Applying Protective Coatings to Foam Carving and Cutting Projects – 5 Things to Consider

If you're in the foam cutting or carving business, you know the importance of the protective hard coating process (and if you do not, you should). For those just getting started in the industry, be aware that it's often an overlooked step that does not get the attention it needs. To avoid cost product failures and rework, proper preparation is absolutely critical. Let's assume that your foam piece is cut and you've selected the most appropriate coating for your project. Before you start spraying, there are a few things to consider that will help you avoid some of the most common application problems.

1. Thickness

Do not press that trigger until you know how thick you'll be applying your selected coating. The thickness of the coating will not only determine the durability of the final product, but it's also going to have an impact on the final weight of the piece and on your budget. Regardless of the type of coating, thicker coats are going to create a more durable final product, but this thicker coat will cost more in materials and will also add more weight. These kinds of factors must be considered so you know how much material is required to finish the job, and so you're not left guessing during the actual spraying.

2. Detail

Does your finished project require a high degree of detail? If it does, you'll want to ensure that you've exaggerated the depth of the foam carving to expect the thickness of the coating to be applied. Protective coating designs to smooth out details in the foam when it's applied, so deeper sculpting will help avoid the loss of detail in the final piece. Once the piece has been coated, intrete details can still be added with the use of materials like epoxy putty, but anticipating this detail prior to coating will save some time when it comes to manual sculpting.

3. Texture

Depending on the final look and feel you want for your product, there are a number of application techniques you can use. Before you start spraying, know the technique you're going to use and ensure that your work area is prepared for that particular technique. Perhaps your application technique will require you to stand at a certain distance from the piece, or maybe there are tricky areas that will require some creative spraying. Taking these types of things into account beforehand and planning ahead will help create a trouble-free application process, which translates into production efficiencies, less wasted material and a better end product.

4. Spraying environment

Even if you've considered everything you need to as far as technique goes, there are other external factors that can affect the quality of your coated piece. The environment in your spraying facility is one of these factors that can come back to bite you. When it comes to curing, some coatings can be fickle. Certain materials will not fully cure an an environment that's too hot, cold or humid. In some cases, weaknesses in your product caused by improper curing might not even show up until after the piece has been installed. Be sure that you know what conditions your coating material needs to be applied in, and ensure that the surfaces to be sprayed are properly prepared to accept the coating. Without adequate preparation, bubbling, cracking and peeling may be the result.

5. Equipment readiness

Ensuring that your equipment is operating properly would seem to be a no-brainer, but it's amazing how many projects run into serious problems thanks to misfiring equipment. Before every project, fully inspect your spraying equipment, checking all potential problem areas and running the required tests – including all health and safety considerations. Materials should also be inspected for proper mixing and temperatures. Do not forget to cycle material through your lines periodically to keep the lines primed. While you're spraying is not the time to find out that something is off, because at that point it's probably too late.

Like most things in life, problems with foam coating application can happen when you least expect them. Operators that get used to equipment functioning perfectly over a period of time can get complacent, and it's the one time when something is not checked properly that things go wrong. Unfortunately, things going wrong at the coating stage can mean the destruction of an entire project, so a little preparation goes a long way. With proper technique, training and preparation, your projects will be sure to impress.