Mass Effect Armor Build- Liara breastplate and shoulders painted

LIARA (Mass Effect) Armor Build: 2. Breastplate continued… detailing and painting

DETAILING: I have to admit right off the bat that I am no expert at detailing. The results have all been passable, but I’ve seen clean in my local stores, so that’s a thing… Regardless, you have some options for making fine details in foam: 1. dremeling, 2. burning (with a wood burning tool), 3. cutting lines and using the heat gun to expand them, and 4. hand sanding. I’ve done a bit of each.

I drew out my details in sharpie on the breastplate and used the above methods to burn/cut lines. By far the cleanest looking lines come from making cuts into the foam with a razor and quickly running the heat gun over them, though they come out quite thin. If you look at the image below, you can see that the outside two lines (those that start at the neck and run down along the sides toward the chest) are nice and neat and thin—they were made with this method. The inner neck details and center lines were made with a wood burning tool.


One thing to think about with the fine lines, however, is that they are sometimes easily filled in by the paint application and appear even smaller. This method is really not an option for larger lines and details, hence the wood burning tool.

(BTW, I bought a wood burning tool at my local craft store for $13.)

DREMEL. BUY A DREMEL. DO IT. DO IT NOW. I used a sanding stone bit on my dremel to smooth and round all edges of all pieces. Hand sanding is an option, but… well… it sucks.

BATTLE DAMAGE: I put several cuts and scrapes in my foam on purpose, knowing I would later paint them to look like battle damage. Be creative! I ended up poking little stab holes in, making large cuts, and even hand-picking at the foam a little to make it look like it’s seen some shit. (Look at the above picture again for reference.)

PRIMING FOR PAINT: After a lot of research (and facebook stalking), I found what I think is the widely accepted method for painting:

  • Step 1, prime your foam with modge podge— This seals it (or closes the cells or something fancy-pantsy) so that you require less of each of the following steps.
  • Step 2, spray at least 3 layers of “plasti dip.” You can get this in “brush on” form too, but the spray distributes way more evenly. And, BONUS, your finished sprayed pieces look a lot like Batman armor. I was tempted just to leave them.
  • Step 3, BASE PAINT. From what I can gather from the internet, you can use pretty much any paint at this point, but the more flexible, the better. So, for instance, if using spray paints, make sure you buy those that say they work on plastic, not just wood and metal.

PAINTING: I have one word for you… LAYERS. The silver parts of this piece are a mash-up of about 5 different silvers. I started with a dark base coat (a gun-metal sort of color), the layered lighter silvers, spraying different areas on purpose to get some spotting and speckles. You can see some of the different silvers below… In this particular case, I was OK with blotches and obvious “mistakes” in the paint since the armor is meant to look battle-worn anyway.

From here, I taped off sections and applied toothpaste… That’s right, TOOTHPASTE… read on.

CRACKED PAINT EFFECTS: The main reason I painted the entire piece with all of the silver layers, even in spots that were ultimately meant to be a different color, is that I planned to leave some “exposed metal” spots in all of the different colored sections. This is where toothpaste comes in. Apply globs to any spots you would like to protect from paint, let them harden (I didn’t wait because I am impatient, and it still worked… just a little harder to clean up later).

Be logical in your decisions for toothpaste placement: I figured some of the gashes I made would have some chipped paint around them. Edges are another obvious spot for weathering.

OK, so obviously there is more to tell about painting. A LOT MORE. I will post again soon with detailing with paint and weathering. But for now, here are some important tips:

  • Layer your paint to avoid a flat look and to keep the paint strong and durable. I used clear coat (glossy in this case) between many of these layers too.
  • Clear coat any layers you plan to apply tape to, and make sure they are REALLY dry before taping. I waited about 24 hours, and the painter’s tape still left marks on the areas to which they were applied. I left these marks and chalked them up to “weathering” and “battle damage,” btw. 😉
  • Cracks do happen quite easily, especially if you bend your pieces after painting… make sure you’ve fully shaped your foam before you start painting. This includes creating your connection points. I carved spots for all buckles before painting!


Below are some teaser images of the finished chest and stomach plates, including the detail paint and weathering. I want to throw it out there that I wasn’t happy with how these pieces were looking during almost the entire process of making them. Even after I painted the details and lines, the colors just looked too… cartoony. It wasn’t until I applied the final coat of “weathering” paint that I liked them! The moral of the story is, don’t be discouraged if your foam pieces don’t look amazing right away. Keep going, try lots of things, and don’t panic. Paint is always re-paintable, and foam is super cheap. OK, now teasers…

Here is finished paint BEFORE weathering…


And here is it AFTER…


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