I've been working on a project, and with all the other stuff going on it's slipped between the cracks. I don't have the whole thing done, but I've been posting chunks (like the monofin thread and tail care and maintenance thread) so people can still use the info until the whole thing comes out. So here's another chunk! This is from information gathered over a long period of time. Please let me know if you have anything to add or think is incorrect.
NEOPRENE AND LATEX TAILS
Neoprene and latex tails are made by layering latex onto neoprene and impressing or sculpting shapes into the latex. They result in a realistic look without the hours of labor or expense of a molded latex tail.
This process was originally tested by using a tin cure latex mix known as ALEX Plus caulking, referred to as ALEX. Links and threads have been posted for tutorial demonstration information. The material known as ALEX Plus is NOT reccomended for tail making. This is a partner thread to the thread "Making your own latex tail" by Raven of Merbella Studios, since removed. The creator of the original tutorial (Raven of Merbellas) has stated herself this material was only meant to use as a cheap alternative to test out tail making techniques before investing in proper slip casting latex material. Since then Raven's ALEX tail has degraded and she has stated publicly that she does not recommend the use of ALEX for tail making. One can use slip casting latex and latex thicker to thicken to the same consistency of ALEX for use in making realistic tails, following the technique below.
ALEX Plus is not meant to be submerged. When submerged for too long, the material turns white and may come off in the water. ALEX degrades with multiple submergances in water, making for a short tail life span.
Material Safety Data Sheet: http://www.dap.com/docs/msds/00010019002_english.pdf
Negative health effects as stated in the MSDS have been observed by a couple of known people with ALEX Plus on/in their tails. Again, this material is NOT RECOMENDED FOR MAKING TAILS. The technique, however can be used with thickened slip casting latex for the same effect.
The material known as ALEX is not made of approved skin safe material. It is discussed as a cheap alternative, but if you choose to purchase or make a tail out of ALEX, do so at your own risk. A barrier of neoprene is highly recommended to act as a barrier between skin and a non skin safe material. Therefore ALEX + spandex creations are not recommended - make/use at your own risk.
The following tutorial is based off of the original “How to make a latex tail” tutorial thread by Mermaid Raven of Merbellas Studios, posted on Mer.Yuku.com (predecessor to MerNetwork.com).
-Slip casting Latex: Such as Slip Cast Rubber from Burman Industries or Douglas and Sturgess
-Latex thickener (or Thixotropic Agent as it may be referred to) such as those products listed below:
STM Pro Liquid Latex Thickener
Latex Thickening Gel
Liquid Latex Thickener
Polycraft Liquid Latex Thickener (alternate source UK Only)
OR a latex filler, such as Burman Industries Latex Filler
-Latex pigments or top paint; Note: Pigmented latex will never fade or scrape off, top paint can and will fade and scrape off with time and use. Top paints such as Createx airbrush paints will need to be heat set with a tool or craft grade heat gun.
-Metal grating or recycled fishing netting: Metal grating you can find from most hardware stores, recycled fishing netting can be found at Michaels or other craft stores. Different shapes of netting or grating can be used for different scale shapes.
-Nitrile gloves (Safety first!)
-Heavy duty thread
-Heavy duty sewing needles
-Lubricant: NEVER use petroleum based lubricant! Water based (such as astroglide) or in this specific case, silicone based, is good.
-Wide putty knife
-Air compressor or air propellant (air cans)
-Tool or craft grade heat gun: If you are using a top pain that needs to be heat set, such as Createx airbrush paints.
Be sure to work in a very well venerate space! It is very highly recommended that you practice the scaling technique on scrap pieces of neoprene before you attempt it on the whole tail. It will allow you to get the hang of and tweak how thick the material needs to be, spreading it evenly, the time it takes for the material to dry, and how fast to pull of the texturing, ect. This will assure a good technique for clean even scales!
Make a pattern for your tail using your measurements for the body portion, and tracing of your monofin (plus any extra for additional fluke shape), using the “basic tail” method. Trace it onto the neoprene and cut it out. You will have to do this twice for both sides of the tail, as the fabric can't be pinned together as in the basic tail method. If you wish, trace the tail shape an inch in to allow for a latex-free seam allowance for sewing, and do not latex this outer edge durring the process. Make sure the fabric is right side (outer side) up before starting.
1. Pigment the latex with the desired color (optional).
2. Thicken the latex with the thickener until it is the constancy of caulking.
3. Apply the first layer of latex- work the material into the fabric with the putty knife. There is no need to make this layer thick- it just needs to be enough to cover the fabric. Let this layer dry.
4. Once that layer is dry, apply another layer of latex evenly over the fabric. Lay the fishnet down and strech it out and press into the last coat, or press the metal grating into the coat- this is the body of the tail only, or only where you want the scales.
5. Begin filling the net/grate holes with more latex, and spreading it evenly all over the wanted scale area. With netting, just the tops of the knots should be visible. Note that too much pressure and a high angle will make waves in the latex as the knife “jumps” over the knots.
6. Once the latex has cured just enough to be gummy/tacky, remove the netting/grating. Begin at the bottom, near the fluke, and lift the net/grate off the neoprene pulling toward the waist. This will make the bottom of the scales higher than the top. If the latex scales strings or pokes up when the net/grate is pulled up, use a spatula to pat and smooth the strings and/or peaks down.
7. Smooth more latex out over the fluke area (on top of the first layer), then add texture. This can be done with your fingers (wearing gloves, of course), or with an instrument like a wooden dowel, or even a fork! Add more latex as needed, but don't make the layers too thick. If needed, let the layer dry then add additional layers of texturing and let them cure separately. Otherwise your cure time will be increased dramatically.
8. Once all the layers of latex are cured, you may apply any top paints. For a paint job that will never fade or crack, use latex to paint your tail as well! Mix additional latex (no need for it to be thickened) with the pigments you wish to use- each in a separate container. Then with the disposable brushes, paint on the latex as if it was paint. You may need to do this in layers for a blending or opaque effect. For now, leave a 1-2 inch paint free zone all along the bottom edge of the fluke. Be sure to rinse off/out the brushes before the latex dries, otherwise they will have to be discarded. Although powder pigments an grant superior color, take proper safety precautions when handling them. With most, the particles are small enough that inhaling them is a safety concern, in which case a proper respirator (such as a 3M P100 respirator, that filters at least 99.97% of airborne particles) is needed.
Otherwise, paint on a regular top paint and heat set if needed. Paint the tail, let the paint dry completely (wait at least an hour), then heat set it with the heat gun.
10. It's time to sew the tail together. Make sure ALL latex and paint is completely cured/dried before this step. Put the two tail pieces together, latex side in. Carefully align the fabric, pin it with sewing pins if you are able, and sew the tail together. Sew both sides, but leave the bottom of the fluke open! Use a stretch stitch, preferably an overlock stitch. Be sure to follow all the guidelines for sewing neoprene in the “Neoprene Tails” section. Once completed you may try your tail on to make sure the body of the tail fits correctly. After the monofin is installed it will be harder to make size adjustments.
11. Install your monofin and seal the fluke. To do this, put the monofin inside of the tail via the opening in the bottom of the fluke. Situate it correctly, then seal the bottom of the inside of the fluke with glue. You can use gorilla glue, E600, or other types of industrial waterproof glue. If you wish you can also glue the monofin into the tail by gluing it to the neoprene of the fluke. This is favored by some and discouraged by others. Some stress that this is the only way to keep the fluke from bubbling up with air or water while swimming. Others say that leaving a few small vent holes in the bottom of the fluke better solves this issue without making the monofin obvious, as gluing it in tends to do. Finish up by covering the bottom seam in latex (using the unpainted bottom edge to get a good latex on latex bond) letting it dry, then painting it to finish up the paint job.
If you want to add additional fins, do so before sewing the tail halves together. They can be added afterward, but it is easier to do it beforehand. If you wish to create fins out of neoprene and latex, do so with the same process as texturing the fluke. Be sure to either have two pieces both textured on one side, or one piece textured on both sides. Leave a 1in piece on the side that will be attached to the tail latex free. Cut a slit in the body of the tail where you want the fin to be, as big as the fin side to be attached. On the inside of the fabric, pin the fin material and the body of the tail's material all together. Then fold the material so that all of said material is one straight line “stack” of material, then sew the material together. Once all desired fins are attached, proceed with sewing the tail together.
Note: Latex can not be frozen, or it will be useless. In winter it is unwise to order latex via shipping across cold climates. Sellers suggest one day air shipping, but this may not be fast enough, and sellers take no responsibility for latex made useless by cold temperatures. Similarly, do not work with or store uncured latex in near or below freezing temperatures, or your project may be ruined.