Are you looking for an inexpensive painting medium? Have you ever wondered how to paint cardboard? It’s fantastic for crafts and painting, but the paper is also delicate. Following the right steps for painting cardboard will produce the best results.
Cardboard has a porous surface, making it difficult for some paints to adhere. Acrylic and spray paint are among the best paints for cardboard. But for the best results, use gesso to prime the surface and include several paint layers. Doing so helps avoid warping.
In this article, we’ll look at what steps you need to take for perfect-looking cardboard art. We’ll even discuss the right products for your project and explore how to fix warping if you make a mistake.
Using Cardboard for Painting
Why would you paint on cardboard? Art materials can quickly add up. Many people love repurposing old cardboard because it’s cheap, lightweight, and versatile. However, it still provides a sturdy base for painting. It’s also an excellent low-budget canvas.
You can use cardboard as an art painting medium or for fun craft projects. When the project is over, or if the painting doesn’t look as you hoped, you can throw it out without wasting tons of money. It’s durable enough to paint on, and you have the option to restart or make mistakes.
Using cardboard could help you experiment and fuel your creativity. The medium is different from painting on cartridge paper, so trying a new material can become a wondrous adventure. A cardboard box painting also allows you to glue cut-outs to create elevation or add more shadows and depth to the composition.
Other crafts may require painting cardboard as well, like cardboard modeling. Making models from cardboard is common among designers, architects, and anyone else just for fun. Some structures require you to paint, even if you purchase a model kit.
Cardboard is not recommended for permanent art projects, though. The paper decomposes over time, so your works of art may not last a long time.
What Type of Paint Can You Use on Cardboard?
You can’t use just any type of paint on cardboard due to the porous surface. The results from painting cardboard depend on the paint type and process you use, as does the cardboard’s quality after you paint it.
The paint options you have for the material include:
- Acrylic Paint
- Spray Paint
- Oil Paint
Corrugated cardboard is like heavy-duty paper that doesn’t handle water well. For this reason, watercolors are not the paint of choice. Acrylics, oils, or spray paint do not require water.
Of these three paints, using acrylic or spray paint tends to work best on corrugated cardboard. Oil-based paint has enough moisture to warp the delicate kraft paper, mainly if you apply it in thick layers. The other two choices are more advisable.
However, you’ll need to prime the material first to avoid warping or curling effects. Improper use causes moisture from the paint to sink into the paper base, causing damage from the inside out. Proceed with caution.
How to Paint Cardboard without Warping
To keep the material from warping, prime the cardboard and apply the paint in thin coats. Using a primer helps the paint adhere and last a long time. You should also paint several layers and leave plenty of time to dry the painting for the best results.
If you paint the board without preparation, the paint will soak right into the surface. The result could include pale colors, warping, or just not hold up well over time.
Prime Cardboard for Painting
Prime the cardboard before painting the surface for the best color possible. Otherwise, the paint may soak into the cardboard and appear less vibrant and colorful.
Enter gesso. Gesso is an acrylic type that primes surfaces. It provides a textured layer for the paint to stick to and enhances the colors in your art. Finally, gesso boosts your protection against moisture.
Most gesso comes in white. There is also a clear gesso if you want the cardboard color to show through. Transparency is typically more desirable with a wood surface, but you could use it for a smoother surface when painting on canvas as well.
Some people use white acrylic paint to create a white base, such as in an egg carton or yogurt bucket project. But gesso is better.
Unlike using white acrylic paint, gesso gives you a white base to start with and requires fewer coats. You’re less likely to warp the carton, and the acrylic paint has something substantial to attach itself.
Some painters choose to make their gesso from calk, white paint, glue, and water. But many brands sell gesso at art supply stores and craft stores.
- Flat paintbrush
- 500-grit sandpaper
Step 1: Apply Gesso to Cardboard
Gesso is available in craft stores or online. Most options are white, but you may find a few transparent brands. If you want to alter the color, you may also mix in a few acrylic paint drops.
To prime using gesso, grab a flat paintbrush. Paint the gesso onto the cardboard in thin layers using vertical, long strokes.
Step 2: Paint a Second Coat
Apply a second coat for the best results. Allow it to dry for at least 24 hours, then use the same technique to lay down the second coat. Paint in the opposite direction than your first coat for a smooth texture. Leave another 24 hours for dry time.
If you still see the brown cardboard showing through the gesso after two coats, add a third coat.
Step 3: Sand the Surface (Optional)
Gesso produces a rough surface for the paint to adhere to accurately. If the surface is too harsh for your painting, you can lightly sand it. Create a smooth surface by rubbing 500-grit sandpaper back and forth. A few moments of stoking should remove the protruding lines and bumps.
Avoid pushing the sandpaper too hard, or you may cause damage. But remember, this step is optional. The textured surface is ideal for some projects.
Painting Cardboard with Acrylic Paint
Many painting techniques have you dip the brush into the water as you paint. But water may cause damage to cardboard. You can further avoid warping or curling by using a dry brush or sponge to paint. Instead, break up the bristles with your fingers if the brush feels too stiff.
- Acrylic paint
- Dry paintbrush or sponge
Step 1: Apply Paint to Brush
Squeeze the acrylic paint directly onto your paintbrush or sponge, or dip your brush into the paint. Avoid applying the paint directly onto the cardboard to keep it from curling.
Adding the paint to your brush directly also gives you the ability to control how much paint you use. Too much acrylic paint at once may distort the paper or cause the color to sink in patches.
Step 2: Paint Thin Coats
Use your paintbrush to apply thin coats – the less moisture at once, the better. Let the paint dry before moving forward with another coat. The drying process typically takes around two hours.
Never dip your paintbrush in water. Suppose you have to change colors, clean and dry your paintbrush thoroughly.
Step 3: Administer a Second Coat
You will probably need to add multiple coats for a solid color. Expect the first few coats to come out partially see-through. The more coats you include, the more even your color appears. Continue executing coats until you reach the desired look.
Spray Paint on Cardboard
Spray paint is a great alternative when painting cardboard because it is easy to apply. The cans are available at any hardware or art supplies store.
When spray painting, you must work in a safe environment. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission points out that water-based acrylics are toxic if ingested, and the fumes from solvent-based paints can be toxic.
Head to a well-ventilated area and make sure there is enough airflow. Spray painting cardboard works best in a warm and dry area completely sheltered from weather conditions. For example, a garage protects against wind, cold, and wetness.
- Spray paint
- Sheet of newspaper
Step 1: Prepare Your Work Area
Spray paint is challenging to remove. Before you begin, take a minute to prepare the work area and yourself.
Use an old sheet, newspaper, or another piece of cardboard to keep from painting the ground. Cover clothing with an apron or wear protective clothing, a face mask, and gloves.
Step 2: Shake the Spray Paint
The pigments in spray paint separate over time, so you want to shake the can for no less than three minutes before use. Shaking helps the pigments combine, and the color should come out with an even gradient.
You’ll also want to reshake the can each hour to keep the paint flowing freely.
Step 3: Lightly Spray the Paint
After the can is ready, hold it around 12 inches away and parallel to the cardboard. Any closer, and the paint could pool and cause warping. Make sure to move the can across the cardboard in the pattern you desire, spraying lightly.
Rather than move the can from left to right only, you can experiment with other patterns. Try creating swirls, zig-zags, and polka dots. Bypass the urge to spray any section of the cardboard more than twice. Oversaturation also causes warping.
Allow the first layer to dry for two hours or more.
Step 4: Apply a Second Coat
Ensure the first coat is dry and apply a second coat. If you don’t wait for the paint to fully dry, you could cause it to warp.
For the second coat, consider using a different color for more contrast. Spray using the same technique above, using lightly sprays.
If you need a more solid color, continue with a third or fourth coat. You can also touch-up any areas as needed at this stage. Make sure to let the paint dry for at least two hours in between each additional coat.
What is the Best Paint for Cardboard?
You need the right primer and paint for the best results. With many options to choose from, you may wonder which paint brands are the best for cardboard. Select from the following choices.
While you could use a liquid latex primer or go with homemade gesso, the store-bought product is the easiest option. The gesso helps the paint adhere and cancels out the material’s dark tones, so your colors shine bright. After painting with any of the following gessos, you should have a clean and white surface.
2. Acrylic Paint
Acrylics are inexpensive and easy to use. The consistency is similar to oil, but the paint can better penetrate cardboard. These paints are available in craft or art stores. Let’s look at some of the best acrylics on the market.
3. Spray Paint
Spray painting cardboard may take less time, as it tends to dry quicker than acrylics. However, it’s more crucial to protect your work area and yourself from the fumes. Here are a few of the best spray paints for your project.
Tips to Prevent Warping or Curling
Moisture is the leading cause of warping or curling. You’ll want to attempt everything you can to keep from damaging the material if you’re going to create long-lasting art.
The following includes a few tips to keep the painting safe from warping or curling:
- Don’t oversaturate the paint.
- Keep all moisture from the material.
- Avoid humidity.
- Use gesso to prime before painting.
- Allow coats to dry before including more.
- Work in a dry environment.
- Never use watercolors or overly wet paints.
- Use a double or triple-wall, thick corrugated cardboard.
Even if you follow these tips carefully, the board may still warp and curl. But you might be able to fix the issue.
How to Fix Warped Cardboard
Cardboard is a fantastic painting material, but it’s challenging to deal with when it gets too wet. If you accidentally use too much paint or printer, the cardboard may warp or curl. You can fix it if the damage isn’t too severe. Use the following step-by-step instructions to mend your painting.
- Spray bottle
- Weights or heavy objects (books, furniture, metal tools, etc.)
Step 1: Completely Dry
Dry the cardboard until it’s completely moisture-free. Set the painting somewhere safe where it won’t be in the way for a few days.
Step 2: Spritz with Water
To reshape the material, start by rehydrating. Grab a spray bottle and moisten the cardboard. Never dip the board into water or over-soak the material. If you get it too wet, the pulp will tear away from the base. Lightly spritz the board.
Step 3: Load it Up
Next, set the board on a flat surface with the curls facing upwards. Lay a flat piece of plywood over the board and place your weights or heavy objects on the area to keep the cardboard flat. Books make an excellent tool, but anything heavy should weigh it down enough.
Let your art sit to dry in this position for between 24 hours and three days. When the cardboard is completely dry, you can lift the objects. The painting should be flat and free of any warping or curling. If not, repeat the process. Sometimes recovery can take weeks.
Without the proper steps, painting cardboard may not go so well. The material breaks down with too much moisture. Priming the surface is the best thing you can do to protect the body.
Did these tips and instructions help with your project? Have you learned something new? Share your experience in the comments and let your friends and family know about the value you found in our article.