Cosplay Tutorials: Adding Depth to Black Paint

Black paint may look fine in real life, but can easily look flat, uninteresting, and featureless when in photos.  Thats why learning to add depth to your black paint is important when making armor or props for cosplay!  Here I will show you an easy and quick way to make your black armor really pop!


  • Armor or prop to paint
  • Black spray paint
  • Secondary spray paint color (I’m using blue in this tutorial)
  • Clear Coat
  • Optional – masking or painters tape


Step 1: Pepare your painting surface

First, make sure your armor or prop is ready for paint.  The armor I’m using is made with EVA foam, so I used Plastidip to prime it.  There are multiple different ways you can prime various materials, so use what works best for you and your project!

Note: It does not matter what material you armor is made of or what primer you use as long as your primer and material are comparable with each other.  For example, EVA foam is soft, so using a flexible primer like Plastidip is much better than priming with something rigid like wood glue. However, if you use Worbla, a rigid primer is fine since the hard plastic isn’t going to bend and flex like foam will.

Step 2: Choose your paints

You’re going to need at least two paint colors.  You’ll need black for your base coat and you’ll need another color, such as blue, for your secondary color.  You can use more colors if you like, but you can achieve a nice paint job with only two.


Your paint colors are going to be dependent on your character and the rest of the costume.  When dealing with video game, anime, and comic book characters with black armor, clothing, or even hair, they are usually not made with pure black for the color.  Instead, they are made with very dark shades of other colors, such as blue, black, green, purple, etc.  (If you’d like more of an explanation on this subject, check out my Youtube Tutorial on painting black with acrylic paints!)

The character I’m making armor for is Kasumi from Dead or Alive 6.  Since the rest of her costume includes a lot of blues, I’m going to be using blue for my secondary color.

Note: I chose to use a lacquer for my paint because I like the quality and finish the paint has, but you can just as easily use any other type of spray paint.  Whatever you choose, just make sure you’re using the same type of paint for everything.  For example, if you use lacquer for your black, you need a lacquer for your secondary color and for your clear coat.  If you use an enamel paint, you need enamel for everything.  

Step 3: Add your Base Coat


Once your primer is fully dry, you’ll need to add your black base coat.  Above, you can see the difference between the piece with the black base coat (right) and the piece without a base coat (left). Let that coat dry.

Tips for applying spray paint:

Always read the direction on the can before starting to paint.  Every kind of spray paint is different and needs to be applied a certain way to achieve the best results.  The directions will tell you useful information such as dry time, re-coat time, and ideal temperature and humidity levels to apply paint in.  Its the temperature is too cold, too hot, or too humid, your paint may take much much longer to dry, or it may not dry completely at all.  You can also have complications such as bubbling or cracking while the paint dries if the conditions are too far off.

Secondly, multiple light coats of paint is better than one thick coat.  If you layer the paint too thick, you can end up with the paint dripping or running.  It isn’t necessary to let the paint dry completely between coats, but waiting until each coat is tacky before coating more will help each layer of paint stick without running.

Step 4: Add your secondary color and blend

After the base coat is on, its time to add the secondary color.  I like to wait until the paint is dry to the touch, but you don’t need to wait the entire dry time before continuing.

Think about where the light would hit your armor or prop most, and focus the secondary color there (left and center photos)  The goal is to use your secondary color as a highlight, so you should focus the color where you think the light would hit, like the center and edges.  For my armor, I focused the blue up and down the center and the top edge only.

Once you have your secondary color on, layer some more black along the outer areas and along lower areas to blend the color out (right photo)  Its ok to layer on more of your secondary color than you think you need at first because you can always layer black over the top to tone it down and blend it. In fact, the more you blend, the better and more natural your color will look.  Continue adding layers of your secondary color and your black until you’re happy with how it looks, but be sure to stop and let the layers dry a bit to keep the paint from getting so thick that it drips.

Note: If you want to and a third color, you can easily layer it with your secondary and black paints during this step as well!  Use your third color the same way you use your secondary color and layer it with the black to create a soft gradient.  

Step 5: Add your clear coat

Once you’re happy with your color gradient, let it dry and can finish it off with a clear coat. You don’t need to wait the entire dry time, but it is best to at least wait until its dry to the touch.  Layer on the clear coat just like you would layer on the spray paint.  Use multiple thin layers and make sure it doesn’t get so thick that it runs or drips.  Wait the entire dry time before handling excessively.

I’m using a lacquer gloss clear coat because my paints are lacquer paints.  Use whatever clear coat matches your spray paint type.

Above you can see the piece of armor with clear coat (right photo) and the piece of armor without clear coat (left photo).

Step 6: Add final touches

The last thing you’ll need to do after painting is add any straps or embellishments you need to complete you armor.  I added some fabric straps, gold metallic wax, and gold acrylic details to finish off my armor.

As you can see from the above photo, the blue paint blends into the black to create a subtle highlight, making the armor appear to have more shine and depth.  It is, in my opinion, much more pleasing to look at that and photographs much better than simply using black on its own.

Below you can see the differences between the armor when it’s primed only, the amor when it has been painted, and the amor after embellishing.  It makes a huge difference!

Painting Black featured

2 thoughts on “Cosplay Tutorials: Adding Depth to Black Paint”

  1. Great tutorial!
    I have been a little hesitant to embrace spray paint, as I always make a mess of it, but the acrylics I tend to use gets damaged during transport way too easily.
    I might give this a try next time I’m painting armor parts 🙂


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