Rubber is everywhere, and there are infinite uses for this versatile material that’s been around since at least 1,000 BCE. The earliest rubber was natural rubber from a South American tree. Today, man-made synthetic rubber is produced using crude oil, and it makes up most of the rubber materials we use throughout our everyday lives.
So, if you have something made of rubber, you might be wondering if you can paint this bouncy material. Before you dive into your next DIY project, there are a few things you need to know about painting rubber.
To paint rubber, you’ll need to choose the right type of paint for the job. The type of rubber and its properties will determine how successful you’ll be at painting it. For basic arts and crafts, acrylic paint will do the trick. For more durability, you may want to use spray paint. Marine paint is necessary for harsh conditions.
Types of Rubber
Natural rubber is a polymer that comes from plants. As a raw material, natural rubber is used in over 40,000 different products, from medical devices and surgical gloves to car tires and children’s toys.
Natural rubber is extremely flexible and works as a great electrical insulator. There are many applications for natural rubber that cannot presently be replaced by synthetic rubber, so it’s a critical resource.
This type of rubber is formed using a milky liquid (latex) from various trees and plants. About 20,000 different plants produce liquid latex, but only a very small portion of those (about 2,500) produce latex containing rubber.
Synthetic rubber is a man-made alternative to natural rubber. Rubber is a broad term that’s applied to polymers that can stretch out and return to their original form. The U.S. started manufacturing synthetic rubber during WWII when the country was cut off from natural rubber supplies in the Pacific.
Most of the rubber used to make products today is synthetic (about ⅔). This type of rubber is made using crude oil and other chemicals. Synthetic rubber is produced to have those same properties, but it can be formulated with many different properties.
For example, it can be very soft, like a sponge or rubber band, or it can be very hard and dense, like a bowling ball.
Properties of Rubber
Rubber is a highly versatile material that’s incredibly unique in its properties and characteristics. Depending on how the rubber is manufactured and what kinds of chemicals and additives are used in its production, rubber can look, feel, and behave in many different ways.
Rubber can be extremely tough, withstanding extreme temperatures and conditions. At the same time, it can also be very stretchy or even soft. Some rubber products are as gentle as a fingertip (think about a baby’s pacifier), while others are as hard as a rock.
Some rubber products are very hard and rigid, while others are soft and pliable. Think about a semi-truck tire versus a soft-soled shoe or rubber band. Both products are made from rubber, but they have very different feels and properties.
Can You Paint Rubber?
Rubber can be painted, but the technique you should use and the type of paint you’ll need will vary depending on a few different factors. Think first about the different kinds of rubber products out there. How they behave and their properties will determine how easy (or difficult) painting them will be.
Think about trying to paint a rubber glove. Doing the job with a paintbrush might be nearly impossible. However, using a can of spray paint would make the job much simpler. On the other hand, painting a bike tire wouldn’t be a problem with either type of paint.
So, while it’s certainly possible to paint rubber, doing so might be more difficult in some situations.
Types of Rubber Paint
1. Removable Rubber Paint
Removable paint is a type of spray paint you can use on rubber surfaces. This paint is easily removable by peeling it off, so it’s a good option for things you don’t want to paint permanently. Items that you may want to paint a different color next year or items that don’t need a permanent paint job are good candidates for removable paint.
To use removable paint, start by cleaning the rubber surface thoroughly and allowing it to dry completely.
Next, spray an even coating of paint on the object, taking care to get good coverage in all the cracks and crevices.
Allow the first coat to dry completely before applying a second coat for thorough coverage. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for drying and curing time to ensure a good finish.
2. Acrylic Paint
Acrylic paint is a good “all-purpose” paint product you can use on a variety of surfaces. If you’re doing an arts and crafts DIY project, acrylic paint is probably your best bet. You can buy it pretty much anywhere, and clean-up is easy.
However, acrylic paint isn’t very durable, so you shouldn’t use it on anything that will get handled often. If you use it on your Christmas decorations, keep in mind you may have to touch them up after they’ve been put up and packed away a few times.
Acrylic paint is easy to use. Simply clean the surface and apply the paint with a paintbrush. Let it dry completely, then add a second coat. If you want, you can add a layer of sealant or clear coat to protect the finish.
3. Commercial-Grade Marine Paint
Marine paint is the most durable option, and it’s necessary for rubber that will be exposed to the elements. So, if you’re painting tires, shoes, or anything that will be exposed to the outdoors, you’ll probably want to use marine paint for the best results.
Marine paint is easy to apply, and you don’t need to do any special prep work to use it. It doesn’t require a primer or sealer, so you can just follow the package directions for use. Marine paint comes in a spray and brush-on applications, so just choose the one that makes the most sense for how you’ll use it.
4. Exterior Paint
For a durable finish, exterior paint is a good choice. Any rubber items that may be kept outside or exposed to the elements need tougher paint, like exterior paint. Like marine paint, exterior paint is available in a spray can, or you can apply it with a brush or roller. Choose the best applicator depending on what you’re painting.
However, keep in mind you’ll need a primer to help this paint adhere to the rubber surface. Before applying paint or primer, clean the surfaces thoroughly and allow them to air dry. Then, apply primer and let it dry completely. After, you can apply your first coat of exterior paint. Repeat as needed until you have sufficient coverage.
How to Pick the Right Paint for Rubber
To choose the appropriate paint for your project, start by considering how you’ll use the item. If it’s going to sit on a shelf and be handled infrequently, acrylic crafting paint should be sufficient. However, if you’re going to have the item outside or if it will be exposed to the elements, you’ll need something more durable.
Marine or exterior paint would be more appropriate if you need the paint to hold up over time and against the environment. If you don’t use the right paint, you’ll end up having to do the job over again, or you won’t have a good-looking finished product.
Painting Rubber: Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Best Paint for Rubber Crafts?
The best paint for rubber crafts is acrylic paint. This is easy to find at any crafting, or home improvement store, comes in a variety of colors, and is easy to apply with a brush or roller. Acrylic paint is good for large and small projects, and it’s easy to clean up.
What is the Best Paint for Rubber Shoes?
The best paint for rubber shoes is marine paint. The soles of your shoes take a beating as you walk around outside in the weather. They’re exposed to rain, chemicals, heat, and more. Marine paint will hold up over time and protect the rubber from damage. And unlike exterior paint, you don’t need to worry about a primer.
Follow these steps to paint your rubber shoes:
1. Clean the surfaces thoroughly and allow to dry
2. Tape off areas you don’t want painted with painter’s tape
3. Carefully apply the marine paint to the surfaces you want painted
4. Allow the shoes to dry completely
5. Apply a second coat if needed and allow to dry
How to Paint Rubber Tires
Rubber tires have many uses aside from just making your car move. You can use old tires for planters, playground equipment, or landscaping borders. Best of all, they’re easy to paint so you can personalize the look to fit your needs.
Follow these steps to paint rubber tires:
1. Thoroughly clean the tires to remove all grease, dirt, and debris. You can use warm soapy water or trisodium phosphate for tougher buildup. Use a scrubbing brush to clean the tread.
2. Lightly sand tires with a coarse grit sandpaper to get a better surface for adhesion.
3. Clean off any dust and let the tires dry completely.
4. Apply a primer to the entire surface you’re going to paint and let dry.
5. Apply marine or exterior paint in the color of your choosing and let dry completely.
6. Recoat as needed for full, even coverage.
Other Tips & Tricks for Painting Rubber
- Ensure the rubber surfaces are clean and dry before you begin. In most cases, you should be able to clean the rubber with warm soapy water, but you may need to use something stronger (like TSP) if the surface is extra greasy.
- For slick rubber surfaces, use coarse grit sandpaper to help primers and paint better adhere. This is a good idea if you’re painting tires or other firm rubber surfaces.
- Use painter’s tape to cover any areas you don’t want to be painted or to create sharp, clean edges. Another fun idea is to use painter’s tape to create paint patterns or designs on the surfaces.
- Choose the right finish for your desired look – a matte finish won’t be glossy, while finishes with more sheen will look more slick and shiny.
- Selecting the right paint is critical. If you don’t use the appropriate type of paint for your project, you may find that the paint starts peeling and cracking in just a few days. For a job that will last, take the time to choose the right supplies.
- If you’re going to cut or drill into thick rubber tires, do it before painting. Otherwise, you may cause your new paint job to crack and peel and have to redo it. If you’re having trouble getting a utility knife through the rubber, try to apply some soapy water to help it cut smoothly.
- Use spray paint to speed up large jobs. Spray paint is quick and easy to apply, and it requires much less precision. If you’re doing a large surface or one with many crevices (like tire tread), you may find that spray paint is the only way to go.
Prime if possible. Even if the paint of your choosing doesn’t require a primer, the job will almost always turn out better if you take the time to apply a good-quality primer first. The paint will go on smoother, and you’ll have better coverage when you’re done.
Our team includes many home improvement professionals such as painters interior decorators and architects. Collectively, we have over 30 years of experience.