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Frugal Interior Design- Make Large Decorative Words from Cheap Foam Letters

Updated on December 31, 2012
painted foam letters make nice decorative letters
painted foam letters make nice decorative letters

I love the look of decorative letters that form inspirational words that many people are hanging on the wall, sitting on shelves and mantels and things like that. They really make a home feel more warm and inviting. I would love to decorate my home using some of these decorative letters and words but they are much too expensive for me so I've been thinking of ways I could make my own which of course is much cheaper. So I was browsing in Hobby Lobby the other day and noticed these large foam letters and immediately the light bulb came on... I can use these to make my decorative letters! To my delight, they were only 1.27 a piece so I decided to grab 5 of them and do the word "Dream". They even had mounting stickers on the backside of each one which I knew just may come in handy if I wanted to mount them on the wall. This was SUPER easy to do and the letters turned out great! The only draw back is that they are made from foam so you do have to be careful not to dent or scuff them. Once you are finished with them and have them hanging on the wall or sitting on a shelf, this shouldn't be a problem.

4 inch foam letters
4 inch foam letters | Source
sticker pads on the back
sticker pads on the back

Supplies You Need::

  • Large foam letters (the ones I got were 4 inches and about an inch thick)
  • Sandpaper
  • Paintbrush
  • White acrylic paint for the primer
  • Acrylic paint in your choice of color for the main color.. I used black. The paint you use MUST be water based
  • Water based Sealer or Varnish (optional)

Important Note about Painting on Foam

Before getting started, I wanted to talk just a bit about painting on foam. It would seem that taking a can of spray paint to the letters would be the easiest way to get the job done but DON'T DO IT!! The chemicals in the spray paint will eat away at the surface of the foam and you will end up having letters that closely resemble the face of Freddie Krueger! Your best bet is to use paints that are water based like acrylics or tempera. I read that enamel house paint works too. If you really want to use a spray paint, Krylon has a H2O spray paint out now that is water based and I read it is OK to use as well.

foam letters painted with the white paint for primer
foam letters painted with the white paint for primer | Source

Step 1- Prime

The letters were the perfect size but they were not the ideal color. I had the choice of blue, yellow or red. I wanted to get them all in yellow but some of the letters were out of yellow so I ended up having to get two of the letters in red. I knew that they needed to be painted but since they were both different colors I wanted to prime them really well and get them all the closest shade of white that I possibly could before I painted them the main color. I painted the yellow ones with two good coats of white paint and the red ones with three coats. The white paint covered them nicely and they were all the same shade of white when I was finished. It was just plain ole flat white Apple Barrel paint in a 2 oz bottle.

after a couple of thick coats of black paint
after a couple of thick coats of black paint

Step 2 - Paint

Since all the letters were all pretty much the same shade of white I decided to go ahead and start painting them the main color which was black. At first, I wanted them to be a metallic black color but when I tried to paint them that color, it didn't look right. It wasn't wanting to fully adhere for some reason so I dug around in my paint box and found a good full 2 oz bottle of Delta Ceramcoat in regular black and so I painted a good coat of black on each one, making sure to get into all of the crevices inside the letters as well and then let them dry. I then painted one more coat of black just to make sure to get good coverage and then sat them aside to dry again.

sanded letters
sanded letters

Step 3 - Sand

I could have stopped here because the letters actually looked great but what I went ahead and sanded over the first two coats of black paint on just the front of each letter. I wanted to build up a few coats of paint on them just to help protect them a bit from small scuffs and dents. I sanded them very carefully with fine grit sanding paper and then wiped off the dust with a damp paper towel.

after final coat of black paint
after final coat of black paint

Step 4 - Final Coat of Paint

I did one more good and thick coat of the black ceramcoat paint on the front of each letter and then sat them aside to dry.

If you choose you can add a clear coat or varnish for a more glossy finish or you can even use Mod Podge if you wanted but I chose to leave mine flat because the letters were very smooth and took the paint very well so I didn't think they really needed anything else. As mentioned above, if you do decided to use a gloss or varnish, be sure to use only water based paints only.

There is one more thing I want to share that happened accidentally but turned out to be a great effect. I used an older paint brush to paint them and the bristles were starting to separate a bit so it was causing the paint to have subtle lines where I put strokes of paint but what was so neat was that after the letters dried it looked like very subtle wood grain under the paint. This made the letters look more like wood and look a bit more sturdy than they actually are.

deco elements in line divider courtesy of green_eyed_butterfly via Deviant Art
deco elements in line divider courtesy of green_eyed_butterfly via Deviant Art

So for around six bucks I got five decorative letters that spell the word Dream that I can either hang on my wall or display on a bookshelf. I am definitely looking forward to making some more of these. I can see Faith, Hope and Love in my near future. For the price, you just can't beat it and they really do look great!

If you are inspired and would love to make some for your home, I know for sure you can get the foam letters at Hobby Lobby online for the same price plus shipping, of course. I am sure you can find these letters at other places as well.

Happy Crafting!!!


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