Painting Styrofoam to Make It Look Like the Planets

Creating a visual representation of the solar system is both informative and fun. Styrofoam balls make excellent planets since they are light, easy to hang, round, and available in many sizes. However, the challenges come in painting the Styrofoam since they are sensitive to some paint materials; for instance, some paints contain solvents that will melt the foam and make it a gooey mess when applied to Styrofoam, making creating a painting on the material impossible. But your model will be the talk of the town if you use the correct material, such as water-based paint and suitable ball sizes. Consider these valuable tips to help you construct the most impressive solar system model.

Before you get too excited and head out to your arts and craft stores to buy the materials for your solar system model, remember that acrylic paint is ideal for Styrofoam since it sticks effectively to the material. The porous nature of Styrofoam means that it requires multiple coats of paint to cover it completely. Using a foam brush, apply the first layer of paint and wait for the second coat to dry before applying the second coat.

Choose the size of your Styrofoam Balls

You’ll need ten balls of varying sizes to construct a solar system replica. It is impossible to accurately portray the ratio of the sun to the planets because it’s much larger in real life. Instead, choose the largest ball among the others to represent the sun. Styrofoam rings are also required if you plan on creating a ring around Saturn. To help you simplify your choices at the art crafts store buying your materials, here is a guide on the suggested size for each ball. For the sun, use a 6-inch ball, Jupiter’s 4-inch ball, Saturn’s 3-inch ball, and represent Saturn’s ring through the 3-inch-wide Styrofoam ring. Moreover, for Uranus, you can use a two 1/2-inch ball, Neptune a 2-inch ball. Each planet will have two one 1/2-inch balls, and one 1/4-inch sphere is the standard size for Mars; for Mercury, a 1-inch ball, and Pluto will need a 3/4-inch ball.  Check out our in-depth guide here.

Select the Proper Kind of Paint

Styrofoam Balls for Solar System

Using acrylic paint on Styrofoam is the best option because it won’t harm the Styrofoam and sticks nicely. Choose acrylic paint in a color of your choice at a craft store or online. Make sure you have enough paint to cover the entire Styrofoam surface. You can paint Styrofoam balls and small cubes with a small bottle of paint, around 2 ounces (57 g). Consider buying a larger container of paint for more extensive jobs so that you have enough for multiple coats. You may not know how much paint you’ll need, so pick a color that you can readily acquire extra if necessary.

Avoid using Spray paints since it tends to dissolve. Regular spray paints such as latex or enamel melt the foam away. Spray paints will distort the shape and texture of your Styrofoam, so avoid using them when painting it. The chemical content of the spray paint destroyed the Styrofoam.

Treat your Styrofoam if you must paint it with a paint that doesn’t stick. You can use a standard craft sealant like Mod Podge, or you can target the Styrofoam and use Foam Finish. Before painting the Styrofoam, apply the sealer using a foam brush or a standard paintbrush. With Foam Finish, you can eliminate Styrofoam’s imperfections by filling them in. Learn about drying periods and additional coat requirements by consulting the sealant’s instructions.

Steps for Painting

Father and Son Making Solar System Model

Step 1: Prime Your Planets

Styrofoam can be a bit absorbent, so you might want to start by priming your balls with a layer of white acrylic paint or a Styrofoam primer. This step is optional but can help the top coats of paint adhere better and appear more vibrant. Allow the primer to dry completely.

Step 2: Painting Your Planets

  1. Mercury: Start with a gray base. Once dry, sponge on lighter and darker shades of gray to mimic the planet’s cratered surface.
  2. Venus: Paint it a pale yellow, then add white and darker yellow streaks to represent its cloudy atmosphere.
  3. Earth: Begin with blue for the oceans, then add green for the continents. Use white to dab on clouds.
  4. Mars: Use a red-orange base coat, adding darker streaks and spots to represent its surface features.
  5. Jupiter: Start with a tan or light brown base. Add bands of darker brown, white, and red to recreate the gas giant’s stripes and the Great Red Spot.
  6. Saturn: Paint the ball a pale yellow or gold, adding subtle bands in lighter and darker shades. Don’t forget to create Saturn’s rings from a cardboard circle, painting them in shades of beige, white, and brown.
  7. Uranus: Use a light blue or turquoise, adding faint white streaks to suggest clouds.
  8. Neptune: Paint it a deep blue, adding lighter blue wisps for clouds.
  9. Pluto (though not a planet, it’s a fun addition): Paint it a light brown with patches of darker brown and white to reflect its icy surface.

For each planet, it’s helpful to insert a toothpick or skewer to hold it while you paint, allowing you to rotate the ball and paint the entire surface without smudging.

Step 3: Adding Details

Once the base coats are dry, go back and add any necessary details. This might include adding more defined cloud patterns on Earth or the ice caps on Mars. Use a fine brush for these details, and refer to your solar system reference for accuracy.

Step 4: Sealing the Paint

After your planets have completely dried, you may want to apply a clear sealant spray. This step will protect your paint job from chipping and give your planets a slight sheen, mimicking the celestial glow of the real ones.

Tips for Applying Paint

Dip your brush into the paint by placing it on a paper plate or scrap of paper and gather a small bit on your brush. Add only a little amount of paint to the plate at the start; you may always add more if necessary. Use a soft-bristle paintbrush instead of a foam brush if you don’t have one on hand. Dab a thin layer of paint on the Styrofoam with even strokes using your foam brush. Make sure you apply paint to any Styrofoam gaps or white patches to provide an even coat of paint.

Allow the paint to dry for 10-20 minutes before attempting to apply the second coating. The second layer of acrylic paint, for example, can be used on the Styrofoam around 10 minutes after applying the first one. After the initial layer of paint has set, if any white specks are still visible on the Styrofoam, you might need to apply a second layer of paint to cover them up. To check if the paint is still wet, touch the Styrofoam with your finger.

To achieve the desired effect, apply extra coats of paint. Continue painting the Styrofoam with even coats of color with a foam brush, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next layer. Let your Styrofoam dry a few more times before calling it a day and moving on to the next project.

Tips for Applying Paints to Each Individual Styrofoam Ball

Paint your Styrofoam balls first before transforming them into planet models. Using water-based acrylic paints and artists’ paint brushes is the simplest method for painting your planets. You may also use Water-based latex house paints, but they’re more expensive because you’ll need more of each color than you’ll use. Instead of oil-based paints, if you have an airbrush, you can use water-based paints. When you start painting your Styrofoam balls, here are the essentials that you should need: Artist’s paint brushes in the small and medium range, some toothpicks, white color adhesive, and rinsing liquid in a cup. The following acrylic paints in the following colors are also required to capture the image of each planet, bright yellow for the sun, deep orange and tan for Jupiter, and represents Saturn ring by light green and coral.

Furthermore, Neptune’s and Uranus’ terracotta and moss green hues, green and blue, are the colors of Earth. While Venus is represented with a deep blue hue, and Mars is represented by the bright red color of its surface. Mercury’s color is orange and purple for Pluto.

This activity is a great way to teach youngsters about science and the arts at the same time. The activity stimulates children’s imaginations and encourages them to ask questions. You can use this project to teach your kids not only the order of the planets and the names of each one but also some of their features. Your youngster will feel proud of themselves after completing the solar system activity and have learned much about the universe.

Final Assembly

Father and son putting spikes into styrofoam planets when painting it for Solar System project

 

Once all your planets are meticulously painted and sealed, transforming them into a cohesive solar system model is the next exciting step. This phase allows you to bring the cosmos into your space, showcasing your artistic and educational endeavor. Here are some ideas and tips for assembling and displaying your solar system model:

  1. Creating a Hanging Mobile: One popular way to display your planets is by creating a hanging mobile. Use a sturdy coat hanger or a circular frame as the base. Attach fishing line or thin string to your planets, varying the lengths to simulate the planets’ different distances from the sun. Hang your mobile from the ceiling in a classroom, child’s bedroom, or study area. This not only serves as a decorative piece but also as an educational tool, providing a visual representation of the solar system’s layout.
  2. Solar System on a Shelf: If mobility isn’t your goal, arranging your planets in order on a shelf is a great static display option. Use stands or small containers to elevate each planet, creating depth and dimension. Label each planet to provide an educational aspect to your display. This method is ideal for libraries, classrooms, or as a conversation-starting centerpiece in your living room.
  3. Creating a Planetary Parade: For a more linear approach, consider mounting your planets on a long, narrow base, such as a wooden plank or a shelf, to create a “planetary parade.” Space the planets according to their relative distances from the sun to give a sense of the vastness of our solar system. This method works well on a mantelpiece, windowsill, or along a hallway, serving as both an art piece and a learning aid.
  4. Interactive Display: If you’re looking for a more hands-on educational experience, consider creating an interactive display. Mount each planet on a base with a dowel that allows them to spin. Accompany each planet with a small card detailing key facts about it, such as its composition, orbit period, and any significant moons. This setup encourages engagement and can be an excellent addition to a classroom or a child’s play area.
  5. Digital Enhancement: For a modern twist, incorporate QR codes into your display. Each code can link to a webpage or video with more information about the corresponding planet. This is a fantastic way to blend traditional crafting with digital learning, providing a comprehensive educational experience.
  6. Lighting: Adding subtle lighting can elevate your solar system model to new heights. Consider placing small LED lights beneath or behind the planets to create a glowing effect, simulating the sun’s light reflecting off each planet. This not only enhances the visual appeal of your display but also emphasizes the beauty and mystery of the solar system.
  7. Planetary Pathway: If you have access to a garden or outdoor space, creating a planetary pathway can be a unique way to display your model. Arrange the planets along a path, spacing them relative to their orbits. This not only makes for an intriguing garden feature but also provides a physical sense of the distances between planets.

When assembling and displaying your Styrofoam solar system model, the possibilities are as vast as the universe itself. Whether you choose to hang your planets from the ceiling, arrange them on a shelf, or create an interactive educational display, your model is sure to inspire awe and curiosity about the wonders of space.