The thought of painting on cardboard often crosses many artists’ and crafty folks’ minds. And why not? Canvas doesn’t come cheap.
If you can slash down your budget by using everyday materials as alternatives, so be it. Cardboard is also a go-to material for many crafts that one might want to finish off with paint. It can also be a more durable material for costumes and cosplay than craft foam.
Regardless of the situation, cardboard is but layers of paper despite being rigid. And like any other paper, it is fragile and gets flimsy and tears when wet.
So, can you paint on cardboard? Yes, you can paint on cardboard. You just have to prepare the surfaces well and choose the right paint and primer to prevent its fibers from disintegrating. Spray paints, acrylics, or oil paints will offer the best results.
If you are up for the idea of using cardboard as a canvas, this post is for you. Hop on as we guide you through the step of painting cardboard and the right products, techniques, and mistakes to avoid for fantastic results.
Perhaps the idea of using cardboard for painting has never once clicked in your mind. So, you can’t help but wonder why you should use cardboard instead of canvas.
Reasons to paint on cardboard:
- Cardboard is a pretty accessible material, and you don’t need to search far and wide for it. It is one of the most ubiquitous forms of packaging, and you’ll find it in almost every home.
- Provides a sturdy and flat base.
- Cardboard is inexpensive if not free. Canvas, on the other hand, will set you back a few dollars.
- If you are a novice painter and would like to sharpen your skills by practicing, cardboard is the most cost-effective option. Instead of wasting a perfectly good canvas, at a level where mistakes are at their peak, you can use cardboard until you get better at it.
- You can discard the cardboard if it turns out bad and not lose as much money as if you had discarded a canvas.
- Another reason you might want to paint cardboard is if you use it for crafts. Cardboard is commonly used to make models, prototypes, DIY decorations, school projects, and costumes. Painting makes a whole lot of difference to its character, appeal, and realism.
- It is eco-friendly because it is biodegradable and painting on it is a form of recycling or “up-cycling.”
Unfortunately, without the proper information, you are bound to get unsatisfactory results with cardboard as a painting medium. These include getting soggy, tearing, warping, or paint just not adhering.
Being paper and porous, such outcomes are to be expected but can be avoided. Therefore your choice of paint, cardboard, and technique is of utmost importance for success when painting on cardboard.
The Best Paint To Use On Cardboard
Despite being heavy-duty paper, paper is just paper and will absorb water molecules. Any exposure to moisture will therefore leave cardboard limp and susceptible to tearing.
Consequently, paints that require the use of water are a no-go for cardboard. Watercolors and gouache are not good paint for cardboard.
Oil paints will work better and won’t seep into the cardboard, but these may go too hard on the paper and shrink, causing it to warp when dry.
Acrylic paint and spray paint are the best kind of paints to use on cardboard. While acrylic paints are water-based, they have a lower moisture content and are cheaper and easier to use, which is helpful since you are entirely new to painting on cardboard.
Spray paints are ideal too. They go on in a smooth and thin layer that dries quickly, creating less time for the water molecules to seep into the cardboard and break down the fibers.
Plus, it offers a hassle-free time painting irregular-shaped crafts since it gets into the tightest spots with ease. You can cover a large piece of cardboard fairly quickly using spray paints as well.
Do You Need To Prime Cardboard For Painting?
Yes, you should prime cardboard before painting. In addition to paint, you need a good primer for the cardboard. A primer typically saves the day in three different ways.
It seals the cardboard by creating an impermeable layer that prevents moisture from penetrating deep within the cardboard.
Two, it gives the cardboard tooth, so the paint has something to adhere to. Three, it provides a nice solid background which makes the paint colors pop and also appear even by preventing sunken spots.
What Kind Of Primer Do You Use On Cardboard?
Gesso is the best primer to use on cardboard. It offers the ultimate seal against moisture, creates a good texture for the paint to hold on to, and has a smooth white base for a vibrancy boost.
Choosing Cardboard For Painting
If you are going to use cardboard for painting, you are likely to repurpose what you already have at home. But all cardboard is not equal, and it does not take a magnifying glass to see that a cereal box and a TV box are different.
Cardboards come in various thicknesses and textures. We do not recommend very thin cardboard for painting. Carton board is one such type of cardboard to avoid. It is very thin with one laminated side. This type of cardboard is used for cereal boxes, milk boxes, tissue, and other light products.
If anything, choose a double or triple wall corrugated cardboard. Corrugated cardboard is thicker, stronger, and provides the best stability for painting.
It contains corrugated sheets sandwiched between every two carton sheets. Just look at a cross-section of the cardboard, and if you notice the s-curve pattern in between, that’s corrugated cardboard.
However, the triple wall may be difficult to come by as it packages heavy stuff like refrigerators and machinery. If you can’t find triple corrugated cardboard, you can settle for a double or single corrugated cardboard.
How To Paint On Cardboard
Now that we’ve already covered everything you need, including the type of paint, the primer, and the cardboard, let’s get down to the actual task, and that is painting the cardboard.
We divide the process into two parts. The first one is preparing the cardboard, and the second is painting it. We’ll show you how to do it using acrylic paints and spray paint.
Cleaning a surface prior to painting often involves washing it with water, but hold your horses. Not this time around. Always start with a clean surface to enhance the staying power of paint. However, we do not need water for cardboard.
Instead, you can use a tack cloth to wipe the cardboard. It should be dry. The tack cloth will pick any loose dirt debris, hairs, and fibers.
Place the clean cardboard on top of a drop cloth laid on your work surface. Now apply a light coat of gesso or acrylic-based primer.
Use a flat synthetic paintbrush, making long strokes in one direction, preferably vertically. Allow the primer to dry as you would canvas. You can apply a second coat and wait again for it to dry. The second coat goes on horizontally.
The primed cardboard can take 2-24 hours to be ready for painting.
Sanding is an optional step. Gesso dries kind of bumpy and rough. If this texture doesn’t bother you, then skip this step.
However, some artists prefer to smooth out the gesso, and if that sounds like you, get 500 grit sandpaper and lightly sand the primed cardboard.
Do not apply too much pressure; otherwise, you might get through the gesso to the cardboard and damage it.
Painting Using Acrylic Paint
Whether you are painting illustrative artwork or just one solid color, you must proceed with caution and avoid moisture load at all costs. Most of the problems of painting cardboard stem from moisture.
Keep in mind that paint is fluid and has some degree of moisture. So when choosing paint, go for brands with a thicker consistency.
You also need to ensure that the environmental conditions are right. A high temperature and low humidity levels are optimum for painting on cardboard.
Before you begin, avoid wetting the brush or sponge before use. People do this most of the time to loosen the bristles. However, when painting with cardboard, you just have to skip this step.
Alternatively, rub the bristles in between your thumb and index finger by moving them in a back-and-forth motion. The friction helps to loosen them up.
The next step is to pick the paint with the brush and avoid placing it directly on the cardboard from the container. You can squeeze the paint onto the brush, dip the brush in the paint, or use a palette.
The point of this is to reduce the amount of moisture that goes onto the cardboard. You’ll be in full control of the amount of paint you apply.
Do not be too liberal with the paints. When you put too much, you risk two things. One is damaging the paper, and two, getting a patchy appearance due to the spots that will have absorbed a lot more moisture than others.
Apply the paint in very thin and even coats, then allow ample time for each layer to dry thoroughly. This reduces moisture overload at any given time by allowing it to escape before you slap on more paint. Give about 2 hours between coats or even touching up any areas.
If you need to switch colors, avoid using the same brush you just cleaned while still wet. Make sure you dry it thoroughly before continuing, or use a fresh dry one instead.
Spray Painting Cardboard
Spray paint would be perfect for complex structured crafts or artwork that lacks any detailing. It is also ideal when time is of the essence due to its rapid drying capabilities.
You need a well-ventilated space and to wear protective equipment when handling spray paint. This includes a respirator mask, apron, and gloves.
You may also want to cover the floor and surrounding area with newspaper, tarp, or old sheets. It is typical of some of the paint molecules to spread away from the target. All this is to prevent it from ending up in unwanted places, including your floor, clothes, furniture, and lungs.
When it comes to spray painting cardboard, the risk is the same. Moisture is the enemy here, so you want to be careful with the application.
To start, shake the spray paint can before painting for about a minute or two. Usually, the paint components separate when the can has stood in a place for some time. Giving it a good shake mixes everything up again for effective application.
Once you’ve shaken the can, hold it with the nozzle towards the primed cardboard. Maintain a distance of not less than 12 inches. Spray the paints thinly and evenly, moving in any direction you wish.
Just make sure that you do not linger on a spot or go over it repeatedly to prevent the pooling of the paint. Pooling of paints in one specific area will lead to a splotchy appearance because all parts did not get an even amount of paint.
When done, allow for ample time to dry before repeating the same process for the second and third coats. Shake the can periodically for smooth flow and dispelling of the paint.
Can You Seal Painted Cardboard?
Absolutely. You can seal painted cardboard to make it water-resistant and preserve it for a little bit longer.
Any acrylic or polymer varnish can go over the painted cardboard to protect it and give it a glossy, attractive look. Still, cardboard is an ephemeral art material and is not meant to last long.
How Do You Fix Warping On Painted Cardboard?
Regardless of how religiously you follow every tip provided here, your beautifully painted cardboard may still warp. How do you fix that?
After the paint has completely dried, lay a piece of wax or parchment paper on the table. Turn the painted cardboard face-down such that the painted side is in contact with the wax paper.
Now take a spray bottle, pour in clean water, and spritz the unpainted side evenly. You are not trying to soak the cardboard, just getting it wet superficially.
The next step is to apply some weights to press it down flat. You can use a heavy item with a flat base. It could be plywood or heavy hardcover books like an encyclopedia. Leave it there undisturbed for a few days to weeks. As the cardboard dries, it will take on a flat shape.
That’s everything there is to know about cardboard for painting. Let’s quickly recap on the key points for the success of painting on cardboard.
- Acrylic paint and spray paints are the best for painting cardboard. You can also use oil paints but never watercolors.
- Choose thick cardboard like double or triple-layered corrugated cardboard.
- Priming the cardboard is a must regardless of the type of paint you want to use.
- Go thin, light, and even with the paint application. Give ample drying time between coats.
- Choose a day with good weather. If you’re painting indoors, ensure it is not humid and the temperature is high by using a fan or dryer.
So the next time you want to paint on a low budget or just want to repurpose cardboard, you know what to do. Have fun!
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