For foam latex, there are many ways you can paint it, and each way has significantly different materials and its important to look at the positive and negatives of each method. I’ll list the ways you can paint it first, then detail the way we painted our suit. We decided to airbrush our body suit, due to the fact that paint brushes are poorly suited to the task, and using sponges would take way too long.
Materials to paint foam latex with:
What it is: “Rubber Mask Grease for use over foam latex and slush latex
appliances. Creates washes of color by adding a couple drops
of 99% isopropyl alcohol to the RMG and then applying with a
sea sponge for dimensional texture.” (Fx Warehouse)
Pros: Easy to paint with, many colors available, blends well. Easy to clean off of skin.
Cons: Really only good for a small area at a time, such as a face piece or small prosthetic. Really not the best idea for large pieces like a body suit.
What it is: “PAX was originally developed by Oscar winning effects artist, Dick Smith. He was in need of an extremely opaque makeup with a strong Staying power. The original formulation was a 50/50 mixture of Pros-Aide brand prosthetic adhesive and Liquitex acrylic paint. The ingredients form the basis of the name, Pros Aide + LiquiteX. The result is a tacky paint which can be painted on, or airbrushed on if properly thinned. Liquitex was a good choice as the entire line of basic acrylics have been government rated as non-toxic.” (Special FX Wiki)
Pros: You can mix any paint color you want, and make it as opaque or translucent as you want (since prosaide dries clear). It can be applied by brush, sponge, or airbrush (though not easily).
Cons: Not good for a large body area, as prosaide can get expensivein large amount. The cost of the acrylic paint can too if you’re using a ton of colors. While it can be airbrushed, it’s advised to thoroughly clean the airbrush it every time you’re done with a color, because if the mixture dries in your airbrush, it’s going to take a long time to clean it out.
If you don’t use the non tacky Pros-Aide for your PAX it will need to be powdered to keep from sticking to itself. This is also commonly used directly on skin, but make sure you get the right remover or it will hurt when it comes time to take it off.
FW (or acrylic) Ink
What it is: Just plain acrylic ink. I haven’t found a solid tutorial or advice on this yet, just hints here and there, and what I’ve found is if you mix it with some alcohol (like what I do with dyeing wigs), you can sponge or airbrush it onto foam latex.
Pros: Easy to use, mix any color, can be airbrushed.
Cons: Can get expensive if you have several colors to mix, needs to be sealed, such as with Aleen’s flexible fabric glue sprayed on through a paint gun.
Rubber Cement Paint
What it is: A mixture of clear rubber cement, VM&P Naphtha and oil paints. This is very, very toxic, and you must wear protective clothing, gloves, and masks when working with it.
Pros: You can mix any color, any thickness and any opacity. Can be airbrushed if thinned enough.
Cons: Toxic, you have to be careful with this stuff. Can be expensive if you have a lot of colors (as with a lot of other things that are involved with this process…. as we’re learned). The rubber cement can be hard to find as well as the VM&P Naphtha that is used to thin the cement.
Why we chose it: Rubber cement paint was largely used in the special effects industry in the past for foam latex, and is apparently not as widely used because of the toxicity of it. This was the only one that the fit into our budget, and the one we had the most information on thanks to a friend who is a special effects artist and uses this technique on bigger pieces all the time.
Alcohol based paints (such as Skin Illustrator)
Pros: Comes in many colors, you can mix your own colors, can be airbrushed.
Cons: As with many others, can get expensive if you’re using more than a few colors, but these can get even more expensive than the others. A single color of liquid paint is $37 for 2oz. It can also have a strong smell if you’re using the palette and alcohol, and also needs a special remover to take off the skin. I have been told that Pros-Aide remover works on it.
How we did it: As I stated in the Rubber cement section, we used Best Test rubber cement, it was the most available kind. There are others that will work, Barge makes a rubber cement that should work as well but we couldn’t find any to try it.
Warning!!! Make sure you have a well ventilated space and always use proper respiratory protection. This stuff will kill you if you breath the vapors from the Naphtha for any extended time periods.
Mixing the paint: We chose to use mason jars for mixing our paints due to a pretty large volume and the fact that the VM&P Naphtha will melt some plastic containers. The mixing is pretty easy but came down to a lot of trial and error on the amount of oil paints to add to the mix.
We started with a 1 : 1 Naphtha to rubber cement mix. This should blend and homogenize into a clear but still slightly thick mixture. Next I added the paint and blended it into the mix until no chunks of paint were left and the proper color and opacity had been reached.
At this point you can apply the mix with sponge to your piece or if you’re airbrushing you will need to thin the mixture with more Naphtha until you reach a very watery and spray-able consistency. I was advised to use only a single action external mix airbrush for this purpose. After seeing how much this paint stuff likes to stick together and clog I would recommend the Paasche H brush with a #5 tip. We used it for our entire suit. It is very capable of fine details and covering large areas.
Painting and layering colors: For any paint job to look natural it is important to do a variety of colors and shades. For this paint job we started with an underlying shade of pink to add warmth to the body. I would guess that the entire paint job could have as many as 15-25 layers of color to achieve the look we wanted.
After the pinks were applied we started using burnt umber to add the brown hues to the armor plates that make up a large portion of her body form. This was a slow process that took the better part of a day. The paint will also stick to its self until it is completely dried and even then you may need to apply talc powder to remove the adhesive property.
We accented with deep reds and purples to keep in the right color pallet but change the look. A few of paints we worked with were very opaque and covered with the lightest application but a few including the base pink were much more translucent and removed any hope of every going back over and fixing mistakes. This was the first time I had ever done anything on this scale before and I was very overwhelmed at points. There are mistakes that were made, but mostly due my own inexperience as a painter.
Once we started to add the greens and dark browns in to the ribs and legs we realized that we may pull this off yet. The green biceps were always a point of worry due to the fact that they would move when Alice had the suit on and may not line up in the correct anatomical spot.
The suit was painted over a period of days, but was in the area of 35 hours of labor. The end results were amazing considering every single part of the project was a 1st for us. Something to keep in mind though, is that the paint will look different in different light. To us, the paint job was spot on to the statue (in normal light, not in the purple Blizzcon lighting) in our light in the garage, but because of the pink and yellow undertones, it looked very pink and yellow in the bright flash of a camera, or bright stage lights.
That’s it! Good luck with your painting, and let us know if you have any questions!