Spirit Gum - How to use and which type to pick

Spirit Gum - How to use and which type to pick

by Fiona Kay 09 April, 2019 7 min read

Spirit Gum - How to use and which type to pick

One of the most versatile and widely used parts of any special FX artist’s tool kit, spirit gum can be applied to a number of special FX designs. But knowing exactly what you should be using for each application can be a challenge.

If you find yourself wondering how best to apply your postiche (hair piece; i.e. a moustache), or how to go about removing the adhesive safely afterwards – we can help! Today Red Carpet FX are sharing the ins and outs of spirit gum, how to use it and what products work best for which applications!

What is spirit gum?

If you are at the beginning of your journey into the world of makeup and special FX, then you may not yet have come across spirit gum. So, what is it? 

Spirit gum is an adhesive made from a mixture of solvent (hence where the “spirit” in the name is from), and resin (where the "gum" aspect is from) which works as the glue. It is widely applied throughout the special FX industry as it is effective and although can cause irritation for some, is relatively safe for use on the skin. As such, spirit gum adhesive has been used in the industry since the 1870’s and the formula has not changed too much from what was used over 150 years ago (perhaps a little more refined). 

What can spirit gum be used for?

The real question here is what can’tspirit gum be used for! Great for the application of facial prosthetics from noses and ears to hair pieces such as eyebrows, moustaches, beards and even wigs.

It goes without saying that not every kind of spirit gum will work the same, and so it is important to know what will work best for what.

As a general rule of thumb, spirit gum is best used for lightweight applications such as facial hair, however there are some on the market that can be used for heavier applications.

 

What are the different kinds of spirit gum out there?

As we have already touched upon, there are a number of ways you can use spirit gum and getting the most out of every look you create can rely heavily on the type of spirit gum you use for the job. So, what are the different types of spirit gum adhesive?

Standard Spirit Gum 

Let’s start with the classic, shall we? Traditional spirit gum has been around for decades and has long been a favourite in theatre for the application and adhesion of hair, beards and wigs. With a high percentage of natural copal which is a natural resin found in tropical trees, spirit gum is an absolute staple in any professional’s kit.

What applications is spirit gum best used for?

Standard spirit gum is suitable for most lightweight applications including eyebrows, moustaches, sideburns, wigs and beards; but applications with high visibility may be more suited to a different type of spirit gum.

Matte Spirit Gum

Similar to traditional spirit gum, matte spirit gum works as a great adhesive. Ideal for finer details, matte spirit gum does what it says on the tin and works as an adhesive which instead dries matte.

What application is matte spirit gum best used for?

Perfect for use with crepe beards, hair pieces and prosthetic appliances such as fake noses and bald caps (although, bald caps are more suited to a prosthetic adhesive, such as Pros-Aide).

TV Spirit Gum 

Widely used in the television and theatre industry, TV spirit gum is the perfect professional’s adhesive. Combining a special mix of natural resins, TV spirit gum dries almost undetectably for a more discreet and natural look, whether it be on the big screen or the stage. It has a higher transparency when dry and to a matte finish. 

What application is TV Spirit Gum best used for?

Ideal for the application of both hair and prosthetics, TV spirit gum dries matte and appears more transparent on the skin than traditional spirit gum.

Hydro Spirit Gum

For those with sensitive skin, or perhaps want a break from the harsher traditional spirit gum, hydro spirit gum is the water based alternative. Effective at adhering objects that are intended for a shorter period of time or very light, this is a great option in the use of things such as photoshoots.

What application is hydro spirit gum best used for?

Hydro spirit gum is ideal for pushing down hair and is often a go-to for eyebrows before the application of a bald cap or plastic film. It is also perfect for adhering glitter and other small pieces.

 

How do you apply spirit gum adhesive?

Whether you are a student or just a special FX enthusiast, if you have never used spirit gum before knowing how to use it with different applications can be tough. Below we have gone through some of the most common applications using spirit gum, which product is best and how you can best apply it.

The application of prosthetic i.e. fake noses and ears

Applying prosthetics is a key element of special FX and is used in more shows and movies than you would probably realise! The key to a successful and realistic prosthetic application is the use of the correct adhesive.

To apply prosthetics using spirit gum, we would recommend using spirit gum matte or TV spirit gum, which dries to a completely matte finish. This will help to make for a more realistic look.

How to apply prosthetics with spirit gum

When it comes to the application of prosthetics, the process is pretty straight forward.

  1. Apply the spirit gum to the required area of the skin and allow it to dry a little so it is tacky to the touch and not wet.
  2. Carefully apply the prosthetic to the tacky adhesive, ensuring you are firm and hold the piece in place for around 30 seconds to ensure it is properly adhered.

Top tip; you can also apply the adhesive to both the area of skin and the prosthetic appliance should you need a stronger bond. Make sure you allow the spirit gum to dry to a tacky finish first!

How to remove spirit gum when using prosthetics

The removal process can sometimes be as daunting as applying it – so here is how to remove spirit gum after use with prosthetics.

  1. It is recommended that you always use a spirit gum remover to do the job; just ripping off the appliance without remover can be painful and damage or irritate skin. We recommend using WRATH Universal Spirit Gum Remover which works will all spirit gum adhesives.
  2. Using a cotton swab or cotton ball, soak up the spirit gum remover and begin removing the prosthetic appliance whilst gently working the remover underneath the piece.
  3. This will loosen the gum and allow it to eventually fully detach.
  4. Once off, ensure you use the remover to clear any remaining spirit gum off the area of skin.
  5. Finally wash the skin with warm, soapy water. Moisturise skin if desired as alcohol based products can be drying on skin.

The application of hair pieces such as moustaches and beards

Whether you are on a film set creating a character, creating a design for a client at Halloween or going all out at a fancy dress party for yourself, applying fake hair to the face or body can be easy and effective. 

We recommend using either a Matte or TV spirit gum for high clarity and low gloss. Alternatively for a gentler option, use water-based spirit gum for the application of facial hair; however, it will have low longevity, especially if under hot conditions causing sweating.

How to apply hair pieces using spirit gum

  1. Using a clean, dry makeup brush – apply the adhesive to the area on the skin.
  2.  Allow it to dry slightly until it becomes tacky. If you opt for the hydro spirit gum, expect it to take longer than usual to dry due its water base.
  3. Once tacky, carefully apply your facial hair piece and hold it in place for around 30 seconds to ensure it is secure

Top tip; make sure you do not use a precious brush, as the adhesive may damage the brush.

How to remove spirit gum with hair pieces

  1. If you are using traditional solvent based spirit gum; apply a spirit gum remover to a cotton ball.
  2. Gently work the remover under the hair appliance allowing the adhesive to break down whilst gently removing it.
  3. For those using a water-based spirit gum, simply remove the piece using warm, soapy water.
  4. Wash your face thoroughly to remove any trace if spirit gum. Moisturise skin if desired as alcohol based products can be drying on skin.

The application of wigs and bald caps 

Wigs and bald caps are a crucial element of special FX makeup and can really help to completely transform a look. But which spirit gum adhesive is best for the application of wigs and bald caps?

At Red Carpet FX we recommend the use of a matte spirit gum for the application of wigs, because why fix what isn’t broken? Spirit gum is effective, long-wearing and has been relied upon for the application of hair pieces for many decades now.

For the application of bald caps, again matte spirit gum is a good option; but for a longer, stronger application, Pros-Aide is recommended as it will not break down as fast with sweat and hold strong while being under tension.

How to apply spirit gum with wigs and bald caps

  1. When applying a bald cap, ensure you have first fitted it to the size of the head, trimming the edges to the correct size.
  2. Take a swap or small brush with spirit gum and secure the edges down to the head and face. Remember, always allow time to dry to a tacky finish before applying.
  3. Ensure you work around all the edges, starting off at the forehead, then the nape of the neck before moving on to the temples and ears
  4. When applying a wig, ensure you use a hair and wig cap first, before fixing the wig in place
  5. Again, go around the inner edges, attaching the wig to the forehead, nape of the neck and temples to ensure a realistic and natural look.

Top tip; to hold hair down and in place when applying bald caps and wigs, use GAFQUAT (Kryolan GF-QAT 30) applied to the hair.

 

Final Thoughts

Spirit gum is by far one of the most worth-while investments for any serious special FX makeup artist. However, choosing the best one for the task at hand is no walk in the park – so we hope today’s post as helped you! 

If you are unsure what spirit gums to invest in, check out our previous blog post on choosing the best brand of spirit gum.

Fiona Kay
Fiona Kay


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