If you’re considering using foam core boards in an upcoming project, here is everything you could possibly need to know about this useful material.
Let’s start with the basics of foam boards: what they are, what they’re made of, what features they offer, and what sizes they come in.
Foam core is a display and printing material that consists of a dense foam core sandwiched between two sheets of matte paper. The foam core is typically made from polystyrene, one of the world’s most common types of plastic that is also used to make styrofoam. Because the polystyrene core of foam board is 95-98% air, foam core boards are incredibly lightweight.
There is no difference between foam core and foam board; they both refer to a printing and display board made from a foam core between two sheets of paper. You may also see this material referred to as foamcore, foamboard, paper-face foam, or kappa depending on the manufacturer and region.
One source of confusion about this terminology could be that gator board, a different printing and signage material, also has a foam center. The difference between gator board and foam core boards, however, is that gator board has a face made from wood-fiber veneer. You can learn more about the differences between gator board vs. foam core along with other materials in our blog post comparing common signage materials.
Foam core has many useful traits that make it one of the most versatile materials for signs and displays. Here are a few of the material’s notable characteristics:
- A heavy duty poster board – In comparison to other types of poster board, which are typically malleable and have no solid core, foam core is very sturdy. Foam core is rigid, lies flat on its own, stays straight when propped up or hung, and resists bending and curling. This is the material you should use if you need a hard poster board.
- Super lightweight – While foam boards may be slightly thicker than other types of poster board, the foam core contributes to virtually no difference in its weight. Foam core boards are incredibly light which means they can easily be transported, displayed and stored.
- Easy to print and cut – Foam core boards make for a great material for printing and cutting. Photos and designs can be printed directly onto foam core, and the boards can be neatly trimmed to just about any shape.
- Many finishing options – You can easily opt to laminate or frame your foam core board. You can also find foam core boards with a variety of finishes from glossy to textured to matte.
- Low cost – Foam core boards are some of the least expensive printing and display materials on the market. Their low cost makes foam boards ideal for short-term or large-scale projects.
While we love foam core for its versatility and ease of use, it’s not the right material for every project. Here are some disadvantages of foam core to consider:
- Foam core should not be exposed to the elements – Foam boards will warp, discolor, and disintegrate if exposed to prolonged sunlight or moisture. You should not use foam boards for permanent outdoor displays. Furthermore, you should avoid displaying them in damp indoor environments like a kitchen or bathroom.
- Foam core is slightly acidic – You should not mount archival materials on foam board, as the chemical composition of the plastic will degrade the artifact over time.
- Foam core is hard to recycle – Foam boards have a polystyrene core, which is the same plastic composite that makes styrofoam. Polystyrene is among the hardest plastics to recycle. Even if you put it in the recycling bin, chances are it will end up in a landfill. Furthermore, foam core is not biodegradable. If you are looking for a 100% recyclable printing material with a similar price point, check out Coroplast. Another 100% recyclable, more durable option is Ultra Board.
- Foam core does not resist wear and tear – Foam core cannot take a beating. It could easily be snapped over your knee, dented by a slight fall, or punctured with a fingernail. So handle your foam core boards with care!
Foam core boards are not meant for permanent outdoor display, as they will quickly degrade when exposed to moisture or prolonged sunlight. However, if the weather is nice and dry, temporarily displaying your foam core boards outside won’t do them any harm. Just make sure to fasten them to something heavy so the wind doesn’t blow them away! And be sure to take the foam core boards in for the night – even a slight morning dew could damage the paper faces of the boards.
There are no strict or enforced standards for poster sizing, but many companies have come around to using the same standard foam core sizes. The standard sizes for foam core boards are as follows:
- Standard poster board size is 22″ x 28″ – This is the standard foam poster board size you will generally find in the aisle of your neighborhood craft supplier or supermarket.
- Foam core thickness generally ranges between 3mm to 5mm (1/8th to 3/16ths of an inch). Some heavy-duty foam core for special purposes can have a thickness of 10mm or 20mm. We at Coastal Creative carry foam board in 3/16″ and 1/2″ thicknesses.
- Large poster board size is 36″ x 48″ – Large foam boards may not be available in many supply stores, but most large format printing businesses will have some in stock.
- Oversized foam core boards can be as large as 8′ x 4′ – Only specialized printers (like us!) will have foam core boards this size in stock; if you require a foam core board of this size, it may need to be special-ordered. However, even massive foam core projects can be assembled from many smaller pieces of foam core, which will make the product much easier to print and transport.
- Standard movie poster size is 27″ x 40″ – Foam boards are a common choice for movie poster prints.
Keep in mind that foam core board sizes vary depending on the manufacturer. Furthermore, don’t fret if the size you need wasn’t listed here. Foam core boards can always be cut to the exact dimensions you need.
Because it is so lightweight, rigid, and inexpensive, foam board is an incredibly versatile material. Here are some of great foam core board projects you may have a use for someday soon.
Printed foam core signs and boards are ideal presentation pieces to get that message across in your business endeavors. These high quality boards are best suited for business or scholastic presentations, lectures, and trade shows. Businesses often create custom foam board signs for special events, or to advertise sales to their customers.
Here are some of the most common purposes for which our clients order custom printed foam core boards:
- Companies & Offices
- Meetings and reports
- Employee celebrations
- Displays of the company mission and goals
- Lobby decor
- Shops & Businesses
- Aisle markers
- To advertise sales
- Menu boards
- Education & Community
- Science fair and research projects
- Photo galleries
- Event advertisements
- Temporary wayfinding solutions
- Trade Shows & Conventions
- Branded imagery
- Dynamic sets and backdrops
- Overhead hangings
- Portable signage
- Companies & Offices
Sometimes foam core is used on a much smaller scale the case of architecture or prototyping projects. The ability to cut the foam core along with it’s durability makes it an ideal material for these types of small scale project.
When should you print your signs onto foam board and when should you use a more permanent material? The best use of signs printed on foam board is for temporary use. The great example of temporary foam board signage would be for a sale or special at a business. Another great use for foam core signage would be for advertising upcoming events, like for a book signing, guest speaker, or auction. Foam core boards are also great as a visual aid to a presentation!
Conferences will often use these signs to show which conference rooms are being used for a seminar. When presenting at a tradeshow, companies will use foam core signs at their booth to promote their products. In all of these cases the boards are only being used one time or only for a few days. Foam core can get banged up if it is not taken care of, so you must pay careful attention to the boards when transporting them.
But foam core signs are good for permanent use as well! Especially if they will be displayed somewhere where they will not be touched, like suspended from ceiling rafters, foam boards can make for a wonderful, lightweight and permanent signage solution. In our experience of foam core sign printing, we’ve found that foam boards make excellent aisle markers:
Foam core boards can be displayed any number of ways. How you choose to display your foam core board depends on the size of your foam core print and the overall look you would like the sign to achieve.
Hanging foam board on a wall is easy. If your foam core prints are relatively small (less than 1sq foot), you can use tape or tacky to adhere them to your desired surface for a quick, temporary exhibit. Just keep in mind that whatever adhesive you use may leave a residue!
For a more permanent way of hanging foam core prints on a wall, we love the look of wall mounts. The mounts are adhered to the back of the print, which allow you to hang the prints from a pin in the wall. This display solution is ideal if you plan to rearrange the foam core prints, as you won’t damage them by removing and rehanging them. It also gives your print a neat, free-floating look.
If you do not want to hang your foam core prints for a wall, you have a number of other options for foam core stands and display methods. You can always display your foam core print on an easel or other type of stand. Another good choice for suspending foam core prints from the ceiling is grommets, provided you don’t mind puncturing the print in the corners. Alternatively you can purchase free-standing foam core prints, which come with a built-in standing mechanism:
And remember, foam core looks amazing and lasts virtually forever when framed! For more information about printing photography and art onto foam core, read on to the next section or check out our blog post about foam core mounting.
Foam board is beloved by artists, photographers, and exhibitors as an inexpensive yet very attractive material for displaying their work for short-term, promotional, or personal purposes. And if you have a favorite band or movie, foam board poster printing is a great way to display the album artwork or movie poster in your home.
Foam board photo prints typically come with either a matte or glossy finish, just like with photo paper. Pick the finish that works best for the image and your preferred display method.
- A matte finish is resistant to finger prints and glare-free. Matte also has soft and subdued appearance, even through glass. Black ink tends to take better to matte paper than to glossy paper, so photographs with many dark elements with subtle differences will look best on matte-finished foam board. Matte finishes can, however, give certain photographs a grainier look than might be desirable – especially if the image contains many high-contrast elements.
- Glossy finishes may be prone to finger prints and glare but have the advantage of repelling moisture. A gloss finished foam board print is a popular choice for high-contrast or high-saturation photos. The glossy finish has something of an eye-catching, promotional aesthetic, which is ideal for movie posters, album artwork, or a magazine cover.
Of all the high quality board printing options from gator boards to dibond prints, foam core is the most economical. It is ideal for temporary use, although it can be used for longer periods with the right care. There are many options available when you choose to print on foam core including double sided printing, lamination, or heavy duty thickness. Here is everything you need to know about the foam board printing process, from selecting your options to cutting the board to where to buy the material in the first place.
When it comes to foam core posters, we recommend professionally printing directly onto the foam board and not pasting a paper cut-out onto it. This lends the finished product a sleeker look and prevents the separation and bubbles that can occur when you paste paper onto a board. You can print pretty much anything that can be uploaded to a computer to print, such as all photographs, graphic designs, and text.
When you order foam core boards from custom printers, they will offer you many more options than just custom digital foam core printing or different board sizes, there are a multitude of other options available. We are most familiar with our own process, so we’ll go off of our own options.
Double-sided foam core printing
When you order a foam board print, you can choose single-sided printing or double-sided foam core printing for an additional cost. Double-sided prints on foam board can be extremely useful if the print will be seen from both directions, like when hanging from the ceiling.
Another use of double-sided foam core prints would be during a presentation. Then you can flip the board around to use as a visual aid for other topics. When you use double-sided foam core printing, you can save yourself the cost of purchasing a second foam core board. Not to mention, you’ll save space and cut down on plastic!
Laminated foam board prints
Want to extend the life and quality of your foam core board? Consider laminating your foam board print. This will increase the life span of the board and give it a more polished finish. The lamination does add an extra cost in most cases, but if you want your foam core print to last longer, it could be a great addition.
Heavy duty poster board
Instead of the standard 3/16” foam core board material, you can usually upgrade to a 1/2” foam core board. This makes the board more durable, longer lasting, and less prone to bending and creasing. Sites such as ours offer this option for an additional price so consider how long you’ll be using the board for and who you’re trying to impress with the presentation.
Cutting foam core is a straight-forward process since the material is rigid but not dense. Foam board can be cut to any shape or size using a knife, saw, or router. This makes it an excellent option for life-sized standee cutouts. You can use more precise tools to get more intricate cuts or for smaller foam core projects like architectural models.
Foam core should always be cut with caution and only with proper supplies. The best way to cut foam core only requires a few tools, and can for the most part be done without professionals. To cut foam core on your own, you will need:
1. A modeling knife with an ample supply of sharp blades. Single-edged razor blades will also work if you don’t have the modeling knife.
2. A machinist’s square.
3. A metal yardstick to get the right angle and accuracy when performing longer cuts and unique bends.
4. A large piece of cardboard underneath the foam core to use as a cutting surface. If you have a special work surface or mat for these purposes, that will of course work too.
5. A flat work table. Avoid unstable conditions while cutting foam core, especially because you are using sharp blades
Make sure all the safeguards are in check before you start cutting the foam core boards. Mark your cuts before hand with a pencil so that if you make mistakes they can be erased and corrected. For the first cuts you’ll only want to cut the top layer of the board, just penetrating the paper surface.
When the top cut looks accurate you can go through the cut again a second time with a deeper cut all the way through the board. For the final cut you’ll want to cut all the way through the board from end to end and penetrate the final layer of paper. Inspect your blades after your first couple of cuts and put on new ones if they look dull. If the blades aren’t sharp you risk tearing the paper.
Foam core can be cut to create many beautiful and intricate works of art! Check out this amazing set design we printed onto foam board and cut for San Diego’s Globe Theater. Hard to believe it’s made entirely from foam cutouts, right?
If you’re wondering where to buy foam board, you needn’t search long. Foam core can be bought at many office supply and some big box stores, but it is usually in restricted sizes and blank. If you don’t need anything more than the standard sizing and need small quantities quickly, then your local office supply store works just fine.
When you need custom cut foam core boards, however, you’ll want to look to specialists that can cut your sizes custom for you, especially if you want larger quantities. Online printing companies, such as ours, can do custom foam board printing and cutting to your exact specifications and quantities. If your print is complicated and the desired shape intricate, its best to leave both the cutting and the printing to the experts so they can do it safely for you. Specialist printing companies such as ours can give you precisely cut boards, perfectly printed, and delivered to you safely and quickly.
More on foam core board prints
Feel free to contact us for more information and questions on custom foam board printing. We offer high quality printing that includes all of the options discussed in this guide, and you can check out everything including foam core pricing on our product page.
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