How to Prepare Cardboard for Acrylic Painting

Would you like to paint on cardboard, but have noticed that the paint soaks into and you can't achieve bright colors? I'll show you how to prepare a piece of cardboard for painting with gesso primer.

Would you like to paint on cardboard, but have noticed that the paint soaks into and you can't achieve bright colors? I'll show you how to prepare a piece of cardboard for painting with gesso primer. Cardboard works for both acrylic and oil painting and you might sometimes want to use it instead of canvas, board, wood or paper to save money or to be more environmentally friendly.


I'll answer some questions you might have about priming and gesso, such as: what is gesso used for, what is gesso made of, where to buy gesso, how to make gesso yourself, can I use white acrylic instead, why use gesso on canvas, why use clear gesso, why sand gesso, how many gesso coats do you need and which gesso to use for oil painting.

Priming Cardboard


I get my cardboard from used paper blocks, for example. They're often nice and sturdy. You can also use any other packaging cardboard. If you paint straight onto the cardboard, it will soak up the paint and you'll have the paint many layers to achieve opaque and bright colors. So, it's best to prime the cardboard first using gesso. The gesso I use is white, Liquitex Basics acrylic gesso.

Use a large, flat brush or a sponge or a foam brush to apply the gesso. Two layers are usually recommended. One vertical and one horizontal. Let the gesso layers dry before painting on them. The instructions of my gesso say to let it dry for 24 hours, but I don't always wait that long. If you think the surface is too rough, you can also sand it down lightly with sand paper after it's dry. Here's a quick video of priming cardboard with gesso.

Would you like to paint on cardboard, but have noticed that the paint soaks into and you can't achieve bright colors? I'll show you how to prepare a piece of cardboard for painting with gesso primer.

What is Gesso?


What is gesso made of? Gesso consists of chalk, binder, and pigment. The pigment is often white, but if you want a colored gesso, you can mix it with acrylic paint. You can also make gesso yourself and there are tons of different recipes for that. One is using talcum powder, acrylic paint and all purpose glue. If you want a greener version, the book Green Guide for Artists* has recipes for gelatin gesso and many other mediums and paints.

Can you use white acrylic paint instead of gesso to prime a surface? I used to use up a lot of white acrylic paint trying to cover up the text on yogurt buckets or trying to give a white base for egg cartons so I could paint them with bright colors. Gesso works in fewer coats and creates a layer between the cardboard and the acrylic paint so the paint attaches to the gesso instead of soaking into the cardboard.

Would you like to paint on cardboard, but have noticed that the paint soaks into and you can't achieve bright colors? I'll show you how to prepare a piece of cardboard for painting with gesso primer.


You can also prime other surfaces using gesso: wood, plastic, canvas... Canvases are often pre-primed, but if you think the canvas surface is too rough, you can make it smoother by priming it with gesso and sanding it. When priming plastic or a very smooth surface, sand it down first to give the gesso something to attach to. Acrylic gesso also works as a primer for oil painting and in general, you can paint oils over acrylics (but not the other way around).



Materials

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Clear gesso


If you want the color of the cardboard to show after priming it, you can use clear gesso or some other transparent acrylic medium instead. The same goes for painting on wood. Maybe you've seen wood paintings with no background and instead the wood surface is showing. Those have probably been primed with clear gesso before painting.

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