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Painting Faux Wooden Boards on Cardboard

Making a wooden crate is easier than you might think. It's just about following simple steps (precision is not a factor). I love using cardboard for my crates because:

a) Cardboard is the cheapest material you can use since most of us get it for free whenever we buy large items.

b) It's lightweight, so you can move it around and attach it to things very easily.

c) It's easy to cut out planks of wood for detailing of objects.

If you use smaller pieces of cardboard (about 4 feet by 2), the surface may warp. You can reinforce the back to keep it straight. Larger pieces (like the ones I use, especially if you keep the flaps on the ends) have never warped on me.

The picture to the left is an example of a crate painted onto a large cardboard box.

In my pictures below, I am using an old sheet of cardboard (about 6 feet high) from when we bought our shed. It's already been used in the past as a backdrop for a Halloween scene (hence the boards already on there). In the off season, my darling Yetch was using it as a backdrop while honing his air brushing skills.

This item has been prepped so that the left and right sides of this large sheet fold back. To create a clean fold, lightly drag a blade (box cutter) the length of the cardboard. DO NOT cut all the way through. Just score the surface. For mine, I scored it on the front of the cardboard because I want it to bend backwards. If you want it to bend forwards, you have to score it on the back.

Let's get started.

All you need really need is:

  • Cardboard
  • Black paint
  • White paint
  • A container with water
  • A big brush
  • A small brush

Step 1: Set Up

I find it easiest to prop the cardboard up so you're not bending over it while painting. You'll want to throw a tarp, newspaper or even more cardboard down on the floor to save the surface from any drips or spills.

Paint (especially spray paint) can create some wicked fumes, so make sure you're in a well-ventilated area.


Step 2: Paint the Background Black

Spray paint tends to be the easiest method to get your background black. You should know that if you're using this technique on styrofoam, you'll have to use a florist spray paint (normal spray paint will eat through the styrofoam and melt it away before your eyes).

No spray paint? Use a can of latex paint, some acrylics, or even large poster-sized sheets of black paper.

It doesn't have to be a solid black coverage. In fact, you can use the brown of the cardboard to your advantage since a hint of brown gives it a more realistic look.

You can see from the picture that I'm not worried about the blue spray paint still showing through. By the time I'm finished, it will blend in. Also, this crate will be used in low lighting.

You could actually just spray paint black lines instead of covering the whole area. Spray paint the lines that will act as the holes between the boards, and then paint with white (Step 3) directly on the cardboard. You will see the difference between the two techniques in the picture for Step 6.


Step 3: Board Graining in White

Pour a very small amount of white paint into a container. You will also need a splash of water. Technically, we're creating what's called a 'wash' effect. I like using a small plastic paint tray, putting the paint on one side and the water on the other. This is the first step to creating that woodgrain look.

Dab the tip of the brush in the paint, and then dip it into the water. Gently press the brush against the side of the container just as you would to wipe off extra paint. You simply want to remove a little of the excess water. Sometimes it's useful to have a paper towel to wipe some paint off the brush.


I like to do a quick test run on some extra cardboard to see if I have too much paint on my brush.

You want to create a streak effect. Not too much paint, not too little.

In the picture above (left) you can see two different streaks: the one going up and down has slightly too much paint. The one going left to right is more what we're looking for.

Don't panic if you put too much paint on a stroke. You can fix it by dry brushing (same technique: tiny bit of paint without the water) black paint over top once the white paint dries.

You want to apply the paint in smooth, long strokes. Try to make each paint stroke one consistent, flowing movement.

I suggest you paint the very top and very bottom horizontal boards first, then paint the vertical boards. Leave a bit of black showing between each board to create the illusion of a space and to make an outline.

Don't worry about making straight lines. Old pieces of lumber have curvy edges.


Step 4: Outlining in Black

Once you have your boards painted, use some black paint (NOT spray paint) to go back and clean up the outlines of the boards. You want to darken the spaces in between. It gives your boards a greater sense of depth/dimension.


Step 5: Highlight with White

Go along the edges of the boards with white. This makes the whole thing pop. Don't highlight the bottom or tops of the vertical boards (they are supposed to be tucked under the horizontal boards).




Step 6: Create Separate Boards

Cut out cardboard boards and paint them using the same techniques as above. Glue them to the front of the crate on angles. Paint nails onto them as if they've been nailed to the wood.

This is an example of the project I am working on as I write this (still in progress). The big round holes are actually cut out, but the smaller ones are painted. It's on its way to bigger and better things.

Remember how I mentioned that you could just add black paint as strips between boards instead of covering the whole area with black paint? You can see the difference in the picture.

Boards with no black background (just the black lines to separate the boards):

  • The top and bottom boards
  • the two additional boards that were glued on
  • the first two boards on the left

The remaining four boards to the right have black as the background.

That is painted with white paint and black paint. That's it. The browns come from the card board itself (of course, the tint of blue in spaces is courtesy of Yetch). I didn't even mix the black and white together at any point. It's really simple.

Of course, if you want to get a bit more advanced, you can.

Step 7: Knots, Knotholes and Further Detailing

Consider creating some knots. On a different project, I left a few patches of black showing through the white. I pressed the paint brush (dipped in the white wash just like I did for the planks) and twisted a white spiral in the centre of the black spot. I then touched it up with a bit of black paint.

To create holes, simply highlight black patches on the boards.

To give it a richer texture, I dry brushed/added some brown paint, and then added a dry brushed coat of black paint as well.