Cosplay 101: Beginners Guide to Body Painting

  • Into

  • Types of paint

  • How to Apply

  • Sealing paint

  • How to remove

  • Tips + Next Steps

New to cosplay? Want to really become your favorite character but don’t have naturally green or pink skin? (Does anyone?) Don’t know where to start or scared of dying everything you own green? Body paint may seem intimidating at first but this guide is here to help!

Let’s Get Colorful!

Once choosing your character the next step is to gather your supplies!


Types of Paint

  • Water Activated Paint

Water activated paints are the most common type of paint for body painting. These paints are “activated” with water meaning that without water the paints are dry and won’t adhere to your skin. Water activated paints are the cheapest option when it comes to body painting and the benefits of these paints are that they are best for beginners and easiest for blending, opacity, and detailing.

The downsides of water-activated paints are that they will only last as long as you don’t get your skin wet while the paints are on. Tears and Sweat will remove the paint. This type of paint is not recommended for models that will be “active” such as dancers, clowns, or anyone in a humid environment where paint could sweat off.

While everyone product has downsides, water activated paints are the cheapest option and when it comes to cosplay this is the type of pain I use primarily. Water activated paints are best for photo shoots, indoor events, or anyone who doesn’t want to be in body paint for a long period of time. Common brands of water-activated paints include:

  • -Mehron Paradise paints [x]
  • Tag Face paints [x]
  • Ben Nye Aqua Paint [x]

Grease Paints

Grease paints are also very common and are  used a lot in FX makeup. These oil based paints have a similar consistency to lipstick. These paints can be a bit more expensive but they will stay in place throughout the day. Oil in generally not affected by sweat or water. Grease paints can also stick to other surfaces such as latex and gelatin.

The downside of grease paints is that they are difficult to remove and can often stain your skin id they are worn for too long or if not removed well. These paints can also feel sticky to the touch. These types of paints are best for whole day / active events and for special effects makeup. Common brands of grease paints include:

  • Imagic greasepaint [x]
  • Ben Nye Professional Wheel [x]

Cream Paints

Cream paints are a consistency in between water-activated paints and grease paints. These paints are not as thick and don’t set as sticky as grease paints but water can be used to help blend and make them smoother like water- activated paints.

Since water does semi-activate cream paints, sweat and water can still smudge them, but they are a bit more difficult to remove than water-activated paints. Cream paints have a similar consistency to concealer and cream eye shadows.

Cream paints would not be recommended for active events but can still last an entire day if you’re careful. These are also good for photo shoots and indoor events. Common brands of cream paints include:

  • NYX creme colour [x]
  • Mehron crime sticks [x]

Alcohol Activated Paints

Alcohol activated paints are primarily used in special effects makeup. These types are paints are much more costly than water activated, grease, and cream paints. These paints do not budge and all and can be a useful tool for professional makeup artist and anyone serious about fx makeup.

As the name implies, these paints can only be activated with alcohol. However, you can just use any alcohol you have to use 99% alcohol to activate these paints. This makeup is waterproof and can last on the skin for days, making it difficult to remove.

I personally have never used alcohol activated paint but I’d love to try it someday. You can learn more about alcohol activated paints here.

  • Liquid Paints

These paints are primarily used in air brushes and can create lost lasting detailed effects and apply in a more even layer when used in an airbrush. You can also apply these paints with a sponge or brush but they will take a very long time to dry and this application can waste a lot of product. Liquid paints are really only recommended for use in air brushes and to be used by professionals. Find more information about airbrushing here.

How to Apply


  • Tools

There are many tools that can be used to apply body paint. The tools you use will depend on the type of paint you’re using and the level of detail that you are painting.



Sponges make it easy to blend product without brush strokes. With the additional benefit of being cheap, disposable makeup sponges can also save you from body paint eating away at your good makeup brushes


Brushes can also be used for applying body paint. Foundation brushes can be used to cover large areas and smaller brushes can be used for detailing.

Air Brush

Airbrushes are small machines that help apply paint very evenly. These are usually used primarily by professionals and can be very expensive.

Beauty Products

Just body paint alone can wash out your face, laying paint by contouring and adding details. Common beauty products that I use include eyehsadow, blushes, bronzers, and eyeliners.


  • Application


Step 1

Start with clean skin. Make sure your skin is clean if any dirt or makeup. If you’ll be wearing a wig put your hair up in a wig cap before you begin painting. Gather your supplies to start painting.

Step 2

Active your paint using water.

Step 3

Begin applying paint. Use a sponge or foundation brush to start covering large areas. Let the first layer dry and then continue to layer.

Step 4

Use a smaller brush or sponge to get more detailed areas. Begin to blend out areas where you’re mixing colors. Add white to make the color lights and black to darken the color.

Step 5

Paint skin details. Use clean brushes to contour with paint or add shading details. You can also seal your paint after step 4 and add the details of your makeup using eyeshadow or liquid liner.


Step 6

Once your happy with how everything looks and the paint has dried, it’s time to seal your paint. Setting your paint with powder creates a barrier for the paint and makes your skin look more like it is stained with color rather than painted.

Step 7

Finishing Spray – For extra security, you can also use a finishing spray or aerosol spray to really lock in your paint.

Step 8

Contour and steal the finished look

  • Body Painting for Cons

Armsocks are a lifesaver! I got mine here !


Sealing paint

Once your happy with how everything looks and the paint has dried, it’s time to seal your paint. The first thing that I do to seal water- activated paint is to use powder and a fluffy brush. You can use translucent powder or just baby powder to coat your paint with powder. Setting your paint with powder creates a barrier for the paint and makes your skin look more like it is stained with color rather than painted.

For extra security, you can also use a finishing spray or aerosol spray to really lock in your paint.

IF YOU’RE GOING TO A CON YOU NEED TO SEAL YOUR PAINT. If you go to hug people your paint WILL transfer! Don’t ruin other people’s costumes because you were too lazy to seal your paint. Also feel free to ask people not to touch you- some people will just want to hug you when they recognize your character but no matter what you are doing- CONSENT IS A PRIORITY- even if you have paint sealed you don’t have to let anyone touch you.

  • Touch – ups

For photoshoots or cons I will usually pack a spray bottle of water to active paint, the paint I used and a eyeshadow the same color as my paint. I’ll also pack the powder and setting spray I used after I touch up any mistakes. I noticed that I usually have the area under my eyes and around my mouth wear off first, especially if I try to eat in body paint at cons.

How to remove

The first step in removing body paint is to remove any prosthetics as well as take our contacts. After that I use makeup wipes to get the bulk of the paint off and then hop in the shower and use face / body wash to remove the rest of the paint. Some paints can leave your skin irritated and dry – I like to use witch hazel and moisturize after removing paint to help heal my skin.

Tips + Next Steps

As you get more comfortable with body paint you can start experimenting with combinations of latex and body paint and start doing more detailed contouring and eye makeup looks. As you practice your’ll learn how to get paint more even and have more accurate cosplays. But overall have fun! Body paint can be frustrating at first but the more you practice the more fun your’ll have!



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