How To Make Your Cosplay Look Beat Up And Gritty

Between street fighters, zombie survivors and tomb raiders, being a video game character is dangerous work. They go through hell and back, so it doesn't really make sense for them to come out looking squeaky clean on the other side. If you're looking to take your cosplay to the next level, look no further — a little blood, grime and dirt is all it takes.

Photo by What A Big Camera / Hayley Elise

EB Expo isn't really known as a cosplay convention, so for the past two years I've found myself throwing together a quick and easy costume instead of bothering with anything too intense. My most recent cosplay of Jessica from Until Dawn, like my Wii Fit Trainer costume of 2013 fame, was bought entirely from retail stores (Cotton On had a sale, $80 for a full costume!), and sorely needed something to turn it from a regular outfit into a legitimate cosplay. As it turns out, that 'something' is a whole heap of blood.

Want to add some battle damage to your own costume? Read on for a couple of tips and tricks to look like you've been beaten up — with only a little bit of pain.


Video characters can accumulate everything from bruises and scrapes to life threatening injuries — and even more, if they are of the undead persuasion — and there are just as many ways to create these effects for your own costumes. For my Jess makeup, I used pre-made gash prosthetics from a local SFX makeup artist's store but you can also design your own if you have basic SFX supplies.

Liquid latex is the liquid gold of makeup artists — with just some tissue paper and a bottle of latex, you can create any kind of damaged skin that your heart desires. Just tear it up and dab the pieces onto your skin with some latex on a makeup sponge. You can also sculpt a more defined scar or gash with scar wax — again, covering it with latex can help to blend the texture with your skin.

Right: Soylent Cosplay by Charmaine Morgan

If you're after something more subtle, it's worth looking into an SFX makeup product called 'rigid collodion'. This is a clear gel that shrinks as it dries, puckering your skin into recessed lines that perfectly simulate scars. The more layers you apply, the more extreme the effect will be. Painting a touch of fake blood in the scar recession makes for the perfect shallow yet fresh scratch. A freshly bleeding graze can even be faked with just a spoonful of regular old strawberry jam, of all things. You'd be surprised how many of the things found in your kitchen can be used to fake an injury — just stay away from the tomato sauce, it doesn't make nearly as good a fake blood substitute as most people seem to think.


Meagan Marie by Chris Fink

If you walk into any SFX makeup store, you'll see a hundred different types of blood. Congealed blood, stage blood, edible blood, even a browny-green kind of blood that can is used for creating undead characters. If you're buying one of these, choose carefully. Think about how viscous you want your blood to be, and what kind of colour would suit your vision best. Do you want it to smear or do you want it to stay dark and gathered in one place? Is the blood on your character meant to look fresh, or is it already old and dried?

If none of the store-bought blood suits you — or if you just want to experiment — you can always make your own blood at home. There are thousands of recipes for fake blood online; my favourite is made with glucose (you can get jars of it in the baking section at the supermarket), food dye and a little cocoa powder. The latter is the most important ingredient in my experience — not only does it make your blood taste delicious and chocolatey, it also makes it dry dark and brownish, just like real blood. When mixing your colours up, don't just add some red and call it a day. A healthy splash of yellow is needed to take the pink tones out, as well as the tiniest touch of blue.


Jenn Croft by Superhero Photography

If your character is covered in blood, wounds and bruises, it's likely they're going to be just a little bit dirty as well. Or maybe a lot. Like SFX blood, makeup stores will usually stock a collection of simulated dirt powders in different tones. There's a hundred different ways to apply these — the best way is to take a big powder brush and dab it all over, but you can also get a friend to blow a big handful at you for a windblown look. You can even get some on your fingertips and smudge it in the places you're likely to touch your face or arms. Try to keep it a bit random — fake dirt that's too even will often end up looking like poorly applied bronzer.

If you're already planning on raiding your kitchen for supplies, you don't have the buy the specialist powders at all. Instead, grab some powdered coffee for the most realistic looking dirt you can get without actually going outside. If you have a fireplace in your home, why not grab a handful of actual ashes and charcoal? Consider real dirt a last resort — you don't really want that all over your face.

Are you planning your own battle-damaged costume, or perhaps you've already done one? Tell us in the comments!


    I've got a cheap 140 colour eye shadow pallet that comes in really handy. The colours are pigmented and there's enough variety in there to make a bunch of different colours.

      If it's the same one I have, I LOVE IT. Used it for bruises and all sorts of things for this makeup.

    How about weathering on supposedly metallic objects? Rub n Buff/Dry brushing?

      I'm a huge fan of dry brushing. I did some dry brushing of acrylic paints over silver spray paint for my lantern for this same costume , and it looked perfectly rusted with just a little bit of metallic shine.

        Thanks, my Pip Boy needs to look not-pristine (though the Vault Suit I'm wearing with it is pretty new looking, might walk over it a couple times)

    My plan for a Max Payne outfit was to vigorously pretend to play paintball in it.
    (I mean like... play for keeps. Diving into gullies and trenches, charging through fire to slam into cover, catching splinters on obstacles and trees. I've completely destroyed a pair of boots doing that and it did a fair number on the rest of my clothes, so it seems like a perfect plan. Bonus bruises to boot!)

    (Also: Thanks for the article. :) )

    Last edited 06/10/15 4:37 pm

      I know I just focussed on makeup here, but doing the fabric is the fun part. For blood stains and grime I use a spray bottle with some water and gouache paint and go to town, adding more paint or water to strengthen or dilute it. Then you can grab a coarse file and really go at the knees and elbows and any other stress points to rough it up. You can also use sandpaper but I've found a file rips through it easier and more convincingly. Bleach is also good to fade small sections, and coffee and tea dying is classic!

    I tried the whole cocoa+glucose fake blood thing a few years back. It didn't really seem to work for me, the stuff just stayed too globby and sticky and looked fresh even days later, not dried-out like I wanted it to. Also it looked wrong, the cocoa just looked like particles dispersed in a liquid. Tried a number of difference variations on the recipe but they all turned out pretty much the same. I was only using it as decoration on a "zombie's postcard" though, rather than using it on myself.

    In the end I resorted to using one of my old staple guns from highschool to shoot myself in the fingers to get the real deal :P Though it still ended up a little more red than I was expecting/hoping for even after leaving to dry for a few days. But eh, ended up winning the competition I was doing it for in the end, so I guess it all worked out.

      You are a crazy person.

        It was way back in early 09, I like to think I've mellowed out since then :P

      You shot yourself with a staple gun just to get blood for a costume? You are a crazy person...

        Well I wanted to just prick my finger with a pin but I couldn't make myself do it. So I had to take me out of the equation. And it wasn't for a costume, just a small amount for smearing across an item for a picture. Perfectly reasonable :P

        I would've been totally set if I was still as prone to nosebleeds then as I used to be as a kid.

      That's... I guess you could call it dedication? Insanity?
      But yeah there's a million different recipes for blood and each is useful in a different context (whether you need it to fill a wineglass, splatter across a wall, stain your fabric, etc) I've personally found the glucose + cocoa concoction makes for the best looking dried blood on fabric and skin, so maybe it's not so good for paper?

        When I was a stage manager in the theatre, we had a props guy who used to swear by a concoction he made which relied heavily on raspberry jam.

        God it smelled foul. And it got everywhere and couldn't be removed. I think one of the considerations for anything you're going to wear for long durations or over several days has probably got to be the smell.

    I like a lot of the Mehron range, extra flesh and 3D Gel come in handy. 3D gel is a pain to work with though to get it to a liquid state and use it before it sets again.

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