While you can paint rubber successfully, it’s all too easy to end up with cracked or peeling paint a few days later. Rubber, both natural and synthetic versions, is elastic. This quality makes it versatile as an everyday material but fickle when it comes to taking paint.
This guide will teach you which types of rubber take paint best and how to paint rubber correctly—from boots to tires, and many more projects in between.
The short answer is that yes, you can paint rubber. However, the longer answer is that some types of rubber will take that paint much better than others.
If your rubber isn’t suitable for painting, you’ll notice streaking, cracking, or peeling soon after. Here are some common rubber surfaces you can paint.
Rubber Boots, Shoes, and Soles
This is a popular DIY project, but you might be wondering if the paint will last on your rubber rain boots or the soles of your shoes. It will if done properly.
First, remember that rubber is flexible—and flexible surfaces need flexible paint. Very malleable rubber won’t take paint as well as stiff rubber items, so a good rule of thumb is to only paint rubber boots that can stand on their own when you aren’t wearing them.
Second, you’ll still want a paint that’s flexible when dried. A rubberized spray paint is perfect for this kind of project, whether you decide to completely coat your shoes or do some stencil work for decoration.
As for the rubber soles on sneakers, boots, and other shoes, consider acrylics or a specialized spray paint like PlastiDip, then finish with a sealant. Keep in mind that paint won’t last forever: soles see a lot of traction, which will rub off the sealant and paint with time.
Acrylic exterior paints, like the kind you’d paint your house with, will work for minimal traffic. Rubber flooring in a small guest house kitchenette, for example, would do well with this kind of paint.
For heavier daily use, however, opt for paints specifically formulated to adhere to rubber. You may need a primer and polyurethane sealant, as well.
Rubber epoxy coatings are a great choice for extremely heavy wear or spills, although you’re essentially putting down a new layer of rubber rather than painting the old.
Tires are exposed to grease, grime, and other elements that can wear paint down quickly if you use the wrong kind or don’t clean them thoroughly. What’s more, most tires consist of rubber mixed with other compounds. This means you’ll need extremely durable paint.
Tire paints, industrial paints, and general exterior paints will all hold up on rubber tires. Wear depends mostly on the intended use: tire planters, for example, will only need to hold up against the elements. If you’re painting tires on your car, you’ll notice weather, road salts, and daily use break down the paint faster.
You can also use tire paint pens to freshen up your wheels: simply trace over the faded lettering on your tires (after giving them a good scrub, of course).
A type of synthetic rubber, silicone can be very tricky to paint. This is because silicone contains plastic as well and is quite flexible.
An oil-based paint is best, preceded by a primer and finished with a sealant. You’ll need to clean the silicone well first, even if it’s brand-new. Releasing agent (the compound to get the silicone out of its mold during manufacturing) might still be on the surface, which will affect your paint’s adhesion. Wipe down the surfaces with acetone or orange solvent, then let it dry before you paint.
If your silicone is very flexible, such as a mask or gloves, painting gets even trickier. Thin down your paint with orange solvent, then spray it on using a paint sprayer. This ensures a thin but vibrant coat that will move with your silicone when dry, preventing cracking.
What Kinds Of Paint Can You Use On Rubber Surfaces?
How To Paint Rubber Products: A Step-By-Step Guide
How To Paint Rubber:
- 1Set up your work area
Lay out newspapers or drop cloths, set your rags aside for quick clean-ups, and get all your supplies ready within reach.
- 2Prep your rubber surface
Clean it thoroughly to remove grease, dirt, and other elements that can keep your paint from adhering properly. For very dirty rubber (like used tires), you’ll need isopropanol or degreaser. New or lightly soiled pieces, like rubber shoes, can get by with a good wipe-down using a damp cloth or maybe some mild dish soap and rinsing. Dry the surface thoroughly.
- 3Sand it and re-clean
depending on your project type. This will improve the paint’s bonding to the surface.
- 4Use a primer
A coat of primer will make your base coat stick to the surface better. Allow the primer to dry completely before moving on to the next step.
- 5Apply your paint
You can brush, roll, or spray it on. Allow it to dry completely before adding a second coat.
- 6Finish with a sealant
Coating sprays or paintable polyurethane sealers are a good choice, as long as it’s compatible with your paint type.
- 7Let it dry and cure
Most surfaces typically dry within 12 to 24 hours. At this point, they can be lightly handled. For maximum durability, allow the sealant to cure and harden before using your rubber. This can take a few days or even an entire month; consult the sealant’s instructions for timelines.
Bonus Tip: How To Remove Paint From Rubber
Removing paint from rubber is sometimes as difficult as painting it to begin with. Fortunately, products exist to make the job easier.
Light paint jobs, like craft acrylics, can often be scrubbed and scraped away with little more than rubbing alcohol, followed by mild soap and water. Tougher paints will require some sanding or acetone.
Few paint strippers are safe for use on rubber due to their formulations. Because paint strippers are designed to break down the polymers in paint, they’ll also break down the polymers in many types of rubber.
Citristrip is a gel-based paint stripper that can work on very stubborn paint jobs. Apply to remove most of the paint from your rubber surface, then clean, sand, and re-clean the remainder. This will ensure as little of the stripper comes into contact with the rubber as possible.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
What kind of paint can you use on a rubber phone case?
Most phone cases are silicone, which is tricky to paint—not to mention subjected to daily handling and occasional drops. You’ll want to prime it first, then apply two coats of acrylic paint. A spray sealant will increase durability.
How do you get rubber marks off car paint?
Most rubber marks can be wiped off car paint with soap and water, so try that first. If the rubber marks remain, consider a racing rubber remover spray to polish it off. It’s formulated to clean scuffs and dirt without harming the automotive paint.
How long does paint stay on rubber?
The lifespan of your paint job depends on the flexibility and use of your rubber, the kind of paint you used, and exposure to the elements. Whether or not you've used sealant matters, as well. Craft acrylics can last years if sealed properly, while exterior paints (considerably stronger than acrylics) will fade and wear within weeks if not sealed. In general, if you prep, paint, and seal the rubber properly, you can expect the quality to last up to a decade. Commercial-grade paints may last even longer.
Painting rubber can yield impressive, lasting results when done properly. How you paint rubber depends on what kind it is, its purpose, and whether it will remain outdoors or indoors.
Most rubber projects, however, will call for the same three basic steps: great preparation with a thorough cleaning, applying the correct kind of paint for your surface, and sealing it for a beautiful, durable finish.