Painting Foam Board

by FliteTest | June 20, 2013 | (44 Ratings) Posted in Tips

Painting foam board can be challenging. Here are a few tips for getting the best results when painting your foam board aircraft.

Painting with an aerosol spray paint will work, but be sure to spray on using light coats and you will need to be in a well ventilated area.

Though it's more of an investment, an airbrush is a better option.

A dual-action airbrush will be the best option because it allows you to vary the amount of paint your spray.

We found that the better (more expensive) airbrush paint worked the best for us, because it had more pigment and covered the foam much faster using less coats.

Here's a basic color wheel showing some samples of the colors created by mixing basic prime colors.

When mixing paint, it's good to have more than you need so you can be sure to have consistent colors on your plane. One trick we found that works well is to use old water bottles to mix and store your paint.

We also found that Windex is a good option to thin out your paint. Online sources recommend a 1:1 ratio, but Chad found that a 2:1 ratio seems to work best. (2 parts paint to 1 part Windex)

Another option for sealing the foam board from moister and giving you a better paint surface is to use Minwax. 
**Don't use the water-based version.  

Be sure to alway test any methods or paints on scrap foam. Test methods, paints, and painting styles and find what works best for you... and share it!  

The Forum is a great place to join in on the discussion, ask questions and share what you've learned!!



mrmattstence on June 20, 2013
Awesome! This answers a lot of my questions!
Log In to reply
spoonerisms on June 20, 2013
Great vid(s)! One question: if you're building with fan-fold foam (no paper covering), do you still recommend the Minwax first? Thx.
Log In to reply
madaxeslasher on June 20, 2013
Thank you so much Chad! I believe we've all been waiting for this tip vid.
Can't wait to order my bat bone, on a side note.
Log In to reply
lracnolip on June 20, 2013
your awesome Chad, thanks for all the great tips :-))
Log In to reply
colorex on June 20, 2013
Log In to reply
Grabowskig on June 20, 2013
I'm new to RC but I do have some experience with painting models. A lot of modelers out there use lots of different household products for finishes (especially Future Floor Finish). I haven't used it on any of my foam planes, but here's some good info on what some people use out there.
Log In to reply
Fly'n-V on June 20, 2013
Thanks Chad!!! I've researched the web forums as well looking for best practices. I made the Polycrylic water based mistake based on one guy's post. Epic failure! Some folks are spraying with markers and sharpies claiming weight savings on smaller planes. Basically placing a marker tip in the air path of the airbrush. Seemed like an interesting concept. Thanks again to all of you who make Flitetest possible. Glad I waited for this video to start my Spitfire speed-build.

Log In to reply
jhitesma on June 20, 2013
My first "airbrush" was a little deal designed to use markers like that. Had a nice little holder for some high end marker companies markers and hooked to little cans of compressed air. I actually got pretty good with it after some practice but the cans of air got expensive fast, I couldn't afford a compressor...and you'll go through markers quick! I actually still have it (and have a compressor now) but given how quickly it dries out markers I don't think I'd be trying it on my planes anytime soon.

Log In to reply
Furiou5 on June 20, 2013
When doing Camo paint instead of using masking tape, make a big "French Curve" out of posterboard(that you cover in Minwax) and use that to assist with making the blobs of colors.

This way it is reusable, you can better mitigate the over spray, and eventually you will get good at using the curves that you make.
Log In to reply
tramsgar on June 21, 2013
Thanks, been waiting for the painting tipisode! Looking forward to parts 2-5!
Log In to reply
ashbreeze on June 20, 2013
Nice article! There is a typo at one point: It should say "moisture" instead of "moister"
Log In to reply
malitape on June 22, 2013
Don't u no how 2 typo read?
Really, these guys create some wonderful teaching videos and you comment is about an typo? Really?
Log In to reply
SR-71 on June 25, 2013
Great as always......good tips for sure.

Log In to reply
toasthall on June 22, 2013
One tip I remember reading years ago, when painting camo is to have the mask raised off of the surface slightly to give the outline a feathered effect.
Log In to reply
billchuck on June 28, 2013
It depends on the effect you want. Sometimes you want sharp edges; in that case, make sure the mask is right on the surface. Other times you want the edge to blend into the neighboring color. For that, raise the mask above the surface. The farther the mask is from the surface, the more fuzzy the lines will be.

Silly putty is a good material to do this with. Roll out a thin rope of putty and lay it down on the underside of the mask, 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the edges. Lightly press the mask into place on the model.
Log In to reply
jaBdr on June 21, 2013
Growing up, I never had the funds to buy a compressor either. What I did instead was to buy a cheap hand pump garden sprayer to use as a compressed air source. I removed the spray wand and hose that came with it and screwed a brass fitting my airbrush hose would connect to into the plastic air tank where it's hose used to be. It worked very well for me for several years.
Log In to reply
billchuck on June 28, 2013
You can also get a cheap 1 gallon air tank. Fill it at the gas station (some still have free air compressors) and carry it home, or use a bicycle air pump. A good bicycle pump will let you get the tank pressure a lot higher, so you don't have to refill as often. If you do that, you need a regulator to control the pressure to the airbrush (but you want one of those anyway).
Log In to reply
tyoho on June 20, 2013
I've been waiting for this video before I build the Spitfire. My main question was whether to do the Minwax before or after assembly.
If you do it before assembly (like you show in the video), do you do both sides of the board?
Thanks for all the great airbrush tips, you and your crew are awesome.
Log In to reply
jack111 on July 13, 2013
it doesint matter but if you have a speed build kit you can just paint the board
Log In to reply
lracnolip on July 14, 2013
Don't know what I did wrong, but the polyurethane and paint wrapped and bubbled the paper and melted the exposed foam. I used a spray can for the polyurethane and paint.
Log In to reply
stonekap on July 14, 2013
The propellant from the spray cans will cause those issues. This is why we recommend brushing on the polyurethane. Brush it on, remove the excess with a rag, let it dry overnight... Then you can use spray paint.
Log In to reply
sailorJohn on July 15, 2013
I guess I can use the spray for something else. I had an old can of marine urethane but it took a long time to dry an feels oily
Log In to reply
sailorJohn on July 15, 2013
A light misting coat goes a long way on a hot humid day --wrinkles -- now to try polyurethane prepared foamboard ,some polyurethane really smells bad at first, should have stuck with minwax, hardly any smell.
Log In to reply
hhins on June 25, 2013
I could really use an entire segment on the polyurethane / spray paint mention, I think most of us can't invest in a full airbrush setup as awesome as that looks. :-)

I had trouble in the past with spray paint, I was painting very thin coats but I think I was holding it too close and getting the propellent on the foam paper. (And hadn't heard about the poly)

Can you use a spray on polyurethane vs a brush-on? I hate cleaning brushes.

This site is amazing, I can't believe I didn't find it sooner.
Log In to reply
sailorJohn on July 15, 2013
If you work fast you can use throwaway foam brushes , about 4 sheets is the max or find the roller kit with the 6 in roller and tray. HF.
Log In to reply
amtpdb1 on August 4, 2013
Can't find this in a can locally. Found it in a spray can. Don't use it from a can as it lifted the paper RIGHT NOW!
Log In to reply
sailorJohn on July 19, 2013
After preparing several sheets of foamboard with polyurethane and starting my build , I noticed that the paper tears easily from the foam. I am concerned that glue joints involving the paper will be comprised . Has anyone else noticed this problem ,if so please reply as I have 3 fuses built and am about to build the wings.
Log In to reply
LordVader on August 9, 2013
I also have had this happen. I have applied before and after a build to see which is better and easier. Before the build is definitely easier, but it makes the paper stiff and you can't get the curves and bends very well. It also causes the paper to come loose when you try this. After the build is harder to get it in every nook and cranny, but no paper comes loose. I have a couple of cans of the spray on automobile protective bras for the front of cars. I am going to try this on for size and see how well it works. I can get it for a couple $s a can at a discount store. I will try it before paint and after paint, also before the build and after and let everyone know how well it works or not. Cheers:)
Log In to reply
TehMaxwell on September 13, 2013
Can I ask, when you say you can use Windex to thin out paint, does that mean physically using the sprayer to apply paint?
Log In to reply
Yogenh on December 8, 2013
No you can not use the Windex sprayer to apply the paint.
Log In to reply
rbartlett on October 13, 2014
How do you paint the packing tape. You guys show using a lot of tape, but nothing about painting it. Have you found anything that actually sticks to it. Thanks and keep up the great show.
Log In to reply
emanrocks15 on September 26, 2015
How would you paint the plane if you have already installed the electronics while you were making the plane?
Log In to reply
Damig on November 18, 2015
emanrocks15 yes, I install stuff first, do a maiden, if plane survives, then I tape and paint it.
For me, light coat minwax, wipe off excess works very well. Servos got painted the color that was used. I like the cockpit for pilot clear, black or silver... actually my fav is cutting up "Arnold Palmer iced Tea" plastic bottles and put seat, pink pong ball pilot head, helmet, smile and thumbs up. Salute, happy painting
Log In to reply
ahmed subekhan on October 26, 2017
may be too old to make this post, but this time i really need how to choose the safe paint for polyfoam plane,

then whether you can give a little tip to choose a paint that is suitable for polygoam aircraft?
advice from you I wait from now on,thank you.
Log In to reply
Countrymlb on February 26, 2015
Forgive me for asking the obvious,,,,,but what type paints are used when airbrushing? I have never used an airbrush. Are they water based acrylic paints? what type of paints do I specifically look for?
Thanks bunches!
Log In to reply
Crasher on November 6, 2015
Water will lift unprotected paper from Dollar Tree foam board.
Log In to reply

You need to log-in to comment on articles.