Do-It-Yourself Packing Tape Body Molds and Casts

First published 05-27-2008 at the 405th Infantry Division forums

In the process of creating costume armor we are routinely faced with the challenge of ensuring that our costumes are fit to our bodies with absolute comfort and accuracy. Many costumes makers will bypass this obstacle by scaling paper models of the works to their own body, then trying them on to ensure a snug fit. However after this initial fitting what is to prevent the paper model from warping during the fiberglass lamination process? Likewise how could you ensure a proper fit for prototypes that have to be sculpted by hand?

 Body casting has typically been the solution to this problem, though few costumers new to the hobby are familiar with the materials and processes necessary to create an accurate body cast. Additionally there is some level of risk and discomfort with many body casting processes. If you aren’t successful with your first casting you could stand to lose your eyebrows and the monetary value of expensive casting materials.

 The solution I present here is a very affordable, very easy to master, yields surprisingly accurate body casts and is the least painful ‘life casting’ process I have come across in my 19 years of making life cast molds. I can suggest no better casting method for the novice mold maker or costumer for the purposes of creating and displaying costumes and armor, or anything!

 Preface: Background and Materials

 I first stumbled onto ‘Packing Tape Sculptures’ and Mark Jenkins work through a link  at the 405th. The potential of using readily available and economical materials to create casts of body forms motivated me to find a proven method of using these ‘tape doubles’ to create durable, re-usable molds and castings.. I reasoned that if the structure of the tape cast was sturdy enough that it could be used as a negative mold to cast additional copies.

 What you will need:

 2 rolls of high quality packing tape (3-M, Scotch, Duck Brand, or reasonable substitute)

1 roll of packing ‘stretch wrap’ or Cling Wrap

2 cans of ‘Great Stuff Gap Filler” expanding urethane foam, or similar product

Approximately 3 sq. feet of 3/8” plywood

(4) ½ inch 90 degree Angle Brackets (link not exact item)

A pair of Bandage Scissors

A jig saw with blades

A hand saw

A drill with a ¼ inch drill bit

A utility knife

A flathead and phillips head screwdriver

A staple gun with staples

A pair of needle nose pliers

A small amount of acetone solvent

2-3 pairs of vinyl safety gloves

A spray bottle and some water

A tall cardboard box

Approx 3 sq. feet of scrap cardboard.

Some paper towels.

A small tube of petroleum jelly (Vaseline)

 Step 1. Make your packing tape mold

 Following the directions detailed at wikiHow’s ‘How to create a Packing Tape Sculpture’ I made my mold of a bust form from my body.

 I wrapped my shoulders and head in 1-2 layers of cling wrap.

 I layered 3-4 layers of packing tape loosely overtop of the cling wrap until it became sturdy.

 I carefully used Bandage Scissors to cut the tape mold in the most convenient location.

I removed the tape mold from my body.

I re-attached the tape mold with more packing tape.


I filled in the missing area on the face of the mold.

Some tips on this process:

•Work with an assistant. Creating a good tape mold requires someone else to reach areas that you can’t do by yourself.

•The only purpose of the cling wrap is to keep the tape from sticking to your skin, use a layer or two and save the rest for another project.

•When wrapping the packing tape I found that ‘crinkling’ the tape as you lay it down increased the structural integrity of the mold. Alternate crinkled layers with smooth layers for the most strength.

•I cannot stress enough the necessity of Bandage Scissors. They can be found at most drug stores, and will prevent you from cutting your skin while removing the tape mold. Do not attempt to remove the tape mold with a utility knife or sharp scissors!!!

•Wrap the packing tape loosely, but press it down to adhere to prievious layers. Wrapping the tape tightly will make the resulting tape mold smaller than your actual body as well as cutting off your circulation.

•Once you have removed your tape mold from your body you can reinforce it by adding several additional layers of tape.

•Don’t attempt to wrap the tape over your face. Wrap around the face as shown in the images above, and fill in the missing area after the tape mold has been removed.


Step 2. Prepare your tape mold for casting.

 The next step in preparing your tape mold for casting is to remove the cling wrap from inside. The only purpose of the cling wrap was to keep the tape from sticking to your skin; now that it has been removed it is unnecessary and could cause complications when you fill the mold.

Line the inside of your mold with 1-2 layers of packing tape. Being that you will eventually fill this mold with expanding foam, you don’t want the sticky side of the tape on the interior of the mold to adhere to your castings. Cut small pieces of packing tape and lay them sticky side down carefully inside the mold one at a time. Repeat until there are no sticky surfaces inside the tape mold.

Cut a flat edge at the bottom of your tape mold with a pair of scissors. In this case I am creating a bust for sculpting and displaying helmets, and I want the mold to sit flat on a table.

Some tips on this process:

•Be cautious when removing the cling wrap from the inside of your mold. Thin areas of your mold could pull loose if you aren’t careful.

•When lining the mold with additional tape on the interior start with small pieces laid into the deepest part of the mold and work your way to the top.

•Reinforce the bottom edge of the tape mold with 1-2 additional layers of packing tape. Reinforcing this edge increases the structural stability of the mold.

Step 3. Create a plywood armature inside the mold.

 Although your final product will be cast in expanding urethane foam, some interior structure within the foam is useful for making your casts durable. Foam does not have a great deal of strength when cast in large voids. As an added precaution I advise creating a plywood armature within your molds that can be made with armature patterns that you can cut from some scrap plywood whenever you want to cast an additional piece. If you are confident that your casting does not need structural reinforcement you can skip this step.

Sit your tape mold on top of some scrap cardboard, and trace the outline of the bottom edge with a pen. Cut out this piece, it is the template for the floor of your finished casting. Once it is cut out, test to see if it fits the bottom of the tape mold, trim if necessary.

Lay your tape mold down on some scrap cardboard and trace the front profile of the mold. Draw a line 2 inches in from the traced line, and cut this piece out. This will be the center reinforcement of your finished casting.

 Lay your tape mold on the remaining scrap cardboard and trace the side profile of the mold. Draw a line 2 inches in from the traced line and cut this piece out. This will be the cross reinforcement of your finished casting.

 Once you have these three pieces cut, trim and assemble them with some packing tape so that they easily fit inside the interior of your tape mold as shown. The second cross profile should be trimmed with a flat edge to attach to the first center reinforcement. The center reinforcements should seat at least 1” away from the surface of the tape mold at the closest point. Trim them as necessary.

Cut these templates back apart, and trace them onto some 3/8 inch plywood. Cut the pieces out with a jig saw.

Take the bottom floor of your casting, and trace a line 2 inches in from the edge onto the interior of the piece. Drill a hole and cut out the interior of this piece, being careful to not cut across the 2 inch edge.


Assemble the pieces as you did with the cardboard templates, using the 1 inch angle brackets to fasten the plywood together.

Test the fit of the plywood armature inside the tape mold. Again, the center reinforcements should be at least 1” away from the surface of the tape mold at the closest point. Trim them as necessary.

Step 4. Assemble the tape mold for filling.

Now that you have the optional interior armature fit to the inside of the tape mold you are ready to put the pieces of the mold together for filling the cavity with expanding foam. The first step, before you attach the two components together is to grease the interior of the mold so that the foam does not stick to the tape.

Using a paper towel apply a coating of petroleum jelly to the inside of the tape mold, starting with the deepest area and working your way to the top. A thin coating is necessary for all surfaces inside the mold. Make every attempt to keep from getting petroleum jelly on the outside of the mold, as you will be adding tape to it later for further castings. 


Insert the plywood armature inside the tape mold. Use a staple gun to attach the tape mold to the armature at the bottom edge. Seal the tape closely to the plywood with no gaps between the two.


Flip your mold upside down and place it open end up into a tall cardboard box. You are ready to fill the mold with expanding foam. 

Step 5. Filling your tape mold

 ‘Great Stuff’ and similar brands of commercially available expanding urethane foam are excellent for filling shallow gaps but aren’t recommended for gaps larger than 3-4 inches. These foams use the ambient humidity in the air to cure, so applying them in enclosed areas usually results in a gooey mess of uncured foam. However if you spray some water inside the enclosed area, the foam will have sufficient humidity to properly cure. Spraying the foam with water will also speed the curing process from 8 hours plus to less than 2 hours. That indeed is the trick to this project

 Use a spray bottle to mist the interior of your tape mold. Spray water into the deepest part of your mold until it beads up on the surface. Also be sure to saturate the plywood that reaches into the center of you mold. The wood will absorb the moisture, and provide the necessary humidity to cure the foam deep within the mold.

 Attach the supplied nozzle and tube to the can of expanding foam. Test to see if the end of the fill tube will reach into the deepest cavity of your mold. If necessary you can extend the reach of the tube by taping a drinking straw to the end of the tube.

 When you are confident that the tube will reach the deepest part of your mold, you are ready to fill. Because the foam cannot be filled into large cavities, you will need to fill it in layers, approximately 2 -3 layers for cavities as deep as 18 inches. The first layer should only be sprayed into the deepest cavity, and then allowed to cure before adding additional layers. When spraying the foam, use slow, steady pressure on the nozzle to dispense a 2-3 inch layer of the foam starting from the deepest portion of your mold, being sure to apply foam underneath your wood armature (if used).

Once you have applied your first layer of foam, spray the exposed foam with water to speed the curing process. Let the foam sit untouched for at least two hours to cure. After this time has elapsed, test the foam for rigidity by squeezing it lightly. If it feels ‘squishy’ let it stand for another hour and test again. Repeat the process of spraying water, applying foam, and then letting it sit to cure until you have filled you mold to the top.

 ‘Great Stuff’ and similar brands of expanding urethane foam will seal themselves shut if allowed to cure in between applications (the manufacturer says that a one-time-use is to be expected). The remedy for this problem is acetone. Acetone will dissolve uncured expanding foam in the nozzle and tube of the can. When you have completed one application, remove the nozzle from the can, and clean the nozzle and the tip of the can with a small amount of acetone. Please exercise proper safety by wearing disposable vinyl saftey gloves during cleanup. Clean up all the foam before it cures, because it’s near impossible to remove once it’s hardened. Dip the can tip into acetone and shake out the residue, then leave the can upside down on the cap to dry between applications. Pour acetone into the removed nozzle and application tube, and shake out the solvent until the tube is clean from one end to the other. This step will allow you to re-use the same can of expanding foam for multiple applications.

 Once your last batch of foam has cured, you can trim the excess foam exposed from the opening of your mold with a hand saw. Cut the foam flush with the base of your mold.

 Once your foam has cured within the tape mold, you are ready to remove the casting from within the mold. Use a flathead screwdriver to pry the staples away from the base of the mold, and use needle nose pliers to pull the staples completely out of the plywood.

 Use a utility knife to carefully cut the packing tape along the center line of the piece. With light pressure and extra caution you can avoid cutting too deeply into the foam inside. Once you have cut from one side to the other, you can carefully peel the mold off of the foam casting. Do not use excessive force if you intend to re-use the mold.

Step 6. De-molding your cast

When the mold is removed from each side, you now have your life cast form! Your foam body cast forms can be used for making and displaying costumes and armor! The mold can be reused almost indefinitely by taping the halves back together and repeating this process, if you keep the outside surface clean form petroleum jelly.

While store bought mannequins can be substituted for these body cast forms, they will never accurately recreate your actual body shape. These body cast forms can be used for sculpting over, testing scale of costume parts, and for displaying your creations! Because they are life castings from your actual body they will be more accurate, and should reasonably fit anything that fits your body.

For extended use of these body cast forms, the foam can be carved, sanded or sealed with a coat of paint. If you suspect that your form isn’t as accurate as you want, you can shave down the foam using a sureform until it matches your dimensions perfectly! If you intend to use the body cast forms while applying resin to your creations apply a barrier coat of water base paint so that the resin won’t dissolve the foam. For permanent, indestructible body forms, you could seal the foam with paint, and apply resin and fiberglass over the form, then sand to a smooth finish.

I hope you all have found this tutorial as useful and enjoyable as I have. Creating useable works of information like this benefits us all, and facilitates more advancement in our craft. I encourage all comments and corrections and will add the progress beyond this tutorial with credit to the commenter. I welcome all improvement to this process beyond the scope that I have documented here.

 And remember, the sky is the limit! 


Happy armor-making!


18 Responses to “Do-It-Yourself Packing Tape Body Molds and Casts”
  1. Tony (BLACKULA727) says:

    Nice tutorial! I had a quick question though, I tried using some expanding foam in the past and ran into an issue. I tried trimming it to the desired shape and the foam shrank on me and got real distorted. I let it cure for over 8hrs like the can says (Same stuff you are using). Is this typical, or should I let the foam sit for longer than 8hrs before shaping? Thanks again for the tutorial. You do excellent work.

    • I did see some minor shrinking on my head forms within a few days of casting them. It wasn’t that severe, just slight distortions that could be shaped out with a Surform. My advice would be to let the foam cure for a few days minimum before shaping to make sure that you don’t experience and warping after the fact. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  2. Brianna says:

    I LOVE this!!!

    Any picks of doing the front of the face part that we can see?

  3. Aaron says:

    impressive! How did you do the joints on the articulated mannequin?

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  5. Mequela lucero says:

    This is amazing. So extremely helpful.. I kept seeing the duct tape body molds which I thought were good but wanted something more sturdy without using plaster.. Thank you for the step by step in doing this. I was wondering if you know of a good way to do one of the face. To use to build mask that would fit your face.. Any suggestions on how to do this would be appreciated. Thank you again. Mequela

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