How to Paint Cardboard to Look Like Wood

Have you ever wanted a rustic, country feel in your home decor but don’t want to or can’t spend big bucks for real wood? Well, it might sound impossible, but with some paint and the right techniques, you can create beautiful wooden planks out of nothing more than cardboard!

How to Paint Cardboard to Look Like Wood

Learning how to paint cardboard to look like wood will open up a world of possibilities when it comes to creating low-cost yet high-end-looking DIY projects. From wall art, picture frames, and other home décor pieces—you’ll be able to craft amazing items that last at an incredibly affordable cost! Keep reading if you’re interested in learning this unique technique today.

The Benefits of Painting Cardboard  to Look Like Wood

Painting cardboard to look like wood is a great way to get that rustic, wooden feel without breaking the bank. It saves time and money as you won’t have to source real wood for your projects or wait for it to be delivered. Plus, there’s no need for extra tools such as saws or sanders because all you need to do is get the cardboard and begin painting.

Painting cardboard also has the added benefit of being a more sustainable DIY project since it uses fewer resources than buying real wood, like forests. This means that not only are you killing it with your project—you’re also helping the environment!

Things to Consider Before Painting

Before you begin painting your cardboard, there are some things that you should consider in order to get the best results. Firstly, make sure that the cardboard is clean and dry before applying any paint, as this will help the paint adhere to the surface better.

Use a Primer Before Painting

Secondly, pick a good quality paint that’s designed for outdoor use, as this will help the paint last longer and prevent fading or chipping. Finally, use a primer before painting to ensure that the colors you choose stay vibrant and don’t fade away over time.

Choosing the Right Paint

When it comes to painting cardboard to look like wood, there are a few different types of paint you can use. A popular option is an acrylic paint as it dries quickly and offers good coverage over the surface. You can also use an oil-based or latex paint, depending on your preference.

The best way to get that wooden look is to use a combination of paints, such as light and dark shades. This will help create depth and texture in the woodgrain effect. Additionally, adding a glaze over the project is also an option to give it more of a natural wood finish.

Needed Items

  • Cardboard
  • Acrylic paint in two colors (A darker color for the wood grain and a lighter color to represent the weathered look of aged wood)
  • Paintbrush
  • Sandpaper
  • Water

10 Instructions on How to Paint Cardboard to Look Like Wood

1. Cut the Cardboard

Start by cutting your cardboard into pieces that resemble planks of wood. You can use scissors or an X-acto knife, depending on the complexity of your design. The right size for the planks can depend on the project you are working on, but it’s best to keep them around 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick.

2. Clean and Prepare the Cardboard

Paper Towel to Clean Each

Once your cardboard planks have been cut, use a damp cloth or paper towel to clean each piece of dirt and debris. Make sure to let the cardboard dry completely before applying any paint.

3. Sand the Cardboard

Once your cardboard planks are clean and dry, use medium grit sandpaper to give them a more textured look. This step is important as it will make the grain of the wood stand out more when you begin painting.

4. Apply a Primer

Once you’re finished sanding your cardboard, it’s time to apply a primer. Doing this will help the paint stick better and will also give your painting project longevity, as the primer helps protect the cardboard from moisture, sunlight, and other elements that may cause fading or cracking over time.

5. Paint the Dark Color

By Applying a Darker Color

Once your primer is dry, it’s time to start painting. Begin by applying a darker color of paint in an even layer across the entire cardboard surface. Make sure to use long, slow strokes, and don’t overdo it as you want to keep your wood grains looking realistic. Allow this layer to dry before moving on.

6. Paint the Light Color

Once your darker color is dry, it’s time to apply a lighter shade of paint over top of it. This step will create a weathered look, as if your cardboard has been exposed to sun and moisture for an extended period of time. Allow this layer to dry before moving on.

7. Add the Wood Grain

Once your lighter color is dry, you can add the wood grain with a thin paintbrush. Dip the brush in the darker paint and use it to make small strokes along your cardboard planks that mimic wood grains. Allow this layer to dry completely before moving on.

8. Add the Finishing Touches

Once your wood grain is dry, you can add some finishing touches to make your cardboard planks look even more realistic. You can use a paintbrush to add small details, such as knotholes or cracks in the surface. You can also use sandpaper to give each plank a more weathered look.

9. Seal the Surface

Once all of your painting is finished, it’s important to seal the surface in order to protect it from moisture and other elements that may cause fading or cracking over time. Use a spray-on sealant or a brush-on sealant for best results. 

10. Enjoy Your Creation

 Life to Any Craft Project

Your cardboard planks are now finished and ready to be used in your project! How to paint cardboard to look like wood is a great way to add texture and life to any craft project. With the right supplies and a bit of patience, you can create a realistic wood grain effect that will last for years to come.

8 Maintenance Tips

  1. Use a high-quality primer designed for cardboard. Primers are formulated to create a smoother base and enable a better finish. Primer also helps the paint to adhere better and last longer.
  2. Choose a top-of-the-line latex paint designed specifically for cardboard surfaces. Specialty paints are formulated with ingredients that create smoother coverage and improved adhesion, which will make the finish more durable.
  3. Avoid using oil-based paints as they may cause warping, cracking, and other damage to the cardboard.
  4. Apply two coats of paint instead of one for better coverage and a long-lasting finish.
  5. Allow each coat of paint to dry before applying additional coats. This is especially important for oil paints, which take longer to dry than latex paints.
  6. Use a foam roller or a sprayer to apply the paint. Foam rollers create a smoother finish than brushes, while sprayers can provide even coverage in less time.
  7. Once the project is complete, seal the painted cardboard with a protective topcoat to ensure it lasts longer and looks better. The top coat will also protect the paint from dirt and scratches.
  8. Finally, make sure to store the painted cardboard in a cool, dry place and away from direct sunlight to prevent fading or to crack. With proper care, your project will last for years to come!

Frequently Asked Questions

How Often Do You Need to Paint the Cardboard?

It depends on the type of paint and topcoat used and the kind of exposure it will get. In general, if you have applied a quality primer and two coats of latex paint with a protective topcoat, then you should only need to repaint every five to seven years. It can also help to clean the cardboard regularly, as dirt and grime can break down the paint over time.

How Can I Get a Professional Finish?

For a professional-looking finish, use quality materials such as high-grade primer and specialty latex paints designed for cardboard surfaces. Pay attention to details when painting, such as using two coats of paint and allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next. Finally, use a foam roller or sprayer for even coverage, and finish with a topcoat for added protection.


Painting cardboard to look like wood can be a great way to add a unique and budget-friendly decoration to your home. It is also an easy and fast way to bring old furniture pieces back to life or spruce up decorations for special events. Whether it be choosing the perfect stain or paint colors or finding creative ways of layering them, it is fun and rewarding to take something as common as cardboard and make it beautiful.

Take some time today to explore the possibilities of painting cardboard! You’ll be amazed at how far a bit of imagination can take you. Follow these tips on how to paint cardboard to look like wood to know everything about it.

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Angela Ervin

Angela is the chief editor of Indoorense. She began her career as an interior designer before applying her strategic and creative passion to lifestyle and home. She has close to 15 years of experience in creative writing and online content strategy for housekeeping and cleaning,home decorations as well as other efforts. She loves her job and has the privilege of working with an extraordinary team. She lives with her husband, two sons, and daughter in Petersburg. When she's not busy working she spent time with her family.

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