Styrofoam is a versatile material used for crafts, decorations, architectural models, and more. Its light weight and ability to be cut and shaped easily make it an ideal choice for DIY projects. However, plain white styrofoam can look a little boring. This is where spray paint comes in handy! With a fresh coat of color from spray paint, you can transform plain styrofoam into something much more vibrant and eye-catching.
But can you use just any old spray paint on styrofoam? The short answer is no. Standard spray paints will cause styrofoam to melt, warp, and even dissolve completely. The key is using the right kinds of spray paint formulated specifically for plastics and foams. With some simple tips and the proper spray paint choices, you’ll be able to spray paint styrofoam easily without any mess or damage.
What Kind of Paint Can You Use on Styrofoam?
Not all paints are created equal when it comes to styrofoam compatibility. Some options are better than others for getting a durable, smooth finish without damaging the foam underneath. Here is a breakdown of which spray paint types work best on styrofoam:
Acrylic Craft Spray Paint
Look for spray paints made specifically for crafting and art projects. Brands like Krylon and Montana make acrylic-based spray paints designed for decorating foam, plastics, wicker, wood, and more. The acrylic formula won’t melt polystyrene foams. Make sure the label specifies it is safe for styrofoam or foam boards.
Water-Based Spray Paint
Latex and other water-based spray paints are another good option for styrofoam. Compared to oil-based paints, water-based latex paint is less harsh and more foam-friendly. Still, test a small patch first before coating the entire project to ensure compatibility.
Primers and Sealers
Priming styrofoam before painting provides an extra barrier to help protect the foam surface. Acrylic paint mediums, white glue, and gesso can all be used to prime before painting with spray paint. This helps prevent dissolving issues. Let the primer dry fully before spraying color paints.
Brushed Acrylic Craft Paint
While not a spray, brushed acrylic craft paint works excellently at coating styrofoam smoothly. The manual brush application allows you to control exactly where the paint goes. Acrylic paint does not damage foam like many other standard paint types.
What Spray Paint Should You Avoid Using on Styrofoam?
On the flip side, there are various spray paint formulas and types that should be avoided when working with styrofoam:
Enamel and Latex Paint
Standard enamel and latex paints are oil-based. The solvents in these paints will dissolve away polystyrene foam, turning it into a melted mess. Never use regular enamel or latex spray paint directly onto styrofoam without priming first.
Automotive and Appliance Spray Paint
The heavy-duty formulas of automotive, appliance, and similar spray paints can be too harsh for styrofoam. They can cause melting. Instead, opt for acrylic hobby spray paints. They provide great color without damaging foam.
High VOC Paints
VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are released as paint dries and will eat away at styrofoam. Paints with higher VOC levels tend to be more damaging to foam. When possible, choose low or no VOC acrylic paints.
Spray Paints Not Formulated for Plastics
Some brands don’t specifically say their spray paint works on foam or plastics. Avoid using these, or test first, since they may not have foam-friendly formulas. Always check the label for styrofoam suitability before using.
Can You Spray Paint Styrofoam? Tips for Success
Yes, you can spray paint styrofoam! With the right spray paint and some preparation, it is easy to achieve flawless spray painted styrofoam results. Here are top tips for success:
Choose Acrylic Spray Paint for Plastics
Look at the label to ensure the spray paint is designed for plastic, foam, or styrofoam. Acrylic-based spray paints from Krylon, Rust-Oleum, Montana, and craft brands work best.
Prime First for Extra Protection
Priming before spray painting is highly recommended. It gives styrofoam an extra coat of protection. Use gesso, wood glue thinned with water, or acrylic medium to prime.
Always Test on a Small Area First
Even when using acrylic spray paints, do a test spray on a small, inconspicuous patch of foam first. Check for any melting or other reactions before spray painting the entire project.
Use Light, Even Coats of Paint
Apply paint in several thin, even layers allowing complete drying between coats. Thick coats are more likely to damage foam. Light coats result in a smoother finish.
Allow Ample Drying Time
Rushing the drying between coats of spray paint can cause melting issues. Give the paint at least 1-2 hours of drying time before adding additional coats to avoid this.
Consider Brush Painting Details
Use spray paint for large background areas and base coats. Switch to brushed acrylic craft paints for fine details to avoid bleeding and give you more control.
What Spray Paint Does Not Melt Styrofoam?
To avoid ruining your styrofoam project with melted paint, always use spray paint specially designed for use on foam boards and plastics. Here are some top options:
- Krylon Fusion All-In-One: Krylon’s Fusion spray paint bonds to difficult surfaces like plastic and foam without dissolving them. It dries into a durable, fade-resistant finish.
- Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2x: Formulated for plastic, wood, and more, Painter’s Touch spray paint from Rust-Oleum offers excellent adhesion and color retention on styrofoam.
- Montana Acrylic Spray Paint: This professional-grade acrylic spray paint sticks to many surfaces. It will coat styrofoam beautifully without any melting issues.
- Krylon H2O Water-Based Spray Paint: The water-based formula of Krylon’s H2O spray paint makes it safe for use on foam projects without dissolving the material underneath.
No matter what brand you choose, make sure to read reviews and confirm the spray paint you select is designed for styrofoam or plastic crafts before purchasing. Avoid brands that do not specify foam-safe formulas.
Priming Styrofoam Before Painting
Adding a primer or sealer coat before spray painting is a great way to add extra protection for your styrofoam. Primers help prevent spray paint from melting the foam by creating a protective barrier. Here are some of the best options for priming styrofoam:
This thick, acrylic-based primer commonly used on canvas is perfect for styrofoam too. Brush gesso directly onto all surfaces of the foam and let it fully dry before spray painting. The gesso will harden into a smooth, protective layer.
Thinned down white glue makes an excellent sealant for foam. Mix equal parts wood glue and water in a bowl and stir to combine. Use a paintbrush to apply the thinned glue all over the styrofoam. Let it dry completely before spray painting.
Look for products like Golden’s GAC 800 that are formulated for painting on non-canvas surfaces. Brush a layer of the acrylic medium onto the styrofoam and allow to dry per the product directions before spray painting the project.
This versatile multi-surface sealer can be used as a primer for styrofoam as well. Apply a layer of Mod Podge with a paintbrush and allow it to dry fully before spray painting for protection.
Spray Painting vs Brush Painting Styrofoam
When working with styrofoam, both spray painting and traditional brush painting with acrylic craft paints get great results. Here’s how the two methods compare:
Spray Painting Pros
- Covers large areas and backgrounds faster than brushing
- Provides an ultra smooth, consistent finish
- Easier to get into detailed curves and crevices
- Gives a fine mist of paint for controlled coverage
Brush Painting Pros
- Better control for paint details, edges, and fine lines
- Less wasted paint compared to overspray
- Lower risk of paint melting foam
- Can add multiple colors without remasking easily
Many projects use a combination of both methods for the ideal styrofoam paint job. Use spray paint for the base color and brush acrylics for any detailing.
Protecting Your Spray Painted Styrofoam
Once your styrofoam project is decorated with spray paint, you’ll want to take steps to protect and seal the painted surface. Here are some top tips for keeping spray painted styrofoam looking its best:
Apply a Clear Sealing Coat
Use a clear acrylic sealer spray paint to seal in the color and give added protection. Krylon and Rust-Oleum make clear sealers designed for foam boards and plastics. This prevents paint chips and fading.
Choose a Matte Sealer Finish
Matte sealers help reduce shine and give spray painted styrofoam a uniform look. Glossy sealers can make the surface look uneven and amplified any imperfections. Matte provides a smooth, consistent finish.
Display Indoors or Under Cover
Since spray painted styrofoam is vulnerable to chipping and flaking over time, avoid displaying it outdoors or in wet environments. The indoor elements will help maintain its pristine painted finish.
Handle With Care
Be very gentle when moving your painted styrofoam project to prevent scratches or dents to the painted surface. Pack carefully for transporting if needed. Avoid abrasion or friction against the paint.
Consider a Protective Coating
For styrofoam decor meant to be handled frequently, apply a rubberized protective coating like Plasti Dip. This flexible coating helps shield the painted foam from denting and will cover any imperfections.
Taking steps to seal and protect your spray painted styrofoam will help keep it looking freshly painted for many years before needing touch-ups. Be mindful of potential damage when handling and displaying.
Spray Painting vs Brush Painting Spray Foam Insulation
Spray foam insulation provides excellent sealing and energy efficiency for homes and buildings. Once installed, spray foam is often painted to match the rest of the interior. But should you use spray paint or brushed paint? Here’s how the two compare when painting spray foam:
Spray Painting Spray Foam
- Faster than brushing for large surface areas
- Provides a more uniform, consistent application
- Easier for reaching into crevices and texture
- Requires masking adjacent areas to avoid overspray
Brush Painting Spray Foam
- Allows better precision painting around edges and trims
- Minimizes wasted paint from overspray
- Foam texture makes brushing challenging
- Requires two coats for best coverage
Most painters recommend using a combination approach when painting spray foam insulation. Use spray paint for the bulk of the surface, then switch to trim brushes for edging and precision spots. This gives an efficient application with great finished results.
Be sure to use latex or acrylic paints formulated for interior use when painting spray foam. Oil-based paints will not properly adhere to the foam. Priming first is also advisable to help the topcoats stick and cover fully.
With the right materials and some preparation, both brush painting and spray painting get excellent results on spray foam. Use the technique best suited for each part of the installation. Proper prep work ensures the paint has long-lasting durability.
Frequently Asked Questions About Spray Painting Styrofoam
Here are answers to some of the most common questions people have about using spray paint on styrofoam:
What happens if you accidentally use the wrong spray paint on styrofoam?
Standard enamel, oil or latex-based spray paints will start dissolving and melting the styrofoam underneath immediately. Stop spraying as soon as you notice any damage forming. The affected area may become gummy and warped from the paint eating away the foam.
How long does it take for spray paint to dry on styrofoam?
Acrylic spray paint will be dry to the touch on styrofoam within 30-60 minutes typically. Still allow 1-2 hours drying time between coats for the paint to cure fully. Cool temperatures or humid weather can increase drying time.
Can you use spray paint on extruded polystyrene foam board?
Yes, XPS rigid foam boards work well for spray painting. Look for acrylic formulas made for plastics so the propellant and pigments do not dissolve the foam. Prime first for best results on XPS foam panels.
What spray paint finishes work best on styrofoam?
Matte or flat spray paint finishes give the most uniform, smooth look on styrofoam projects. Glossy paints can exaggerate any small dents or imperfections in the surface. Satin finishes offer a nice compromise between matte and glossy.
How can you paint styrofoam balls and spheres without melting them?
Use Krylon Fusion or a similar acrylic spray paint safe for plastics. Rotate the styrofoam balls while spraying to coat all sides evenly with light misting coats. Allow each coat to dry fully before adding additional color layers.
Get Creative Spray Painting Your Styrofoam Projects!
With the right acrylic spray paint and preparation methods, you can easily achieve beautiful spray painted results on your styrofoam crafts, decoration pieces, architectural models, and more.
Always prime first, use foam-safe paint, spray in light coats, and take steps to protect the painted surface. In no time you’ll have vibrant, customized styrofoam creations ready to display.
Spray paint allows you to coat styrofoam in any color you can imagine. Craft stores offer a huge array of spray paint shades and finishes to match any look or style you want. Elevate plain styrofoam into dazzling works of art, holiday decorations, and imaginative designs.
So don’t be afraid to grab that can of spray paint and get creative transforming ordinary styrofoam into extraordinary showpieces! With the tips in this guide, you can spray paint styrofoam successfully every time.