How To Paint Spray Cardboard? – Detailed Guide

Cardboard has multiple applications in art since it is pretty easy to cut in different shapes and sizes. Cardboard painting is another interesting way to reuse or recycle the cardboard that is lying around. Many people are hesitant to paint spray cardboards since it warps quickly if moisture is introduced.

You can spray-paint the cardboard but for the desired result you need to work with the right approach. Since cardboard is not a moisture-resistant material, you cannot expect it to work directly with spray paints. However, there are certain ways and materials that allow you to spray paint the cardboard.

If you wonder how to spray paint cardboard, take a look at this guide. I’ve discussed all the material, tips, and tricks that you can adopt for a trouble-free experience.

How To Paint Spray Cardboard?

How To Paint Spray Cardboard

Before we jump to the step by step guide it’s crucial to discuss the type of paint and primers that you can use to perform spray painting on cardboards.

Do I Need To Prime The Cardboard Before Spray Paint?

Primer is a multi-purpose product that is used to prepare the surface for painting. Cardboard is a porous surface that can absorb paint. Spray paint can damage the cardboard and cause warping. Therefore it’s crucial to seal the cardboard surface before applying the spray paint.

For an ultra-smooth finish, it is highly recommended to prime the cardboard before painting. It covers all the imperfections on the surface and helps you achieve a smooth finish. Primer is also used to enhance the adhesion properties of the surface.

What Is The Best Primer For Cardboard Spray Paint?

Gesso is the best primer that you can use to prime the cardboard. It’s a white-colored acrylic that seals the surfaces and helps you keep the cardboard from wrapping. Gesso creates a waterproof layer and prevents the paint from soaking in the cardboard. Spray paint bonds very well to the gesso giving you a dark & bright durable finish in the end.

Gesso is available in a wide range of colors and shades. Mostly white gesso is used in cardboard painting. If you want to achieve a specific shade in the final finish, you can use the primers in various shades. For example, gray gesso is used to lighten dark colors like blacks and red. White is a universal primer and works with all colors. You can also buy a colorless gesso primer that helps you get the exact color of the paint in the final finish.

What Is The Best Paint To Spray Paint The Cardboard?

Cardboard is a kind of heavy-duty paper made of pulp. It can’t handle too much moisture and therefore you can’t use any paint to spray paint the cardboard. Some paints can cause wrapping and scarface damage.

For a trouble-free experience, you need to choose the paint that actually works with the cardboard. Aerosol spray paints, acrylic paints, and some oil-based paints can be used to spray paint the cardboard.

What Is The Best Paint To Spray Paint The Cardboard

Oil-Based Paint

Oil-based paints contain a lot of moisture and you cannot use them directly on corrugated cardboards. If you are using oil-based paints you need to adjust the paint viscosity by adding a thinner. Also, you need to use a waterproof primer to make the oil-based paints work with corrugated cardboard.

Spray Paint

Aerosol spray paints have quick drying formals making them the right choice for cardboard spray painting. Aerosol sprays are handier than spray guns and help you get an even finish with a little experience.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paints are the best option if you want to use a handheld spray gun. These water-based paints have a little moisture content and dry up quickly. Also, these paints are available in light consistencies making them fully compatible with both wireless and HVLP sprayers. These paints help you achieve a thin and even paint coat on the cardboard with a little effort.

How To Fix A Warped Cardboard?

How To Fix A Warped Cardboard

If you want to recycle warped cardboard in your project, you need to know how to fix and make it ready for spray paint. Follow these tips to fix warped cardboard:

  • Clean the cardboard and if it is wet allow it to dry well.
  • Introduce a little moisture to the cardboard through a sprayer. Never pour the water directly on or soak the cardboard in water.
  • Place the cardboard on a flat surface with its wrinkled side facing upwards.
  • Now place a heavy project like a metal tool, or a pile of books on the cardboard and let it stay in the position for at least 24 hours.
  • Remove the object and see if it is dried completely or not. If moisture is present, leave it until it is completely dry.

Step By Step Guide To Spray Paint The Cardboard

Step By Step Guide To Spray Paint The Cardboard

1. Find a cardboard

You can paint any cardboard that is laying around in the home. However, I recommend choosing a flat and relatively hard carton. It can be a paper towel carton, a malik carton, or any other packaging box. Flimsy cereal boxes can be spray painted but if you are trying it for the first time I recommend you choose a hard one.

The hardboard that comes with a wax-type seal, you can’t paint. Also, glossy cardboard coated with a plastic sheet or any other material may not work for spray painting. Pre-coated cardboard may not bind well with paint and you need to perform extensive priming to make them paintable.

2. Prep work

  • Spray paint is messy and you need to prepare the surface for painting. You need to cover the work surface with plastic sheets, an old newspaper, or a drop cloth to reduce the mess and make the cleanup easy.
  • Next, you need to prepare the cardboard. The cardboard should be free of any grease, dirt, or tape adhesive before you apply the primer or paint.
  • Wear safety equipment like goggles, a respirator (if you’re using an HVLP sprayer), and face mask, etc.

3. Applying the primer

  • For primer application, you can use a soft brush, a sponge, or a foam brush. Anything soft will work.
  • Place the cardboard on a flat surface with its paintable surface facing upward.
  • Make sure the cardboard is clean and dry at the time for primer application.
  • Stir the gesso to make it consistent and homogeneous.
  • Apply the primer either in a horizontal or vertical direction from edge to edge. You should apply thin and even layers of the prime on the cardboard.
  • Gesso primer is a water-based mixture that may take as long as 24 hours to get fully cured.
  • Never apply a second coat of primer until the first coat is fully cured.
  • Once the primer’s final coat is fully dried you can sand it with fine grit paper to remove the streaks and get an ultra-smooth surface for spray paint.

4. Prepare The Paint

Aerosol paints come in the ready-to-use form and you can use them on the cardboard right out of the box. If you are using oil-based paints you need to adjust their consistency. For cardboard application, you need to apply the paint in thin consistencies as a thick coating can cause wrapping.

Organic solvents like turpentine, acetone, and mineral spirits are used for the thinning of oil-based paints. Before filling the paint into the sprayer it is advised to pour it through the strainer to avoid lumps. Then mix it with a thinner in a clean bucket. For general purpose thinning, the paint-thinner ratio is 4:1 or 3:1. Also, refer to product labels to see product-specific recommendations.

Make sure the paint is inhomogeneous consistency before loading it into the sprayer. Acrylic-based paints are available in thick consistency and you may or may not thin them before application. It is advised to buy low viscosity acrylic paints to avoid the thinning process.

If acrylic paint is too thick to be used with a sprayer, you can add 5-10% water to get the desired consistency. Water-based paints cannot maintain an even consistency and you need to stir them well to get a smooth texture from top to bottom.

5. Spray Paint The Cardboard

Once you have everything ready for paint, bring it close to the work surface. You need to choose a space with proper ventilation while working with spray paints. Cover the surface with a drop cloth or any plastic sheet. Wear your safety equipment and follow these steps.

At the time of application, I recommend you to keep the cardboard in a vertical position. It’s hard to apply the paint on a piece that is laying horizontally. You can place the cardboard against a wall to make it stable in a vertical position.

  • Mix the paint well to get an even consistency before filling it onto a spray gun.
  • Start spraying paint and apply your first coat beginning from one edge. It is advised to spray paint horizontally.
  • 30% to 50% overlapping between different strokes is recommended for a smoother finish.
  • Maintain a consistent speed while spraying a pint. If you go too fast it will result in patch formation. Also, you should avoid focusing too much paint on a single spot. In this way, you will over-moisten the surface leading to patch formation and cardboard damage.
  • Once you have covered all areas with a thin coat, Let it dry first.
  • Never apply a second coat until the first coat is fully cured. If you are using acrylic paint it will take 10-12 hours to get fully cured. For oil-based paints, you need to wait as long as 24 hours.
  • You may not get an even finish in the first coat but you can fix it in the second coat.
  • You can apply a second coat in the same fashion and remove the patches that have been formed during the first coat.
  • Let it dry and then apply a sealer to make your art piece durable and long-lasting.

Best Spray Paints For Cardboard

1. Krylon K05505007 COLORmaxx Spray Paint and Primer

Best Overall

Krylon K05505007 COLORmaxx Spray Paint and Primer



  • Item Volume: ‎12 Fluid Ounces
  • Item Form: Aerosol
  • Surface Recommendation: Wood, Ceramic, Paper, Fabric, Glass, Metal, Plastic, Wicker, Plaster

It is one of the most affordable yet dependable spray paints that you can buy for cardboard painting. Paint features high-quality sprayer packaging. It comes in a thin consistency and helps you get an even and smooth layer on the cardboard. It’s a 2-in-1 paint that contains both paint and primer. However, for cardboard painting, it is advised to prime the surface with gesso primer before paint application.

2. FolkArt K658 Paint Acrylic Metallic

Premium Pick

FolkArt K658 Paint Acrylic Metallic



  • Item Volume: 2 Fluid Ounces
  • Item Form: Solid
  • Surface Recommendation: Plastic

FolkArt K658 is one of the best-selling acrylic paints that you can use for cardboard painting. The paint comes in a smooth consistency and bonds very well to the cardboard. Its quick drying formula and low moisture content make it equally suitable for thin boxes and hard cartons. It comes in 30 different shades and gives you a dark bright finish. The quality of the sprayer is reliable, allowing you to get a smooth finish with little effort.

Best Gesso Primer For Cardboard Spray Painting

1. Liquitex Professional Gesso Surface Prep Medium

Editor’s Choice

Liquitex Professional Gesso Surface Prep Medium



  • Item Volume: 16 Fluid Ounces
  • Surface Recommendation: Paper

Liquitex gesso primer has thousands of rave reviews on various selling platforms. It is rated five stars on amazon and promises efficiency when used in different painting projects. It comes in homogeneous consistency and lets the spray paint adhere to the cardboard surface. The paint can reduce the viscosity of thicker paint and help you keep the cardboard from warping.

2. Sargent Art Gesso Water Resistant Surface Primer

Heavy Duty

Sargent Art Gesso Water Resistant Surface Primer



  • Item Volume: 32 Fluid Ounces
  • Surface Recommendation: Wood, Paper

Sargent Art Gesso primer is another dependable option for cardboard spray painting. It comes in liquid form making it pretty easy to apply. It forms a strong bond with all paint types and helps you get a durable paint coating. The primer comes in white color and you can mix it with acrylic colors to get the shade required for your project.

FAQs Regarding Cardboard Painting

Will spray go through the cardboard?

Yes, spray paint can go through the cardboard if applied without priming. Cardboard has a porous surface and paint can easily go through it. You need to apply gesso primer on the cardboard to make it resistant to moisture and enhance the surface’s ability to bond with the paint.

What kind of spray paint is best for cardboard?

Acrylic and aerosol spray paints are ideal for cardboard. Aerosols paints have quick drying formulas and therefore they do not travel deep into the cardboard. Acrylic paints come in light consistencies and dry more quickly than oil-based paints. Acrylic paints do not cause wrapping making them best for cardboard.

How do I paint over glossy cardboard?

Glossy cardboard is either coated with thin plastic or varnishes. A glossy surface may not bond well with the paint. To paint over glossy cardboard you need to prime the surface with gesso primer. Two to three even coats of gesso primer make the glossy cardboard paintable. You can also remove the glossy surface by sanding it with grit paper.

How long does it take spray paint to dry on cardboard?

If you are using water-based paints it takes around 10-12 hours to get fully cured. Spray paint dries more quickly and takes around 40-50 minutes to get fully dried. Oil-based paint can take as long as 24 hours to get fully cured on the cardboard.

Is it okay to spray paint cardboard?

Cardboard has a porous surface making it difficult for some paint to bond. It’s not a good idea to spray paint directly on cardboard. You need to make it hard and prime it with a water-based primer to make it less porous and enhance the surface adhesion properties.

Can you oil paint on cardboard?

Yes, you can oil paint on cardboard. Oil-based paints are thick and can cause the crossbred to wrap if applied directly. You need to thin the oil paint before applying it to the cardboard. Also, you need to prime the cardboard surface with gesso primer to make it compatible with oil-based paints.

Wrapping Up Cardboard Spray Painting Guide

I’m hopeful that this guide will help you apply the spray paint successfully to the cardboard. Since cardboard is not moisture resistant it can be a little challenging to handle it with a substance like paint.

Spray paint is handy and less messy than brush painting. It is advised to use a high-quality primer and use the paint in an appropriate consistency to make it work with the cardboards.

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