Foam & Styrofoam Paint Techniques

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Styrofoam and Builder’s foam is used in a variety of applications from model airplanes to planetary models for a classroom project.

The ability to carve and sculpt foam into different shapes makes it a quality, affordable material in art projects.

However, art work and media pieces utilizing the versatile qualities of foam and Styrofoam can be challenged by the process of finding the appropriate paints to use in conjunction with the material.

The benefits of foam and Styrofoam in 3-D media and other artistic applications are a popular choice and with the right paint materials can be aesthetically pleasing as well as practical.

Preparing to Paint Foam

As with any painting application, it is important to consider what aesthetic look you are hoping to achieve. Certain projects will be more conducive to certain applications such as airplane models and airbrush painting. The tools you choose to use will be determined by the supplies and type of paint you will use in your project.

Useful Painting Supplies may include:

  • Brushes – Flat Paint Brushes or Brushes suited for the paint you choose. A stiff Pencil Brush will allow for thorough coverage.
  • Rollers – 3 inch Rollers are easier to utilize in smaller applications.
  • Sponges – Sponges help achieve a textured look to the painted surface.
  • Air Brush – Air brush and a Compressor (if desired) appropriate for the scale of your project.

Caution: Spray Painting Foam

Many people are tempted to use spray paint to color their Styrofoam models or designs but are surprised to discover the spray paint melts the foam into a horrible, bubbling mess. The harsh solvents and propellants present in most spray paints will attack the integrity of the foam itself.

The only kind of spray paint that should be considered in Styrofoam or foam designs is a water-based spray paint. The key is the water-based element to the latex paint which will not eat away foam materials. Remember to apply in light layers rather than one heavy layer. The color will be more uniform and prevent peeling and flaking. Some spray paints safe for use on foam are:

  • Krylon H2O Latex Spray Paints
  • Fusion H2O Spray Paint

Water Based Paint Options

Spray paints aside, there are other paint options for your Styrofoam and foam projects. The trick is to ensure any paint you choose is water-based or plan on applying a clear coat to seal the foam interior.

Acrylic Craft Paints – utilized in a variety of craft and art projects, acrylic paint is a stable and safe option for using in foam applications. Acrylic paints can be applied using artist brushes or rollers, depending on the look and finish desired. Consider sponging the paint for a unique effect. Some excellent brands for consideration are:

  • Apple Barrel Acrylic Paint
  • Minwax Polycrylic Clear Coat

Water Based Artist’s Air Brush Colors

Air brush is significantly popular because of the ease of application and the potential for uniform and attractive coatings. Experiment with blending techniques or layering of lighter, more translucent shades, to achieve a variety of desirable effects. Water based options include:

  • Createx Auto Air Airbrush Colors
  • Golden Airbrush Paints

Water Based Latex House Paints

In applications where the actual texture of the foam is not desirable, consider using latex house paint. A flat or semi-gloss paint will hide the texture and imperfections of the foam itself, creating a flat, uniform surface that can be decorated with other paints or materials.

  • Krylon H2O Latex
  • Glidden H20 Latex Paints
  • Behr’s Latex House Paint

Tips for the Best Foam Paint Application

Foam is not the easiest material to paint and it requires patience to achieve the most aesthetic result. A smooth surface can be difficult to attain but is certainly possible using proper techniques and allowing each layer to fully dry before applying the next. Use the following techniques to ensure you achieve the best results every time you sit down to paint.

  • Sealing your Styrofoam or foam block with a clear coat will allow you to use different kinds of paint without damaging or melting the foam interior. This approach also leads to a smoother surface. Ensure you have adequate coverage so no paint leaks through and compromises the foam core.
  • Apply paint in thin layers instead of a thick and heavy layer. It will reduce drying time and prevent flaking.
  • For a smooth surface, sand the textured surface of the foam before applying the desired paint or plan on several layers to obstruct the structure of the foam underneath.
  • Foam is porous and paint colors often dry darker with a light coat. Subsequent coats will decrease the dark effect on the paint colors.
  • Experiment with scrap pieces of foam before beginning work on your project to perfect the technique and ensure the materials you choose will not cause an inadvertent reaction to the foam.

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