Wet Formed Leather Masks

Hi Everyone!
I’ve noticed a couple other posts about masks so far and quite a few on leather.
So this isn’t revolutionary but I thought I’d share a project I’ve done combining laser cutting and engraving leather with the ancient technique of wet forming.

If you use a vegetable tanned leather (not chrome tanned!), you can wet it and sculpt it over a form. When it dries it will retain the shape.

These were cut and engraved with a 40w hobby laser out of 3-4mm veg tan and then wet formed over rigid plastic face shapes. When dry we painted and sealed the front surface. The charred laser edges conveniently look quite finished. As you can see in the photos this thickness of leather holds it’s shape beautifully. The inside suede surface feels great against your skin unlike plastics and synthetics. Finished look is similar to traditional paper mache Italian masks but much thinner and lighter.

I’m particularly looking forward to the pass thru and registration system on the Pro model. The raven mask hits the limits of my current laser’s bed size and still ends up being child sized.

If you’ve read this far, thank you!, I have a couple questions for GF and the community experts.

  1. Having now made a couple hundred of these the biggest hiccup we’ve encountered in the laser process is that leather isn’t completely flat or uniform in thickness. GF can account for irregular surfaces, how well can it handle irregular thickness? Even on a great piece of leather we end up with some spots that don’t cut all the way through and some that over charred.

  2. Burnt leather stinks, badly! Definitely not the aroma of hamburger and definitely not something you want inside. How well does the filter in the Pro model deal with the SMELL of burning materials? (The current setup is in the garage with a vent to outside, you still don’t want to be in the garage during cutting)

Thanks :smile:


Really cool! This is actually one of the projects that I really want to try when I get my GF

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Love it , especially that blue one.

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Love this work!
Where do you get your face molds?
I have a very cool mask from a artist “Lorra Lee Rose” that used her husband for her mold but I never understood the full process.

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Thanks! I went simple and just picked up forms at the halloween store.
Look for the thickest and most sturdy blank FULL FACE masks they have. Some are too flimsy and the half/eyes only style are limiting and difficult to form over.
I have a paper mache set I sealed with acrylic and also half a dozen in white plastic.
The paper mache are a better shape for wide faces but honestly both work just fine.


Oh and the process:

  1. Cut/engrave leather.
  2. Soak leather pieces in clean room temp water until bubbles stop, plus 10 min.
  3. Take leather out of water and wipe off or leave on table until no longer dripping and surface looks uniform.
  4. Shape over your form, you have lots of time. Push and pull with your fingers if you need to. Thicker leather takes more coaxing.
  5. Let dry. Some say overnight, these will dry in an hour in Los Angeles sun. It’s easy to tell the difference between completely dry and still somewhat damp. Pieces will be very light and no longer cool to touch.
  6. Finish as you wish.

More dedicated leatherworkers will probably have issues with my shortcuts but it works great on these masks.


ah these are great! wet formed leather is pretty amazing. were going to making a bunch masks similar to these for our new years party, but with EVA instead. A great reason to have a head/bust cast made! With EVA you form with a heat gun instead of water.

I do leather work too, but havent had a chance to cut/engrave any with a laser yet. Im really excited to be able to do that!

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You’ll love it :slight_smile: The laser takes away most of the tedium of leatherwork.

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Nicely done! I’m particulary partial to cephalopods and love the octopus mask. We were definitely thinking of playing around with this sort of item. Thanks for sharing your process!

Regarding making a mold, after watching the TV show FaceOff, my partner and I played around with making a mold of our faces. It’s not too tricky to make an alginate mask, and then you make a plaster cast from the alginate. It’s a handy trick if you’re making masks for someone like me that has weird facial dimensions (my eyes are too close together for most masks).

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Unique facial dimensions!


I was in Venice a year ago for my honeymoon. I didn’t know this till I got there, but venicians have a huge tradition of masks. They do them in Paper, but same look. Very beautiful! What is a good source of veg tanned leather? Internet? Or ask local couch guys for off cuts?

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Your local couch guy is probably using chrome tanned/oil tanned leather, but there is bound to be a local leather maker guy who uses a veg tan. You can always start at a local Tandy leather retail outlet (or any other local leather supplier) if you want to touch and feel and ask questions. Otherwise, the internet definitely has more than one supplier. For small quantities you may be better off with eBay, etsy or Amazon. FYI - in the US leather is measured in ounces with every 1/64" of thickness corresponding to an ounce, otherwise it’s in mm.


You can get veg-tanned whole hides and bags of practice scraps from Tandy Leather (they’re having holiday sales now–I just got a 3 lb bag for $4 and a beautiful, soft pigskin tooling hide for $45), or from a local leather worker. The couch guys won’t be a good bet, though–almost all upholstery leathers are chrome-tanned.


Great to see you on here, @ekla! I love your masks, and in fact a big reason why I ordered my Glowforge was so I could do delicate leather wearables like you’re creating. It’ll be fun to share ideas.

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Yes! Venice has a long tradition of incredible mask work. The mass market stuff today is paper mache but originally (and currently most expensively) they were leather formed to incredible levels of detail with a horn hammer over wood or stone! (Hammering compresses the leather and contributes to hardening) I was fortunate to take a class on this technique with an Italian trained artisan back in college.

Carbis2 is correct - you won’t want the stuff from the couch guys for this process, chrome tanned leather won’t wet form. Unless you know your internet supplier very well I would prefer being able to pick out hides in person - there’s a lot of variation in shape, surface, color, etc. - many have holes in unexpected places. Tandy is ok, perfectly acceptable for experimenting. I’m in Los Angeles - for veg tan I go to Sav-More Leather. You can often find small pieces at your local Michaels/Joann/Hobby Lobby type store.


Thank you @morganstanfield, yes I’d love to share ideas! I’m particularly interested in expanding net construction these days.

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Thank you @memorymovement. My features are unique, too = Asian. So flatter nose and shallower eye sockets really trip me up and I can’t really wear some of my own masks!
I’ve done the alginate/plaster, awesome for custom work. If you want a few copies of yourself for this try making a negative cast of your finished positive in plaster and then press in a layer of warmed thermoplastic beads (Shapelok or Instamorph). OR if you have access to a vaccuform table, a 4mm polyethelyne over your positive. They’ll be just like my storebought forms but custom to your features :wink:


@morganstanfield, I have been looking at them for a while now. So they have some good stuff?
Your thoughts on this one?

Sorry @spike, I’ve tried laser cutting oiled leathers and it’s just gross. Stick to plain veg tan for cutting and treat/finish afterwards.

see this thread http://community.glowforge.com/t/all-about-leather/

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@ekla, Funny, when they say “Vegetable-tanned”, I some how thought of Vegetable oil-tanned.
After looking it up, I now see it’s not.

“Vegetable-tanned leather is tanned using tannins and other ingredients found in different vegetable matter, such as tree bark prepared in bark mills, wood, leaves, fruits, and roots. It is supple and brown in color, with the exact shade depending on the mix of chemicals and the color of the skin.”