The Ultimate Guide to Cosplaying Isabelle Lightwood's Runes from Shadowhunters (Season Two)

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The number one question I get asked about my Isabelle Lightwood costume (which you can find photos of here!) is: "How did you make her runes?"

I put a lot of work into her runes. I made this guide to share what I did and some of the resources I made so that cosplaying Izzy is hopefully less challenging for anyone else wanting to cosplay her.

Making her runes required three things:
1) figuring out what all her runes were, where they were placed on her body, and what size they were
2) creating these runes and scaling them to my body, and
3) figuring out how to apply her runes to my body.

Below is my guide to how I accomplished all three of these things.

Step 1: Understanding Izzy's Runes

This was a very time-consuming step. I started by spending hours re-watching Isabelle's scenes in season two of Shadowhunters (yay Nexflix!) and screencapping as many images of her runes as I could.

I used these screencaps to figure out what runes she has and where they are placed on her body. Thankfully, I had some really great help. dontforget2bawesome on DeviantArt made a Shadowhunters runes font and included a PDF guide to the runes in their font! I am super thankful to them since I used their guide to match up Izzy's runes to their meaning.

For myself, and for others who want to cosplay Isabelle, I used a few of my screencaps, some promo and other images, and this font to make a guide to Isabelle's runes in season two, which you'll find below.

Please note: that her runes and their placement were inconsistent. Their locations shifted slightly depending on the episode and promo image, and some runes even disappeared and reappeared!

I made this guide very large to make sure there were big, clear images of her runes. Though the guide below is large, it's actually a smaller version of the guide re-sized to display on this webpage. Thus, please click the image below to view the full-sized guide:

Click here to download my full-sized guide to Izzy's runes!
(The version above is a smaller re-sized version!)

Step 2: Creating Izzy's Runes

Now that I knew what Izzy's runes were, I had to make versions of them that fit my body.

dontforget2bawesome's runes font was a huge help for this step as well! (THANK YOU! ♥) I used their font in Illustrator to create vectors of the runes and then manipulated their size and shape.

This step also took a very long time. I basically a) made versions of her runes in Illustrator, b) printed them out, c) cut them out and d) taped them to my body where they're supposed to go. I then went back to Illustrator and fixed what I didn't like about the runes. This was usually altering their size or twisting their shape. I did this over and over again, using trial and error until I had created versions of her runes that fit me.

Once I finally had versions of the runes I was happy with, I tetris-ed them all to fit onto only two sheets of paper. I put the runes for her arms, shoulders and neck on one page, and all her other runes on a second page. This was done for two reasons. First, because when I first cosplayed Izzy, I only needed a few of her runes. Second, I knew I'd be copying the show's way of applying the runes (see below), which meant that it was in my best interest to fit as many runes onto a single sheet of paper as I could. My final step was to mirror the runes, since this was also important for my method of application.

To make the lives of future Izzy cosplayers easier, I've decided to share my PDFs of Izzy's runes. Please note that these are scaled to my body, so they may not work as well for other people. Please also note that because I used the font as my base, a few of the runes don't look exactly like they did in the show, though they still look pretty close and really good.

My PDFs of Izzy's scaled runes:

Click here to download the PDF of part 1 of my scaled versions of Izzy's runes, which features all the runes arms, shoulders and neck.

Click here to download the PDF of part 1 of my scaled versions of Izzy's runes, which features all the runes on her chest and back.

Click here to download the MIRRORED VERSION PDF of part 1 of my scaled versions of Izzy's runes, which features all the runes arms, shoulders and neck.

Click here to download the MIRRORED VERSION PDF of part 2 of my scaled versions of Izzy's runes, which features all the runes on her chest and back.

Step 3: Applying Izzy's Runes

I considered a bunch of different ways of applying Izzy's runes.

At first, I thought about using black body paint or black waterproof eyeliner, and using my PDF guides as templates to trace her runes on my skin. This had some downsides though. It would be very time-consuming to trace and color in the runes and it would be hard to trace and color them in on myself, especially on places I can't see, like the back of my shoulders. Moreover, these methods had a high chance of smudging or rubbing off during the day, both on myself and other people, which I did not want. (I never considered using sharpie since its ink is not meant for being applied to skin, it smudges and runs and makes a mess, and it's very hard to remove.)

I ended up looking up how the show does the runes. Shadowhunters is filmed in Toronto, and it turns out that they use a method by a local cosmetic company. Jordane Cosmetics sells a "Waterslide Tattoo Transfer Paper", which is the product they use on set.

This paper works a lot those "temporary tattoos" marketed at kids -- the ones that involve putting a paper tattoo against your skin and then covering the paper with water until the tattoo image is transferred to your skin. You print the tattoos you want to transfer on a sheet of this paper, then cut them out and apply them to your skin in a similar way.

This process is a little more complicated though, since Jordane suggests that you also use a special effects-grade adhesive called pros aid to help the tattoo stick, as well as a product called aqua bamboo. Their process is on their website. I bought tattoo paper, pros aid, and aqua bamboo from Jordane and pretty much followed their method.

Here's a version of Jordane's method that I've edited slightly to make more relevant and easier to follow for Shadowhunter runes:
  1. Print your runes on the shiny side of the paper. Jordane says to only use a "monocrom laser printer or color laser printer" and that "ink jet printers will not work". Make sure to print a mirrored version of the runes onto the paper, otherwise they'll be "backwards" when you apply them on yourself.
  2. Cut out the runes. I found that I didn't have to be too exact so I cut around the rune leaving a few millimetres between my cutting and the edge of the runes.
  3. Use a brush or sponge to put a thin layer of pros aid on the side of the runes you printed on. (Note that this will destroy this sponge or brush.) The pros aid should dry sticky and clear rather quickly.
  4. Spray aqua bamboo on the skin where you're going to put your rune. Jordane suggests two full sprays of aqua bamboo. I'd run some tests on this first to see what works for you. I found that I did not need nearly as much aqua bamboo as suggested and that if I used as much as suggested, the runes and the skin around them ended up being "flaky".
  5. Place the rune against your skin where you want it to go and press down.
  6. Place a wet washcloth over the paper until you see the rune come though the paper.
  7. Slowly peel the paper off, leaving the rune on your skin.
  8. The rune will be sticky because of the pros aid. Spray aqua bamboo on it. Jodane argues that this will seal the tattoo and take away the stickiness, as well as "give it a matte look".

I think their method works really well! (It is what they use in the show, after all!) The pros aid helps the runes stick and keeps them from smudging off or going anywhere, which is great if you want your runes to last through the day. The aqua bamboo was good for sealing the runes and keeping them from being sticky or shiny.

Overall, I was very happy using this method. The lines of my runes were crisp and clear, and the color was nice and dark. My runes looked better than anything I could've drawn on. Moreover, they were pretty easy to apply even in areas that were hard to see. Better still, my runes lasted all day and I had no worries about them smudging since touching them had no effect.

Here are some photos of my runes using this method:

(More photos of my Izzy costume can be found here!)

Here's Izzy's "agility" rune on my wrist after around ten hours of wear:

I have two more things I want to mention:

First, if you're going to use this method, I suggest having waterproof black eyeliner on hand. I messed up applying a few of the runes, and I used the eyeliner colored in the spots I messed up. This was way easier than removing the rune and re-applying it. Also, as the day wore on and I did things like carry a purse which rubbed against the runes on my shoulders, some of the runes started to come off a bit. Eyeliner was a very easy fix since I could just draw on the parts that were coming off.

Second, and this is important: if you're going to use this method, buy spirit gum remover or something else that will dissolve pros aid! I cannot stress this enough! Pros aid is a skin adhesive and does not come off with soap and water. You will need to buy spirit gum or something else that will remove pros aid to get the runes off! (Warning: Do not get spirit gum remover confused with spirit gum, which is also a skin adhesive.)

I found that with some scrubbing, I could remove runes applied on hairless-skin, but if there were even any barely-visible baby hairs on my skin, the runes stuck to them and clumped when I tried to remove them. Thankfully, I have a lot of spirit gum remover lying around from other projects and it removed the runes with ease. Don't bother rubbing your skin raw or fighting with your baby hairs. Please get yourself some spirit gum remover and save yourself a lot of time and grief!

To sum up, if you're going to go with their method of rune application, you'll need: tattoo transfer paper, pros aid, aqua bamboo and spirit gum remover.

I know that these materials aren't cheap. I think that if you're careful, you could probably get away with only using the tattoo transfer paper. Just know that these runes would be more fragile and less durable. If you want to go for the full method from the show, I suggest buying the small bottles of the liquids, since you shouldn't need very much. Also, in case it helps, I bought the big sheets of Jordane's Waterslide Tattoo Transfer Paper. I found that I could cut five 8.5" x 11" sheets of paper from it.

On a final side note, I drove to Jordane Cosmetics to pick up the materials I needed. (You can totally order what you need online!) Their store/factory is awesome and the staff is great. Plus, while I was there, the neatest thing happened. When I told them what I was planning to do with their products, a staff member said to me excitedly, "We work with Randy all the time!" They were referring to Randy Daudlin, who is head of the makeup department and works on prosthetics for the show. I mean, how cool is that?

Final Notes

This concludes my guide to cosplaying Izzy's runes!

If it's not already obvious, I love Izzy and figuring out how to cosplay her runes was a labour of love. I hope this guide helps you make your own Izzy costume and makes cosplaying her a little easier, if nothing else than because she's awesome and deserves all the cosplayers! ♥

If you end up using this guide, please credit me and link back to this webpage. If you just think this guide is cool, please feel free to link it to others so they can check it out too!

This tutorial was uploaded on October 22, 2017.

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