If you’re into DIY crafts, questions like can you spray paint Styrofoam may have crossed your mind. Painting styrofoam is a great idea for school projects, kids’ crafts, or when you want to create some stunning decor.
It’s possible to spray paint Styrofoam, but you must know what you’re doing. Unlike other types of materials, Styrofoam is different, and paint application techniques differ.
That’s why today we want to introduce you to this unique material called Styrofoam and how to spray paint it using different exciting techniques so you’ll be well prepared for an exciting project next time you decide to spray paint Styrofoam.
Can You Spray Paint Styrofoam?
Yes, you can spray paint styrofoam, but the outcome will be much better if you use water-based, acrylic spray paint, especially those formulated to paint sensitive materials like Styrofoam. To ensure a smooth, beautiful finish, apply a base coat of Mod Podge or a similar barrier to help protect the Styrofoam from being melted by spray paint.
What is Styrofoam?
You may be familiar with a white porous foam that many people mistake for Styrofoam but which, in reality, isn’t.
That white, airy foam is actually expanded polystyrene foam, or EPS for short. EPS is generally about 95% air, an insulative product found in coffee thermoses, packaging, etc.
EPS foam is made from tiny plastic spheres, and air-expanded polystyrene is made into various shapes, while Styrofoam, otherwise known as “Blue Board,” is an insulation product produced by Dow Chemicals.
It’s made of styrene and closed-cell extruded polystyrene foam (XPS). Multiple chemical agents are added to styrene to refine it to produce another component called polystyrene and a hydrofluorocarbon. The final Styrofoam board is made after the expansion process is complete.
These products look similar, and the only way to tell if what you want to paint is Styrofoam and not polystyrene foam is to check the label on the product for the word. “Styrofoam” or the Dow Chemical company logo.
The two products can not be recycled, nor are they biodegradable though you can pass Styrofoam through a rigorous heating process to transform it into solid polystyrene pellets. These pellets can further be transformed into food packaging, mirror frames, and clothes.
What Types of Paint Are Suitable for Painting on Styrofoam?
The fun thing about spray painting styrofoam is that it presents endless possibilities.
You can express your creativity in multiple ways, and yet, if you’re wondering what kind of spray paint can you use on Styrofoam, there are a few select products that work specifically on this material.
Again, these unique spray paints are all different, so even if a paint is indicated to be compatible with Styrofoam, it may not work on it.
The best paints to use on Styrofoam are water-based acrylic paints or specialty paints like Plasti Dip and Rustoleum Universal Spray Paint. Acrylic paints adhere better on such sensitive surfaces and provide better coverage without melting the material.
One important thing to note is that oil-based regular spray paint contain enamel which is corrosive may not adhere appropriately like acrylic paint. Such paints can easily cause the Styrofoam to melt and should, therefore, never be used on this delicate surface.
Other aerosol cans like lacquer thinner with high concentrations of solvents should also be avoided as they could damage the surface by softening it before it’s fully dry.
While spray painting Styrofoam may appear challenging given its delicate nature, a few styrofoam-friendly paints provide successful painting outcomes.
Most big craft stores have these specialty paints in stock, and you can even order them directly from their respective brands. Also, when shopping for the ideal paint to use on Styrofoam, always check the label to ascertain if it’s acrylic or Tempera. If not, the label should indicate if it can be used on Styrofoam or polystyrene.
Otherwise, below are a few examples of spray paint that can be used on Styrofoam.
1. Acrylic Paint
Acrylic paint is a sure bet when spray painting delicate materials like Styrofoam. This type of water-based paint contains no chemicals or contaminants that may cause the substrate to melt or dissolve.
It has strong adhesive properties that work well on polystyrene materials and can be applied without a primer. However, you’ll need to apply a few layers of acrylic paint to ensure full coverage.
The only drawback to using acrylic paint on Styrofoam is that it may cause the polystyrene to deteriorate at some point, so it should not be used on long-term projects.
2. Latex Paint
Latex paint is typically made from acrylic resin. It’s another Styrofoam-friendly paint option commonly used for interior wall painting. The fact that it takes much longer to dry makes it ideal for medium to large Styrofoam items.
As a water-based paint, latex should be applied in several thin coats for the best results.
It may not be as durable as regular acrylic paints, but it’s best applied on objects that are resistant to changing temperatures to avoid cracks.
Tampara is yet another great paint option for spraying on Styrofoam. It provides good adhesion though it’s a water-based paint. It also sticks well on polystyrene materials.
One precaution for using Tempera paint is to avoid applying it on Styrofoam objects that might be exposed to water. In addition, Tampera is not available in various color options and does not blend well with other colors. Despite all these, it does offer multiple options for finish, and you can easily find this paint in your local crafts store.
4. Spray Paint
At this point, let’s address the big question you’ve wanted to ask all along: can you use spray paint on Styrofoam? The answer is affirmative. You can use spray paint on Styrofoam, just not any type of spray paint.
Most aerosol paints contain toxic solvents that can easily dissolve or melt your polystyrene surface. Before you settle for any spray paint, check and confirm whether it’s safe to use on Styrofoam.
What to Know About Spray Painting Styrofoam
Styrofoam is different from your ordinary substrate when it comes to spray painting. You’ll encounter a few pitfalls along the way, so a better understanding of this material is advisable before jumping into any project. Fortunately, you can easily achieve a successful paint job with specialty paints without these pitfalls.
Below are some guidelines for spray painting styrofoam and a little background information on this unique material.
First, Be Conversant With Styrofoam
As already pointed out, Styrofoam is generally made of chemical agents and oils. If you use paint with harsh chemicals that work against oils, the outcome would be a catastrophe.
Thus, it would be best to avoid paints containing solvents that may eat into Styrofoam, ruining your entire project. Always read the label to ascertain what you’re working with.
What Challenges Will You Encounter Spray Painting Styrofoam?
Since this material has a complex chemical makeup, avoid paint products likely to cause polystyrene corrosion. Acetone is an excellent example of solvents to avoid, along with toluene, benzene, and tetrahydrofuran (or THF).
Again, Styrofoam is naturally spongy, so you may not achieve a good coverage or clean finish if the surface is uneven.
But these problems can be overcome with quick technical tips and specific brushes. Below are a few tips to help you navigate the challenges of spray painting styrofoam.
The success of your work depends on the number of coats you apply on the foam. Several light coats will produce smooth, even results, and as a rule, let each coat dry completely before you apply the next. The number of coats should be based on the outcome you want to achieve.
Sealing Before Painting
To seal the styrofoam surface before spray painting, use approved sealers such as Mod Podge or Plaster of Paris to create a smooth, even layer. If applied well, the sealant can also act as a protective layer in case you choose to use paints that contain solvents.
Priming and sealing are crucial when working with such paints that have the potential to cause corrosion. In this case, foam-friendly finishing products like Smooth Finish are recommended to protect the surface against cracks.
Here, you can use a paintbrush or palette knife to apply thin coats of Smooth Finish on the surface of Styrofoam, covering all the holes and uneven edges. Leave the surface to dry for an hour or two, then sand away any noticeable unevenness on the surface.
Sanding is optional since Smooth Finish lives up to its name, so you may not need to sand in some cases. Instead, add another layer as the first one and again leave to dry, then sand as necessary. Your Styrofoam should be ready for painting after that.
Spray Painting Styrofoam
Once you have sealed the surface, you can move to the next step, which is the actual project.
Hold the spray gun upright at a 5 to 8-inch angle away from the object to ensure even coverage. Start spraying from up to bottom, then left to right.
At the start of each “row,” release the gun trigger slightly, then depress it again at the end. Repeat this with each “row.”
Remember that Styrofoam is a porous material that doesn’t support maximum adhesion. As such, spraying it excessively will result in paint seeping into the material. You can avoid this by applying several thin coats, one layer at a time until the desired finish is achieved.
Sealing After Painting
Once you’re done painting your Styrofoam, give it an extra layer of protection in the form of a sealant or varnish.
You can add a sealant or varnish depending on the type of finish you want to give your project and where it will be displayed or used. The purpose of your project and expected lifespan should also inform your decision.
As for the application methods for sealant, you can go with a spray paint coating or a polyurethane sealer. Some popular finishes you can choose include lacquer, matte, gloss, or flat finish.
A UV-resistant sealer would be ideal for outdoor projects or those likely to be exposed to much sunlight.
Spray Painting Styrofoam: Easy Tutorial
Are you thinking of crafting with Styrofoam? You can do so in different imaginative and stunning ways. Once painted, Styrofoam can be used for special occasions like weddings, bridal showers, birthdays, and other parties. It’s the ideal decorative material for stage props or school projects.
So how do you paint Styrofoam with spray paint? Here’s an easy tutorial to guide you in painting those delicate objects into desired look and shape.
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
As with every painting project, you need to have everything ready in one place before you start working. With Styrofoam, you’ll need the following:
- Latex paints or spray paint in your preferred color
- Paint thinners
- Newspapers or drop cloth
- Air Hose
- Mixing Utensils
- Latex Primer
- Well-ventilated work area
- Spray gun and a holder
- Foam brushes of the correct sizes
- Old clothes or protective overalls
- Cheesecloth for straining paint
- Cleaning tools
Safety gear (goggles and respirator)
Step 2: Set Up Your Work Area
Once you’ve gathered everything, spread old newspapers or drop cloths over your work area and secure it firmly with tape to prevent spray spillage on the tile floor. Read the user instructions on spray gun usage, ensuring that the following main components are functioning correctly:
- fan nozzle
- fluid nozzle
- pressure nozzle
Step 3: Thin the Paint
Spray guns only work with thin paint, so you must thin out the paint when spraying Styrofoam. We recommend that you stick strictly to latex or acrylic paints since they’re water-based and more compatible with Styrofoam.
Avoid toxic paint thinners that may dissolve the Styrofoam and use water for thinning instead. The water should be moderate enough to give the paint the same viscosity as milk.
To achieve this, test whether the viscosity is satisfactory by dipping a mixing stick in the paint and lifting it again. Observe how many paints drops fall down. Three will indicate sufficient consistency; more drops mean your paint is over-thinned. Before using the paint, ensure it is of the recommended viscosity.
Step 4. Priming
Priming may not be necessary when working with Styrofoam, but it’s a good idea. It can simplify your work by making the coverage even and the final finish smoother. If you decide to prime, work from one side to the next, ensuring that every crevice is covered.
Choose the right size for brush so you can reach complex angles and every corner of the substrate. Let the first single primer coat dry out for an hour or less. You can add another coat or jump right to the next step.
Step 5: Fill Your Spray Gun
At this point, you should transfer the thinned paint into the spray gun. Do it carefully, so the spray gun cup doesn’t overflow and the spray gun doesn’t overload and become too heavy.
As you go over this step, strain the paint using a piece of cheesecloth to remove dust particles and residues of dry pigment. Straining is recommended to avoid problems like a blocked spray gun during your work.
After transferring the strained paint into the spray gun, shut the lid firmly. Now turn on the compressor and connect the air hose to the gun. Confirm if the air pressure setting is satisfactory with no air leaks from the gun.
Step 6: Test Before You Begin
To ensure everything works as expected, take a spare piece of Styrofoam to test the spray paint’s performance and outcome.
This is the time to ascertain if you missed something or if some parts of the spray gun are faulty so you can make the necessary corrections and adjustments before painting.
Step 7: Spray Paint Your Styrofoam Balls
If the test turns out positive, it’s time to move to the fun part. Hold the gun 5-8 inches from the substrate or at a 90-degree angle, then spray from top to bottom in a left to right hand side.
After every “row,” slightly release the trigger and gently increase pressure as you start another “row.” This spray painting technique is tricky, so you should take your time as it requires some expertise.
If you’re consistent, you’ll eventually get the hang of it and be a pro. After the first coat, wait for half an hour; once dry, add another until you finish the desired number of layers.
How Do You Paint Styrofoam Without Melting It?
Use water-based paints like craft acrylic or latex paint to avoid melting or dissolving your styrofoam project while spray painting.
Such paints are generally safe for this delicate material, especially acrylic, since they don’t cause damage. It also sticks better to Styrofoam.
Check with your local craft store if acrylic paint is available in your preferred color. If not, a better alternative is to order online.
Paint sprayer is ideal for large projects.
Best Spray Paint on Styrofoam
As we have already seen, water-based spray paints are more suitable for Styrofoam. These paints contain no solvents or propellants that can damage the foam and are thus best used on delicate projects.
A good place to find such spray paint is the craft section instead of the home improvement section.
From our research and experience, below are the three top water-based spray paint brands you can use in Styrofoam:
- Montana MTN
Liquitex Spray Paints
Liquitex spray paint had the most extensive array of color selections going into hundreds, with each type and color offering excellent value.
These spray paints contain low-order formulas that don’t emit irritating fumes, so they’re typically meant for indoor craft projects.
Once dry, they produce an opaque, durable, and long-lasting finish. And since they’re flexible and harmless, you can mix or blend different colors while painting your surface to create a combination of vibrant shades.
Montana MTN is a water-based spray paint that comes in small but highly valuable cans. The paint is usually packaged in multi-color packs of 3, designed specifically for use with Styrofoam and similar delicate foam crafting objects.
The main problem you’ll most likely encounter when using Montana MTN spray paint is the nozzle clogging quickly. This is if the online user reviews are anything to go by.
But to prevent the nozzle from clogging, consider removing it after each use, and soaking it in mild paint thinner or warm water before replacing it on the can. This may sound like extra work, but it’s better than using the wrong type of spray paint on your Styrofoam.
Pintyplus Aqua Spray Paint
Pinty Plus Aqua spray paint’s most outstanding feature is its ultra-matte finish and unique water-based formula that works well on sensitive foam materials like Styrofoam.
This spray paint comes in an 8-pack combo of pink, orange, yellow, green, red, blue, violet, black, and white. A single purchase of Pintyplus Aqua spray paint is enough to complete multiple projects with different color themes.
The only disadvantage of Pintyplus Aqua spray paint is the drying time, which is generally longer than other spray paint types.
Tips and Tricks for Painting Styrofoam
Painting styrofoam is not widely practiced meaning very few people understand the dynamics. That’s why some additional tips are welcome to help you hack it even on your first attempt. Below are a few tricks to make the process smoother.
If you want to paint only a few specific areas on the Styrofoam and leave others unpainted, or if you wish to paint more than one color, use masking tape to cover those sections.
If you wish to incorporate mixed decorative pieces into your project, avoid paint with metallic pigments as they might interfere with the adhesives you use.
Strictly use Tempera paints on kids’ crafts and assignments. This particular spray paint has fast-drying properties, which help speed up the process, especially when working with kids.
Improve paint adhesion by gently sanding your Styrofoam to give it a beautiful finish.
Apply thin coats consistently to make the paint dry faster and prevent cracking or peeling.
Always hold the spray gun upright, moving it vertically, downwards, and horizontally to give it full surface coverage.
If you’re uncertain how safe the spray paint is to use on Styrofoam, try testing on a small piece of Styrofoam to confirm. This saves you disappointment or damage of your project.
FAQS: Can You Spray Paint Styrofoam?
What Kind of Spray Paint Can I Use on Styrofoam?
Use water-based acrylic paint since they’re the most suitable choice for painting styrofoam. These paints don’t cause damages associated with painting styrofoam, such as melting, since they’re made with relatively safer ingredients.
How Do You Paint Styrofoam Without Melting It?
Use specialty paints that cannot damage your Styrofoam. Spray paint like Liquitex, Montana MTN, or Pintyplus Aqua spray paint is highly recommended. Some of the best spray paints for Styrofoam are made from plastic, which helps prevent damage to Styrofoam.
Can I Use a Sharpie on Styrofoam?
Yes. You can use a Sharpie, especially oil-based ones that are great for complex decorative work on polystyrene, such as festive Styrofoam baubles. The good thing about using a Sharpie is that you don’t need to do any priming, sanding, sealing, or waiting for it to dry, you just have to jump right in.
What Is the Best Way to Paint Styrofoam?
Use poster paints such as acrylic or water-based paints to paint polystyrene objects. Avoid harsh spray paint that may cause irreversible damage, and always maintain consistency with each thin stroke. Hold the spray gun upright about 10 inches from the object.
How Can I Waterproof Styrofoam?
Acrylic is waterproof paint. Using it on your styrofoam project will provide protection against water spills and even for projects meant to be used outdoors. For objects you intend to use outdoors, you can add a sealant such as polyurethane to boost protection.
How Do You Seal Styrofoam for Spray Painting?
After painting styrofoam with several coats, you can seal it with a coat of clear spray paint in whatever finish you want.
Summary – Spray Painting Styrofoam
If you’re a complete beginner interested in spray painting styrofoam or your first attempt backfired, and you want to do better next time, we hope you learned something from this article and found it helpful.
Avid DIYers do not widely practice spray painting styrofoam since few people can hack it without a hitch. But as with every spray painting project, it does come with minor challenges here and there. Knowing these challenges and how to tackle them makes the biggest difference.
From this guide, you know which spray paint options work on delicate materials like Styrofoam and the process involved in creating stunning decorative craft pieces with this unique material.
Now go ahead and make your next project successful with these easy tips. Feel free to ask in the comments if you still need clarification.