How to Paint Cardboard [With Acrylic or Spray Paint]

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.

Painting cardboard

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

How to Paint Cardboard

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.


  • Gesso
  • 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

Acrylic paint on cardboard

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 painting cardboard boxes

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
  • Gloves
  • 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.

1. Gesso

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.

Ranger Dina Wakley Media Gesso

Best paint for cardboardRanger Dina Wakley Media Gesso is clear and ideal for many surface types. If you prefer the background to show through, like in painting cardboard on cabinets, a transparent media keeps the underlay in place and provides a stronghold for the paint to grab.

You can even use this gesso as a primer or sealer. It’s great for sealing layers or working with slippery surfaces.

Use it to smooth canvases or for any of your other projects. Plus, it’s entirely non-toxic for use and highly affordable.

Handy Art Acrylic Paint

Handy Art PaintHandy Art Acrylic Gesso is an excellent student primer. The flexible finish dries in a matte white pattern to help acrylics stick. It’s best when applied as an undercoat before painting. The result is a smooth surface with no tooth. Apply more of the product for a more textured finish.

The best part about Handy Art is that the products are non-toxic and excellent for people with allergies. The gesso does not contain any dairy, latex, egg, peanut, soy, casein, gluten, or tree nuts.

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.

Mont Marte Signature Acrylic Paint Set

Mont Marte Signature PaintThe Mont Marte Signature set has 36 acrylics in a semi-matte finish. These paints are suitable for many bases, like canvas, wood, leather, clay, plaster, paper, cardboard, and some plastics. Use them for all your art and craft projects.

What sets Mont Marte apart from the competition is the fast dry times. You can layer paint on more quickly because the creamy texture is said to come with an ultra-quick dry. The paints are easy to blend and layer together, and the result is full coverage.

ARTIKIT Acrylic Paint Set

ARTIKIT Acrylic Paint SetThe ARTIKIT set is another option with multiple colors and uses. It comes with 24 vibrant acrylics that blend, layer, and mix well. The paints work on surfaces like fabric, wood, canvas, paper, and cardboard. You have many craft choices with this kit.

The non-toxic paints are versatile for varying art techniques, and they’re safe for kids or adults. Unlike other sets, these paints mix to create superb color shades and tones than you had available in your palette before.

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.

Krylon Glitter Spray Paint

spray painting cardboard boxesKrylon is the best spray paint brand for beginners. They’re cheap and come in a wide variety of colors, including this gold glitter shade. The best part is that using this can on cardboard takes less time, as Krylon is a two-in-one primer and paint.

Although Krylon is for plastic, vinyl, wood, metal, and wicket surfaces, you can use it for cardboard. It’s easy to apply. Ensure you shake the can nicely to disperse the glitter evenly.

Rust Oleum 249130 Spray Paint

Rust Oleum 249130 Spray PaintRust Oleum 249130 may have the most versatility and fastest dry time.

It’s a versatile, all-surface option with a metallic satin finish.

There are many colors, and the formula prevents rust or chipping later.

Applying Rust Oleum is easier than ever. Just aim and spray.

The paint is fast drying, only taking around 30 minutes to dry thoroughly.

You can cover a vast surface quickly, and the finish looks great on many surface types.

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
  • Water
  • 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.