What is plastazote and how do I use it?

What is plastazote? I think plastazote is an amazing material. Plastazote is a similar material to what camping mats are made from. In fact when I worked as a prop maker at a theatre in Germany we could not find any plastazote suppliers and we ended up making various costume props out of cheap camping mats. One thing to remember though, it is also not at all breathable, if you are making something out if it remember that it can make the performer wearing it incredibly hot! Plastazote is used for all kinds of products – swimming floats, packaging, lining shoes and sports equipment. Put the word plastazote into google images and you can see all sorts of wierd and wonderful things.

If you are making something out of plastazote, and you can afford it, buy a sheet of proper plastazote and I recommend LD45. Using a quality material can make a real difference to your finished fabricated piece, and I personally notice a real difference when comparing LD45 plastazote to the cheapest camping mat you can buy from Halfords (and I’ve used them both for fabrication).

It is possible to vacuum form plastazote. It does not pick up the same detail or remember the shape as firmly as vacuum formed plastic, but you can get good effects. However, my main way of working with plastazote is to work out a pattern using the cardboard former method detailed in the post below this one. I then cut the pattern out of plastazote (usually a sheet of 15mm or 10mm if the shape is very organic and small) using a sharp scalpel. Plastazote blunts scalpel blades quickly, so change the blade if the plastazote starts to bobble or the cut looks raggedy – you want the smoothest cut possible. And use a pair of pliers to change the scalpel blade. If you’re self employed and you slice your fingers changing a scalpel blade, you might not be able to work, and if you can’t work how are you going to pay your rent?!

I use a Swan Morton brand scalpel, you can buy them from 4D model shop. I use the larger size scalpel for most jobs. Swan Morton make No.3 handles (which hold the smaller blades) and No.4 which hold the larger blades. Small blades come in packs that begin with the number 1 and large blades come in packs that begin with the number 2.

My preferred blades are 10A for the small handle and 26 for the large handle. This weblink has pictures of the blades and handles I have been talking about:


http://www.craftknives.co.uk/products/scalpel.html

You can buy it from 4D modelshop, here’s a link:
http://www.modelshop.co.uk/product/Scalpel_No4_%26_5_x_26_blades_TK10015

When you cut out the plastazote pattern pieces, keep your knife upright. Think about it in the same way as if you were constructing something out of wood. If you want a smooth surface where the two pieces join, you must cut the pattern piece at a right angle. If you don’t do this then there will be a pointy ridge where the pieces join. Cut out the piece in one slow, precise, smooth cut. Do not use lots of little cuts.

Stick the plastazote together with one glue and one glue only – contact adhesive. Be warned, this glue is evil. Make sure you have fresh air coming into the room, and if you are using a lot of it wear a respirator like the one below from Tirantis. If you feel lightheaded take a break and go outside and get some air.

http://www.tiranti.co.uk

But, however evil this glue is, it is also brilliant for sticking plastazote. Amazingly strong if you use it properly. In the past an assistant in a model shop told me contact adhesive would melt plastazote. That is rubbish, contact adhesive melts polystyrene, and styrofoam, but when gluing plastazote it is the best glue for the job and will never melt it. I use evostick contact adhesive, and I buy a multipack of small pots from Screwfix. If you are using loads get a litre can (it will work out much cheaper), but for making hats I recommend the small pots because once you open the glue it will not last forever and you also inhale less from a small pot. Once the glue ‘goes off’ in the jar (by that I mean becomes a sort of toffee, gungey consistency) chuck it away as it is useless. Here is a link to the evostick pots from Screwfix (their online service is great, it’s always been delivered the next day when I have used it)

http://www.screwfix.com/prods/38770/Sealants-Adhesives/Adhesives/Contact-Adhesives/Evo-Stik-Impact-Adhesive-250ml

Practice gluing plastazote with some scrap material before you try it out on your pattern pieces. Get a wooden spreading stick (available from 4D model shop) and spread out some glue onto the surface as if you are spreading honey or butter on toast. Keep it as thin as you can, but you want to cover the whole surface. It’s difficult to explain, and to be honest the only way you can get good at it, is to practice. Spread the glue on both surfaces that you want to join. This glue will only work if you spread it on both surfaces. Now, wait until the glue is completely dry. Yes, completely dry, so dry that you can touch it and it does not come off on your hand. Bring the 2 edges together. You only get one chance, you can not reposition the plastazote once the edges have touched. So decide which points to bring together, and push them together firmly and squeeze the seam together for at least 10 seconds.

This is why this glue is called a ‘contact adhesive’, because it glues by making contact with itself. If you have done the glueing properly, the plastazote will be glued together really firmly and no matter how hard you pull it you won’t be able to pull the pieces apart. The bond will strengthen over the next 24 hours whilst the glue dries completely.

If the seam is all gungey then you bought the pieces together too early. You can’t really save the piece at this point, I recommend chucking it away and starting again.

If the seam pops apart and the glue there is no gunge at all, then you waited too long before bringing the pieces together. You might still be able to save the piece – put a hot hair dryer on the glue for a few seconds and immediately press the seam together really hard. Also, room temperature affects evostick contact adhesive – it will ‘go off’ much more quickly in hot weather, and I find I have to use a hair dryer on all my pattern pieces in cold weather to wake the glue up or it doesn’t work properly.

Want to try out plastazote construction? If you live in London then you can buy a sheet from Pentonville Rubber on Pentonville Road. Nearest tube Angel or Kings Cross. White plastazote is easier to work with because you can see your pen marks on it more easily than on black. I recommend calling them to check the price, but a sheet should be around £25. I normally buy a sheet of 1m x 3m (I think) and of a thickness of either 10mm or 15mm.

http://www.pentonvillerubber.co.uk/

If you decide you like using plastazote, then you can save money by buying it in bulk from these suppliers (there are more suppliers, but both of these guys are good). If you are calling for a quote, ask for prices on sheet material, LD45. And don’t forget that the price might not include shipping or VAT:

http://www.polyformes.co.uk/

http://www.kewell-converters.co.uk/contact_us.htm

And in case you are interested, here is a factory that makes makes the product (but doesn’t not sell directly to the general public). The FAQ page is pretty interesting (if you’re a geek like me!):

http://www.zotefoams.com/

If you have any questions or plastazote comments please post them below so that everyone can read them. Hope that all makes sense, happy plastazoting! (With patience you can make some incredible things!)

Click here to go to my website and see images of my work www.clairestrickland.com
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13 thoughts on “What is plastazote and how do I use it?

  1. John Moore

    Hi Claire,

    I just want to say thank you. The information you have provided is extremely useful. I have played with plastazote foam a bit and I love it but I want to get more involved with it to make fancy dress outfits for myself and for friends. I live in Brighton – need I say more!

    In your experience what is the best way to colour plastazote? I have read that marker pens work for smaller detail but I am looking to create a dip-dyed effect across a large area. I haven’t done any experiments as yet but I wondered if perhaps dylon fabric dye might work. At the moment I quite like the texture of the plastazote so ideally I’d like to avoid applying paint or another coating that would change the surface, although it would also be very useful to know what sort of paints/coatings can be applied for future projects.

    Thanks again and I look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind regards

    John Moore
    07989 690079

    Reply
  2. Darren

    You saved 1000’s of hours of work! Ive been scouring the net, googling till my eyes turned red! I making a costume from plastazote…I hope its plastazote polyethelyne is what he said it was its virtually impossible to find foam In Tel Aviv and cost prohibitive to get shipped. So your info about vacuforming answered the holy question will it melt if I used plastic sheets to vacuform it Im sure I have to reinforce the foam pieces so they dont squash….thanks so much for your help Shapow!
    If you have any tips or info you can send it to me at Dshapow@gmail.com cheers!

    Reply
  3. Marta Haire

    Hi Claire, great site, thank you so much for sharing. I am a student, experimenting with fab foam, so your suggestions on where to get large quantities and how to use them in 3D structures have been really interesting. I have subscribed to your blog, and look forward to hearing about your future work.

    Reply
    1. millinerclaire

      Hmm, good question! My honest answer is I dont know. I list 2 Brit suppliers at the end of the ‘what is plastazote and how do I use it’, they might be able to recommend suppliers. Plastazote is used in all kinds of sport safety equipment, swimming floats, packaging – so there must be a manufacturer in the US.

      Reply
    1. millinerclaire

      Thanks Lucy, your company’s website is interesting too. The section on ‘sectors’ that use your product is great http://www.sjginternational.com/sectors/ I have learned that the police use plastazote in their body armour, that plastazote is chemically inert and…… most excitingly of all, that plastazote can be water jet cut! What a brilliant way of cutting it.

      Reply
  4. Natasha

    Hi Claire

    great website and very informative. I have a question about a costume I am currently making. I have a model that is at a scale of 1:4 to the final costume and I have taken patterns from it. I was going to scale them up by photocopying them and enlarging them by 400%. However, as I am using 15mm thick plastazote I am worried that the thickness of the foam will throw the scale off and distort the shape. If I were to lower the % that I am enlarging them by, would that compensate for the thickness and if so what % should I take off? Any advice would be welcome!
    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Claire Strickland Post author

      Hi Natasha, how did your costume patterning go? Would love you to write a guest blog post about it if you would like to? My hunch would be that enlarging a pattern from a model that size up to 400% is not going to be 100% accurate. So I wouldn’t worry about taking into account the thickness of the plastazote.

      If you were taking a pattern off something by covering it in clingfilm and then layers of sellotape (so no enlarging of the the pattern), then yes go a little smaller than your pattern pieces. But by this I mean, literally millimetres off the edge of each pattern piece.

      Don’t forget it will grow slightly if you are covering it in fabric.

      Reply

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