How to Paint a Tarp: 9 Things You Will Need

paining a tarpaulin

Need your tarp to be less vibrant? Do you need it to retain less heat?

Whatever your reason for painting your tarp, it can be done with just a few simple steps, and a short list of materials.

You want to know how to paint a tarp, but I’ve got news; it has to be done meticulously. Paint on a tarp can either last for years to come, or it can have a small kink in the system that exposes a weak point. It works, but you just have to be prepared to put everything into it.

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Can You Paint a Tarp?

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You absolutely can paint a tarp, and you should. Tarps are some of the least expensive ways to make huge billboard-style signs, whether it’s for a homecoming or an event.

You can paint a tarp to celebrate a birth, hang on the side of your truck as an advertisement, and pretty much anything else you can put your creativity to.

That being said, it’s actually going to be hard to just take a bucket of latex paint and adhere it to a tarp. You’re actually going to have a better time using spray paint, which we’ll get into in a few minutes. Paint needs a lot of preparatory work to be able to stick to a tarp.

You have to realize that all tarps are chemically treated at some point or another throughout the process of making them. This is either to provide flame retardancy, waterproofing, or make them better for handling heavy loads.

There are many applications. You don’t want to ruin these chemical coatings, but you also need to open them up so that you can bind your paint to them. It’s a tightrope walk, but we’re going to show you how to do it.

Can You Spray Paint a Tarp?

Spray painting a tarp is actually the preferred method of any tarp painting.

Not only is it a lot quicker when you’re doing solid colors across the entire tarp, but it’s going to be a lot easier on your budget. Spray paint is cheap, and you can’t exactly overdo it in one area with too thick of a coat (not easily, at least).

What Type of Paint Do You Need?

What Type of Paint Do You Need?

Any kind of spray paint that is labeled “Adhesive spray paint” or something along those lines. It needs to be able to stick, because latex paint kind of sticks, but it also sits on top of whatever you’re spraying.

If one little chink in the armor comes undone, it would be easy to peel all of the paint off. With a tarp that’s going to be moving with the wind, this is a big concern.

Adhesive tape will stick to the actual tarp materials after we’re done with what we’re doing.

You’ll be able to actually put up messages and intricate designs without fearing that they’ll crack and chip easily. Now that you have that down, we’re going to get into the list of materials, and steps you need to get started.

What Kind of Tarp is Best for Painting?

Poly tarps are your go-to. These are polyethylene tarps, and the reason they’re best is because even after you break down the chemicals on the exterior, they’re very resistant and durable. These make them the perfect surface to adhere your paint to.

I wouldn’t recommend doing this on a cotton canvas or polyester canvas tarp, because once you break down those chemicals on the outside, the canvas materials aren’t as strong as polyethylene. They’re good tarps, just not for painting.

9 Things You Need to Paint Your Tarp

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If you’re serious about painting your tarp, you’re going to need a few things to get started. Let’s go over the list, and then get into why (and how) you’ll be using them.

  1. Masking Tape
  2. Tarp Cleaning Product (Transtar Cleaner)
  3. Rubber Gloves
  4. Empty Buckets
  5. Dry Cotton Towels
  6. Adhesive Paint or Spray Paint
  7. Adhesion Promoter
  8. Access to Hot Water
  9. Liquid Detergent (Designed for Grease-Cutting Power)

Painting always seems like an easy task… until you actually get down to the nitty gritty and do the painting. It’s exhausting, and needs to be done in a specific way to avoid bubbling, paint drops, and any other imperfections. Knowing that, let’s head into the list of what you need to do with all this stuff.

Are Painted Tarps Waterproof?

On their own, no, they are not. Most adhesive paint does not come with any waterproof properties, so you would have to waterproof the tarp yourself at the end. You can buy waterproofing spray from just about any hardware store and apply it yourself, it will just take extra curing time.

As a heads up, you always end up needing more than you think you do. I would recommend getting two cans of whatever spray you get just to be safe.

Step-by-Step Guide for Painting Your Tarp

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This is broken up into two phases: cleaning, and applying the paint/finish.

I cannot stress the importance of cleaning, so please, do not skip this step. Even if you just opened this tarp out of a package, you still need to go through with the cleaning steps to make sure your paint adheres to it properly.

Step 1 – Ready Your Solution

Put on those rubber gloves and get ready to mix your detergent in a bucket with some hot water. Poly tarps are extremely heat resistant, so you don’t have to worry about the water being too hot or anything like that. You just don’t want it boiling for the sake of handling it.

Clean the tarp in a garage or somewhere else that’s covered, since the last stage is going to require curing in a ventilated spot.

Step 2 – Wash Your Poly Tarp

Now it comes down to actually washing the tarp so you can prime it for painting. It’s not as simple as dumping the bucket on here and calling it a day; you have to go heavy.

Use a brush or cloth and scrub every inch of this tarp, going in even brush strokes as you move so you can be sure you didn’t miss a spot. Chemicals, dust, and other bits of debris linger on tarps, and if they’re present when you go to paint, you’re in for a rude awakening.

Step 3 – Rinse and Dry

This is our first rinse and dry. Use a hose or just some hot water in a bucket (no soap), and run it over the tarp to dry it out.

Because we’re trying to move along quickly here, it’s okay to use a few cotton rags and dry everything out, but be sure it’s dry or it will mess with the process.

Use a cloth to go around and inside of each grommet, as they’re usually a problem area where water gets trapped during a project like this.

Step 4 – Use Transtar Cleaner to Ready the Surface

Transtar is simply one of the best cleaner products out there for preparing your tarp for painting, because it’s designed to work with plastics like polyethylene without breaking it down.

This is where you will break down most of the chemical bond with any exterior products on the tarp, such as flame retardant chemicals or waterproofing spray. This is okay; it’s what’s supposed to happen.

Step 5 – Second Rinse and Dry

To get the remaining portion of the Transtar cleaner off, it’s time for a second rinse and dry. This time around, go even harder when it comes to drying this thing off, because it’s the last step before painting.

Step 6 – Use Masking Tape

This part is optional, but since many people paint tarps for design purposes or signs, it’s something that comes in handy more often than not.

Use masking tape to either secure the edges of the tarp to your garage floor so the paint is even with no creases/folds in the way, or use the tape to make letter stencils on the tarp. This gives you some time to get the letter sizes right, and then you can paint them in like a stencil.

Step 7 – Use Adhesion Promoter

Adhesion promoter is basically the same thing as primer, which gets a surface area ready to accept the bonding of paint. If you don’t use this, it’s going to come out in your results.

You might end up with cracking and easy fading, which would end up ruining the entire appeal of your painted tarp. Follow the guidelines on the adhesion protector that you purchased for application times.

Step 8 – Paint It Up

Now comes the part you’ve all been waiting for: painting. You can now use that adhesive spray paint you’ve been harboring, and make your designs.

I’m no artist, so I’m not going to make suggestions for this portion, just make sure that you do it right because there’s no erase button here.

Step 9 – Curing

Time to let it rest for a while. You have to let the entire tarp cure in a space where it can’t be altered or tarnished, such as the inside of a garage.

Make sure that there’s good ventilation to keep the paint fumes out, but no open windows since dust and debris could find its way onto the paint. Wait for three full days before even thinking about touching it.

Step 10 – Testing

Now it’s time to test your tarp. Go over it in the spots where the most paint was present, and gently touch the paint. Does it still feel wet? Is the paint on it moving when you touch it?

Use this time to decide if it needs more time to cure, and if not, then it’s time to let your tarp fly.

Painting Your Tarp For Less

Painting a tarp is a specific task, and so it requires a specific list of items. With everything we’ve laid out for you, you’ll be able to create designs on your tarps, or simply paint them a different color to deflect heat or work as a green screen.

It’s all up to you. If you need some new tarps or a few to get started, be sure to check out our wares for high-quality mesh and poly tarps to get the job going.