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How To Make Moving Wings For Cosplay

How To Make Moving Wings For Cosplay

Have you ever wished you have the superpower to fly? Most cosplayers probably do that’s why a lot of them prefer costumes with wings aka pinions on them. But how do make a realistic costume with wings? To make it look and feel real, they need to move as if you’re flying.

There are several ways to make movable costume wings whether they have feathers on them (like angels) or none (like bats). If you’re wondering how other cosplayers dressed as angel or dragon can make their pinions move, here are different ways to make movable costume wings.

Movable Costume Wings Mechanism

Movable Costume Wings Mechanism

Before we start with the process of how to make moving wings, let’s start by understanding the mechanisms involved with it. There are actually two ways to make movable costume wings – automated systems and manual systems.

Automated Systems

There are two ways you can use automated systems – pneumatic systems or electrical motors. Automated can be more challenging than the manual system, which is why most cosplayers often go with the latter.

One advantage of using electrical motors is that it allows you to control the speed of your flapping. You can also control the angles when opening them which gives you a natural and realistic feeling of flying like a bird.

However, the disadvantage of using electrical motors is the weight you have to carry while wearing the costume. Imagine carrying all the batteries, motors, and steel components used to make the wings move, add up all the other props such as sword and armor. Just thinking about all the weight you need to carry is exhausting already.

Now, for the pneumatic system, it’s more portable than the electrical motors. It also allows the pinions to open quickly. However, the downsides are that the materials needed are difficult to find and they are quite a bit expensive. Also, another concern would be security. With air tanks attached to your body, security personnel might not allow you to get inside the venue.

Manual Systems

Okay for the manual system as the name suggests, you don’t need any air tanks or electrical motors. you just need to figure out which part of your body will power up the wings.

Well, your options would be your arms, legs, feet, or even your neck. However not all of these parts may be comfortable. So, the best option would be to use your arms. While this may sound easy, it still takes a lot of work. You would still need a pattern for the unfolding mechanism, attach a cord as well pulleys.

Different Ways To Make Your Own Wings For Cosplay

Different Ways To Make Your Own Wings For Cosplay

In this article, we’ll show you how to make costume wings for cosplay that moves like the real thing.

Pneumatic Costume Wings

For this costume wings tutorial, we’re going to build flapping pinions that you don’t have to manually pull the strings.

Materials:

  • Backpack
  • Plywood
  • 4 1/4″ x 4″ long bolts with nuts
  • 7 1/4″ X 2.5″ long bolts
  • 10 2.5″ long bolts
  • 14 1.5″ metal washers
  • 50 pack of smaller washers
  • Square aluminum tube
  • Pneumatic tubing
  • 5 way 3-position pneumatic switch
  • Pistons
  • Speed limiters
  • Liquid CO2

Planning

This is the most important part of making the wings – the planning stage. This is where you need to decide how you want your pinions to be. While the most common example, you’ll find online are the single-hinge angel wing, which is great but is a bit limited when it comes to your height and they don’t fold quite well. So, your next best bet is to use a bat or bird-style folding. 

If you prefer an angel wing style, don’t worry. We’ll also show you how to do it in this article. 

During the planning stage, you need to come up with diagrams to better understand how your wings will clip and unfold. You may want to check out different pictures online to help you come up with the best diagram or framework.

Making The Prototype

Once you’re done with your design, it’s time to make the prototype. This part may or may not be easy and might entail a lot of trial and error.

You can use plywood and some flat trims for your prototype using the design you made earlier. The right measurement is very important here, so you may need to play around with it. But you can start with 1 foot to 1 square conversion and see if it works for you.

Once you have the right measurement, cut them out and drill holes into it and place some nuts and bolts. Put them on your back while the wings are spread to see if you got the right size and measurement.

Make The Wings

Cut the aluminum pieces using your hacksaw following the final measurement you had earlier for the prototype. Using a drill press, put some hinge holes on the aluminum. You may also want to use a metal file to smoothen any sharp edge from the metal.

To bolt them together, you can use a washer between every member so you get perfectly vertical drilling. Now that all the openings had been drilled, you have two wings that can clip and spread.

Making The Back Plate

Making The Back Plate

Get your backpack. You can use an old backpack or a new one if you prefer it and cut its back. You will need three attachment points – two for the wings which will be on the left and the right, and the last part on the bottom. The bottom part would keep both wings in the same plane so that the wings will not open and move forward.

Just a tip on your wings: if you want to look cooler, go for higher wings, but if you are looking for stability then lower wings would be your best bet. To make holes on the backpack, you can use an awl. It’s better than using a drill to create openings in the fabric.

Use the biggest washers you have on the two sides as you want them to be very tight. The washers will also prevent the backpack’s fabric from ripping when it rubs on the threads on the bolts.

Once you’re done with the back plate, try it on. You may want to have it on for a bit to test if it’s comfortable. Remember you’ll be wearing it all throughout the cosplay event. Once you’ve got the hang of it, put the hardware aside.

Mounting The Wings

The reason why we removed the backplate from the backpack is to prevent discomfort from the bolts. Putting padding can help solve any discomfort.

Mounting the wings on the wood can be a bit tricky and expect to do some trial and error. You would want the wings to look great while it is open as well as when closed. So, before you make any hole on the wood, find the best part where to place them.

If this is your first time doing this, be kind to yourself, your costume wings will not be perfect. Make sure to measure everything twice. You’ll also want to consider how big your wings would be so you won’t bother other people with them while you walk around.

Hook Up The Air

Now that the wings are mounted on the backplate, you attach the backpack again, and using your hands, try to move them. Make sure everything is working properly. Since there are lots of nuts and bolts, they may cause tightness, you can use washers to lessen the tightness.

You now have the wings attached to the backpack, so now you need to figure out how to make them open and close. To do this, you need to understand how a 4-way 3-position switch works.

This type of switch as the name suggests has 3 positions.

Position 1:

The bottom part is where the air goes in and goes out on one wing, the one on the left to push to the top of the piston so it opens downward. The other side which is the right side has an opening to let air pass.

Position 2:

Air goes in and out to the right to push the piston’s base and to close it. The right hand has an opening to let air pass.

Position 3:

The exhaust is closed and no air gets in. What this means is that you can turn off the whole rig in either an open or closed position.

You need to have a feel of how fast the pistons will open. You may want to put a speed limiting push-on attachment on all the pistons’ ports. You don’t want your wings to open accidentally. It’s best to practice with your wings until you have an even speed. As a guide, always start at a slower pace. To avoid wasting too much CO2 you may want to add a compressor.

Attaching The Power

The next step is to find out where to place the pistons on your wings. You need to know the measurement of how far the wings open and the length.

You need to get the measurement of the piston from the center of the mounting hole. Put a mark on it. You also need to mark the holes while the piston is open, this way you’ll have a measuring stick that has both distances.

For instance, the piston throws around 4 inches, the best place to mount the power is at least close to 2 inches from the highest point of pivot.

Fold your wings so that it is completely closed and mark the spot at least 2 inches from the tip of the pivot point. This is in the center of the wing’s wrist part. Find out where the bottom of the piston goes and mark it as well.

Open the wings so that the first mark moves from the closed to the open distance that you marked earlier. If you find that your wings don’t open the way you want them to, you need to erase the marks and start over again. Move the tip of the piston closer to the wrist pivot until you finally achieve your desired effect.

To prevent warping, push the pistons in the same plane as everything else. To make the pistons straight, use long 4″ bolts and nuts, and washers.

Adding The Final Touches

Adding The Final Touches

You may add fabric wings or other types. However, fabric wings are easier to fold. The final touches will all depend on what character you are trying to portray, whether you are aiming for a dragon, bat, or bird. For bat-like wings, you may want to add ribs.

Of course, you can always customize your wings so feel free to use a different material.

Trying Them On

Once you have added the final touches to your wings, it’s time to try them on. However. be careful while doing so because you don’t want to ruin them before the main event. You might also want to start with minimal movement until you’re comfortable.

Manual Feathered Wings: Angel Wings

As promised, here’s a tutorial on how to make wings with feathers using the manual system.

Gather The Supplies

The first step to do is to gather all the materials you will need to make manual angel wings. Prepare the materials listed below.

Materials:
  • Feathers
  • Card 
  • Plastic twine or cotton string
  • 3 ft. white fabric
  • 15ft of 1/2 inch bamboo
  • Duct tape
  • 2 small bolts
  • 4 washers 
  • 2 lock-nuts
  • Metal wire
  • All-purpose clear adhesive
Tools:
  • Safety goggles
  • Tape measure
  • Pliers
  • A pair of scissors or wire cutters
  • Retractable Stanley knife or substantial craft knife
  • bradawl
  • Screwdriver
  • Wood saw
  • Hack saw

Key Elements of the Wings

The wings we will be making are made of real feathers. These will have no visible attachments, so they will look very realistic. You can also fold them up and down as if you really have actual wings.

Measure The Wings

Decide on how big you want your angel wings to be. You may also want to consider first how you’ll transport the wings so you can adjust them and carry your costume safely. Once you know how big your wings will be, you can now start making the frames of your wings.

Make The Frames

Hinge

You can start by making the hinge. You can buy a ready-made hinge but you can make your own to save on expenses. Cut four wires at about 6 inches long and bend them into a curve shape with a loop in the middle. Make sure that the loops are small but enough to let them put on the bolt.

Assemble the wires to form a hinge. Make two of them, then attach them with a bolt. Use a hack saw in trimming the bolt. Cover the end of the bamboo spars with glue before attaching the cotton string. Apply liberal amounts of hot glue after so that it won’t fall apart when you wear them.

Articulated Segments
Articulated Segments

Next is to make articulated segments that will allow the wings to spread out. Get the card and cut four triangles from it. The triangle should be at least 3 inches shorter than the small arm of the wing, and the base needs to be around 3/5ths the length of one side.

You can adjust the triangles’ arrangement and make more or less depending on how you want it to look like. Four triangles look better and more realistic. Then make a hinge for the triangles by folding 1 3.5 inch wire into a T-shape. Strengthen the end of the triangles by taping them about one inch from the end of the hinge.

After that, make a hole near the triangle’s peak using a bradawl or hole puncher and then put a thread onto the hinge. Fold the other to create an H-shape. Attach the left edge of the bottom triangle to the back edge of the smaller arm with glue.

Leave about 2 inches of bamboo sticking out at the end. Next is to cut four tapes from the white material, one for every triangle, and then glue them towards the center of the triangle and attach the other to the same position on the back of the triangle.

Wing Formers

Using your pair of scissors or wire cutters, cut the wire and make four rings from it. Make about 1/8 of the depth of the wing in diameter. Fasten the first two wires at either end of the short pole and the third wire at the end of the long pole, while the last wire should be positioned a quarter of the way along. Place them with the bamboo inside the rings and glue them tightly.

Next is to make two snail-shaped pieces of wire. The snails’ bodies lengths will depend on how deep your wing is. The two snails should be different in size to let the wing narrow towards its tip. Then, attach the snails to the frame just like what you did to the rings.

Cover The Frame With Fabric

Measure the fabric that you will use to cover the frame. Once you have cut the fabric, wrap the long spar with the white fabric by attaching it with glue. Make sure that the fabric is pulled straight so that it can support the feathers.

Let the glue dry and make sure that the material won’t slip. After covering the whole frame with fabric, attach a string diagonally from the biggest snail’s head to the long bamboo strut. Glue each end and make sure they are taut. 

Place The Feathers

Glue individual feathers from the tip of the wing. Use the longest and the most beautiful feathers for the trailing edge because these will be the most noticeable part. Place the other feathers according to your taste, and make sure that you glue them very tightly.

Allow the glue to dry, and ensure that you have covered all the frame with the same feather. Remember to get the right and left feathers the correct way round, and don’t forget that feathers have back and front, too.

Connect The Wings Together And Add The Backplate

Connect The Wings Together And Add The Backplate

Ask someone to measure the length of your shoulders to know the exact measurements of the backplate you are going to make. You need two spars for your wings, so you also need to get the dimensions of the bottom spar’s length. Make the backplate by cutting a trapezium shape.

Fasten the backplate you have created using a plastic string to connect it to the wings. Make some holes using the bradawl and tie each plastic string or twine on each hole. You also need to make two hooks out of wire and place them on the backplate. Cover the hooks with duct tape so that you won’t get hurt when you wear them. 

Cover The Backplate With Feathers

After connecting and adding the backplate, you need to cover it with more feathers. Attach the feathers just like how you did on the frame. It’s better if you overlap the feathers so you’ll be able to cover the whole backplate as much as you can.

Attach The Wings

You can now wear your angel wings! Try to get someone to help you when you attach your moving wings. Enjoy wearing these wings at your next cosplay event!

Things to Remember When Making Moving Costume Wings

Things to Remember When Making Moving Costume Wings
  • Search online for pictures of the type of wing you want to achieve. Always have a picture beside you while doing this project to get every nice detail. Focus on all the details and get as many ideas as you can gather so you’ll have options.
  • Decide whether you want a manual or automated wing. Just remember that an automated wing can be expensive and heavy. Some parts may also be hard to find. However, going for an automated system will give you more realistic costume wings.
  • Before you go to a craft store, check your supplies first at home to save you money. You can also use recycled materials if possible.
  • The length of your wing should be parallel to your height and physique, so it would be easier for you to move around and carry them throughout the event.
  • Be sure to measure every length and width at least twice to ensure you have the right measurement.
  • You can use straps for support, so your wing won’t be too heavy to carry around.
  • Be sure to hide all screws, nuts, bolts, and wires when you’re done. Even a small hole that is visible can ruin your overall look.
  • Be careful when flapping your wings in public so you don’t bother other people.
  • If yours have feathers, make sure that every feather is glued properly so they won’t fall off and leave a mess.

Are you ready to fly high with your own wings? Now that you know how to make one, you can stop wondering how other cosplayers make their wings. Whether you’re aiming for a dragon, hawk, angel, or other kinds of flying creatures, flapping your wings can help you achieve a more authentic costume.

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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TinkerBelle90
TinkerBelle90
1 year ago

Super excited to try the manual feathered wings! I’ve always wanted a pair for my angel costume. Seems like a lot of work but definitely worth it. Has anyone tried using a lighter fabric for the backplate? Wondering if it would make the wings easier to wear.

Alex
Alex
1 year ago

does anyone know if i can use cardboard for the frame instead? metal seems a bit too complex for me. thanks in advance!

JetMechanic
JetMechanic
1 year ago

The article’s section on pneumatic costume wings has piqued my interest. Has anyone considered using a more compact and efficient air compressor model to reduce the overall weight? Curious about your thoughts and experiences.

CraftyMama
CraftyMama
1 year ago

Oh, this manual feathered wings tutorial is just what I needed for my daughter’s play! I found using fishing wire adds extra support without being too visible. Also, a hot glue gun is a lifesaver for attaching the feathers securely.

DIYSam
DIYSam
Reply to  CraftyMama
1 month ago

CraftyMama, love the fishing wire tip! Gonna try that out. Thanks for sharing!

RPGDude
RPGDude
1 year ago

Just wow! The pneumatic wings sound like something right out of a boss battle. Gotta try making them for my next LARP event. Anyone else thinking of pairing these with a mage costume?

SarahJ
SarahJ
1 year ago

This all seems so complicated. I love the idea, but I’m scared I’ll mess it up. Does anyone have beginner-friendly tips, or should I stick to simpler projects?

Danny_the_Tinker
Danny_the_Tinker
1 year ago

Great article Lisa Hayden-Matthews! For the pneumatic wings, I experimented with using Arduino for automation. It allowed me to program different flapping speeds and patterns. Adds a bit of a learning curve but makes for an awesome effect at cons.

Sketchy_Artist
Sketchy_Artist
1 year ago

Loving the idea of crafting my own wings for cosplay. Anyone here have sketches or concepts of their designs? I’m gathering inspiration for a fantastical creature and would love to see how others are tackling it.

MechEng101
MechEng101
1 year ago

Impressed by the pneumatic system design detailed here. Applying such mechanical principles in a costume is fascinating. It’s a practical example of engineering skills in a creative context. Well done on explaining it so clearly.

JJSparkles
JJSparkles
1 year ago

Absolutely dazzled by the sound of these moving wings! But how can I add LEDs to make them sparkle at night? Anyone tried this or have tips on where to weave in the lights?

TheQuietOne
TheQuietOne
1 year ago

Is there a recommended air pressure for the pneumatic wings?

CosplayCurious
CosplayCurious
1 year ago

First time here and really into the idea of making my own wings. Does anyone know if there’s a big difference in weight between the manual and pneumatic types? Don’t want to end up too tired at conventions.

FeatherFanatic
FeatherFanatic
1 year ago

For anyone tackling the feathered wings, I found that varying the length and color of feathers adds a more realistic effect. It’s time-consuming but so rewarding. Also, sourcing from ethical suppliers is key! Has anyone here dyed their own feathers to get unique hues?

GadgetGuru
GadgetGuru
11 months ago

Integrating pneumatics into cosplay is genius. I’m thinking about adding sensors to automatically trigger the wings to open or close based on movement. Anyone have experience with motion sensors in their cosplay?

Lisa H-M Fan
Lisa H-M Fan
10 months ago

Lisa, this guide to making costume wings is amazing! I’ve followed your work for a while now, and you never cease to impress. Can’t wait to start my project; your tips are going to be a huge help!

QuietObserver22
QuietObserver22
9 months ago

This is really detailed. Thanks for sharing such clear instructions!

FledglingFlyer
FledglingFlyer
8 months ago

Never made anything like this before. Can anyone suggest which type of wings would be best for a newbie like me? Pneumatic sounds cool, but maybe it’s too advanced?

MxMechanic
MxMechanic
8 months ago

For those interested in the technical side, the pneumatic system’s efficiency largely depends on the air compressor’s quality and the seal on the air chambers. Leak tests are crucial to ensure smooth operation.

SewSewHappy
SewSewHappy
7 months ago

When making the backplate for the wings, I suggest using sturdy yet flexible material. I used a combination of thick felt and interfacing for mine, and it worked wonderfully. Also, velcro straps can make them adjustable!

KyleCrafts
KyleCrafts
6 months ago

Just picked up all my materials to start the manual feathered wings this weekend! Can’t wait to see how they turn out. If anyone has a playlist for crafting, drop it here; could use some good tunes while I work.

PixelPerfect
PixelPerfect
5 months ago

Crafting these wings feels like working on a digital art project, just in 3D! It’s all about layering and attention to detail. Has anyone else found similarities between their digital art skills and costume making?

TechNoobie
TechNoobie
4 months ago

Can someone explain how the air hook up works for the pneumatic wings? I’m not great with tech but really want to give this a try.

HistorianHobbyist
HistorianHobbyist
3 months ago

Fascinating to see modern technology applied to ancient concepts like wings. In many cultures, wings symbolize freedom or divinity. Incorporating them into cosplay not only adds a stunning visual element but also connects us with these historical ideas. Curious if anyone else considers these themes when crafting.

CraftBeerLover
CraftBeerLover
2 months ago

Anyone else feel like they need a degree in engineering to make these wings? Maybe I’ll stick to simpler projects…or just have another beer and give it a try. Cheers!

CuriousCat
CuriousCat
1 month ago

This guide is fantastic! Can these methods be adapted for smaller wings, like for a fairy costume? I’m looking to create something more delicate.

EcoWarrior
EcoWarrior
1 month ago

It’s amazing to see the creativity here! For those of us striving to stay green, consider using recycled materials for your wings. Has anyone tried upcycling old materials for their costume projects? It could be a great way to reduce waste and still look fabulous.

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