Can you paint acoustic panels or foam? Can you do it yourself? Is it OK to paint acoustic panels?
We’ll get to the cans and the cannots a little later. What you need to know before painting them is how to preserve the quality of their intended purpose!
But technically, YES! You can paint acoustic panels or foam PROVIDED that the paint you use won’t enfeeble its absorptive characteristics, or the foam is made to allow such customizations. The objective should be to retain the true effectiveness and integrity of your acoustic foam or panel after it’s been painted on.
While it’s entirely possible to paint them, it’s highly advised against it because the paint may clog up the open-celled structure of the panels or foam and impact absorption.
Should I Paint Acoustic Panels or Foam?
You should not paint your acoustic panels or acoustic foam just like that. If it’s the appearance that bothers you, you can opt for better ways to enhance the aesthetics (discussed later). Acoustic polyurethane foams contain tiny bubbles throughout the foam as well as on the surface. Absorption is due to this open cellular structure as they trap air (carrying sound waves) in and dissipate their energy into heat.
This is how acoustic panels and foams work as a function of their surface porosity. When you paint the surface, you basically block or limit the penetration by filling in these pores with paint. This can seriously impair the absorption efficiency of acoustic foam or panels.
Acoustic Panels vs Foam
Acoustic panels and foams both operate on the same principle of physics, i.e., absorption. They simply limit the number of waves that bounce off the hard surfaces by absorbing them.
Acoustic panels or foams are located at critical treatment points to prevent unwanted reflections and mitigate noise. Amongst the two, acoustic panels have a somewhat “sophisticated” look as they’re mostly covered in fabric. While on the other hand, acoustic foam usually has valleys and hills that seem ugly to most.
Can You Paint Acoustic Panels?
Acoustic panels are just foam framed in wood with a fabric cover at the front. This fabric acts as an additional absorbent before the sound waves reach the inner foam, which is why it needs to be more “inviting”.
Remember that acoustic panels are not meant for soundproofing. Rather, they manage sound in a space and reduce noise, echoes, and reverberations by absorption.
Painting your acoustic panels is risky! But there’s a silver lining with acoustic panels, you can change the fabric cover even if you’ve destroyed it with non-breathable paint.
Can You Paint Acoustic Foam?
Both acoustic foams and panels have foam at their base, and as explained earlier, the open cell structure needs a wide and proper passage for air to come through. You shouldn’t paint and fill the pores as it’d interfere with air resistance.
You cannot obstruct this passage if you need them to absorb mid to high frequencies and dissipate noise as effectively as they should. Some have had success with emulsion paints, but again, it is highly recommended not to paint acoustic foam in any case!
How Much Will Painting Acoustic Panels or Foam Affect Performance/Absorption?
Let’s explore the degree of damage paint can do to your acoustic treatment with the example of acrylic paints. Acrylics are known for their waterproof qualities and robust composition consisting of acrylic polymer and strong pigments. The polymer is just plastic in the layman’s language and would create an opaque film over the foam to keep out water and air.
So, regardless you paint acoustic foam directly or paint the fabric of acoustic panels, the paint will seep into the pores and block them to keep air and water away. This means no penetration through them and, resultantly, no absorption.
Other than acrylics, most kinds of paint are similarly pigmented liquids that are designed to cover or coat all cracks and gaps on a surface.
Also, painting to get a fine finish and even color will require putting multiple coats on the foam and through this, the foam will get pretty stiff. Stiffness, again, goes against the whole purpose of the foam and would even make the surface more reflective than absorptive.
Hence, it’s better to avoid painting your acoustic panels or foam. But if you have to paint them, do it with a paint that has properties tailored to allow absorption through their open-celled structure.
So, will applying paint to acoustic panels or foam affect performance? Can applying paint to acoustic foam or panels decrease its absorption? Yes, and yes!
Which Paint to Use?
When you need your acoustic foam or panels to look better, the first thought would be to paint them up. Which, as said earlier, is not quite a doable job but won’t be much fruitful. Remember, the end results depend mainly on the application and your intended outcome.
Colors, ballistic/reflection coefficient, shine, smoothness, etc. are some of the common things people wish to add to or change about their acoustics. The reflection/ballistic coefficient is way more imperative than the visual appeal of an acoustic panel.
Now, what kind of paint should be used to paint acoustic panels or foam?
You should opt for paints that are designed for sound absorption and insulation. You can find them labeled as “noise control paints”, but they give a rather flat/matte appearance to the panel. The reflective coefficient is also between 1 or 0.1%.
Besides, you can also use any latex paint as long as you keep the coat no thicker than an eggshell. You need to be careful to pick paint that won’t melt your acoustic foam. Get one that reads H2O because most paints have harsh solvents that may dissolve foam.
What Is the Recommended Method of Painting Acoustic Foams or Panels?
There are two main ways you can paint your acoustic panels or foam.
Spray Painting (Recommended)
This is a job for someone with steady hands! The painter needs to be careful not to clog up fissures and perforations on the surface with over-painting. Sound waves enter the foam and get absorbed through these perforations or openings.
Spray paint will reduce the noise reduction coefficient (NRC) by .05 to .10. Moreover, you should use a dedicated sprayer as the paint may be too thick for consumer compressors/sprayers.
The right way to spray-paint an acoustic panel or foam is to move the gun back and forth and keep the stream directed perpendicularly to the surface. This will give you an even coat and prevent the need to layer more paint up.
Furthermore, lay the panel flat so the paint doesn’t rest in half a pore and use pre-thinned paint that ideally should be diluted with a ½-1 cup of water for 1 US Gallon. Keep the paint and air controls to 50%/30% level and shoot 1-second bursts aiming from 7-9 inches distance. To retain maximum absorption, spray only one coat!
This method is recommended neither for acoustic panels nor foam. This is because it is extremely difficult to keep the film/coat thin when applying with a brush, and we have already established how crucial it is to preserve the porous surface for best absorption.
However, if you have to use this method, take good care while removing all loose dust and keep the coat as thin as possible. More dilution can also help, but remember that every coat impedes the acoustic performance of the panel!
If your panels or acoustic foam is new, you may try this method. But you won’t be able to avoid sealing the saturation or surface of the old foam. Hence, it’s probably better to stick to spray paints or other alternatives.
Alternatives To Painting Acoustic Panels or Foam?
After looking at possibly all that you should not do to your acoustic panels or foams, here are some better and more practical alternatives to liven them up. If you want to hide or change their appearance, you can;
This is probably advice for those who are yet to buy their acoustic treatment (or for when you buy your next ones). Shop from a brand that offers to dye their foam in different colors or the type of treatment that allows such future modifications. You can also;
- Buy Colored Acoustic Panels
Yes, the cheaper way sure is painting your acoustic panels and foams yourself, but you can get colored acoustic panels with a little more investment!
You may carefully plan and decide the room around them. You can also get designer or printed ones to add an artistic feel to the space. It’s always better to embrace them rather than hiding. Designer acoustic panels are available in plenty of sizes to choose from and significantly lift up a room’s whole vibe.
This, however, is a noticeably expensive route. So, if your budget can be stretched, go for this!
- Buy Flocked Acoustic Panels
Flocking is done to either upgrade the aesthetics or to improve the acoustic qualities of a panel. It is cost-effective and will not affect the panel’s performance. They add extra tiny fibers to trap sound waves carried by air and consequently increase insulation. This textile technique includes adding a thin layer of fur/fuzz to give a suede-like finish (if fibers are too small) that allows surface penetration.
A spray adhesive firmly holds the texture of the drapery fabric to the panel with static electricity at the micro-level. You can pick the color you want and enjoy the better sound with better visuals!
Dye the Fabric
Rather than painting, you can easily dye fabric without creating a layer of paint that will sit on and block the surface. The best part? You can do it yourself! You can get as creative as you want with these. To be more careful, you can pick fabric paint that is designed for acoustic panels and use a primer to prepare the surface.
So it seems you can paint acoustic foams and panels, but it’d do you no good in most of the cases. One can say it’s a possible yet touchy proposition!
The best way to reduce their “ugliness” or change the face is to either build your own acoustic panel as you like, cover the foam with fabric, or go for one of the alternatives mentioned in the article. The bottom line? Avoid using paints in any form on your acoustic foam or panels!