How to Paint Styrofoam

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How to Paint Styrofoam

How do you paint polystyrene and Styrofoam? Have you tried and ended up with a lunar landscape look? It's a great look if you're painting a solar system with Styrofoam balls but not really beyond that!

Styrofoam is essentially just a brand name for polystyrene. Crafters use it to make hanging decorations, table decorations, decorations on sticks, hanging solar systems, decorated Easter eggs and many, many more craft projects.

There is a real knack to painting any styrofoam or polystyrene craft shape, whilst making sure you get complete coverage. Obviously the paint is often just the base of the craft embellishment but it is, nonetheless, an important base and is often still very visible when the project is completed.

See the 'How to Make It' tab for all our hints and tips on painting polystyrene.

  1. Water based paints or acrylic craft paints are the best to use on styrofoam. Water based paints, specifically poster paints, work well with younger kids as they can get a really good and thick coverage of paint on the polystyrene shape. However, older kids and adults would be best using acrylic craft paint on their styrofoam as this will give a tidier finish.
  2. If you want to stick anything to your shape after painting, we suggest that you do not use metallic paint as the pigment in these stops many adhesives working.  If you do use metallic paints, a cool melt glue will stick buttons, jewels etc.
  3. Whether you decide to you acrylic paint or water based paints you will almost definitely need to apply one coat, wait for it to dry and then apply another coat. This will give you good even coverage.
  4. Solvent based paints, spray paints and many other types of paint will melt the styrofoam - probably not the look you are after! If in doubt test it first but we would suggest sticking to water based and acrylic paint on all Styrofoam and polystyrene craft projects. Styrofoam shapes are relatively cheap but you still won't want to waste them...
  5. The difficulty with painting styrofoam is getting the paint to fully cover the styrofoam, as it does not have a smooth surface. The best way to do this is to paint the first layer using a stencilling brush. These have short bristles, which enable you to scrub the paint into the nooks and crannies of the Styrofoam. After allowing the paint to dry, which is just a few moments, you then need to apply a second coat. You could do this using the stencilling brush again, which is fine for younger kids. However, for older kids and adults, we would suggest that you use a standard paint brush on this second coat to get the best finish.
  6. If you have ever painted any 3D craft base before you will be immediately familiar with the problem of painting the item without ending up with most of the paint on your hands and finger prints all over your styrofoam. The solution to this and our second knack is to use either wire or a small round wooden dowel or wooden stick to push the shape onto. You can then hold the stick whilst painting all over. Obviously, you will need to make sure that the hole will be somewhere where it's not going to notice. Perhaps where the shape will be hung from or stood up on.
  7. If you are going to paint styrofoam balls or eggs, you may find it easier to use cut up toilet rolls to make little stands. You can paint one half of the shape in the stand, let it dry and then turn it over and paint the other half.
  8. If your Styrofoam shape is too small for a toilet roll, use a small section of card, roll it up and tape it shut, as shown in the photo.