Printing with Styrofoam

Printing with Styrofoam Trays


Stryrofoam printed fish

I am always looking at stuff around the house, things that are likely to end up in the trash, and seeing if I can devise a way to reuse them. Vegetable trays, those Styrofoam trays that come under prepacked vegetables from the grocery store, are one such item. What I have discovered is that they can be used to make fun stencils for printing – sort of along the lines of wood block printing. This is a great activity for younger children, but can be tailored for ages 4 to 14.

Styrofoam tray
Paints – I used metallic acrylic, but tempera would work

Styrofoam stencil - complete with puppy teeth marks!

Styrofoam stencil – complete with puppy teeth marks!

Paint brush
Optional: brayer and paint tray


  1. Create or find a design that can be used for the print. I looked for a fish design because with the metallic acrylics I have, I thought they would provide a nice shimmer to a fish.
  2. Take your vegetable tray, and cut it down so it is 2 flat with no edges.
  3. Lay your design over the tray, and with a dull pencil, trace the design. It will leave an indent on the soft Styrofoam of the tray below.
  4. At this point, you can cut around your design, or you can use the entire tray as your canvas. If you cut around your design and use it as a stencil, then the potential exists to create a picture with more depth, because you can layer different designs.
  5. Apply the paints to your design. It is best to use a brayer to put the paints on the design, as it will give a more uniform application of color, and you will be less likely to get areas of blotchiness. If you don’t have a brayer, a

    Fish Print – red layer of paint over a silver layer.

    paintbrush works just fine.

  6. It will take a couple of tests to determine the correct amount of paint, so don’t plan on perfect results on the first print. You will also have to test whether it makes sense to lay the paper over the design or to lay the design upside down onto the paper. Either way, rub gently all over the design, and then slowly peal the design away from the paper.



  1. If you make a stencil design, you can cut the printed design out and paste it onto another piece of paper.
  2. You could use the stencil design to decorate a brown paper bag and then use that as wrapping paper.
  3. For younger children, just cut out shapes, and print with those. You could do one layer of squares, then circles on top, etc.



Note: You may see that my stencil has a few holes in it. That is because my puppy stole it off the kitchen table and was about to tear it up. I rescued it before it became a pile of scraps.


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