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Published on September 3rd, 2014 | by Erri


Cell Shaded: The Making of a Borderlands Cosplay

With the Borderlands hype train once again beginning in anticipation for the upcoming release of Borderlands: The Pre Sequel, now would be the perfect time to create your own Borderlands cosplay. The first time I played Borderlands I instantly fell in love with its cell shaded art style. It felt like I was running around in a bad ass comic book land with bonus wub wub. Here are a couple of tips on cell shading for all you vault hunters!

Kelly Jean’s eye for detail makes her Lilith look amazing.

While cell shading is pretty easy to do, it isn’t quite as simple as taking a black sharpie to town on your new costume. There are multiple features and layers that you need to be aware of to get that pop-right-off-mah-screen effect. Here is a list of layers seen on most characters:

  1. Base fabric/prop
  2. Black cell shade
  3. Highlights
  4. Shadows and stains

Base fabric/prop

So this is your base for cell shading. Steer away from shiny or sheer fabrics. You want to look like a cartoon and these just won’t work effectively with cell shading. Stay with your basic cottons and block coloured stretch fabrics. Jeans and other heavy fabrics are fine as well.

Ico Art chose some pretty perfect colours for his Salvador.

Black cell shade

For this you are right to reach for the sharpie! Arm yourself with a few pens that have different point tips, from very fine to chunky. Black paint will also work, especially for props or fabric where the sharpie bleeds and spreads. Which comes to a very important point before we continue on:

Always do a test on a piece of scrap fabric to see how the pen or paint keeps. The last thing you want is to ruin your costume!

Okay – now onto the fun stuff! Almost every part of every borderlands costume is outlined with black. Every change of colour is framed with black as well. So start by doing this. Most of these lines you will find be quite thick and bold. Make sure you check your reference picture closely. While most of the time these are straight lines, on some pieces these lines can be a bit wobbly or noticeably thicker in areas. This also means that if you make a mistake you can easily make it look like it was supposed to be like that.

Orca Cosplay’s cell shading detail is super impressive.

Now to add some feature lines. Is it an article of clothing? Maybe its creased like shirt that bunches up. A prop like a holster or gun? There could be scratches across the surface, or chips on a corner. There is a bit of a fine balance when it comes to feature lines. Too many will make it too busy, but too little won’t give your piece a good cell shaded effect. The main thing to remember here is that nothing is perfect in the borderlands. Everything has been exposed to wear, tear, and time.

Cosplayer Lili Din’s Athena has some seriously battle worn armour.


White highlights are used to show light reflections on skin, clothing and props. You will also find a lot of feature lines will have an upper or lower highlight running alongside it. Essentially these lines help make the feature line pop out. Highlight lines are generally a lot finer than most of the black cell shading. For my highlights I used a white Citadel paint on both props and clothing. I chose Citadel because I personally think it gives a better coverage on its first coat than the average acrylics I use.

Leon Chiro highlighted dem psycho Kreig abs.

Shadows and Stains

The borderlands is a dirty, dirty place. Zoom right into your reference picture. You’re going to find the outlines of old stains on clothing, blood splatters on shoes, mud and god knows what else. There are also a lot of shadows around or close to major feature lines. To recreate these on both clothing and props I swear by Citadel’s Nuln Oil with a bit of water added. This stuff is perfect for creating shadows as it applies like a colour stain and not a paint. You can control the intensity of the shadow by how much water you add. Again, I would highly recommend trialling it on a scrap piece of fabric before you put it on your costume. Also it tends to dry a bit lighter than when it is wet.

Shadowing and stains on Erri Kitten’s Moon Moxxi.

So there we have it! A couple of tips to help you with cell shading your next borderlands costume. You will be searching for loot in dirty bathrooms in no time! While you’re still here, how about checking out some of the cosplayers featured in this article.

Angel –

Kreig –

Lilith –

Athena –

Salvador –

Moon Moxxi –


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About the Author


Gamer, cosplayer, and lover of cats. When not hunched over a sewing machine or hot gluing armour together, you can find her spawn camping on Battlefield or chasing butterflies in Skyrim. Gaming since she was 7 years old, Erri is a sucker for xbox games you can lose yourself in... or blow up. She has an entire facebook photo album devoted to in game characters on deck chairs.

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