I’ve admired the comic character Tank Girl for ages, and this year I wanted to update her post apocalyptic Outback look for the 21st century. This guide covers the different elements I used to make this costume.
Bandolier of Light
This fun and flexible light-up accessory is made using 3D printing, DIY electronics, and a little bit of sewing.
You can easily wear it as a belt instead of a shoulder sash, and the modular design lets you customize the length that’s just right for you.
Before you begin, take a look at these prerequisite guides:
- Introducing GEMMA
- 3D Printing with NinjaFlex
- NeoPixel Uberguide
- Battery powering your wearable electronics
- Rugged wearable electronics
For this project you will need:
- ~1m of white 60 NeoPixel strip
- 3D printed parts in white NinjaFlex
- GEMMA or Trinket microcontroller
- fabric and sewing supplies
- USB or alkaline battery pack with cable or extension
- soldering tools and supplies
- stranded wire
- black gaffers tape
I think these bullets still look fabulous in the daylight and give the costume a graphic pop.
3D Design File
Print a bunch of these “McRib” shaped bullet tiles to comprise your bandolier or belt in white NinjaFlex flexible filament. The design is optimized to print with no support material.
Download the STL files below. Parts are oriented to print “as-is” and positioned in the center of the printer build plate.
For the best quality when printing with NinjaFlex, we recommend the following slicing settings:
- Retraction: Off
- Speeds: 45/50
- Extruder Temp: 230c
- Infill 10%
- Raft+Support: Off
- No Heated Bed
The print may include some string artifacts during the printing process. These bits of string and easily to remove with a pair of sharp scissors. Tug on the bits of material and ship them away to remove the excess material.
Try on some NeoPixel strip and cut to the size you like. I found that a 1m strip was perfect for my bandolier, but you may need more if you are not a petite lady, or slightly less if you are making a belt.
The 3D printed bullets were designed to line up with 60 pixel-per-meter strip.
Strip and tin three different colored silicone-coated stranded wires.
Solder the wires to the input of your NeoPixel strip, alternating solder joints from the front to the back of the flex PCB to avoid overcrowding.
Solder the other ends of the wires to GEMMA as follows:
- GEMMA Vout to NeoPixels 5V
- GEMMA D1 to NeoPixels Din
- GEMMA GND to NeoPixels GND
Plug in your GEMMA over USB and program it with the light pattern you desire. We suggest modding up the Larson Scanner Shades sketch or the Cyberpunk Spikes sketch to match the number of NeoPixels in your bandolier and the output pin on GEMMA (1).
Grab a strip of fabric at least as long as your NeoPixel strip, and a little longer is fine!
Sew or fold it into a tube that’s just a bit wider than your NeoPixel strip.
Use a needle and thread to sew the 3D printed parts to the fabric, sandwiching the NeoPixel strip.
Sure, you could glue the NinjaFlex on with Permatex 66B silicone adhesive, but sewing gives a delicate finish and makes your NeoPixel strip reusable in the end!
Continue down the length of the NeoPixel strip, tiling on more 3D flexible pieces as you go. You should stitch while the strip is off in case you accidentally pierce it with the needle– strip is illuminated in photos to demonstrate the diffusion.
You may find it easier to use two needles as you sew along the length of the bandolier or belt. Join the ends of your sash, then knot and cut your thread.
You can store the battery pack in one of the pockets of your utility belt.
If you can’t find a round army helmet, grab an aviator cap. It’ll be easier to stuff in your bag if you get too warm anyway.
Add NeoPixel ring goggles atop your hat and you’re good to go. Make your own pair with Phil B’s guide and use the included sample animations or write your own colorful patterns.
Make a studded choker with color changing LED NeoPixels. Follow our guide for this fun and easy soldering project using through-hole NeoPixels and GEMMA. The circuit is powered by a tiny lipoly battery at the buckle.
Plunder your necklace collection for long chains with symbolic pendants, layers of small beads, a studded leather choker, as well as asymetrical dangling earrings.
Pro tip! After you’ve put on all the jewelry you think you need, check yourself out in the mirror and chose one item to remove.
I found my utility belt on Amazon, but you could also look for one at military surplus stores, thrift stores, or your grandpa’s attic.
You could also substitute the belt for a tactical harness or suspenders. The belt you choose should be comfortable and fit you well, since you’ll use it to attach pouches containing your batteries, cell phone, and other essentials.
Legwear & Shoes
Tank Girl’s pants and legwear are pretty open to interpretation. We’ve often seen her with tall socks and ripped stockings, workout shorts, cutoff jeans, baseball pants, and chunky lettered belt buckles.
Use what you can find and try to anticipate the weather for your occasion. You can also add details like dirt, bandages, knee pads, garters, etc.
Use a pair of faded blue or grey jeans to make a pair of cutoffs. Put the jeans on and draw a line with pen or marking chalk about 1/4″ lower than where you want your cutoffs to end.
Continue your line around the back of the jeans. Take the jeans off and cut around the lines. The front and back will not be symmetrical, so don’t try to cut straight across the whole pant leg at once or you’ll end up showing more cheek than you intended.
Use sandpaper to rough up the edge of the cutoffs or, if you have time, run them through the washer and dryer to fray the edge.
The right boots are essential for this costume. A lot of other features can withstand plenty of artistic license, a pair of iconic combat boots are mandatory for Tank Girl. Pictured above are the Kathleena Strap Calf Boot by Dr. Martens.
Props & Accessories
Utility belt add-ons
It’s easy to find or make pouches to attached to your utility belt for holding backup batteries, dog treats, and your essentials for the evening.
Missle dog backpack
Instead of Tank Girl’s missile bra, I chose to put the graphically bold twin missiles on my sidekick’s backpack.
Save two 2L soda bottles and remove their labels.
Pour a small amount of white paint into each bottle and replace the cap.
Rotate and move the bottle to distribute the paint evenly inside each bottle.
Remove caps and allow painted bottles to dry upside down before replaceing the caps and drawing on the checkerboard pattern with a permanent marker.
Make simple paper fins and use packing tape to secure them to the missles.
Secure bottles to your sidekick’s backpack with zipties and bungee cords.
Use fabric or t-shirt scraps to make bandages. Take them outside and rub them in the dirt, or open your window and wipe the fabric on the sill. Mmm, authentic grime!
Other grimy places to to rub your costume include metal shops, mud puddles, salt flats, and car tires.