Back in 2001 I made what you could probably call my first cosplay. It was a Vash the Stampede costume made primarily out of red duct tape. I’d share a picture but that was before the age of ubiquitous digital photography and I have none. Fourteen years later, I have come to a point where I spend as much time and money making buttons for a new costume as I did on that entire first project. I think of this as a sign of leveling up.
In hopes of saving you some of the time I spent experimenting, I thought I’d share the process I landed on.
My first step was to model the button in 3D. I used Blender. I chose it mostly because it’s free, but it is a pretty powerful open source modelling tool. It’s built for artistic work rather than drafting, so getting precise dimensions was a pain, but possible.
I put the Hyrule Crest on what would be a 1″, slightly domed button, with a post back.
Next, I printed the button. I have the advantage of having access to a 3d printer. They’re becoming a lot more common, and a lot of libraries have them for either free or inexpensive use now. Otherwise, check if you have a hackerspace or makerspace in your area. Even with the printer, it took several tries to get a clean print. The printer I have isn’t super fond of sharp corners or large, flat areas.
With a clean positive, I could make a mold. I used Smooth-On Dragon Skin 30. It’s pretty easy to work with, makes a durable and flexible mold that can cope with the heat from molten pewter. Also, as you can see below, it picks up detail really well. I made a two part mold, using Vaseline as a separating agent between the two sides and a tuna can as the container.
The rings in the bottom of the can help align the mold during casting, though I should have also had a couple of locating bumps, as well. That is most easily done by putting down little hemispheres when casting the first half of the mold, and then letting the second half fill those divots.
I cast the buttons in pewter because I like the weight and feel of metal buttons. I could have easily used a resin as well, possibly adding some bronze powder for a cold-casting effect. But I elected to cast in pewter and paint them up gold.
I happen to have an old melting pot that makes my life easy. But you can cast pewter in an empty tuna can on a normal stove if you want to. The tin-bismuth pewter that I use melts at about 150°C (280°F), so you’re in more danger of making it too hot than not being able to melt it.
I used talcum powder as a mold release. I find it works well with pewter as it helps insulate the mold and seems to improve flow. Also, it smells nice.
If you’ve never worked with molten metal, I recommend it highly. The burns can suck, but it’s so cool to play with a liquid mirror. After years of working in a casting shop, I will still spend time swirling the molten metal around and watching things melt into it.
The mold was good enough that the buttons required very little cleanup after casting. I just needed to cut off the pouring spout portion and drill a hole. Also, the mold wasn’t so tightly sealed that I needed other vents for the air to escape. Normally it’s a good idea to have an overflow gate in tight areas and at least one vent if you’re doing gravity casting, to avoid trapped air.
I finished them by painting them gold and then aging them a bit by adding lowlights with a brown ink. I think they look rather classy adorning my absurdly violet tailcoat.