There are plenty of people who are into DIY crafts and arts nowadays.
Of course, one of the most exciting parts about a piece of craftwork is painting it with a design that fits your taste.
Rubber, being a versatile and durable material is used often in arts and crafts, but not everyone knows how to apply paint to it so that it lasts without damage.
But can you really paint rubber items? The short answer: Yes.
And it’s all about properly preparing the surface that’s being painted, using the right techniques, and very importantly, the right type of paint depending on the purpose and environment that will surround your rubber object.
That’s about the gist of it.
But I’m sure you’re not here to read about the gist, so now let’s dive into the details and discuss everything you need to know about rubber paint.
Types of Paint for Rubber
Painting rubber items (such as tires, boots, shoe soles, mats, toys, etc) could be simple.
One of the fundamental elements in painting rubber—or anything, really—is choosing the right type of paint for the job.
Using the wrong type of paint for a given surface or an environment (e.g., indoors vs. outdoors) can create disasters.
For instance, if you used paint meant for the indoors, such as acrylic, for something that’s going to stay outside, the paint will soon disintegrate.
So what types of paint are out there that can get the job done painting on rubber?
1- Acrylic Paint
Acrylic is a versatile type of paint that can be used on different surfaces, among which is rubber.
Because it’s more decorative than durable, acrylic is best used for indoor decorations, arts, and crafts that are meant to be untouched.
So, if the rubber shoes or other object you’re planning to paint might be touched a lot, moved around, or even spend a good deal of time outdoors, acrylic isn’t the way to go.
The reason, as mentioned, is that acrylic is not a very durable paint by nature, though it looks great. It’s relatively fragile to the touch, so it’s best to use it on things that won’t be touched or used.
That said, if you are looking for paint for an object mainly for show, keep reading and learn about the very easy and straightforward steps to use acrylic.
To paint a rubber with acrylic, follow these steps:
- Wipe the entire surface, especially any cracks, with warm and soapy water
- Remove all the soap remaining
- Dry the object completely
- Apply the first coat of paint and let it dry completely
- Apply the second layer of paint, and again, let dry completely
- Cover your paint with a layer of paint sealant, which will protect the paint
The most crucial steps are cleaning the surfacing before putting any acrylic on and drying out the object before each layer of paint.
These steps ensure there are no dust and stains and such things preventing your paint from adhering; wet surfaces and paint are archenemies—they repel each other, which is why drying is important not just for acrylic, but for all types of paint.
2- Removable Rubber Coating
Removable rubber coating or paint, as its name implies, is designed for objects destined to be repainted regularly, such as seasonal or holiday decorations.
This type of paint is the typical “easy come, easy go.”
However, this does not mean removable paint will just flake off as time passes.
Without external damaging force, this paint will stay on for as long as you want. And when you do, a simple razor blade will do the trick
Further, removable paint comes also in the form of a spray, making it easier to cover large areas without breaking your back.
To apply removable paint, you may follow the same steps as you do acrylic.
Except: Leave out the sealant at the end.
Do not use sealant on your removable paint, for it will make removing it much harder, defeating the purpose of choosing this type of paint in the first place.
Again, remember to clean the surfaces properly and wait for them to dry through and through.
Patience really does pay off.
Now, as you’ve seen, both acrylic and removable paint can be fragile, so naturally, they would not see much of the great outdoors where conditions may get harsh.
Next up, let’s look at some options designed to endure.
3- Exterior Rubber Paint
Designed to withstand unpredictable weather conditions, like rain, snow, wind, and the sun, the exterior paint is ideal for any rubber projects for the outdoors.
This type of paint, because of its high durability, does not require any sealants at the end.
However, this toughness makes it more difficult for this paint to get along with any surface, including your rubber surface.
To help the exterior paint adhere, a primer is needed before the first layer of paint is applied.
You will need to take a few extra steps when applying exterior paint:
- Clean the surface with soapy water
- Rinse off any soak from the surface
- Let dry completely
- Apply a layer of exterior primer to cover all of the surface areas
- Allow the primer to dry completely
- Apply the first layer of exterior paint to your project, and let dry completely
- Apply the second layer and let dry
The boldfaced steps for applying the exterior primer are extremely important for sustaining an intact paint job because without it, durable as this type of paint is, it will peel off in no time.
Next, we are coming to the last type of paint on this list, also the most durable one you could find for your rubber paint job.
4- Marine Coating (Commercial-Grade)
Marine paint is as tough as it gets.
You may be wondering why are marine-grade paints so tough.
The answer lies in its name—because it’s designed to stand the harsh marine environments and is often used to coat boats, tankers, and other vessels.
Marine once dried, hardens into a shield almost impenetrable to harsh environments and even light to moderate impacts.
Because of its top-tiered natural defense, there is no need for any sealant after the paint has been applied.
And it doesn’t require a primer, either. Easy and hard.
Therefore, to apply marine paint on your rubber projects, simply follow the steps you would follow for removable paint, and you’re all set.
So, that’s the overview of the various kinds of paint you can use to paint your rubber project.
Now you’re ready to make a more informed decision when picking the paint for the job.
Tips & considerations for a great paint job
- If even coating is crucial to you, use a sprayer instead of a brush or roller to spray paint rubber
- Read carefully and follow the manufacturer’s directions to keep yourself safe
- Roughing up the surface slightly with sandpaper will help the paint to stick better to the rubber surface
Keep in mind some paints have the primer already incorporated, allowing you to prime and paint in one stroke. Be sure what’s in your paint and avoid unnecessary work and expenses.
Also, read the instructions on the paint packaging for the time it takes for your paint to dry completely, some paints dry fast on the surface and may appear dry when the inside is not.
How to Pick the Right Rubber Paint for Your Project?
As we’ve stressed before, using the wrong paint can have disastrous results.
So, take your time and consider how are you going to use the finished object—decorative or functional? And how long do you need the paint to last?
If your rubber piece might see a lot of sun, you better make sure the paint won’t be flaking and fading after some time of direct exposure.
Being outside, it will also need to be able to endure the weather.
Depending on how harsh the conditions around your rubber project are going to be, consider either exterior paint or marine coating.
If your project is mainly going to be indoors and for decoration and artistic purposes, then acrylic is enough to get the job done.
However, if your decoration or art is going to be seasonal or holiday-based, use removable paint for it’s easy to remove whenever you want.
Finally, before we wrap it up, there are a few other tips that might help you to do a great paint job with relatively low fuss.
Are all kinds of rubber paintable?
Rubber comes in different types such as neoprene, EPDM, and natural rubber. While some types are paintable others may not take the paint well.
This means if you paint these types the paint will not adhere to the surface and will eventually peel off.
If you are a bit confused it’s best to contact the manufacturer of the rubber item or consult a professional to find out which type of rubber you have in order to determine if it is paintable or not.
How do you remove dried paint from rubber?
If the paint is still wet on the rubber material, you can remove it with a damp cloth.
However, if the paint is dry, you will need to use a solvent such as paint thinner or rubbing alcohol to get it removed from the surfaces.
That being said, if the surface has a thick coat of rubberized paint it can be extremely difficult to strip it off.
Techniques such as sponge-jet blasting or ultra-high pressure (or UHP) water blasting might be necessary to get the job done in that case.
How can you keep the rubber items from cracking?
The easiest method that can help keep the rubber from drying out and cracking is by storing it in a cool, dry place.
If you need to store rubber items outdoors, you should cover them with a tarp or something similar.
This will not only protect them from the sun and other weather conditions but also keep them preserved, soft, and pliable for a long.
You can also try using a water-based lubricant or silicone spray on the rubber to help keep it from drying out and brittle.
The Bottom Line
That’s everything you need to know about how to do a great paint job on rubber. The right type of paint+right techniques = a great paint job.
There are four types of paint you can choose from to paint rubber: acrylic, removable, exterior, and marine coating.
Always make sure you clean the rubber to remove dust and stains and let it dry completely so the paint can stick. And remember primers before and sealants after, while required for certain paints, are not always necessary. Good luck and enjoy painting your rubber project.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.