Cosplaying is bigger than ever, and cosplayers are some of the most committed fans you could ever meet. 60% of cosplayers describe themselves as superfans, 36% have spent between $201-$400 on their most expensive costume, and 8.8% of fans have spent more than $600!
But what if you could make your own completely custom costumes and props, at a fraction of the cost, and on-demand?
Enter 3D printers for cosplays.
So if you’ve ever wanted to 3D print:
- This awesome petrified blade from Monster Hunter Generations
- A clone wars storm trooper helmet
- Or the Wingman from Apex Legends
Then this is the article for you.
What is cosplaying?
Cosplaying is effectively dressing up as your favorite sci-fi character. That could be a superhero, video game, film, TV, or even a historical reenactment character.
Here’s some facts and stats:
- Video game characters and anime characters are by far the two most popular types of cosplay, with live action film and comic book characters a distant third and fourth respectively.
- Cosplaying is fairly new to mainstream attention but has grown as conventions for different fandoms become more commonplace. In Japan alone, the cosplay market was worth 35 billion Yen ($320m) back in 2019.
- Obsession is standard for ardent cosplayers: 7.1% of cosplayers make or buy 9 or more costumes per year, and 64% of cosplayers go to at least 3 events per year.
3D printers can print almost anything within their build area – no matter the geometry. You might have to print with supports if it has overhangs, but they can be easily removed and sanded so you’ll barely notice they were there.
And what’s more, 3D printing materials like PLA cost just around $20 per kilo, so you can create incredible props and costume accessories for far cheaper than any shops sell them for — if they even do sell them.
For avid cosplayers wanting something completely custom to show off at your next convection, 3D printers free you from slow manual making or expensive niche costume shops and put you in control of your look. All you need is the 3D file, and hundreds of thousands of those are available online for free or cheap — or you can design the model yourself.
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The best 3D printers for cosplay
1. Flashforge Adventurer 3 Lite — best cheap 3D printer for cosplay props and accessories
- Price: $339 — Available at Flashforge Official store here / Available on Amazon here
- Build area: 150 x 150 x 150 mm
- Best for: accessories, brooches, small weapons, and making larger costumes in multiple parts
Starting with the cheapest and smallest 3D printer for cosplays, the Adventurer 3 is a great choice because it’s beginner-friendly, so any cosplayers without a background in 3D printing will be able to get printing right away.
You don’t have to build it — it comes ready to plug in and print — and another great feature is that it auto-levels, so you don’t have to manually level the print bed every few prints.
It’s also enclosed, especially useful if you’re planning on 3D printing cosplay costumes from ABS, as the enclosure keeps the smelly fumes out, and better temperature control prevents it from warping and ruining your print.
However, it is a small printer, so any huge 3D printed cosplay props will require several parts to be printed separately and glued together.
If you’re particularly interested in printing big parts, read on for some bigger 3D printers for cosplay costumes.
2. Creality Ender 5 Pro
- Price: $399 — Available on Creality Store here / Available on Amazon here
- Build area: 220 x 220 x 300 mm
For slightly more than the Adventurer 3 Lite you can pick up the Creality Ender 5 Pro. It’s a lot bigger, and should be capable of printing all but the largest 3D printed cosplays and costume props, but it is a kit so you will have to spend an hour or so assembling it.
The Ender 5 Pro is greatly improved on the original Ender 5, with a new upgraded motherboard with extra power, for a more precise printing experience – key for 3D printing cosplay accessories like brooches or other jewelry. This upgraded motherboard also prints much quieter.
Read more: the quietest 3D printers
The new metal extruder is also great for cosplay 3D printer fans. The improved extrusion better controls filament feeding, helping prevent clogs and jams that can ruin your print and potentially waste dozens of hours of work, and should better be able to handle large amounts of filament being melted quickly for printing at larger layer heights.
It’s not as beginner-friendly as some other 3D printers for cosplay making on this list. It doesn’t come pre-assembled, can’t auto-level, but offers a very large build area for the price, and those with more experience with 3D printers can make cosplays with this without issue. And, if you run into any trouble you can contact Creality, who will help within 24 hours with their technical assistance.
3. Qidi Tech X-Plus
- Price: $699 — Available on Amazon here
- Build area: 270 x 200 x 200 mm
For an extra $300 you can upgrade to the Qidi Tech X-Plus, a workhorse 3D printer for cosplay props that comes ready to print right away out the box.
An important upgrade on X-Plus is the Z-axis system, keeping the printer stable and precise, especially when printing larger models. This is key if you want to print entire costumes and don’t want to lose quality.
A great feature is it comes with two different nozzles, so you can switch between them based on what material you want to print. Standard filaments like PLA and ABS work fine on the first nozzle, but if you want to print tougher Nylon parts, or even use PP, PC, or carbon fiber, you can switch to the higher temperature nozzle.
If you’re looking to 3D print enormous cosplay weapons from your favorite show, do not fret, as Qidi Tech 3D printers have been used to print an entire 1:1 scale life-size Lamborghini replica in the past!
4. Qidi Tech X-Max
- Price: $1,099 — Available on Amazon here
- Build volume: 300 x 250 x 300 mm
For an even bigger and more premium 3D printer for making cosplays, consider the Qidi Tech X-Max. You can print even wider and taller costumes, props, and more in the large build area, and like other Qidi Tech 3D printers, it’s enclosed in a strong metal frame for better precision and stability — preventing vibrations from affecting print quality.
Like the X-Plus you get two sets of extruders for whether you’re 3D printing standard costume parts from PLA, or for when you’re printing higher temperature materials. And like the X-Plus, the X-Max has a very durable double Z-axis structure to maintain stability when printing larger cosplay parts.
Overall, Qidi Tech have gained a reputation for reliability over the years, and the large build area, beginner-friendliness of a pre-assembled and enclosed 3D printer makes it one of the best 3D printers for making cosplays.
5. Ultimaker S3 — best cosplay 3D printer
- Price: $4,080 — Available on Dynamism here / Available on Matterhackers here
- Build volume: 230 x 190 x 200 mm
If money is no concern or you’re just super committed to cosplaying and no expense can be spared, Ultimaker 3D printers are some of the best in the business and guarantee you fantastic prints every time.
The Ultimaker S3 has a smaller build volume, but if you’re willing to spend even more you can instead pick up the S5 for larger prints, with a build volume of 330 x 240 x 300 mm.
For precise prints, the Ultimaker S3 and S5 can print with up to 20-micron resolution, ideal for smaller, intricate 3D printed cosplay accessories that need to look perfect. However, for larger parts, this will cause your prints to take days, and possibly even weeks, so keep the high resolution only for precise models.
Ultimaker 3D printers can also print two materials or colors simultaneously as they are dual extruder 3D printers, so if you want to print soluble filaments that dissolve away for flawless parts, you can, and you can also print multi-colored cosplay costumes and props without needing to paint them after.
These printers are commercial-level 3D printers, and are used in more professional settings. That said, if you really take your cosplay game seriously, an Ultimaker will never let you down, delivering flawless 3D printed cosplay helmets, armor, props and more, without fail.
How can 3D printers help with making cosplays?
The versatility of making 3D printed parts changes the game, especially with the prizes at conventions for the best costumes.
The 3D printer for cosplays you need depends on what you specifically want it for. If you’re planning on just printing intricate, small-ish accessories, the printer’s size won’t matter too much. However, if you want to produce entire body armor, unless you want to print it in dozens of parts and weld them together (affecting strength as these areas will have weak spots), you’ll want a larger 3D printer.
Therefore, you’ll need to understand the size of your design, what kind of durability you need from the costume — and therefore what activities you plan to undertake while wearing the costume/prop — if the prop needs to be extra light, and a variety of other factors we’ll explain.
Factors for 3D printing cosplays
Here are the main factors to consider, and we have recommended the best cosplay 3D printers according to your priorities for each factor:
Weight, color, and aesthetics of your cosplay prop/costume
The more solid the infill of your print, the heavier it will naturally be. You may need tougher armor or a tough sword for fun play at a convention, but for a costume, you may want to keep it light to avoid lugging too much weight around. Filaments deviate in weight, too. Nylon is one of the heaviest, while PP, HIPS, and ABS are pretty light.
You’ll probably want to pick a filament with a wide color range. The most commonly used filaments naturally have the widest color ranges, but PLA, ABS and PETG stock most colors, particularly PLA which offers almost any finish or style you could dream of.
Filaments can also be post-processed for different looks. For example, you can print with ABS and then acetone smooth it for a glossy finish, while filaments like PETG have a naturally glossy finish.
3D printer size
We’ve touched on this already, but knowing the size of your current or future cosplay projects is key to not regretting your purchase. Brooches and most guns are small, but swords and armor are big, and the larger your 3D printer’s build volume, the more likely you are to be able to print it in one piece, or at least fewer pieces to glue together.
But size comes with its own issues. The larger the print, the more layers and time it takes to print — and for something to go wrong. Moreover, if a large print does fail, you lose much more than if a small piece of your cosplay costume gets ruined.
The speed vs precision trade-off
Cosplay costumes and large accessories like big hammers, guns, and swords are some of the biggest hobbyist 3D printing projects around. At standard resolutions of 0.05mm to 0.2mm, these huge models can take several days to print.
One way to overcome this, especially on more basic shapes like armor, is to increase the layer heights and use a larger nozzle. A larger nozzle and bigger layer heights means you’re extruding more filament at once, and the fewer layer heights the quicker the print gets done.
However, this method has its own limitations. If you’re planning on extruding large amounts of filament at once with big layer heights, you’ll need a powerful hot end that can quickly heat and melt this much material before it’s extruded, or you’ll face issues with not-quite-melted filament, clogs, and jams.
For further reading:
Finding cosplay 3D printer files
With a 3D printer, you can take advantage of other people’s creativity: there are thousands of cosplay helmets, swords and more all over Thingiverse for free, or available cheaply on sites like MyMiniFactory.
- For a full list, check out our article on the best sites for STL files.
Once you’ve got your printer, all you have to pay for is the PLA or other filament, and you’re ready to go.
You can make things like detailed gear and costumes, bows and arrows, broaches and amulets, hammers, swords, guns and laser shooters, full sets of armor, pins, and buttons, and so much more.
We wish you the best of luck on your cosplay 3D printing adventure, and hope our article helped you make the right decision so you can impress your friends at your next convention!