Can You Paint Rubber? (What to Consider & Best Paints)

by Charlie
Can You Paint Rubber

Rubber is everywhere these days but it is often quite plain. You may be wondering if it’s possible to add some character to your rain boots or make a boring tire swing even better. No matter your project, painting is one of the best ways to do so. 

The question is whether paint works well on rubber. Is there a specific type of rubber that takes paint the best? Or perhaps a certain type of paint is the most effective? And what about primer? Do you need to prepare the rubber for painting?

Can you paint rubber? You can paint on rubber for vibrant, long-lasting results. To do so you must consider what your project will be exposed to, the type of paint to use, and whether you want to use a primer.

What Type of Rubber is Best for Painting?

There are two basic categories of rubber: natural and synthetic. However, what is most important when it comes to painting is the rigidity of the rubber. Softer rubber will flex more and cause the paint to crack. Hard rubber won’t move as much.

That said, if a flexible rubber is left undisturbed the paint should last a decent length of time. The opposite is true of rigid rubber which is often abused. The paint in this situation will still last but certainly not as long as if the rubber wasn’t regularly used.

All of the other factors of the rubber can affect how well the paint adheres, but the flexibility of the rubber is the biggest one. Another big factor isn’t a factor of the rubber specifically. 

Whether or not the rubber you’re painting will be outside or not will determine how long-lasting your paint job is. Direct sunlight, heat, and other aspects of the outdoors can prematurely degrade paint. This is especially true of paint that is not designed for outdoor use.

This is also why it is important to choose the right type of paint. Some paints dry more flexibly than others. Try to match flexible rubber to flexible paint.

What Types of Paint Can You Use on Rubber?

There are four main types of paint that work well on rubber. They are removable rubber coating, acrylic paint, exterior rubber paint, and marine paint. Each of these options has different flexibility, durability, and cost.

Removable rubber coating is a rubberized spray-on coating. While intended for metal, glass, and plastic specifically, it can be used on rubber without an issue. This option is quite flexible with decent durability. It is meant to be semi-permanent. The cans are cheap at roughly $8.

Acrylic paint is a very common paint intended for many surfaces. When it dries it is fairly flexible and quite durable. Acrylic paint is available in many colors and finishes. There are also acrylic paints designed for both inside and outside. This paint is also a decent price at roughly $10 per can.

Exterior rubber paint is available in spray cans and hand paint cans. When dry it is very durable and firm. This durability does make it more difficult to bond with various surfaces. It is recommended you use a primer with this paint. Cans are fairly expensive at roughly $35.

Lastly, marine paint. This paint is designed for use on seafaring vessels. As such it is incredibly durable. This paint can be used on any type of rubber for great results. This paint is also fairly expensive at $30-35 per can.

Do You Need Primer when Painting Rubber?

Whether or not you use a primer before painting rubber depends on the paint you use. Most of the paints that work on rubber do not need any primer. The rubber surface provides a decent base for paint and a primer is not always necessary.

Exterior rubber paint is the only one that always needs a primer coat before it can be applied. Due to this paint’s durability, it doesn’t like to bond with other surfaces. Using a primer will help ensure a solid foundation.

Acrylic and removable rubber coating paints can benefit from a coat of primer if it is going to be painted on an object that will be outside often. In the case that the rubber object will be inside most of the time it is not necessary. 

Marine paint does not need a primer coat before application. While very durable, it still bonds well with the rubber.

How to Paint Rubber

When you have your supplies and a space to paint you’re ready to go. Here are the steps for how to paint rubber:

  1. Start by cleaning the rubber object. Use soap and water to clean the object and remove any impurities. Then rinse and let it dry.
  2. When dry, apply a coat of primer. This step is only necessary for exterior rubber paint and objects that will be frequently outside. Let the primer dry.
  3. Apply the first coat of your chosen paint. Whether you’re using a spray-on or hand-applied paint follow the specific instructions of that brand. The drying times will also depend on the paint type. 
  4. If necessary, apply a second coat of paint. A second coat is a good idea for objects that will be frequently outside.
  5. Apply sealant, dependent on the paint type. You don’t need sealant for marine paint. The only paint that benefits from a coat of sealant is acrylic paint.

In addition to the above steps, it is sometimes beneficial to lightly sand the surface of the rubber object. Doing so can improve the adherence of the chosen paint. Overall, follow the instructions of the chosen paint.

Final Thoughts

Although rubber is not a commonly painted surface it does not mean it isn’t possible. If you chose the correct paint for your project, you will not have to worry about how long it will last. That said, rubber is not commonly painted because it is an obstinate surface. 

When a painted rubber object is subjected to everyday wear and tear it will eventually degrade.

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