Wonderful World of Worbla
Updated: Jul 11, 2021
In my quest to try new things with my customization work, I recently came across a Facebook video of a doll customization. The guy was using this new (to me) material called Worbla. It’s been used for years in the cosplay realm and is a non-toxic version of thermoplastic used by artists. It comes in a sheet, and can be heated up and molded like clay. The real beauty of this stuff is that you can reheat it over and over and over until it’s how you want it. No waiting 24 hours for it to harden, no sanding and starting all over. It comes in 4 varieties: even clear! I hopped on the interwebs and bought some sample sheets to see if it would work for my needs.
I‘ve been working on this custom Akhal Teke mare and decided to build a frame for the tail with Worbla instead of my go to wire, tape, and baking soda/super glue mix. I intend for this post to a be a tutorial, but please know that this is the first time I’ve ever used the stuff and there are dozens of tutorials online about sculpting with it. Just none using it on model horses.
You will need these basic tools in order to work with Worbla:
Heat gun, or blow dryer that gets very hot
Paper or cardstock for a template, or you can go freehand if you like; pencil or pen
Scissors and X-Acto
Large piece of cardboard
Apoxie Sculpt or 2-part apoxie of your choice
Build a mat to heat the Worbla on. Take a piece of double-walled cardboard that will be plenty large enough for your needs and wrap it with a sheet of foil. Tape the foil down on the back. Ideally, you should heat Worbla on a heat-proof surface, such as the floor of your garage or sidewalk, but I don’t have time to run back and forth for that. Worbla stays warm and workable for only about 3–5 minutes before needing another shot of heat to make it workable again.
Create your template or draw out your shape directly on the Worbla. Then cut the pieces of Worbla out. You can cut strips of it out for tendrils of hair or whatever you want. Once heated it sticks to itself and within minutes is cool and hard.
Place one of your pieces of Worbla on your mat and heat it with the heat gun, making sure to heat it uniformly and not too close or you’ll boil it. It only takes about 20-30 seconds to heat it up with a heat gun, you’ll see it get a teeny bit shiney. Be careful picking it up as it will be hot, I use a knife so I don’t squish it.
Start adding it to your wire frame or body or whatever you’re working on. I’m using it over a wire and apoxie tail. You can mold it, squish it, pinch it, twist it, sculpt it with tools, etc. If it hardens before you’re done or you don’t like how it’s looking, simply heat that area up and work it until it’s how you want. You can reheat it as many times as you need to, it will always be reworkable! *Note: the thinner you go, the more bendy it is. I plan to cover it all up with apoxie so I’m not concerned with that right now. I did need to use a little super glue to get one corner of Worbla to stick to the dock of the tail.
For those of us using this for model horse bodies and hair, you will have to lightly sand the Worbla as it has a texture. I’m not sure if the Fine or Black variety is smoother or not. Most cosplay folks sand and prime it or coat it in apoxie as well. After sanding it, begin your normal prepping steps as you would with other resins or plastic models. Or, like I’m planning on doing, start sculpting hair with your apoxie until it’s covered like you would any other armature method.
That’s it! Save scraps for use later and enjoy a hassle free and less time-consuming way of customizing your models! I want to give tack-making a go with this stuff in the future. I think it would be perfect for harness-making or saddle trees and western stirrups.