A Beginners Guide to Cosplay Makeup
When I first started college as an art major several years ago, I had intentions of becoming an fx make-up artist. I worked a few years before that in a haunted house as both a make-up artist, as well as a scareactor. Later, I started doing make-up for my own photo shoots as a photographer. I developed a love for the transformative aspects of make-up. During college, I worked for a local Halloween store and did make-up demos in store for the customers. Eventually, I realized this could be accomplished with cosplay as well.
Today, I’ve accumulated a list of 19 tips, tricks, and ideas to help beginners find some direction with their first cosplays, and maybe even give direction or ideas to help cosplayers that have already been at it a while. I asked a few lovely cosplayers (Instagram handles: @Rachel.Maksy, @Enasnivee, @a.li.as, @artsy_doodle, and @RubisComix) for their consent to use some of their cosplays as examples in this post.
Be sure to check their work out! And if you feel inspired by their work, especially their original looks, make sure to appropriately credit them for inspiring your own looks.
1. First things first – Know the Basics.
It’s good to know your foundation basics, how to do basic eye makeup, etc before diving headfirst into complicated creations. While I am not the best at beauty makeup myself, but there are loads of tutorials to get you started on those. But knowing how to do the basics can be enough to accomplish your cosplay. For example, I recently did a cosplay of Lady Dimitrescu from Resident Evil 8: The Village. For this, I just did foundation, a deep red lip, and some basic attempt at dark eye make-up. I stayed pretty simple mostly for test purposes, and also because it was ridiculously hot that day and I just wanted to try the whole look on.
Now, compare this to the absolutely STUNNING take on Lady Dimitescu by @artsy_doodle:
Same character, two different levels of execution. You can start with just the basics for your cosplay make-up and still accomplish the look you’re going for.
2. What products to use?
This can be anything from big box store brands to drug store cheap brands, and anything in between. When I first started doing makeup, I had a handful of fx basics from a Halloween store and the rest was some basic stuff I picked up from Walmart. If you’re a beginner on a budget, definitely try something similar. As long as it can accomplish what you’re going for, anything can work.
The multi-talented Rachel Maksy (@Rachel.Maksy) won the 2018 Nyx Face Awards, and in several of her videos on YouTube, I’ve seen her accomplish looks with just basic products – no fancy makeup kit, and all totally within the price range of beginners. Now, there is nothing wrong at all with going for professional brands and fancy makeup kits if it’s within your budget. Just know you don’t have to start there.
3. Contouring for likeness.
While we’re talking about Rachel, she is one of my favorite examples of contouring your face to resemble a character or actors features. Watch her transformation videos on YouTube, and note how she compares her own features to the character she’s trying to embody, and the contour techniques she uses to give the illusion of different features on her own face. This is an easy makeup tip to use for your own cosplay.
4. Illusions through Makeup.
Since we’re already discussing using makeup to give your face the illusion of different features, let’s jump into another sort of illusion done through makeup – adding tattoos, markings, etc. Here, for example, take @rubiscomix as Sukuna from Jujutsu Kaisen:
Obviously, she only has two real eyes. But Sukuna has the additional two lower eyes, as well as his markings/tattoos. This is something you can execute fairly simply using eyeliner to draw out the markings on your face, line out the place where the second set of eyes should go, and then color in the eyes with white eyeliner and a red lip pencil.
5. Cell shaded characters.
For some characters, cell shading is a makeup you’ll need to approach for accuracy’s sake. You take on the task of bringing something to life that seems like it could be difficult or even come out looking a bit odd, if you aren’t careful. The immediate franchise that should come to everyone’s mind is Borderlands. And there is no better cosplayer to use as an example here for me than @Enasnivee as Moxxi:
The execution for Moxxi is definitely executing the cell shaded vibe while bringing it into the real world beautifully. Start with a white face paint base and add layers to it from there: the dark, exaggerated brow, the thick black liner with the dripping streaks on the left side of your face, pink blush and eyeshadow tones, a drawn on mole near the lips, and red lips lined with a black or dark red pencil.
For some characters, the makeup depends how you’re approaching a character. For example, say you want to do Boosette. I’ll use the incredibly talented @artsy_doodle here for reference:
If I were approaching a Boosette look (which I’d love to, some day!), a pale foundation or white body paint would be the best starting place. From there, it’s all about shading, blending, and highlighting. Blend the pinks and reds for contouring the cheeks, nose, and eyes, with white highlights. Dark eyebrows, eyelashes, and even red contacts if you’re up for them. Add fangs and a glossy red lip, and you can achieve a similar look.
A genderbent cosplay is one where you change the gender of the character you’re cosplaying. For example, this female Joker by @a.li.as:
Again, start with a white face paint, then go in with red and blue face/body paint to add the eyebrows, eye makeup, nose, and of course – that killer smile.
Unlike genderbent cosplay, crossplay is when you cosplay a character of another gender than your own, and try to adapt yourself rather than change the character. I feel like @Rachel.Maksy has some excellent examples of this:
Again, Rachel is a queen when it comes to contouring to look like a character. So she easily uses these same techniques to give herself more masculine features for male characters.
Some characters you just want to approach in a cut and dry way. You want to just be the physical embodiment of that character. And one of the best and most accurate Harley Quinn cosplayers I’ve ever seen is @Enasnivee:
Simplicity brings this classic look to life. A white base for that classic look, with some simple but beautiful eye makeup. Add a light blush, and those slightly curved black lips, and you too can be the Clown Princess of Crime!
10. Your own spin on it.
Sometimes, though, we want to venture into a character with a slightly unique approach. I’ll use the talented @a.li.as here for some alternative Harley takes:
Again, one of my favorite Harley cosplayers out there. For a look similar to this, you could use a light foundation, with some drawn on hearts and stars with eyeliner. For the eyes, do a single black themed eye, and a single red themed eye, with lashes and drawn on extra drawn on liner to accentuate the lashes further. Some basic blush and highlights, a black lip, and a Band-Aid on your nose completes it.
11. Casual cosplay
Maybe you just feel comfortable with a more casual cosplay to start. Throw together an outfit that gives off the vibes of the character you want to be, and make a makeup look that goes with it. One more Harley in a row, for the sake of examples. This time, using my own casual Harleys:
I’m a naturally pale individual, so I just use my regular foundation. If you aren’t like me, a light foundation or if you really want, a white face paint, would work as well. I like to also alternate the red and black/blue (depending on the look I’m going for), black eyeliner, and a red or black lip – again, depending on the look.
12. Era Interpretations
For this, you’re taking a character that belongs in one era, and interpreting them in another era’s style. @Rachel.Maksy has an excellent series on her channel called “But Make It Vintage”, where she interprets characters in a vintage fashion. I promise, this is my last Harley Quinn example:
Inspired by the art of Sandra Alexandra (@sandraalexandraart), Rachel recreated this adorable vintage circus clown version of Harley Quinn. The face is pretty simple but completes the look. A white base, blush with red diamonds drawn onto the top of the cheeks just beneath the eyes, and a red lip. A similar red and pink themed eyeshadow and eyeliner, and boom! You’ve got yourself a vintage Harley.
13. Original Characters.
If you’ve spent any amount of time on TikTok, you may have seen some cosplayers makeup some of their own OC looks. Immediately, I think of @artsy_doodle and the overwhelming amount of talent and creativity:
I won’t break down how to do these looks. But I will say the takeaway here should be to be creative and don’t be afraid to do something original and unique with your makeup. Try something out there.
14. Liquid Latex
Fun fact: The first article I ever had published was a how-to on creating a basic wound with liquid latex. But foam clay, liquid latex, and toilet paper (yes, toilet paper) were used to create this incredible cosplay makeup by @Rachel.Maksy:
For something like this, you’d need to mold some foam clay to your face to create the boney face effect, with the toilet paper and liquid latex creating the rotted flesh look. Add some paint to bring it all to life (and hide the fact you’ve attached a bunch of random stuff to your face), and tah-dah! You’ve got yourself an undead Jack Sparrow.
If you have the skills and supplies, you can make your own prosthetics. Or if you’re not quite up for that yet, you can purchase some. Have a look at this incredible cosplay transformation by @a.li.as into Nebula:
A bald cap to hide hair, with the head and eye prosthetics attached, and black contacts are the major pieces to this look. Then body paint and blending bring it all together for an eerily accurate Nebula look.
16. Body Paint
Okay, I know I’ve mentioned using body paint a handful of times so far. But this time let’s talk about actually using it to paint, you know – the body. Take, for example, @Envasnivee as Ghoul:
A grey body paint on the face, neck, chest, arms, legs, and abdomen, with drawn on black stitching to match the character. Black lips and heavy black eye makeup all seem simple. But this makeup takes about two hours to complete.
17. Getting teary eyed
So, this trick may likely not be how @a.li.as likely accomplished this look for Magik, but I’ll include an example of using this makeup technique on someone years ago as well:
Around 11 years ago, my friend Skylar and I (@spook.spice on Instagram, for anyone interested since she does hair and makeup!) were doing some promo stuff for Women in Horror Month, and we did this look mostly because I wanted to play with this “crying” technique:
Basically, I took a hefty helping of black eyeshadow to her bottom lid, some water, and a Q-tip cotton swab and made her makeup run. You can accomplish this is a way less dramatic fashion by holding back on the amount of eye shadow used. But we were going for some dramatic and distanced shots.
I used to make jokes that my resume is mostly “I’m qualified to play in fake blood” – and, hey – it isn’t entirely false. So let’s talk about some fake blood uses in cosplay makeup, featuring @a.li.as as Daniela in Resident Evil: The Village and @artsy_doodle as Himiko Toga from My Hero Academia:
We all know blood can be used for wounds and injuries. But it can also be used as a means of accentuating makeup for characters that may be homicidal, or just really dig the taste of blood. Some tactically places smudges, splashes, and splatters can really take some cosplays to another level.
19. Be yourself and have fun with it.
I know, this is a little cheesy as far as tips go. But cosplay (and cosplay makeup) should be something fun that you enjoy, and that’s definitely the most important part of it all to me. This form of self expression and art is open to everyone – any gender, race, age, weight, skill level etc. Never let anyone tell you that you don’t belong in the cosplay community.
Many thanks again to all of these lovelies for their participation and willingness to trust me to ramble about their cosplay makeup. Go check out their pages and various other platforms for more incredible work!