<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Frequently Asked LifeCasting Questions



Frequently Asked Questions

This is where you go to find answers to the most common questions asked about LifeCasting and LifeCasting Arts Products. Click HERE for an index of LifeCasting Secrets.


What is alginate?
How can I get started?
What is the best way to mix alginate?
How much alginate do I need?
Why should I use LifeCasting Arts alginate instead of those others?
How do I tell if I'm allergic to alginate?
What kind of casting materials are available?
Can I paint my lifecast?
Can I make a real bronze sculpture out of my casting?
How do I dispose of alginate?

Q. What is alginate? Technical White Paper

A. Alginate is a powdered molding material. It is a combination of a bunch of different chemicals including alginic acid. Alginic acid is derived from seaweed and is composed of organic polymers. The other chemicals in the powder control things like mixing viscocity, setting time, setting strength, etc.

The alginic acid polymers are microsopic, but they are long and string-like in shape. When the alginate powder is mixed with water the alginic acid polymers are free to float around. As the alginate "sets", calcium ions (really small things) begin to glue themselves to the polymers. Then the polymers beging gluing themselves to each other at various points along their length. Pretty soon the alginate mix stops being a liquid and becomes a flexible, rubbery mass where all the polymers are glued to each other.

In LifeCasting, the liquid alginate mix is placed onto the appropriate body part and the operator waits for it to set. The fine grained nature of the alginate ensures that the alginate has flowed down closely against the skin so very fine details are captured in the mold. These details are then transferred to the casting.

Q. How can I get started?

A. The best way is to have a friend who already knows lifecasting show you. If you don't, then a lifecasting kit is the next best way.

The LifeCasting Arts kits come complete with everything you'll need. Each kit comes with a complete set of illustrated instructions and procedural DVD's come with some of the kits. We're always working on more videos- stay tuned.

Q. What's the best way to mix alginate? Technical White Paper

A. Mixing alginate can be very difficult if you don't use the appropriate method.

If you're just mixing enough for a face cast (3-4 ounces), mixing in a cup with a wooden tongue depressor works fine.

Between 4 ounces and about a pound, you're going to need a metal kitchen whisk and a large bowl. You can also use a sturdy plastic bag to mix in. Put in the alginate powder, put in the water, push out all the extra air, grab the bag opening firmly, and mash and knead the bag for about 2 minutes until the alginate is well mixed.

Over about a pound, we recommend a power drill with a "jiffy mixer" attachment on it. A jiffy mixer can be purchased at any hardware store or home improvement store that handles paint. They are known as "paint mixer attachments".

The goal is to be able to mix the alginate (however much you're using) in a minute or less (except for the bag technique).

Q. How much alginate do I need? Technical White Paper

A. A face cast requires about 4 ounces of alginate.

A torso cast (shoulders to belly) requires between 1 1/2 and 2 pounds of alginate.

The requirements for a hand cast vary with the size of the molding "bucket". The first step in determining your alginate requirements for a hand cast is to choose your "bucket". The bucket should be large enough to fit the hand or hand(s) comfortably without touching the inside surface either sides or bottom and deep enough to capture enough of the hand/wrist. A bucket that is larger than it "needs to be" will require extra alginate to fill the extra volume. Here's how you figure your alginate requirement:

1. Fill your "bucket" with water in the sink.

2. Have your model(s) put their hand(s) into the bucket and let the extra water overflow.

3. Take out their hands and measure how much water is left in the bucket.

4. A pint of water weighs 1 pound, a quart- 2 pounds, and a gallon weighs 8 pounds. If you have 1/2 gallon (4 pounds of water) then you'll need 1 pound of alginate to mix it at the recommended 4:1 ratio. Remember that 4:1 ratio is by weight, NOT by volume.

A baby hand cast usually takes 3-6 ounces of alginate mixed with 12-24 ounces of water.

Q. Why should I use LifeCasting Arts alginate instead of those others?
A. We're not being modest when we say that our alginates are really good. We've been making alginates for nearly 40 years and have been formulating alginates specifically for lifecasting for almost 25 years. We have worked closely with Special Effects Makeup artists, LifeCasters, and Prosthetists for a long time and our formulas are as good or better than anything else on the market.
Q. How do I tell if I'm allergic to alginate?
A. Allergic reactions are exceedingly rare. Our alginates are chemically identical to alginate impression materials that have been in worldwide, everyday used for more than 60 years. That having been said, it is always a good idea to test for allergic reactions. Mix up a teaspoonful and apply some to the inside of your elbow. Let it set. After you've removed it from your skin, check to see if there is any redness or irritation. If not, you're good to go.
Q. What types of casting materials are available? Technical White Paper

A. The most common casting material for alginate molds is gypsum cement. Gypsum cement is chemically related to plaster but much, much stronger when fully cured. Our product LifeCAST is a high strength gypsum cement that is about 10 times as strong as Plaster of Paris when cured.

Various silicones can be poured into alginate molds. Some people pour hot wax into them, chocolate can be used, and some folks work with fast setting Portland cement.

Q. Can I paint my LifeCast? Technical White Paper

A. Sure can. Water based paints work great. Spray paint also works great. Krylon and others make an assortment of metallic spraypaints that can create wonderful effects. Bronzes, golds, silvers, aluminums, coppers, pewters and others can be used and can even be mixed together in the same piece. Your imagination is your only limitation. A company called Modern Masters makes a wonderful line of pearlescent water based paints that work great.

If you are going to use spray paint, make sure your lifecasting has been allowed to dry for at least 3 days before painting. In very humid climates it may take a week. If you rush it, the paint will blister and peel off and its the next thing to impossible to fix after this happens.

Q. Can I make a real bronze sculpture out of my casting?
A. People do this all the time. While this is more than we can get into here, the people that make metal sculptures like this are called "founders" and their businesses are called "founderies" or "bronze founderies". A quick Google search should get you the information about local founderies. Its not cheap, but if you have a particularly precious lifecast, it might just be worth it.
Q. How do I dispose of alginate?
A. LifeCasting Arts alginates are non-toxic and biodegradable. Used alginate is completely safe and legal to include with your normal trash.