Cosplay 101: Make-up Basics

Cosplay 101

Cosplay make-up can work a little differently to your everyday look. I make no claims to being an expert but I’ve learnt a few things along the way. Consider this a tips post, not a tutorial.


Think about skin tone. You can adjust your own tone a little, but (unless you’re being Harley Quinn or another character with a literal painted face) it’s quite limited. Pick a shade or two darker or lighter than your usual foundation, but anymore than that and it’s going to look strange against the rest of your skin.

Test a few foundations away from your usual brand to find what will stay longest on your skin. Bear in mind, conventions are sweaty places, so your foundation will need to stand up to that. Seal your foundation with a good face powder. You can top your powder up throughout the day, which will help combat shine.


If you’re not going for a specific effect, for eyes you’re basically going for definition. Photographs can make your eyes disappear a bit. Pick an eyeshadow that suits your character, or choose a good nude. Line the eyes (go waterproof if you can, again, think sweat!) and a put on a couple of layers of mascara. Now your eyes won’t vanish of someone gets a little exposure happy with their picture of you.

You can make a more dramatic eye with false lashes. Practise putting them on well before the convention so you’re used to it, and give yourself plenty of time to get them on on the day of the convention. False lashes can be fiddly and if you’re trying to do it quickly, that’s always going to be when you struggle!


I find brows are another victim of vanishing in photos. If my character has brows close to my natural colour, I just fill mine as normal. If, however, you’re wearing a wig in a different colour, colouring your brows can make a lot of difference.

I’ve had success using a lip liner, eyeliner or brow pencil in the colour I want to use. You can also use eyeshadow and gently brush it through your brows. There are methods involving paints out there, but personally, I don’t think it’s worth it. Stick with actual make-up products, and it’s less likely to upset your skin!


If you’re clever, shadows and highlights can dramatically appear to alter your face shape. Again, practice is key here. Get a good highlighter and then either a contour powder or a bronzer. If you use bronzer, avoid anything too orange and stick with brown shades, and avoid shimmer. Essentially, if you want to bring something forward, highlight it. If you want to push something back, put the contour powder on it. Blend well, or you’ll look stripy.

Study your source material and see where your face shape matches and where it differs. Experiment with shading and see how well you can match that shape.


The first step should always be a liner. It will give a more defined shape and help your lipstick stay put.  Whatever colour you use, apply one light layer first and then blot. To blot, gently close your lips around a tissue or a piece of folded up toilet roll. Apply another layer and then blot well. A good blot will help the lipstick stay put and not just transfer to anything you drink out of, and also helps stop it getting all over your teeth. Take the lipstick with you so you can reapply throughout the day if you need too.


For cosplay make-up, practice makes perfect! Do test runs at home, and take photographs. Be aware that make-up will photograph a little differently to how it looks in real life, so test this at home for yourself and you won’t be caught by surprise.