If you’re a 3D Printing news junkie like me, you’ve probably noticed the upswing in articles about prints inspired by comic books. What you may not know is that the act of dressing up as your favorite comic book character for fun has an official name: cosplay. Cosplay is not a new phenomenon by any means. People have been cosplaying for years, if not decades. Cosplay is a huge part of nerd culture, and when I considered the amount of overlap between the geek-o-sphere and the maker movement, I realized it was only a matter of time before I saw these kinds of prints gaining serious traction on my favorite 3D printing industry publications.

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Having identified this community as a potential sales vertical, the re:3D team ran a booth at Houston’s Comicpalooza to test the waters. Being moderately tapped into the nerd network, I felt I knew what to expect to see at Comicpalooza. However, I noticed that many of my coworkers in the hardware world subscribe to the world of non-fiction, and therefore this culture rooted in fantasy and fiction was foreign to them.

After hearing the same questions over and over all weekend– what is cosplay? why do people dress up like this? why are WE at a comic convention?— I felt some education was in order, not only for my own team, but for the benefit of any industry professionals who might be reading our blog.

This post will hopefully serve as a short guide to those baffled by cosplay and how the community is using 3D printing technology.

“What is cosplay?”

Time for some concrete definitions.

Cosplay happens when a fan dresses up as a character from a comic book, anime, manga, sci-fi or fantasy series. If you’re looking for a technical definition, the best I found online was “The act of gathering raw and ready-made materials to create a 3D object from a 2D reference.” As an article of speech, cosplay can act as both a noun and a verb:

“I will be cosplaying Thor from the Avengers at the Comic Con this weekend.”
“Nice job, man! Your Batman cosplay is amazingly authentic!”

Literally, the word stands for “costume play,” which should give you an idea of the whimsical nature of this hobby. But don’t misunderstand, people take their cosplays seriously. Authenticity is highly important in cosplay. If you can accurately capture and emulate the appearance of a character, it shows you are truly knowledgeable about your fandom. Often, a fan will work on a single costume for months, just to get every detail exactly right. A good cosplayer will never debut their costume before they feel it is “ready” to be seen by other fans. For this reason, the highest compliment you can pay a cosplayer is to ask them one simple question: “Do you mind posing for a photograph for my blog?” The answer will always be, “Of course!” Cosplays are meant to be shared.

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“Why do people dress up like this?”

The same appreciation that drives a sports fan to wear a jersey to a live match drives a fantasy fan to cosplay. At nearly any celebration of a fandom (such as a midnight movie premier or a viewing party for the premier of a serialized television show) you will see people in cosplay. The idea is to embody your favorite character to show appreciation or deep knowledge of a series. There is, of course, a bit of escapism at play– what Star Wars fan wouldn’t want to be Han Solo for a day?

What’s more, the cosplayer relishes the challenge of creating something seemingly impossible—to recreate a real, human representation of a fictional character. A fair amount of craft and skill goes into cosplay. Many cosplayers are also full-time artists and consider cosplay a legitimate form of artistic expression.

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However, at the end of the day, I believe people are drawn to cosplay and Comic Conventions because of the community. A sense of acceptance and camaraderie is found amongst cosplayers on the Comic Con floor. It’s nerds admiring and appreciating the dedication of other nerds. You don’t get a sense of cliques– the Trekies don’t butt heads with the Star Wars devotees. Comic Conventions are celebrations of nerd culture. You go to meet friends, see celebrities, purchase collectibles, attend panels, and admire cosplay craftsmanship.

“Why are WE at a comic convention?”

In case it hasn’t been stressed enough, I’ll say it again: authenticity is key in a good cosplay. Because one can achieve a high level of detail and precision in CAD designs, and because many fantasy characters are born from graphic design anyway (i.e. video games, anime, cartoons), 3D printing becomes a very attractive option to the serious cosplayer looking to make a legit cosplay. Another benefit of 3D printing is that you can tinker with designs until you achieve custom fit when it comes to armor and props. What’s more, 3D printing filament is sometimes more affordable per cubic centimeter than traditional cosplay materials.

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And, much to my relief, Comicpalooza attendees understood our presence in their space. I couldn’t tell you how many people took one look and Gigabot and said “Wow! You could make great costumes with that thing!” Something that blows my mind about the articles I referenced earlier is that those human-sized prints were made on printers with a relatively small build envelope when compared to Gigabot. The cosplay community recognizes the advantages of Gigabot’s massive build envelope, and I hope they’ll be quick to adopt our technology.

Where do we go from here?

The long and short of it is that 3D printed costumes and props are accurate, affordable, and increasingly common sights on the ComicCon event floor. Though it’s still a bit too early to tell, I think I can say that re:3D’s first foray into the cosplay community was a success. As I have seen our friends in the community sponsor cosplay artists and ask them to appear on their behalf at industry events, I wouldn’t be surprised if we began to see them appear alongside us at nerd culture events. We have all but finalized a booth at a second ComicCon in Austin this coming August, so stay tuned for more details on that as it is finalized. If you missed out on our giveaways at Comicpalooza, this could be your chance to enter to win again!

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If you would like to chat about 3D printing and cosplay, feel free to give me a shout at rebecca@re3d.org, or find me on twitter @rpr_rebecca. I’d love to explore this more with you!

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