How to Paint Cardboard

How to Paint Cardboard – Learning About Painting on Cardboard

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When you think of cardboard, do you think of boxes and packaging? Or do you think of beautiful art creations? The amazing thing about cardboard is that it is one of the most versatile materials known to humankind. It can be used for several practical tasks, including beautiful art. This tutorial will help you learn how to paint cardboard. We will talk about the best paint for cardboard and how to apply it correctly, as well as which paints are unsuitable paints for cardboard. Painting on cardboard is easy, but are primers needed? We will also include the various cardboard art projects that include painted cardboard, and what paint carton is the best option to use by brand. Not only that, but we will also include instructions for cardboard painting, from how to spray paint a cardboard box, to using a paintbrush to create intricate designs.



Reasons for Painting Cardboard

Often the main reason that people would want to paint on cardboard is because of how much cheaper the material is compared to buying wooden boards to paint on, or even canvases (which are quite costly). This makes it amazingly versatile, and a great option for non-permanent artworks.

You will typically find cardboard is used as the main surface material for arts and crafts when children are concerned, because they will have the freedom to explore their talents by making as many mistakes along the way without having a teacher or a parent hovering over them.

Painting on Cardboard for KidsOther reasons for painting on cardboard, besides cardboard art projects, would be possibly spray-painting a cardboard box which can be used as a decorated box for a gift during Christmas, or maybe even a toy for your new kitten to hide inside that still aesthetically suits your home decor.

Painted cardboard could be used to create several really fun toys, not only for your pets but also for your children, like a dollhouse, a model train, and so much more!

Children and animals are not the only ones who will appreciate the usefulness and versatility of cardboard. You could cut out small round disks of cardboard to serve as coasters, or possibly placement markers for each guest at your wedding, so they know where to sit.

There are so many ideas that you can do with cardboard painting. All you need is a little imagination and some suitable paints for cardboard. Then you can begin the process of learning how to paint cardboard for whatever idea that sparked in your mind.

Cardboard Art Projects for Kids



Suitable Paints for Cardboard

Seeing that cardboard is one of the most versatile materials, as we have discussed, and you are aware that cardboard painting can be beneficial for many reasons, we will now talk about the various paints for cardboard and which the best paint for cardboard is given the task you have in mind. All paint comes in a paint carton, but which paint will serve you best?

Cardboard tends to warp under liquid because it is extremely absorbent, so you will need to use paints with less water.


Oil Paints for Cardboard Art Projects

Oil paints are almost the opposite of watercolors. They are much thicker in consistency and are not water-soluble because they are oil-based. That means they are ideal paints to use for painting on cardboard. You will be able to appreciate the vibrancy of the colors that come as oil paints.

Oil Paints for CardboardHowever, a disadvantage would be that the oil paints tend to be highly toxic, especially the paint thinners that are usually a necessity when working with oil paints. Make sure you are working outdoors when painting with this medium so that the fumes are not too overwhelming.


Acrylic Paints for Cardboard

Acrylic paint is a synthetic version of oil paint, and the consistency is like a medium thickness when compared to oil paints. The toxicity level is much lower than the oil paints so you can work inside or outside, the decision is yours. The paint is made with a water base, and then a polymer emulsion with a pigment suspended within. Even though it is water-based, you do not have to worry about it soaking into the cardboard surface too much as you would when using our color paints.

Regardless, a primer might still be needed to ensure the longevity of the various cardboard art projects you create with the acrylic-painted cardboard.

That being said, we still recommend painting thin layers of paint and not over saturating the cardboard. It will still warp when exposed to too much liquid, and even though the acrylic paint is medium to thick in viscosity, it will have the same effect as watercolor paints when applied too thickly.

Acrylic Paints for Cardboard


Spray Painting Cardboard

If you have a large cardboard box that you want a certain color, but neat enough to present as a gift box, then spray paint might be your best bet. Spray-painted cardboard will seem as if the color was printed on the cardboard because it is so smooth and even. When you apply paint via a spraying method, the cardboard itself will not warp as much as it will when you paint with acrylic paints, which we have the superfast drying time to thank, along with the extremely thin layer that is applied if you spray properly.

This means that when you spray paint a cardboard box you must try not to hold the aerosol spray canister too close to the surface of it and the paint will come out smooth, even, and fast-drying.

Spray Paint Cardboard BoxThe various spray paints for cardboard also come with a selection of finishes to choose from. You might prefer the satin finish, but others might prefer the matte finish. This is up to you and your preference. Another benefit of spraying as opposed to brushing on the paint is that the spray pattern will get into the crevices that a brush or a roller might struggle to reach. 



Does Painting Cardboard Require a Primer?

When you are creating cardboard art projects for children that are only meant to last for a short time, the primer is not necessary, but if you want the artwork or craft project to last a decent amount of time, a primer is needed. Examples of temporary craft projects would be Christmas decorations made at school to decorate the classrooms or even to take home. However, if you want the decorations to last until the following Christmas, and more to come, then a base coat of a primer is necessary.

Painted Cardboard PrimerIf you decide to avoid the primer base coat, you will notice how the colors of the paints are not as vibrant. Cardboard is typically a beige color, so the colors of the paints will not be as vibrant as if painted on white. That means that the primer you paint should preferably be white color.

This means that it will show the vibrancy of the colors in their true hue. There are also gesso primers that come with a tint, so if you are working on a darker painting, you can get a primer that will suit the background of that painting more than the white gesso primer.

Another benefit of applying a base coat of primer is that it adds a protective layer over the cardboard. The material you are priming is normally highly absorbent, and the primer will lessen that. It makes the surface of the cardboard resistant to liquid, so the warping factor is less of a concern.

For your benefit, we have created a table that summarizes which paints are suitable for cardboard art projects, or anything to do with painting cardboard.

Paints for CardboardAcrylic PaintsOil PaintsSpray Paints
CostMost affordableCostlyCheaper
Drying TimeDries in half an hourDries in 24 hours or a few days (depends on climate and environment)Dries in 15 minutes
Ease of UseEasier to master and cleans easily with waterPractice requiredPractice required as it needs controlled motions
ToxicityLow ToxicityHigh toxicity, ventilation requiredHigh toxicity, ventilation required
ColorsVibrantVibrantVibrant with a selection of finishes
ConsistencyMedium and thickThick, but can be thinned with paint thinnersThin, with even and smooth coverage



How to Paint Cardboard

Do you want to learn how to paint cardboard? Well, this is the right tutorial for you. In this next section, we will take you through the process of painting the cardboard. We have some specific guidelines that you must follow for the painting to last long and look fabulous at the same time. Unless, of course, you do not want a long-lasting cardboard artwork. Then you may just go on and start painting.

If you avoid priming, bear in mind that you will have a dull-looking painting in the end because the cardboard is not white in color, so the paints are dull.

Painted Cardboard


Cardboard Surface and Workspace Preparation

First things first, before you start painting the cardboard, you must make sure there is no dust on the surface. Use a cloth that is free of lint to wipe away any dust. This will make sure the dust particles do not ruin the smooth aesthetic of the painting, especially when it comes to spray paint. Next, you can prepare the space you will be working in. This means decluttering the tabletop and then laying down some plastic tarp or some old newspaper to protect the table from any spilled paint.

Painting on Cardboard


Cardboard Priming

When it comes to the type of cardboard to use for painting, we recommend choosing thicker cardboard that is corrugated. This will not warp or saturate as easily with the liquid paints from paint cartons. Although, any kind of cardboard can be used as a quick remedy for bored children.

Best Paints for CardboardTypically, a primer is made out of chalk, pigment, and binding agents. It typically has a white look to it, but other primers have been pigmented to be of various colors. If you wish, you could simply use some gesso and apply it via a sponge, or you can roll it on. If you are spraying the cardboard, you can avoid spending too much on both gesso and paint. You can buy spray paint that has both in one canister. This will save you time and money.

Most primers will dry properly within 24 hours, so we recommend priming the cardboard a day before you want to start.


Painting on Cardboard

Once the gesso or the primer you chose has been applied and dried fully, the fun can commence, and by fun, we mean the painting. Remember that cardboard is super absorbent, even with a base coat of primer. This means that you must only apply thin coats of paint because the thicker applications will over-saturate the cardboard, which will swell up and be ruined. What is even more important is to not use water for painted cardboard projects, for the same reason as not painting with coats that are too thick.

You can apply the paint using a paintbrush, or a roller for the larger surface spaces. But, one of the best methods for painting cardboard is spray-painting it. Spray-painting cardboard is better because the paint dries much faster than if you apply the liquid paint with a brush, and the cardboard will not absorb as much of it.


Painted Cardboard Sealing

When your painting is complete, and all the colors you chose are shining brightly at you from the cardboard, you might want to think about sealing the artwork onto the cardboard. This is not exactly the most necessary part of the painting process, but it will keep the vibrancy of the colors longer than without.

This is a slight extra cost, but if you want a long-lasting painting, you will appreciate the extra penny spent.

Cardboard PaintingTechnically, a paint sealer is a clear varnish. These either come in liquid form that you must brush on with a paintbrush or roller, or you can purchase a spray-on varnish which is much easier to work with, not to mention far less messy.

If you choose the spray-on method, make sure you are working outdoors. If your workspace is unavoidably indoors, make sure there is sufficient airflow, and that you are wearing a respirator mask so that you do not breathe in the fumes.

A fast-drying acrylic varnish that is based on water is non-toxic, easy-to-use, fast-drying, and can be painted or sprayed onto various surface materials, and not just cardboard. This makes it convenient because you can seal any type of artwork, which can also save you money in the long run, particularly if you paint frequently.

Easy Cardboard Art ProjectsIf you are brushing varnish over painted cardboard, make sure you move in one direction and with smooth motions, either from left to right or from bottom to top. This will ensure no random brush strokes are visible, and the finish is smooth and even.

Make sure you wait for the first coat to dry before you apply a second coat of the varnish. A second coat will intensify the protection that is promised by the varnish.



Painting on Cardboard Difficulties

Painting on cardboard might not be everyone’s cup of tea in terms of surface materials, but it is amazingly affordable in comparison to others. Naturally, there will be some difficulties when painting, like over saturating the cardboard with too much paint.


Fixing Warped Cardboard

When you see warped cardboard, it is most likely because it was exposed to liquid that has been absorbed. The result is a warped look that is not ideal for a professional-looking painting. There are two ways that you can avoid warping the cardboard besides adding a primer as a base coat. Firstly, you can opt for the thickest cardboard that you can find. This cardboard will not absorb as much paint. The second option is to paint much thinner coats so that the cardboard is not over-saturated in paint.

If you manage to warp the cardboard anyway, you can fix it by laying it down on a flat surface, and then placing heavy items on top (like books) so that the cardboard is weighted down flat. Once the cardboard is dry, you can lift the weights, and the board should be as smooth and flat as it was when new.

Best Painting on Cardboard



Ideas For Cardboard Crafts

While using cardboard for a gift box is a nice idea, what else can you do with painted cardboard? We have done some experimenting and listed a few of our favorite ideas that are perfect for the whole family to get involved with.


Cardboard Painting Tools

Let’s say that there are not enough paintbrushes in the pile, so you as an art teacher decided to create a selection of tools to apply paint with. One of your bright ideas is to make a painting utensil out of cardboard. For this to be possible, the cardboard will have to be strong and sturdy to withstand the liquid paint.

Painted Cardboard DesignUse a pair of scissors to cut out some elongated rectangular shapes with the cardboard. On the one end, you can cut some zigzagging patterns, and on the other end, you can cut a wavy pattern. These will be dipped into paint and then used to paint with. 

Remember that you are not limited to the patterns we suggest. You can think of any pattern and cut that into your new cardboard painting tool!


Cardboard Printing

When we say cardboard printing, we mean making stamps to do the printing. Naturally, the stamps will be made from cardboard. First, get out your cardboard. For this, you will need some corrugated cardboard so that it has some height or thickness. Use scissors to cut out the shapes you want your stamps to create. Once you have done that, you must peel away the first layer of the cardboard stamp until the corrugated bits in between are showing through. Take the part you peeled and glue those to another piece of sturdy cardboard, making sure the shape is facing outward.

Painted Cardboard IdeasTo use the stamps, you can brush on the paint where the raised shape is on the sturdy cardboard, but rolling the paint on the stamps is better for smooth and even coverage. When your stamp is loaded with paint, you can press them down onto the white paper you are decorating.

These can be used for birthday cards, posters for school projects, and more.


Wall Art

We all love a beautifully decorated home. There is nothing better than appreciating the ambiance that you, yourself, have created. Cardboard is a great material to use for several reasons, but what might surprise you is that it can make some stunning art that you can put onto the walls of your home, office, school classroom, or wherever your heart desires. Here is an idea of one piece of wall art (with instructions on how to make it) that will be fun for you and the whole family to enjoy – especially when you are at home with the family over the Christmas period.

Examples of Cardboard PaintingFirst, you will need a piece of cardboard cut to an A4 size, which will serve as the background piece of the wall art. You can, of course, make this bigger or smaller depending on the style of the art you have in mind. The next thing to do is to cut out lots of pieces of cardboard in different sizes and shapes, which will act like the tiles of a mosaic. Make sure they are cut exactly to the right shape so that they will fit together geometrically.

Prime each piece so the paint sticks beautifully, and paint the various shapes in different colors.

You will need to prime the background on your wall art mosaic before you do anything with the shapes. After the primer has dried, paint the backgrounds the color you see fit. Next, you can decide on the right design for your cardboard mosaic wall art.

Painted Cardboard Projects for KidsMove the shapes around so that they make beautiful patterns, and mark their places on the background cardboard so that you know where they should go. Stick the shapes when the design is perfected, which should not be a difficult or lengthy process, as you have marked the shapes places already.

When you are finished, you can secure the pieces for even longer with a coat of transparent varnish. This will also lengthen the longevity of the artwork, so you can enjoy its aesthetic and memories made for some time to come.



Final Suggestions for Cardboard Painting

Cardboard is often used for crafting sessions with children. This is because it is inexpensive and for that reason, it does not matter if you waste a whole piece of it with mistakes. We have listed a few suggestions that will help your painting process.

  • Use a paintbrush to distribute the paints.
  • A primer is recommended. This is if you are wanting to keep the painting in good condition for a while.
  • When the painting is complete, seal it with a coat of clear varnish.
  • Watercolor paints are not recommended at all.
  • Clean the surface of the cardboard before you paint. Dust will ruin the aesthetic of the paint’s flush surface, particularly when it comes to spray paints.
  • If your climate is humid, try working indoors. However, if you are using a spray paint, you will need to work outside if you can.
  • A synthetic brush is the most ideal brush to use when applying the primer.
  • Paint in thin layers and not thick ones. Wait for each layer to dry before painting over the same area.
  • Make sure the cardboard you are painting on is hardy, strong, and durable. Obviously, all three characteristics are preferred when it comes to choosing which cardboard to use.



There is no limit to the ideas that you can think of with cardboard art. There is so much fun to be had, and what makes the process so much more enjoyable, is understanding how the mediums work with this material. We hope that you found this tutorial enlightening and helpful, it is now time for you to set off on your crafting expedition!



Frequently Asked Questions


Can You Paint on Cardboard?

Cardboard is a versatile material, and you get various types of it that are more suitable for specific tasks. You can paint on cardboard very easily, but you must make sure that you are not using nearly as much water as you would when painting on canvas or wooden surfaces. If you want to know what the best paint for cardboard is, we would recommend using acrylic. Watercolor paints would be the least desirable option to use.


Can You Use Watercolors on Cardboard?

As we have discussed, there should be as little water used when painting cardboard as possible. Seeing that watercolor paints are only water-based, and water-activated, the cardboard will be ruined if you paint it with this medium.


Is It Necessary to Prime a Cardboard Surface Before Painting?

This would depend on how long you want the painting to last. Are you going to keep it as a favored accomplishment, or will it be tossed after its usefulness is up? If you want it to last, we would recommend using a primer to protect it from warping due to the liquidity of the paint.


What Primer Should You Apply to Cardboard?

If you are keeping your painting for a while and decide to prime the surface before you start painting, then we recommend applying an acrylic-based gesso as a primer. If it helps with the style of your painting, you might benefit from using a colored primer.


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