A Guide to Cosplay Progress: Portfolio Build Books w. Sansanvi Cosplay

Having recently achieved one of the highest scores for the portfolio category in the Insomnia Cosplay Championship, Sansanvi shares tips and tricks for creating these build books. We will be using Sansanvi’s ‘Holga’ build book as an example throughout. You can view the entire book here: – https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Qjef5DHYNAsu999KewyEuvMI54CvP4ks/view?usp=sharing 


What is a Cosplay ‘Build Book’?

Sometimes referred to as ‘progress books’ ‘portfolios’ or ‘build books’, this is a document that gives the cosplay judges eyes on what costume you are building and how you put the costume together.

The beginning: setting up and thinking about how to compose your book

Sansanvi recommends thinking about constructing your build book alongside your costume, this means you can work on both simultaneously saving you time and you can take pictures of the build as you work on it.

The key areas to think about when making your build book;

  • Reference images of the character so the judges can see what you are making.
  • How you are going to build each individual piece of your costume. What techniques and materials are you going to use?
  • How you are going to organize and structure your build book (Sansanvi recommends a ‘head to toe’ approach’ which can also be carried over into the pre-judging room to make sure you remember to mention all the elements of your costume!) Which pieces on your build can be grouped together (for example Holga’s Top and Trousers can be grouped together as they are both fabric, chest is all armor on the build.) How will you communicate all the information quickly to the judges in the build book?

The front cover of your build Book

Sansanvi suggests the first page of your build book should feature a full body reference image with clear indication of character and series. When you enter the pre-judging room, the judges will be looking at the front page of the build book, then looking at your costume. Every judge is also not necessarily going to know every single character, so the reference photo gives the judges a clear indication of what you are trying to achieve.

The contents page

The contents page can be designed as an incredibly quick snapshot of each component of the build, the page number, the techniques and materials used. A great way to get to grips with your costume build is to break down the reference images and examine what is going into the costume. This will then give you a clear contents page (and costume building structure!) as you would have to do this work anyway to construct the costume itself you may as well do so as part of a build book!

Setting up the build book structure 

 Sansanvi has chosen to include lots of other references from many different angles for each component of the costume. This gives the judges clear indication of what it is she is trying to achieve. All references are placed on the left side with details of the work to the right.

This is the time to really get into the detailed elements of the build and include lots of pictures of the work! The more the judges see the progress of each element in stages, the clearer you can be about what you did to make it! Here Sansanvi includes various stages and writes a small caption to each image to explain what was done at that stage. There is also a clear order of these images from beginning to end making it easy for the judges to follow along with the work.

The techniques box is included as a quick summary of what went into constructing the piece. The materials box explains why certain materials were chosen for each element. This can include things such as historical accuracy, budget restriction, difficult to find materials and feel/wear of material. New techniques and materials for Sansanvi are highlighted in a different color, this is to indicate to the judges that it is the first time attempting this.

Breaking down the build Further & Adding information


The predominant focus of your build book should be images, make sure to plan to give the most real estate to these! While you don’t have to go overboard (as the judges will also see your work in person), the general rule of thumb is to have a photo for each clear landmark of the costume making process, then some details of the steps. Consider also including one full photo of the finished costume on the back page.


The most important thing to get across to the judges is if you have made the garment or not and if so, how. Make sure to include the following;

    • If you have used a commercial pattern or patterned the item yourself.
    • If you made a mock up, include a picture even if you have used a commercial pattern, also include any methods of altering the pattern to fit you better.
    • seams and hems (you can pick the best ones to show the judges.)
    • Undergarments (Internal seams and hems) especially if you are proud of the way they are designed, as the judges will not have easy access to these on the day.
    • Include details of techniques, for instance if you have dyed your fabric for example keep a little piece of the undyed fabric so you can put both pieces together as a ‘before and after’.
  • Your fabric approach, types of fabric/material and why you have chosen it, is it correct to the reference?
  • If you have used a different material than what would be expected, give a clear explanation as to why. Perhaps you do not like the feel of the fabric or it is too expensive make sure the judges understand this.
  • If appropriate, include the finished article (especially if it is hidden or covered such as an undergarment.)

Foamwork & 3D printing

This will have a similar series of items to include, always make sure to specify what you have made and what you haven’t;

  • If you have used a pattern or made the pattern yourself, give indication to what pieces you have cut out and stuck together and what alterations you did. If you are using 3D printing, include the key stages of the modeling process and test prints.
  • Examples of the joins, sanding edges and priming.
  • Painting and weathering techniques used.
  • Any further techniques and details such as attachment process, cooling, lights, engraving, resin cast gems etc.
  • The finished article.
  • Further materials such as what type of core for strength or additions such as fabric choice/techniques for the handle wrap.

Further Techniques & Accessories 

With so many different items and accessories like wigs, resin, embroidery etc. make sure to include the item if you have spent a lot of your time, effort, work, if it’s a new technique or it is a key feature of the costume. Specifying whether items with competition leniency such as shoes and spectacles are made or brought is also good.

Areas you can be less detailed;

This will give you a good guide as to how to remove ‘fluff’ that is taking up valuable space in your build book!

  • Intense detail about material choices such as the density of foam used (unless really relevant) or fabric composition (again unless really relevant.)
  • When you specify you have made your garment you do not need to be too detail heavy with its obvious components (for instance the judges will know if you have made a shirt with sleeves, you do not need to explain that you made an arm hole to sew the shirt sleeve into, the judges will inspect your workmanship of this, they don’t need to know the steps themselves on how to sew the shirt as the judges will already know this.)
  • Too much detail on why you have chosen to make the character in question.

In the mindset of the judge

Always consider the reader as part of your process of creating a build book, it’s great to have information but it must be useful to the judges themselves, the judges have 5-10 minutes with your build book and they need to flick through the book to see your reference and what you have done incredibly quickly.

treat your build book as though the person reading it is revising for an exam. You can repeat key information as a refresher such as the techniques box from the contents page, but consider keeping that techniques box in the same place on every page so the judges have quick access to it.

If you make your build book to text heavy the judges will not be able to read all the information, any text should provide context to what you are trying to achieve. Images are key, and should be organized in a logical order similar to a comic strip. This makes the information quick and easy to digest. Build books with no logical order can be extremely difficult to follow without clear guidance as to what piece of the costume the judges are examining.

What do judges actually look for?

  • An understanding of what you are trying to achieve.
  • An understanding of how you achieved it with materials, technique and execution (even if the technique is new to you, the judges still want to see that you can execute the technique well and your material choice is sensible.)
  • Proof you have made the item in question.

Awareness of how build books and pre-judging work in tandem

Remember that you will usually have the opportunity to see the judges in person. Pre-judging is there to explain what you did to the judges and give the judges the opportunity to examine your workmanship.

  • Follow the ‘head to toe’ approach so you remember to mention all your costume elements. You can begin with your wig/hat/helmet/hair accessories and work down.
  • When you enter the pre-judging room, the judges will be looking at your references and then your costume, make sure references are easily accessible for the judges.
  • You can also explain any further detail in the room such as material choices and techniques.

The importance of formatting

As the judges have limited time with each build book the formatting of this is vital. While having a well designed book can give a brilliant feel to the entire document, readability of the book should be the number one consideration.

As a general rule of thumb you should be aware of;

Font choice
  • Use fonts which are easily readable, no brush or script fonts. Use a serif font on the headings only if you must but stick to sans serif fonts for the informative text.


Use of colour
  • Use backgrounds with a high contract to the text and remember accessibility is also an important consideration. Don’t pair colours which individuals may find a challenge to read. You can look up which colours to avoid using for accessibility but here is a general guide of what to avoid using;


Green and Red Green and Green Blue and Grey Pink and Purple Green and Grey
Green and Black Green and Brown Green and Blue Blue and Grey Blue and Purple


Use of text
  • If you yourself cannot read your entire build book in an average of 5-10 minutes the judges won’t be able to either! Once you have completed your book, make sure to do a readthrough test yourself!


Remember your build book is a celebration of your achievements! While putting one together can initially seem a little overwhelming you will always have your book to go back to, you will be able to remember the work, time and effort you poured into your costume and even identify areas for improvement or techniques you’d like to practice!

Sansanvi recommends visiting Kirilee cosplay and Rosemagpie on youtube for further buildbook and competition tips!

Sansanvi Media:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sansanvicosplay/

Twitch: www.twitch.tv/sansanvicosplay

Photo Credits:
unfinished Holga by Shooting Cosplayers @shootingcosplayers

Holga unfinished, in Ciri’s trousers by DC Photo @dcphotodc
Holga on stage by Brookie @Brookie9001

Leliana from Eugene by Eugene Artjomenko @eugene.art_