How to Paint EVA Foam: Priming and Choosing the Right Paint

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Once you are finished building your EVA Foam prop or costume the next logical step is painting it. But before you can do any painting, the surface of the EVA Foam has to be prepared. If you don´t properly Seal your EVA Foam before and after painting, then your Paint job may not last very long. So after reading this article, you will know how to Prepare Foam for painting, how to Seal Foam, what colors to use, and how to Protect your Paint Job permanently. So how do you paint EVA Foam?

EVA foam has to be sealed before you paint it. There are several ways to seal EVA foam but the most reliable way to Seal Foam is using either Flexbond or Plasti Dip. After sealing, the foam can be painted with acrylic paint or with an Airbrush. After painting, you can choose to Seal your Project with a Mat Sealer or a Varnish.

Seal the EVA Foam

Before you start Painting the EVA Foam you have to Seal it. I have another article, that goes more into depth about Sealing EVA Foam including a step-by-step example, but I will give you the short version here.

There are multiple ways to Seal EVA Foam. You have to choose the right way depending on your project.

Before you Seal your foam you first have to Heat Seal your EVA Foam, and make sure, that everything, including the edges of your foam, are smooth. This isn´t always necessary but especially if you are working with a very low-density Foam it is better to Heat Seal the Foam before Sealing it with PlastiDip, Flexbond, or white crafts glue.

Heat Sealing is done by simply using a heat gun to gently heat up the foam. This will “close” the surface of the EVA Foam to prepare it for Sealing and Painting later on.

If your Prop is not moving and does not bend (for example a solid armor) then you can seal your Foam with simple white crafts glue or even gesso. More on that in my “How to seal EVA foam” guide.

But if your Prop can be bent or twisted, for example, a wearable armor piece, then I would recommend Sealing it with Plasti Dip or Flexbond.

Plasti Dip will protect your foam from cracks, creases, and other damage, that may occur when Foam is deformed in any way.

Tips for Painting EVA Foam

Here are some tips that can help you improve your painting skills.

1. Use Contrasting Colors

A helpful reference to have on hand is the color wheel.

Contrasting colors are those located on opposite sides of the color wheel; for instance, red is on the opposite of blue, making them contrasting colors.

Utilizing a contrasting color can enhance details and make them stand out, which is particularly effective when working with multiple base colors.

For example, if your prop features neighboring base colors like blue and green, a suitable contrasting color would be pink, as it is precisely opposite to both blue and green on the color wheel.

2. Use Reference Images

Reference images play a crucial role not only in the construction of your prop but also in its painting process.

Gather images of the materials you want your prop to emulate. For instance, if you aim to create the appearance of old metal armor, collect images of weathered metal items. Look at details such as colors, stains, rust, dirt, scratches, and more. Consider how you can replicate these features, which will be discussed further in this chapter.

As an example of using references in painting a prop:

I crafted a lamp from EVA foam and aimed to give it the appearance of aged, rusted copper. Referencing images showed me that copper often has dark stains and oxidations with a beautiful turquoise hue, particularly near crevices. I replicated these elements resulting in this outcome.

3. Nothing is Ever Just One Color

A significant mistake I made when I began was painting props with just one base color. However, this approach results in a flat and one-dimensional appearance.

In reality, nothing is monochromatic. Take wood, for instance; it’s not simply brown. Wood can have a bluish tint in shadowed areas, a greenish tint when aged, and various other nuances.

Here is an example of when I painted EVA foam to resemble wood. In this case, I incorporated brown, blue, light brown, purple, and green to capture the multifaceted tones found inside woods.

4. Paint Shadows and Highlights

While it might seem weird initially, I assure you it becomes logical once I explain it. Enhancing the realism of a prop involves painting areas where natural shadows would fall with darker colder colors and highlighting parts where light naturally hits the surface with lighter, warmer shades.

However, it’s crucial not to overdo this technique, as doing so can yield the opposite effect.

The practice of painting light and shadow is a common technique in miniature painting. It aims to simulate a natural light source and is often used to render small figures more realistically.

Adding Effects With a Sponge

I personally love using a sponge to introduce texture and effects to my props. Tear a sponge into pieces and dip the textured side into acrylic paint. Then, apply the paint with the sponge to add some texture to the prop. This technique was used to paint the oxidized sections of this copper lamp.

Grime and Dirt Effect

You can also use the sponge method to add grime and dirt effects to your prop.

Speed paint is amazing for this as it only tints areas a little bit when applied with a sponge. I used a sponge and some speed paint to add some grime to this copper lantern.

Dry Brushing

Dry brushing is a painting technique involving the application of paint with a soft brush in a manner that ensures the paint adheres primarily to raised areas or edges. This method is very effective for adding highlights and edge lighting.

To use dry brushing, you’ll need a very soft, large brush, some water, and acrylic paint.

  1. Moisten the brush with water and then dip it into the acrylic paint.
  2. Applying the paint directly at this stage won’t yield the desired effect. First, remove some paint from the brush by painting on scrap paper.
  3. Once only a modest amount of paint remains on the brush, start dry brushing your prop. If done correctly, the paint will only adhere to the elevated regions of the prop.

Adding a Chip Effect With Hairspray

This technique is excellent for achieving a chipped paint effect.

You will need regular hairspray, acrylic paint, an old toothbrush, and matte acrylic sealer.

1. Apply a Base Coat

Start by applying a base coat of paint to the prop, serving as the color revealed under the chipped paint later on. A metallic effect paint is often used for this step.

2. Apply Hairspray

Once the acrylic paint has dried, generously apply hairspray over the same area and let it dry for a minimum of 5 minutes.

3. Apply Another Coat of Paint

Proceed to apply another layer of paint to the treated area. This layer will be the one that chips away in the next step. Let this layer dry before moving on.

It’s best to use spray paint for this, in my experience. You can also use regular acrylic paint but I always had a hard time scratching the paint off again. Whereas when I used spray paint it was always easier to create the chipped paint effect.

4. Create the Chipped Paint Effect

Now comes the fun part. Use an old toothbrush or a wire brush to scratch over the surface. Some of the top coat of paint will chip off, while the first coat of paint is protected by the hairspray.

5. Seal the Paint

To preserve the final layer of paint and prevent further chipping, apply a matte acrylic sealer to the entire treated area. Failing to do so may result in continued chipping.

Make EVA Foam Look Like Leather

Replicating leather can be a little difficult. I personally still struggle with this. The best tip I can give you is to look at reference images of old worn leather and try to copy the patterns, grime, wear, and tear of the leather.

1. Apply a Base Coat

First, add a base coat of paint to the EVA foam piece. For leather, I usually start with a lighter brown color.

2. Add Some Detail

I then added a second layer of paint to the middle of the foam piece. This color is achieved by mixing brown with a little bit of red.

Leather is often stained which turns it reddish brown. The lighter paint, that I applied as a base coat, will mirror the actual color of the leather. Over time the top layer of the leather will be worn away revealing the lighter color of the leather underneath. By adding the darker color only to the middle I achieve a worn-looking effect.

I use the brush to stipple the darker paint on to give it a little bit of texture.

3. Add Some Final Detail

Finally, I added some light scratches to the edge of the darker paint in the middle of the foam piece as a final effect.

Make EVA Foam Look Like Metal

Making EVA foam look like metal is quite easy.

1. Apply a Base Coat

Add a metal effect paint as a base coat. I am using Vallejo silver metal paint for this.

Let the paint dry for at least an hour.

2. Add Grime and Stains

Add some grime and stains to the foam by using a sponge and some dark grey speed paint. Speed paint will not cover entirely but it will dull the metal paint underneath.

You can also add some blood stains by using red speed paint.

3. Add Some Highlights With Dry Brushing

Finally, add some metal highlights by dry brushing some metal effect paint on the raised areas. Add some metal paint to a very soft brush and paint over a scrap piece of paper until most paint is removed from the brush.

Then run over the raised areas of the foam piece. The paint will only adhere to the raised areas. This will make the metal effect look very realistic.

Make EVA Foam Look Like Wood

Painting EVA to make it look like wood is simpler than you think. Just remember that wood is never just one color.

1. Apply a Base Coat

Apply a base coat to the entire foam piece. I used dark brown speed paint for this to add some instant contrast to the piece. Raised areas will be lighter and recesses will be darker.

2. Add Some Highlights

Apply a lighter brow color to the raised areas of the wood. A brown color mixed with a drop of white and a drop of yellow will give you a great highlight color.

3. Add Details

Finally, add some details with speed paint. I darkened the recesses with some dark brown speed paint and added some green texture with a sponge and some green speed paint to the top corner of the foam piece.

This will make the wood look so much more realistic.

Make EVA Foam Look Like Copper

Copper is very fun to draw especially old rusted copper.

1. Apply a Base Coat

Apply a base coat of copper effect paint to the entire foam piece. I used copper metal paint from Vallejo.

2. Add Some Stains and Grime

Next, I added a lot of grime and stains to the blank copper base coat with some dark brown speed paint and a sponge. I added stains around crevasses and corners where dirt and grime would accumulate. Let the layer of grime dry for at least an hour.

3. Paint on Some Rust

Finally, I added a lot of rust to the copper surface. Copper rust has a beautiful teal color that I applied with a sponge. Don´t overdo this or it will start looking unrealistically.

It is also important to look at reference material to see where rust would normally be. The finished effect looks amazing, as you can see.

Adding a Rust Effect

In this example, I painted a piece of EVA foam to make it look like rusted metal. I did not use any special effect paint except speed paint. I did, however, use special water effect paint from Vallejo to add some texture.

1. Apply a Base Coat

First I applied a red base coat to the entire piece.

It took two coats of paint until the paint covered completely.

2. Add Some Texture With Effect-Paint

I added some texture to the foam with this water-texture effect paint from Vallejo. I stippled it on with a piece of sponge and left it dry for an hour.

3. Paint the Rusted Areas Darker

I then painted the textured parts with a darker reddish color. This will be the main rust color.
I used a fine brush to apply the paint. Rust is not brown it is actually much more red than brown.

So I mixed some dark brown with a little bit of red to achieve this color.

4. Add Some Grime

Finally, I used some dark red speed paint to add grime right under the rusted areas.

Take a close look at the reference material to replicate rust. Rusted areas often stain the clean material close to them. It often looks like the grime dripped down from the rusted areas.

I also added some bare metal scratches and highlights by using metal effect paint from Vallejo.

How Do You Seal EVA Foam Paint?

Sealing EVA Foam paint can be quite important depending on the type of paint, that you use. I usually like to seal all of my paint jobs just to be sure. That being said, you don´t have to Seal your EVA Foam after painting it. But how do you seal EVA Foam paint?

You can seal your paint job with a simple coat of acrylic sealer, varnish, or even epoxy resin. Epoxy resin is the worst method for sealing paint and only makes sense for very specific projects. Acrylic sealer is the easiest and best method for sealing EVA foam after painting.

So when it comes to sealing your paint job on your EVA foam, then I would generally go with the acrylic sealer. You generally can´t go wrong with that.

In some cases, if you want your foam to be water-resistant for example, you can also use varnish to seal your paints. But it is a little more work to seal your foam with varnish because you have to apply it with a brush (spray varnish will not create a thick enough layer for perfect protection in some cases).

And the result will be quite hard and not flexible anymore. If your foam piece could be bent or twisted (even if it is only by accident) then the layer of varnish could break and repairing that is quite annoying and in some cases even impossible.

The last option, that I mentioned above, is using Epoxy Resin for Sealing EVA Foam. This is the most difficult method to get right and I would never recommend using this method if you are a beginner at crafting.

Resin is slightly toxic and it is really hard to apply evenly and without any bubbles. But if you want your prob to be almost indestructible and last for probably an eternity, then this is the best way to do so.

Epoxy resin is water-resistant, it will dry very hard, it will be hit and scratch-resistant (if you don´t scratch it with something like metal at least) and it will keep almost everything away from the paint job beneath it.

But for most EVA Foam Projects using Epoxy Resin is a little bit overkill so I would simply use an Acrylic Sealer Spray Paint for almost all projects.

My favorite Acrylic Sealer is Mod Podge Acrylic Sealer.

What Kind of Paint Do You Use On EVA Foam?

Any water-based paint out there can be used to paint EVA foam but I had the best results with acrylic paint. It is not recommended to use any kind of lacquer or oil-based paint as some of these paints could damage the foam underneath. Lacquer paints are also not flexible which means that the paint could chip off if the foam is bend.

So generally you can use any kind of water-based paint, that you like.

Water-based paints include acrylic paint, some enamels, watercolor (this type of color will probably not stick well and you will need a lot of layers but you can use it for weathering effects), water-based ink, and more.

The biggest problem, that you will be going to have with water-based paint, is coverage. You sometimes have to apply multiple layers of paint before it completely covers the underlying color.

You can use some oil paints but try if your EVA Foam likes the paint on a separate scrap piece. Some more aggressive oil paints can damage the foam, dissolving, or bending it. So make sure, that your oil paint isn´t one of them.

If you are using oil paint then you have to Seal the paint after you are done painting your project.

There are a lot of different paints out there but my philosophy is, that the easiest paint to use that also gives good results, is the one, that I go with. And that is, in this case, simply acrylic paint.

So I usually stick with acrylic or water-based spray paint, when I am painting my Props.

Does Acrylic Paint Work on EVA Foam?

Acrylic paint does work on EVA foam once the foam has been sealed. It is probably the best choice for painting EVA Foam. It is recommended, that the EVA Foam is Sealed with Plasti Dip before painting it. This will ensure that the paint sticks properly to the surface.

So even though you can paint directly on EVA Foam I would still recommend sealing it with either white glue, Flexbond, or Plasti Dip, simply because the paint will hold much better on Plasti Dip or Flexbond and your EVA Foam will also be way better protected than without sealing it.

If you don’t seal it with Plasti Dip, then you will also have the issue of wrinkles, cracks building, and paint chipping on the surface of your painted Foam. Plasti Dip and Flexbond will minimize these issues. So if you want your Prop to have a long life, then just seal it.

Hi, I am a passionate maker and professional prop maker for the entertainment industry. I use my woodworking, programming, electronics, and illustration know-how to create interactive props and puzzles for Escape Games and marketing agencies. And I share my knowledge and my experience on this blog with you so that you can become a maker yourself.

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