Can You Spray Paint Cardboard?

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Last updated: September 28, 2023

Get to know how to spray paint cardboard by following the expert steps discussed in this post.

Can you spray paint cardboard?

If you’re still learning how to paint, you could practice on cartridge paper or paper towels. These are the most cost-effective mediums for experimenting and improving your painting skills, especially with acrylics and spray paint. 

But did you know that you can also paint cardboard? Well, you can affordably use cardboard boxes to design various creative art and craft pieces. Except that, it’s a delicate material with a porous surface, so you can only work with a special kind of paint. 

For example, you can prime the cardboard surface with Gesso and strictly use acrylic paint. In this article, we will show you how to paint a cardboard box, the best paint to use, common challenges you might face, and how to fix them. 

Can You Spray Paint Cardboard?

Yes, you can paint cardboard with acrylic paint or spray paint. First, ensure the surface is treated clean, then prime with Gesso. Priming helps prevent warping and supports adhesion. Next, use the best acrylic or spray paint, then add a varnish sealant to protect your coating. 

Why Should You Try Spray Painting Cardboard?

There are several reasons why you should consider using cardboard as a medium for arts and crafts. These reasons include affordability, reliability, and ease of use. 

Affordability: Cardboard is cheaper and easier to obtain than canvas or painting paper. For example, you can easily find some cardboard in the loading section of your grocery or department store. The attendants would often be more than happy to give you the excess for free. But even if you purchase some at your local crafts store, it would cost you just a few dollars. 

Ease of use: You can use cardboard to experiment with your creative skills and still not feel the pinch. You can practice on several sheets and save for the paint, you wouldn’t suffer any loss.Β 

Reliability: Cardboard is lightweight, making it easier to move around than traditional canvases. Being structurally rigid gives it more advantage over similar mediums in that it doesn’t crease once painted, guaranteeing smooth and smart designs.

What Types of Paints Can I Use on Cardboard?

While cardboard is affordable and flexible, it’s made of craft paper which quickly gets warped if exposed to too much moisture. This limits the type of paint you can use, given that it has a porous surface. 

In addition, achieving the perfect finish depends on your application method. That said, the only types of paint you can use include acrylic, oil-based paint, and spray paint. Let’s look at these options in great detail.

1. Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paint contains ingredients that adhere better on porous surfaces like cardboard. They’re also affordable, less toxic, and easy to use. Acrylic paints are versatile and can be used on several surfaces, including canvas, wood, ceramics, and more. 

Acrylic paint contains pigments usually suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion. These emulsions develop into solvents when moist and a plastic film-like texture when dry, making them water-resistant. 

Since these paints are generally moist, they should be applied carefully as they may cause warping, especially with thick coats. With acrylic, only thin coats, applied within sufficient time windows, will yield the best results.

Moreover, acrylic paints are best applied with a sponge or dry brush, but you should not squeeze the paint directly onto the cardboard as this can leave moisture on the surface. 

Instead, apply the paint on the brush or sponge, then paint the cardboard. One good thing about acrylic paint is that they’re easy to clean, so you won’t have to deal with a lot of mess after painting.

2. Oil Paints

Oil-based paints are also an excellent option for painting cardboard. Though they cost more and may contain toxic ingredients, they’re as thick as acrylic paint with vibrant color options. 

In addition, they’re not easy to clean and may require stronger solvents like turpentine or mineral spirits for post-cleaning mess. 

When using oil paints, follow the same rule of priming the cardboard and applying thin layers to avoid warping.

3. Spray Paints

Spray paint is a flexible and versatile method of applying paint on various surfaces, including cardboard box items. It’s the fastest drying method, and you can cover more surface area with spray paint. 

Spray paint is also suitable for painting complicated corners you can’t reach with acrylic or oil paint, but it should be done properly to avoid moisture issues.

By properly, we mean maintaining a distance of 12 inches from the cardboard box and applying light coats. You should also wait for at least two hours before adding another layer. This will prevent warping and wrinkles, leaving you with a clean, dry finish. 

How to Spray Paint a Cardboard Box?

Before you get down to creating art pieces with cardboard, ensure you work with good quality corrugated cardboard ideal for such projects. 

For example, double or triple-wall, thick corrugated cardboards are more suitable for spray painting than standard cardboard, which is more susceptible to warping and damage. Always ensure that you got the cardboard material right. 

The most common painting techniques involve dipping the brush into the paint and applying it to the surface. You can do that with oil paints, but for acrylic paints, it should be squeezed on the brush or sponge and then applied to the cardboard. 

Before you paint cardboard, you should ensure it is clean enough. Wipe with a dry piece of cloth or paper towels to remove any dirt on the surface. 

Next, place old clothes or newspapers on your workspace and the cardboard on top. With that done, follow these easy steps: 

Step 1: Priming With Gesso

To achieve excellent adhesion and maximum color, you should always prime the surface with a good primer. 

One good example is Gesso, an acrylic primer that’s especially great for cardboard and other delicate surfaces. 

Gesso helps protect against moisture, preventing the paint from soaking the cardboard and enhancing the colors in your art by providing textured layers. 

Gesso is typically available in white, although you can use other transparent options if you don’t want to compromise the color outcome. 

Using Gesso means you’ll use very fewer costs and avoid warping completely. Gesso is available in most crafts stores, but if you’re creative, you can formulate your own by mixing chalk, white paint, glue, and water. 

Step 2: Apply Gesso to Cardboard

Use a flat paintbrush to apply Gesso on the cardboard. When priming, apply thin layers and long strokes and maintain consistency until the entire surface is covered.

Step 3: Prime a Second Coat

For best results, apply at least two coats, then let it sit for 24 hours. Apply another coat and leave it for another 24 hours. This time is necessary to allow the primer to dry perfectly in readiness for painting. 

Step 4: Sand the Surface (Optional)

Once Gesso is fully dry, it may produce a rough surface which aids in adhesion. At this point, sand it lightly to even out the texture, but this is entirely optional. 

If you consider this step, use 500-grit sandpaper and rub it back and forth for a few minutes. That will be enough to remove the protruding lines and bumps. 

Ensure you maintain gentle strokes, or you might damage the cardboard. Remember, it’s a fragile material. Once you’ve sanded it to your satisfaction, it’s time to start painting. 

Step 5: Start Painting

This is precisely the fun part, but you should apply the paint gently on the cardboard to prevent curling. 

This process also lets you control how much paint you apply on every surface corner, ensuring consistency throughout. 

If you apply too much paint on some sections, it can leave color patches or cause the paper to distort.

Step 6: Paint Thin Coats

The paint will naturally leave moisture on the surface, so ensure you minimize this as much as possible. 

This is best achieved with thin coats as they allow the paint to dry faster before you apply another. For best results, wait for at least two hours between coats. 

Step 7: Administer a Second Coat

To achieve a solid color, you’ll need more than one coat. In this case, 3-4 coats are recommended, or you can add as much as needed to achieve your desired finish. 

Step 8: Sealing

Sealing at this point is necessary but still optional. You can add a new base of sealant to improve the appearance of your painting and protect your work. Sealing also helps increase the longevity of your art piece. 

However, this option costs more, so you can skip this step unless the painted cardboard piece is exceptional and you intend to keep it around for a long time. 

But when you decide to seal it, a matte or gloss spray-on or brush-on varnish sealant is the way to go. 

Again, choose fast-drying, non-toxic acrylic varnish, especially water-based ones, as they’re generally easy to use and work with various materials.

How to Paint Cardboard Without Warping

Warping is one of the most common challenges associated with painting cardboard. It’s usually caused by too much moisture and using the wrong paint. 

To prevent this problem, always follow every step for painting cardboard and especially priming with Gesso. 

In addition, keep the paint layers thin and add as many as needed to bring out a clear, smooth finish. 

Leave enough time for the paint to dry out, or the paint can soak into the surface, resulting in pale colors and warping.

How to Prevent Warping or Curling When Painting Cardboard

As we have seen, moisture is the primary cause of distortion during a painting project. If you experience this problem, you might try out different solutions to salvage your art piece, and you may damage it in the process. Therefore, consider these safer ways of preventing warping and curling for a long-lasting piece of art.

  • Ensure you don’t oversaturate the paint. It shouldn’t be too thick or too thin, but something in between.
  • Prevent moisture from seeping through the material
  • Avoid working in a humid environment
  • Prime with Gesso before paint application
  • Leave enough time for the paint to dry before adding more layers
  • Work in a dry place
  • Stick to acrylic paints, oil paints, and spray paints. Do not use water colors or excessively wet paints
  • Work with thick corrugated cardboard.

How to Fix Warped Cardboard

Cardboard is fun to work with, but if it gets too wet, it can be frustrating. In case of warping, refer to these steps to fix the problem before your project gets ruined:

Step 1: Let it Dry Out

Let the painted cardboard dry completely until it’s free from moisture. You can achieve this by keeping the painted cardboard box in a cool, dry place where it won’t be knocked down or damaged. Leave it there to dry for a few days, or you can apply the various ways to make spray paint dry faster.

Step 2: Spritz with Water

To restore the cardboard box to its original shape, try rehydrating it. Use a spray bottle to lightly spritz the box to moisten it but do not dip it in water, or it will be oversoaked.  

Step 3: Load it Up

The next step is to place the board on a flat surface, put plywood on top of it, and add weight objects to flatten the cardboard. Leave the cardboard in this position for 24 hours until it dries completely. 

After that, it should be flat without warps. If the painted cardboard doesn’t retain its original shape, you can leave it in the same position for several more days until it flattens.

What is the Best Paint for Cardboard?

Since acrylic and oil paints are best suited for cardboard painting, your best pick should meet your budget and preference. 

Fortunately, acrylic paints are affordable, dry faster, and contain less toxic pigments. The only challenge you’ll notice is that the color loses its vibrancy once the paint is dry. 

Oil paints are another excellent option providing vibrant color finishes though they can be toxic. The pungent fumes make these paints unsuitable for projects involving kids. 

Unlike acrylic and spray paint, oil paints cost a lot and are prone to spills and messes, eventually requiring additional chemicals to clean. They also take longer to dry and cure. 

On the other hand, spray paint is one of the most straightforward techniques for painting cardboard but requires high personal safety measures. 

You must wear personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, but since spray paint dries faster, you can complete your project quickly. Below is a quick review of the best paint for cardboard painting:

Best Affordable Acrylic Paints for Cardboard: MONT MARTE Acrylic Paint Set

If you still need to decide on the best acrylic paints for cardboard, check out the Mont Marte Acrylic Paint Set. It’s one of the best options, with around 24 unique, creamy colors, available in 35 ml dispensing tubes.Β 

This multipurpose set can work on cardboard and similar delicate projects like paper, clay, plaster, leather, and plastic. 

Once you purchase an assortment of Mont Marte Acrylic Paint Set, you can use it on various art projects for a long time, thanks to its long-lasting properties.  

What We Liked πŸ‘

  • Very affordable
  • Faster drying time
  • Wide selection of vibrant creamy colors
  • Maximum adhesion on various surfaces
  • Excellent coverage with a smooth creamy texture

What Could Change πŸ‘Ž

  • Low viscosity
  • Thick can cause warping

Best Quality Starter Oil Paint Set: WINSOR & NEWTON Oil Paint Starter Set

If you have limited experience with oil paints, you might enjoy working with Winsor & Newton Oil Paint Starter Set. This oil paint comes in a set of ten tubes, each containing 37 ml of high-quality oil paint. 

As one of the best paint for cardboard, the Winsor & Newton Oil Paint Starter Set guarantees quality and variety and is easy to use whether you’re a pro or a novice painter. 

Given its unrivaled quality, Winsor & Newton Oil Paint Starter Set is pricey but very much worth your time and money. 

 What We Liked πŸ‘

  • Beautiful tints
  • Higher pigmentation
  • Offers maximum coverage
  • Excellent quality, worth the price

What Could Change πŸ‘Ž

  • Toxic, not suitable for kids
  • Not cost-effective, may be unsuitable for small budgets

Best Spray Paints for Cardboard: KRYLON COLORmaxx Spray Paint

Krylon is one of the leading paint brands known for its top-quality products, including paint, spray paint, and primers. 

This Krylon Colormaxx spray paint option for Krylon is exceptionally designed for cardboard surface and dries within 20 minutes. 

It features a larger nozzle for easy control of spray pressure during cardboard painting which is good for overcoming finger fatigue. 

The Krylon COLORmaxx cardboard spray paint also boasts a massive variety of colors and finishes. 

With this spray paint, you can expect to cover much surface with few coats, and having an in-built primer helps to make your work easier.

What We Liked πŸ‘

  • Quick drying time
  • Excellent coverage
  • Exceptionally durable
  • Compatible with most materials
  • Includes a primer
  • Ergonomically designed spray tip

What Could Change πŸ‘Ž

  • Cleaning can be difficult
  • Requires safety gear to handle

What are the Challenges of Spray Painting Cardboard?

Spray painting cardboard is relatively easy if you understand the steps and know the right paint to use. 

Warping and curling are the main problems you may encounter when cardboard painting, but we’ve shared how to deal with these. 

Otherwise, use the right paint type, prime the surface with Gesso, and steer clear off watercolors or water-based paints. Keep the painting from moisture and work only with acrylic paint. 

FAQS – Spray Painting Cardboard 

What kind of spray paint works on cardboard?

The most dependable type of spray paint to use on cardboard paint projects isΒ Krylon Fusion. It’s also one of the most durable spray paints on the market and a favorite with professional painters looking to make exquisite pieces. Go for the Krylon Fusion spray paint when you want to work on delicate materials to create unique yet bold art statements.Β 

Does spray paint look good on cardboard?

Yes, it’s possible and easy to spray paint a cardboard box. However, you need to work with durable materials starting with the right type of cardboard to the best spray paint for cardboard. A finest quality cardboard box is an excellent choice for craft pieces, especially if used with spray paint.

Can You Use Watercolors on Cardboard?

No. Watercolors provide a beautiful, vibrant finish on various art pieces, but they’re not suitable for cardboard substrates. Typically watercolors contain high volumes of water, which will obviously saturate the cardboard box, allowing in excess moisture resulting in damage, warping, and wrinkles.

Is a Primer Necessary Before Painting Cardboard?

Yes. Acrylic paint needs something solid to stick on, especially with porous and absorbent materials like cardboard. A good primer like Gesso is recommended to support adhesion and durability as well as enhance the outcome of your paintwork. 

What Primer Should You Apply to Cardboard?

Use Gesso on delicate projects like those involving cardboard. As an acrylic primer, Gesso is available in white and transparent options and can be used on various surfaces. Use it to make the paint stick better on the material, improve its texture, and increase its lifespan. 

Content Summary – Spray Painting Cardboard

Cardboard versatility is one of the reasons it makes for great packaging and storage material. It’s also one of the most reusable materials that can be useful in various ways, including spray painting. 

At the beginning of this piece, we promised to show you how to spray paint a cardboard box, and we’ve shared the basic steps to start you off. Using acrylic paint, you can create unique art and crafts ideas with this affordable material. 

Now that you know how to paint cardboard and the best paint to use, why not grab some corrugated cardboard from your pantry or basement and get down to some creative painting ideas?

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