Step-By-Step: How To Make Styrofoam Look Like Wood?


When the average person comes across Styrofoam, nothing creative happens inside their head. Maybe just the urge to punch through it like when we were children. Don’t be fooled though, Styrofoam is a medium used for many arts and craft projects, and artists love it. When it comes to home interior design, many people are using Styrofoam to make it look like wood, with the help of easy step-by-step guides.

Step-By-Step Guide: How To Make Styrofoam Look Like Wood?

1)Choose Wood Type

2)Buy Styrofoam And Painting Materials (incl. sandpaper)

3)Seal And Prime The Foam

4)Carve And Sand the foam

5)Paint First Round

6)Let The Paint Dry

7)Paint Multiple Layers

8)Dry Brush Indentations

9)Add Woodgrain Effects

A common mistake that people make when making Styrofoam look like wood is choosing the wrong color. When going for a light wood color, it becomes difficult to hide imperfections. When the more realistic wood ”look” is achieved, it’s generally because darker wood colors are used. Practice with different colors on reserve Styrofoam before you start your project. Finding the right colors is vital before you begin and ensure that the result reflects what you had in mind.

Step-By-Step Guide: Making Styrofoam Look Like Wood

Making Styrofoam look like wood is a cost-efficient way to decorate your home, be it total wall panels or wood decorations, and here is an easy step-by-step guide to help you achieve this faux wood effect.

1) Choose Wood Type

Before you do anything else, choose the type of wood or look that you want to create. Pick a wood that will blend in with its surroundings and complement the room, not detract from it. If you are after a more realistic wood look, pick wood with plenty of knots and heavier grains. It will require more work from your side, but the result will align with the realistic and rustic look that you want to achieve.

To create a rustic look, then pick a plank of wood with woodier grains. Here are some popular wood types that you could choose from:

Wood TypeDescription
1) WalnutWalnut wood is known for its straight grains and comes in different shades, but usually a dark brown shade.The shading of this wood can also include blue/purple tones and provides a rustic look.
2) PinePine is a lighter wood variety; its grain is faint in color as well as texture.Pine can be used in combination with other woods.
3) RedwoodColor ranges from a light pinkish brown to a deep reddish-brown, and the grain is usually straight.
3.1) Red Oak WoodRed Oak wood has a varied and wild grain strain with many variations and twirls.Color-wise it’s light to medium brown with a reddish cast.
3.2) African PadaukThe grain is usually straight.The color of this wood ranges from a pale pinkish-orange to a deep brownish-red.
3.3) BloodwoodBloodwood has a tight, delicate, almost linear grain.The color of this wood is vivid red, almost like a beautiful deep red rose color.
4) WalnutWalnut wood typically has a straight grain and is usually dark brown, giving the wood a rustic feel.
5) MapleMaple wood generally has a straight grain, but there are variations that you can reproduce, like the birdseye, tiger, and wavy grain.The color of maple varies from a pale yellow to a red color.
6) White OakWhite Oak generally has a straight grain pattern and ranges from a pale white to a brownish-grey color.
6.2) Red OakRed Oak also has a generally straight strain and has a deep reddish-brown color.
7) MahoganyMahogany has many thick knots and rings to indicate the tree’s age, and the color is dark brown and red.
8) CedarCedarwood has a straight grain and ranges from a pinkish-red color to purple tones.As it ages, this wood loses its reddish hues and becomes a silver or gray color.

2) Buy Styrofoam And Painting Materials (Including Sandpaper)

To successfully transform Styrofoam into wood will require that you acquire the right tools for the project at hand. Styrofoam is extended polystyrene (EPS) and is the name brand for this product. Styrofoam has a few variations available, so it’s best to go down to the hardware store and physically see which design will work the best for the job.

Trying out some different designs beforehand will save you a lot of time and money. Practicing on a panel and perfecting the application and look is highly recommended. When you are 100% sure of the Styrofoam that you want to use, we recommend that you buy the following tools to give you the best chance of replicating wood successfully.

What?Why?
1) Primer or SealerUsing a primer or sealer will ensure that the paint won’t cause damage to the foam and also ensure that the color will be applied evenly.
2) Paint – Acrylic                                                                                           2) Paint- Thicker Wood Paints  Going for acrylic paint is a smart choice as it sticks to the Styrofoam effectively.Choosing thicker wood paints is also allowed. Just make double sure that the surface is properly primed and sealed. Include a dark brown, a lighter brown, and the perfect colors of your choice when choosing which colors to use.
3) EPS Foam CoatingUsing this product is optional; it will increase the Styrofoam’s durability. Adding a layer of this to the foam will help to protect it and not dent as easily.
4) SandpaperYou will use the sandpaper to smooth the Styrofoam surface to make sure it looks the same all the way through.
5) Paint BrushesYou will need to buy big and smaller brushes.You will use the big brushes to apply the foundation and the smaller brushes to do the details of the grain and knots.
6) Wire Brush, Soldering Iron, and Wood Grain ToolThese woodcarving tools are what you will need to make the grain and wood detail look legit.
7) Wood Stains Adding a layer of wood stain on top of your paint can help achieve the desired outcome and look that you are after. Stains usually are for specific woods, so that it can help should you be struggling to get the right effect for your chosen wood type.

3) Seal And Prime The Foam

This step is a crucial part of protecting the Styrofoam from the effects of the paint that you are going to use. Priming and sealing the foam will add to its overall durability and ensure no risk of damage to the Styrofoam.

There are various products that you can use to seal and prime your Styrofoam. An essential hint is never to use a primer or sealant that comes in a spray bottle! The spray variants contain aerosols that will melt and destroy your Styrofoam, ultimately ruining your new project even before getting started. Painting the primer and sealant on is recommended to ensure the best result.

These are some of the products that you can use to seal and prime the Styrofoam:

ProductDescription/Application
1) Foam Coat (EPS)This epoxy foam coat will increase the foam’s durability level, fill all the cracks, and create a seal (1/8-inch or thicker) to harden the foam completely. Paint your first coat with a paintbrush and allow it to dry for 4 hours. Apply the second coat, ensuring that the layering is at least 1/8-inch thick, and let it dry for 4 hours.
2) Polystyrene PrimerPolystyrene primer is generally used for projects that involve Styrofoam.
3) Craft SealantsCraft sealants work just as well; if you have some at home, then use them. If it is a choice between one of the above, instead, go for the sealants made explicitly for Styrofoam.
4) Roofing SealerUsing a roofing sealer will seal in any crumbles. Allow the first coat to dry for 2 hours.Add two more coats allowing an in-between drying time of 1 hour.

4) Carve And Sand The Foam

It is important to remember that you need to seal your Styrofoam before and after any physical changes have been made to the foam. At no point during this conversion process should paint touch the actual Styrofoam.

The goal of this step is even out any imperfections in the Styrofoam (which happens often) by using low grit sandpaper. Apply the sandpaper softly to the foam until you have a consistency level right across the foam panel. The trick is not to take off too much of the foam and not be too abrasive with your application of the sanding paper.

Carving tools create a bit of texture to the Styrofoam and give it a woodier finish. Getting a feel for these tools will take some practice from your side. Use an extra piece of Styrofoam to perfect the style you want to create and make sure that you can use the tools properly. Practice makes perfect in this case.

Painting your Styrofoam will, in essence, create the wooden look you are after and the indentations that you could make by using the following tools to give it that extra realistic look.

ToolApplication
1) Woodgrain ToolWoodgrain tools imitate wood grains and come in a variety of patterns.You can make indentations by running these tools across or down the Styrofoam.Applying paint to the woodgrain tool will enhance the grain and make it more apparent.Use dark paint when applying this tool.
2) Wire BrushUsing a wire brush is the simplest method to use.The wire brush creates a straight strain look that most woods have.Apply even strokes in one direction, applying some pressure to create a realistic look.Be wary of creating too deep strokes. Noticeable streaks are what you should be going for.When done creating these streaks, make sure to seal the Styrofoam again and let it dry completely.
3) Soldering IronA soldering iron gets extremely hot and can cut through many materials, so be careful when using it.You will use this tool when you want to make more dramatic impressions.

5) Paint First Round

It is now time to paint the first round of paint onto the Styrofoam. Here are some helpful hints to get you started:

Cover the primer with light wood paint, more lightweight than what you are planning to use as your foundation color. This light wood paint will help to dilute the contrast between the white primer color and the dark paint and create a more natural tint.

  • If you are going for a light wood color, then you should use a darker color underneath and paint the whole board. By using a darker color, it will enhance the grain texture and bring it to life.
  • If you made dents in the foam, contemplate painting them with darker paint and allow enough dry time so that it can show through your wood color. Make sure to apply these strokes gently with a small brush, taking your time to make sure that the brushes of paint are where they should be.
  • If you are considering painting knots on the wood, this is the time to do it. If you are confident that you can draw it yourself, then paint it on. You can also decide to use woodgrain tools that will give you a knotted effect.
  • Apply the paint as evenly as possible. Your main goal is to avoid noticeable changes in the coating that will make brush marks appear or give the effect that the foam has been painted.

6) Let The Paint Dry

It would be best if you allowed the paint to dry after each coat. Allowing this will enable the color to stick to the Styrofoam and look better when it comes to the overall appearance. Letting the paint dry will be a better indicator of the final color result and indicate which areas need some touch-ups.

Using thin rounds of coating will put you in control of the color application and general outcome. Adding more coats will enhance the end product, and the paint will dry quicker.

7) Paint Multiple Layers

Your grains should be painted in a dark color by now, and the rest covered with a lighter color. Now it’s time to add your favorite color to the mix. Should it be a darker color, make sure to paint it on lightly.

You can now decide to add some wood stains to the project:

  • Wood stains help give the paint a more natural wooden look.
  • Available in gloss or matte, the choice is yours to make.
  • It acts as a sealant that will protect the paint from discoloring, and applying a coat every so often will keep the look vibrant and fresh.

8) Dry Brush Indentations

Use a medium-sized brush dipped lightly in paint to create the natural inconsistencies that you find in wood. This step aims to cultivate the darker tints found in the dents and cracks you painted the darkest color.

9) Add Woodgrain Effects

And now to the final step. Here you will go over your work and scrutinize it. If you find some grains that do not stand out as you planned, this is the time to do some touch-ups with your darker paints.

 After modifying all areas that needed some modifications, make sure to paint one more layer of paint or stain to cover your piece up.

Final Thoughts

Making Styrofoam look like wood is fun, and when done right, it will look like the real deal. People opt for this DIY method when renovating their house as it costs much less than using genuine wood, and the fact that you can change your display whenever you want adds to its lure.

By following these easy steps listed above, you should be able to recreate the wood of your choice without any problems. Consider practicing on a practice foam panel until you have mastered the techniques and general look before starting with your main project.

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