How to use Worbla (Heat Activated Plastic) - Beginner’s Guide
Have you ever tried using Worbla in your makes?
Worbla is a very clever material which can be used for all sorts of projects. It is a heat-activated plastic which can be moulded into whatever shape you wish, becoming soft and malleable when hot and reverting to a hard form plastic when cool. It arrives in sheet-form, and can be cut to the shape you require before heating.
What can I use it for?
Good question! Worbla has grown well-known in Cosplay spheres, because it can easily be used to create armour-like plates and costume additions, but it’s scope is broader still. It can be used to create props, artwork, jewellery…whatever you can dream up, Worbla can have a good go at accomplishing it!
Where can I get it? Is it expensive?
While it it not the cheapest sculpture material to be found, it’s also pretty cost-effective if you make the most of every scrap. You can find it available on Amazon* from various suppliers, and other specialist craft retailers - all at various prices and sizes so shop around for the best deal.
Tip: Never throw any scrap of Worbla away! Even tiny shards can be heated and squished into others to make larger pieces. Worbla can always be re-heated - so even a used and discarded piece will still come in useful later.
How to start experimenting with Worbla:
You will need:
A heat-proof surface to work on, which your Worbla won’t stick to. You don’t want to burn your kitchen table, so make sure you invest in something to protect your surfaces before you start. I use a silicone baking mat* - it can take the heat and the Worbla doesn’t stick to it.
A heat gun or other similar heat source. This is how you will heat your Worbla up, in order to make it soft and squishy. This is the one I use.
A sheet of Worbla. Well, of course. See above for where to get it.
Craft Foam* (optional). This can come in handy for cutting into shapes and sandwiching inside the Worbla. It can help to strengthen structures or create detailing.
A heat proof stick - or something similar, like an old piece of cutlery, to hold small pieces of Worbla down when first getting heated. Sometimes the heat gun can blow smaller pieces off the table before they can get heated, and holding them down under the gun with your finger is NOT AN OPTION.
Making a start:
Make a rough plan for whatever you are going to create. This will help you to only cut what you need to from the Worbla sheet and not waste any. You can draw onto the Worbla sheet with a biro to give yourself a guide for cutting. Worbla is pretty tough when in its hardened state, but can still be cut with a good pair of scissors.
Place the piece of Worbla you are going to heat in the centre of your heat-proof surface. Turn your heat gun on - try it first on a medium setting, and only try a higher setting later if the medium isn’t softening the Worbla. (All heat guns are different, so be careful and go steady, working from cooler to hotter depending on your tool.)
Being careful to keep your hands out of the way of the heat, direct the heat gun air-flow straight downwards onto your Worbla. Depending on the heat, the nozzle may be roughly 5-10cm above the Worbla. I like to agitate the air-flow a little, moving my wrist in small circles, to lessen the direct intensity and reach all areas of the shape I am heating.
Watch the Worbla carefully - you may only need a very short burst of heat to get it soft. If you see it turning very pale and bubbling a little, immediately remove the heat, as the plastic is over-heating and will become too soft and hot to handle.
Whenever you go to check or sculpt your Worbla, turn the heat gun off and place it safely to the side (where you won’t accidentally touch the still-hot nozzle).
Carefully pick up your soft Worbla piece and begin to mould it. The plastic will be very hot, so you may need to keep your fingers moving in order to keep them from being burned. As the Worbla cools, it will become harder to mould - don’t worry about this, as you can keep re-heating sections of your Worbla sculpture to keep it workable as you go along.
Tip: If you are mid-way through a project and need to re-heat an element of your sculpture, bear in mind that any areas connected to it will also get re-heated. Do shorter bursts of heat, from a little further away, to create opportunities for sculpting without melting the bits you are happy with.
You can use craft foam shapes to strengthen your Worbla project and create specific shapely forms…
Cut the craft foam into the desired shape you want.
Trace the shape onto your Worbla sheet twice, but make the edges slightly bigger on each.
Cut out the Worbla shapes.
Heat the pieces of Worbla.
Place the craft foam shape on top of one of the Worbla pieces, then place the second Worbla piece on top of the craft foam. Pinch the bottom and top Worbla edges together to seal in the craft foam.
Mould the sandwiched form as you wish, re-heating as necessary.
Worbla comes in a few different options, (namely brown, black, white and transparent) which means you are most likely going to want to paint your creation later. It takes spray paints very well - and they are great for getting into all the nooks and crannies of your artwork. You can also use acrylic paints on it easily - you may need a couple of coats for base layers, especially on the brown Worbla.
You did it! Celebrate your sculptural artwork and feel all smug, you clever bean.
Let me know how your Worbla experiments come out! Tag me @gemmathepen on Instagram - I’d love to see your results!
Thanks for reading!
Keep making to make happy!
Love Gem x
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