How to Paint on Cardboard

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Cardboard is a great material to paint on since it’s so sturdy and affordable. Whether you want to paint the entire cardboard piece or create cardboard art, you should first prime the surface to get the best colour possible. Then, to keep the cardboard from warping, apply multiple thin coats, and dry the coats as well as possible. In no time, you’ll have a beautiful piece of painted cardboard!


[Edit]Painting with Acrylics

  1. Prime the cardboard with gesso for bold, bright colors. Before painting your cardboard, use a flat brush to paint a thin layer of gesso onto the cardboard in long, vertical strokes. Cardboard absorbs paint and dulls the colors, so gesso will give the paint something to bind to, and enhance the colors of your painting.

    • Most Gessoes are white, however, if you want a particular colour, mix a few drops of acrylic paint into the gesso to change the colour.
  2. Let the gesso dry for 24 hours, then apply a second coat for best results. Paint in the opposite direction to your first coat to help create a smooth and even base to paint on.
    Paint on Cardboard Step 2 Version 2.jpg
    • Leave the gesso to dry for another 24 hours.
    • If you can still see the cardboard under the gesso, wait another 24 hours and apply a third coat.
  3. Sand the surface of the cardboards with 500-grit sandpaper if it’s too rough. If you think that the rough surface caused by the gesso will distract from your painting, smooth it out with a light sand. Use smooth back and forth strokes to sand until all the bumps and protruding lines have been worn down. [1]
    Paint on Cardboard Step 3 Version 2.jpg
    • Try not to push down too hard, otherwise, you risk damaging the surface of the cardboard.
  4. Paint the cardboard with a dry brush or sponge to avoid warping. Cardboard normally curls or warps because of exposure to moisture. Don’t dip the brush or sponge into water before you start painting. Instead, use a dry brush. If the brush feels stiff, use your fingers bend the bristles back and forth.[2]
    Paint on Cardboard Step 4 Version 2.jpg
    • Watercolours don’t tend to work well on cardboard because they require water. Choose acrylic or oil paints instead.
  5. Apply the paint directly to the brush or sponge to stop the cardboard from curling. Instead of squeezing paint straight onto the cardboard, dip the brush into the paint or squeeze a few drops onto the sponge. This gives you the ability to remove any excess paint from the brush before you start and will prevent patches of paint from sinking into the cardboard.[3]

  6. Apply very thin coats of paint to avoid warping. The less moisture that the cardboard is exposed to at a time, the less it will warp. Apply a very thin coat of paint and let it completely dry before applying another coat. This will give time for some of the moisture to evaporate rather soaking into the cardboard.[4]

  7. Let your paint dry for 2 hours, then apply a second coat. The first few coats may be partially see-through, but it's better to have to apply multiple coats than to warp your cardboard! The more coats you paint, the more even and solid the paint will look. Continue painting until you're satisfied with the coloring.
    Paint on Cardboard Step 7 Version 2.jpg

[Edit]Spray-Painting onto Cardboard

  1. Choose a well-ventilated and sheltered area to spray paint. Always make sure there is plenty of airflow when you use spray paints as the fumes can be toxic. Spray paint cans work best in warm, dry and sheltered conditions. If it is cold, windy, or damp outside, work inside a garage that has good ventilation or wait until a finer day.[5]
    Paint on Cardboard Step 8 Version 2.jpg
    • Purchase spray paints from a hardware store or an art supplies store.
  2. Place an old sheet under the cardboard to protect the ground. Spray paint is very difficult to removes so protect your work area before you get started.[6]
    Paint on Cardboard Step 9 Version 2.jpg
    • If you don’t have an old sheet, use a tarpaulin or sheets of newspaper instead.
  3. Shake the paint can for at least 45-60 seconds before getting started. The pigments in the spray paint will separate over time, and shaking will recombine these pigments. This will help the colour in the paint have an even gradient when it is applied to the cardboard.[7]

    • Give the can a 10 second shake every hour to help the paint flow easily from the nozzle.
  4. Hold the can away from the cardboard and lightly spray the paint. If you put the can too close to the cardboard, your paint may pool and warp the cardboard. Instead, hold the can so that it's parallel to the cardboard, and move it across the cardboard in your desired pattern.[8]

    • Try making zig-zags, polka dots, and swirls. Be creative!
    • Don't spray a section of cardboard more than twice as this can oversaturate the cardboard and make it warp.
  5. Wait 2 hours, then apply a second coat of paint. Make sure the cardboard is dry before you apply a second coat so it doesn't warp.[9]
    Paint on Cardboard Step 12 Version 2.jpg
    • Consider using a different colour to create contrast in your painting.
    • If you want to do a third or fourth coat of paint, let the painting dry for 2 hours before applying each additional coat.

[Edit]Creating Cardboard Art

  1. Paint a landscape scene onto the cardboard if you enjoy creating realistic paintings. Landscapes are really fun to paint because there are so many different colour options. Consider whether you want to paint a sunset, a sunny day, or a stormy day. Draw your picture onto the cardboard and then paint over it with acrylic or oil paints.[10]
    Paint on Cardboard Step 13 Version 2.jpg
    • If you need inspiration, find a landscape photo you like and try to recreate it.
    • Include interesting animals, people, or plants in your picture to make it unique. Let your imagination run wild!
  2. Decorate the cardboard with fingerprints if you have young kids. Finger painting is a fun and tactile way to paint cardboard that will keep children occupied for hours. Fill small containers with different coloured paints and allow your child to dip their fingers into the paint and then press them onto the cardboard.[11]
    Paint on Cardboard Step 14 Version 2.jpg
    • Make sure that the workspace is protected by plenty of newspaper as finger painting can be messy.
  3. Create a seascape scene on the cardboard if you enjoy painting with marine colours. Seascapes are a beautiful and timeless scene to paint. Choose colours that reflect the mood you want to create, for example, darker colours if you want to create a stormy mood, or lighter colours if you want to create a fresh and uplifting mood.[12]
    Paint on Cardboard Step 15 Version 2.jpg
    • For a more realistic look, paint the sky first, and then the sea.
  4. Press stamps onto the cardboard to create a fun pattern. Lightly paint the surface of a stamp with acrylic paint and then press it onto the cardboard. Clean the stamp with a damp cloth and then apply a different colour. This will create a fun and contrasting pattern on the cardboard. Use a variety of different stamps to create different patterns and landscapes.[13]
    Paint on Cardboard Step 16 Version 2.jpg
    • Purchase stamps from a craft store.


  • Place paper underneath the cardboard to protect the surface you are working on.
  • Experiment with differently textured cardboard to create unique paintings.
  • Have fun and let your painting express your unique personality.


  • Always supervise children when they are using spray paints.
  • Make sure to use spray paints in a well-ventilated area.

[Edit]Things You’ll Need

[Edit]Painting with Acrylics

  • Gesso
  • Flat paintbrush
  • Cardboard
  • Sponge or paintbrush

[Edit]Spray-Painting onto Cardboard

  • Spraypaint
  • Old sheet
  • Cardboard

[Edit]Creating Cardboard Art

  • Paint
  • Cardboard
  • Stamps


[Edit]Quick Summary