.

So let’s go!

(Most of this blog will be written with the assumption that you’re familiar with the properties of Worbla’s Finest Art and will be comparing Worbla Black to it.)

Worbla Black, compared to Worbla’s Finest, is made of plastic entirely instead of plastic and cellulose. This gives it a smoother finish and a bit more strength, especially when stretched over complex curves. It’s a bit less tacky, but still has the adhesive properties of Worbla’s Finest and it is still 100% recyclable.

What does this mean for use? Well:

Worbla Black Is Smoother:
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Worbla Black on the left, Worbla's Finest on the right. 1 coat of silver acrylic applied to show texture.

Worbla Black on the left, Worbla’s Finest on the right. 1 coat of silver acrylic applied to show texture. Click images to enlarge.

Worbla Black has a texture similar to EVA foam when shaped and painted directly. It means for items where a small amount of texture is acceptable or desired (a wood finish, for example) Worbla Black can be used without any priming. The surface of Worbla Black is a bit more fragile to marks that will show, therefore, so you’ll want to be careful of leaving things like nail imprints in your piece. (You can see one on the bottom of the left ‘leaf’ of the above piece.)

What if you want things even smoother?
One of the most common primers for Worbla’s Finest Art is Wood Glue, due to it being cheap and easy to apply and source. After many tests with Worbla’s Black Art, we strongly do not recommend wood glue for Worbla’s Black Art. WBA is not slightly porous the way that WFA is, and as a result the wood glue does not ‘bond’. While it will sit and somewhat ‘float’ over flat areas of WBA, it will crack and easily flake off of complex curves.
Similarly, Gesso does not bond well to WBA and I personally found it badly flaked off in large chunks when I attempted to sand the gesso smooth.

My first attempt at wood glue on a bracer. When I flexed the bracer to put it on, the glue cracked like so - and I was able to peel it off completely.

My first attempt at wood glue on a bracer. When I flexed the bracer to put it on, the glue cracked like so – and I was able to peel it off completely.

Heavy body gesso, applied in 2 coats. When I attempted to sand with a medium and fine weight of sandpaper, the gesso came off in large sections.

Heavy body gesso, applied in 2 coats. When I attempted to sand with a medium and fine weight of sandpaper, the gesso came off in large sections.

Here the wood glue has started to peel away from the WBA, but is still one piece. Sections of the glue are now just floating over the bracelet. If I were to knock the bracelet against anything hard, the glue (and any paint on top) would crack off.

Here the wood glue has started to peel away from the WBA, but is still one piece’. Sections of the glue are now just floating over the bracelet. If I were to knock the bracelet against anything hard, the glue (and any paint on top) would crack off.

Okay, what SHOULD you use for priming Worbla Black?
There are a few products that can give a very smooth and possibly (with enough sanding and work) glossy finish for Worbla Black.
1) Mod Podge: I suggest this for anyone who can’t spray a product and can’t find a retailer for Flexbond. Mod Podge flexes fantastically with Worbla Black and adheres to the surface very well. It’s inexpensive, fairly easy to source (and cosplaysupplies.com will soon be carrying it!) and gives a smooth surface without much time. Click any of the following images to enlarge.

Mod Podge base with black acrylic paint and silver spraypaint. The biggest texture is from the brushstrokes of the mod podge.

Mod Podge base with black acrylic paint and silver spraypaint. The biggest texture is from the brushstrokes of the mod podge.

Mod Podge flexes with the WBA without any cracking or peeling.

Mod Podge flexes with the WBA without any cracking or peeling.

We tried 4 different types of Mod Podge, Matte, Gloss, Satin and Super Gloss. All gave a similar finish to paint over, save for the Super Gloss.

We tried 4 different types of Mod Podge, Matte, Gloss, Satin and Super Gloss. All gave a similar finish to paint over, save for the Super Gloss.

Here the slight 'run' in the black you see is from Mod Podge Super Gloss, which I found very thick and prone to running.

Here the slight ‘run’ in the black you see is from Mod Podge Super Gloss, which I found very thick and prone to running, but did cover the texture of the Worbla Black the most in 2 coats.

2)Flexbond:
Flexbond is a Rosco product. It’s a theatrical adhesive (not the tile grout) and can be a bit hard to find/annoying to buy as it comes in 1 gallon containers, but when I can’t use a spray primer or am working around a lot of tiny detail, Flexbond is my favourite primer. Why? Because it self levels. Flexbond has a surface tension that means things like brush strokes will even themselves out (unlike mod podge) and Flexbond is flexible and does not crack or peel. It also works great to seal foam and it’s been my go to product for priming Worbla’s Finest Art for a year now. (You can see my breakdown of primers for Worbla’s Finest Art here.) Click images to enlarge.

Two coats of Flexbond, no sanding or other priming, silver spraypaint.

Two coats of Flexbond, no sanding or other priming, silver spraypaint.

Close up of the Flexbond-Primed finish.

Close up of the Flexbond-Primed finish.

3)Autobody Primer:
Specifically, high-build filler primer. (Sometimes called Automotive spray or Primer Sealer) This stuff was just introduced to me and when I can spray a primer (ie: the weather is good, I have access to the outside) I will use this for most of my Worbla Black work. It takes only 2 coats and some sanding to get a fantastically smooth finish, and I expect if you were to pair this with lacquer and some more dedicated sanding you could get a perfectly glossy finish. I use the Rust-Oleum brand because that’s available locally. It flexes with curves well and doesn’t chip easily.

Left: Worbla's Finest Art. right, Worbla's Black Art. 2 coats of rustoleum primer, sanded for about 5 minutes each, then copper spray paint applied in 1 coat.

Left: Worbla’s Finest Art. right, Worbla’s Black Art. 2 coats of rustoleum primer, sanded for about 5 minutes each, then copper spray paint applied in 1 coat. Click image to enlarge.

Okay it’s smooth, cool! What ELSE can it do?

Worbla’s Black Art can take incredibly small detailing and shapes.

If you want to achieve the smallest of rolled details, use a ruler to roll the Worbla Black thin.

If you want to achieve the smallest of rolled details, use a ruler to roll the Worbla Black thin.

Erza Cosplay created this bracer - look at the fine sculpted detail she achieved!

Erza Cosplay created this bracer – look at the fine sculpted detail she achieved. You can watch a video of the build process here on Facebook.

Worbla’s Black Art allows for more mistakes and guesswork:
Worbla Black is less tacky when heated, compared to Worbla’s Finest, which makes it easy to reposition a detail piece that you’ve placed wrong without tearing the surface layer. The adhesive quality is still as strong: as always, attach details and pieces by having both parts heated – don’t apply a hot piece to a cold piece or it may not properly bond.

Worbla’s Black Art is stronger than Worbla’s Finest and doesn’t stretch thin over complex curves.
Worbla’s Finest can get thin and weak when stretched, but Worbla Black keeps a similar thickness – so you won’t have to use a double layer of Worbla Black for chest plates and extreme curves by default (the way you do with WFA).

Worbla's Finest is traditionally doubled in areas like this.

Worbla’s Finest is traditionally doubled in areas like this.


Worbla Black is more resilient over a stretched curve...

Worbla Black is more resilient over a stretched curve. (Yes, I’m pressing down hard!)

Well, what are the downsides? What doesn’t work?

Because Worbla Black is – well, black, it is harder to ‘see’ if you’ve layered foam underneath for detailing; as a result, if you have lots of small foam details it can be hard to press the Worbla into all the grooves. If you need to emboss a piece, you may want to emboss it first and then fold over the edges or sandwich the Worbla Black for the best effect.

Because Worbla Black is a little more robust against stretching, if you’re ‘carving’ details into it or trying to shape it when it’s not properly activated (ie: warm but not warm enough) you can tear it, and trying to stretch the material too far (especially over eva foam details) will also tear it.

Because Worbla Black is less tacky/sticky when heated than Worbla’s Finest, if you use the ‘folding’ method over another material, you will need to use a larger edge to fold over. Worbla Black does not stick to foam or bristol board/card stock as well as Worbla’s Finest does. (It does stick – it just doesn’t stick as well. The sandwich method still works just fine.)

In addition for the less tacky/sticky aspect, if you don’t adhere your pieces properly together with Worbla Black, they may separate. As always, make sure you’re attaching hot to hot when joining pieces of any Worbla product.

Worbla Black is harder to overheat or ‘burn’, but once you do overheat it, it will become very glossy and ‘melted’ and smell a bit chemical.
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Plus, there’s always some things that are both good and bad depending on what you need!

Worbla Black is much less prone to air bubbles: where gas from the EVA foam escapes and makes a bubble under the worbla surface that has to be popped. These usually occur in Worbla’s Finest when you’re reshaping and reheating a piece that has foam. This rarely happens in Worbla Black: instead, because (again) of the less tacky surface, Worbla black can sometimes peel away from sections of the foam when re-heated and re-shaped. You don’t need to pop these bubbles or areas – just press them down with your fingers.

Worbla Black also has a bit of a memory – it will spring back into shape when heated more than Worbla’s Finest Art does, so if you are sculpting fine details into something 3-dimensional, you’ll need to be careful about heat application.

Worbla Black shapes at the same temperature as Worbla’s Finest, but heats up faster and stays hot longer: it can be a bit harder to work with because of the heat and some people may require gloves. The longer working time can be great for some things, but if you need to speed up the cooling process we suggest keeping a ice pack handy.

Because Worbla Black is, again, black – painting something white or other light shades will take several more coats than it would compared to Worbla’s Finest Art. Always keep that in mind when budgeting for your paint and paint time!

All right, what about…?

Here’s our FAQ


Does Worbla Black Art work with Worbla’s Finest and TranspArt? Does it work with Wonderflex and other thermoplastics?

Yes, absolutely. the adhesives in Worbla Products do work well together, though you should always test your joins. You can also combine your scraps of Finest Art and Worbla Black together when recycling for new material.

Is Worbla Black non-toxic like Worbla’s Finest is?
Absolutely! It doesn’t have the nice sawdust/cookie smell of Worbla’s Finest (Worbla Black smells like regular plastic) but it is non toxic when heated and the smell is very mild. Just like Worbla’s Finest Art, however, if you are melting Worbla Black with a hot knife or using a laser cutter, make sure you’re in a well ventilated area and use a respirator. The fumes when Worbla is melted are not-toxic, but can be noxious.

Does Worbla Black work and shape at the same temperature as Worbla’s Finest?
Yes! 90C or 195F.

Is Worbla Black going to melt in the heat if it heats up easier than Worbla’s Finest?
Truthful answer: We don’t know for sure.
Practical answer: It shouldn’t. Even though Worbla Black heats faster than Worbla’s Finest, it still needs to reach a certain temperature to get soft. As always, don’t leave your Worbla in a hot car/shed/etc, but general wear should be just fine. Of course, if you’re going to be cosplaying in Death Valley, please keep an eye on your Worbla and perhaps limit your time in the heat before seeking out Air Conditioning.

There was a beta test phase. How did people get chosen/how can I become a beta tester?
Our Beta testers were pulled almost entirely from people who either a) have tutorials or work or both on Worbla.com, b) regularly blog tutorials on other products and we knew they would give us a good example of work with their Worbla Black, or c) are cosplayers who regularly host panels on armor, Worbla or Thermoplastics in general.
If you’d like to be considered the next time we have a product to test, make and share tutorials (if they’re Worbla based, never hesitate to send them to amanda@worbla.com) and if they use any of the products featured on CosplaySupplies.com you can send your tutorials to Orders@cosplaysupplies.com. If you host panels on thermoplastics, let us know – Cosplaysupplies is happy to give handout samples to skilled panelists. Our beta testers were also all based in Canada and the USA: the European testers were handled by Cast4Art.

I have a question not answered here!
Email Amanda@worbla.com and I’ll try to answer you as best as I can!

Want to see what people have made with Worbla’s Black Art so far? Take a look!

Harley Quinn Breastplate by Lanthea Cosplay

Harley Quinn Breastplate by Lanthea Cosplay

Nightshift Cosplay made this breastplate.

Nightshift Cosplay made this breastplate.

More examples by Cast4Art and MeltingMirror.
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Category: Cosplay, Worbla | Tags: | 2 comments |

2 Comments

  1. Aroha
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    I’ve only just discovered Worbla and I thought all my Christmases had come at once. I’m a multimedia artist and am using Worbla to make armour for puppets/figures. Thank heavens I found this before I started trying to smooth with gesso and wood glue!
    Many thanks.

  2. Aroha
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    PS I should have said I’m using black Worbla. I’m in New Zealand.

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