Manning Makes Stuff - Halloween decorations, paper mache masks, costumes, party ideas, and more

Manning Makes Stuff - Halloween decorations, paper mache masks, costumes, party ideas, and more

Craft materials — choosing the right brands and saving some money

Published by Manning on August 26th, 2015

some of my favorite craft materials

I use a few basic craft materials in all my big masks and decorations, and I’ve experimented with a lot of brands over the years. While I try to be cost efficient with all my projects, I’ve come to realize that for certain materials you can definitely use cheap stuff with great (or even superior) results, while for other materials you’re much, much better off buying high quality stuff. Here’s a rundown of the stuff I use and what I’ve learned about the various qualities that are out there.

Foam board — I’ve written about this before; I buy super cheap foam board in bulk, and I actually prefer it over the higher quality, more expensive stuff. I find the cheap stuff easier to cut and somewhat lighter in weight; two qualities I value for my projects. Plus it’s less than half the price of the good stuff. I’ve written a lot about working with foam board and getting the best results, here.

Craft paper — I use brown wrapping paper, aka craft paper (or kraft paper), for all my paper maché projects. This is another material where I’ve found that the cheap stuff actually works better! I buy rolls of 3M craft paper for a buck apiece from my local dollar store. In a pinch I’ve bought a couple two-dollar rolls of Scotch brand craft paper from a closer store, and it’s quite a bit thicker and stronger, which are qualities you don’t want for paper mache. The cheap 3M stuff seems more porous and tears more nicely; it really absorbs the paste and the soft torn edges almost disappear when you paste them down.

Wallpaper paste — I use Roman PRO-543 universal wallpaper adhesive (paid link) for all my paper maché projects, and while this stuff is more expensive than other types of powdered wallpaper paste, the fact that it’s pre-mixed and 100% consistent every time makes it very much worthwhile. Just the time saved not having to mix the paste is a huge benefit. No measuring, no mixing, no mess. See my article about my paper maché process for more info.

Shipping tape — I’m actually very picky about tape for my projects. I use a ton of Scotch heavy duty shipping tape (paid link) when assembling the bases materials of my big projects. You need very sturdy, very sticky tape for this kind of work, and not only do I always go for the fancy Scotch brand tape, but I always use the heavy duty variety, which is thicker than the regular version and extremely strong. It’s a bit more expensive, but absolutely worth it, and I find that if I go back to the non-heavy-duty kind it feels flimsy and tearable. You can construct very solid shapes with just some carefully cut pieces of foam board and some very strong packing tape. I buy this stuff in both tan and clear (paid links), usually six or a dozen rolls at a time.

Masking tape — Masking tape is another area where you get what you pay for, and I order tons of rolls of Scotch brand masking tape all the time, in both 0.94″ wide and 3/4″ wide (paid links). There are three important qualities that masking tape should have for these kinds of projects: 1) it should be extremely sticky, but 2) it should also be very easy to remove, and 3) the outer surface should be nice and waxy so paste and glue don’t stick to it — I always use masking tape as a release agent for my paper maché. Cheaper making tape can be surprisingly un-sticky while weirdly impossible to remove, and the coating may be less waxy so paper maché sticks to it more than you want. You also want masking tape to be very strong and flexible, and the cheaper stuff can be brittle and tear easily. You’re better off paying for the good stuff; skip the dollar store generic junk.

Glue — There are tons of great inexpensive options for glue. I use Gorilla Glue for lots of projects, and it’s not super cheap but it goes a long way. However Tacky Glue is really cheap and works great for a lot of things as well! You can also get a small hot glue gun really cheap. It depends on the job; these are all good solutions for different kinds of work. (Paid links.)

Spray paint — For this, it really depends on the project. For my commission projects and my Mardi Gras skull masks — anything that’s meant to last and meant to be looked at closely — I buy the good stuff; my favorite brand is Montanta Gold acrylic spray paint (paid link). For all my Halloween projects — which are always seen in low light and only need to last one night — I sometimes buy cheaper stuff, like Krylon or Rustoleum or whatever. You really get what you pay for! Cheap spray paint dries slower, stays gummy and scratchable a bit longer, and is prone to rubbing off when used on less porous surfaces.

Acrylic paint — I’m not too picky about acrylic! For most projects I’ll buy whatever’s relatively cheap, and my results are always pretty much the same as far as I can tell. However, for important projects like my Mardi Gras skull masks, I stick with the best stuff: Golden fluid acrylic titanium white and bone black (paid links). I’ve written a bit about my painting process here.

Paintbrushes — I buy dirt-cheap paintbrushes and it’s never been a problem, but this is probably because I’m rarely doing fine, detailed work.

Foam tubing — I’ve written about this stuff a few times. I buy cheap pipe insulation foam tubing from Home Depot; a pack of four one-meter tubes is just three bucks or so! This stuff is fantastic for building shapes; it’s extremely lightweight, sturdy, flexible, easy to cut into precise shapes, and takes tape and paper maché really well; you can also paint directly on it, although I usually use it as an interior base for my projects. Did I mention it’s also cheap?

Craft foam — aka Wonderfoam; I use this stuff in almost all my projects. If you’ve never worked with it, think of a very thin yoga mat; it’s something like that. Lightweight and flexible, very easy to cut, bend, curl, stretch, tape, glue, paint, etc. You can make really nice organic-looking shapes with this stuff, and it’s easy to paper maché over it to lock your shape in place. It’s cheap, too; just 80 cents a sheet (12″ x 18″) at my local overpriced NYC art store, and I’ve occasionally found it in bulk for 50 cents a sheet.

I hope some of this helps! I’d love to hear about any great deals, good cheapskate shortcuts, or miraculous materials you’ve discovered.

Interested in commissioning a piece from me? Please see my page about custom paper maché pieces. Please email me; don't put your request in a comment below.

Leave a comment