I think we are all familiar with traditional Styrofoam crafting products. That rough surface that has tiny imperfections and holes all over. There is a new product on the market called Smoothfoam that I was sent to test out. I started with the Smoothfoam website which had this to say:
Smoothfoam is our brand name for molded EPS or Expandable Polystyrene. It is a smooth, closed cell foam, most commonly referred to as smooth Styrofoam ®. It is molded from tiny beads into many shapes like balls, bells, eggs, miniature fruit shapes and more. Because of its smooth surface it is excellent for painting. It is also very durable, making it great for projects requiring pins or glue.
Smoothfoam and Styrofoam are made by two different companies. While similar in appearance there is a clear difference when putting them side by side. The Smoothfoam is clearly smoother on the surface but there are still some imperfections. If you are expecting a completely smooth surface, you will not get that with Smoothfoam.
I decided to run my tests on these products side by side to get a fair comparison of how the two. Styrofoam is on the left and Smoothfoam is on the right again in the picture below. I painted, decoupaged, taped, glued, and anything else I could imagine one would want to do with these products.
I decoupaged a variety of materials to both surfaces including fabric, tissue paper, and various weights of card stock. I saw no difference after the products dry. There is a slight bumpy texture in the lighter weight materials once dry but that was present on both Styrofoam and Smoothfoam. As I said the Smoothfoam surface is actually not completely smooth.
The washi tape experiment failed on both samples (picture below has Styrofoam on the left and Smoothfoam on the right). I have wanted to use washi on some of my foam projects before and I thought Smoothfoam might answer my dilemma. But alas you will have to find another way to washi your foam. The hot glue worked equally well on both products with roughly the same amount of “melting” occurring with both products. Note the “CTD” on the samples below that was written with paint pen. The Smoothfoam is the clear winner if you are going to be writing with paint pen on your projects.
Are you ready for my paint experimenting? (NOTE: picture below has Styrofoam on the left and Smoothfoam on the right.) I tried to use roughly the same amount of paint on both samples. As you can see, the Smoothfoam covers better as you do not have the deeper crevices to cover with paint. But also note that you can still see the imperfections in the surface of the Smoothfoam. I also used some puff paint on both surfaces and both products performed equally well on that experiment. Neither product is recommended for use with spray paint and both will shrivel when sprayed.
Now lets cut both products and compare the results. I just used some foam tools from FloraCraft for this experiment which is basically a serrated knife with a small sanding tool. I will be doing some experiments right here on Craft Test Dummies over the next few months on different foam cutting tools so you all be sure to stay tuned for those as well.
I grabbed the Smoothfoam first and cut this piece in half. I sanded the one on the left while the one on the right is unsanded. The Smoothfoam was fairly hard to cut using the knife technique and made a huge mess. As you can see the inside when cut is anything but smooth. It was impossible to even out the cut even with the sanding tool as large chunks of the Smoothfoam would just break off.
Using those same tools I cut the Styrofoam. Again on the left is sanded and on the right is unsanded. The Styrofoam is much easier to cut and the results are much smoother. There was a mess with the Styrofoam but it was significantly less than the Smoothfoam. If you are going to work with cut foam and use tools similar to these, I would definitely say that you need the Styrofoam product. Again, we will be testing more cutting techniques later on Craft Test Dummies and I will be sure to test both products on those posts as well.
As I was making my projects for this post, I ran across another big difference in Smoothfoam and Styrofoam. One of the uses of either of these products is to stick things in like dowels, flowers, etc and the foam will hold them up. When sticking in my dowels for this project I realized that the Smoothfoam leaves a rather large hole around your object. The cells are bonded together I assume on the surface so when you are placing something like these dowels an entire piece breaks loose. Then if you need to re-position, it is impossible to use that hole a second time. The Smoothfoam will no longer hold in that same location.
I personally have never had that same issue with Styrofoam but I grabbed a ball to experiment a bit. You can see that the Styrofoam holds close to the dowel and it can be re-positioned several times before the foam is not usable in that area.
I painted a block of Smoothfoam white then masked off stripes for my American flag. I allowed the white to dry overnight before masking and painting. I will say on both the Styrofoam and Smoothfoam paint takes a while to dry. As you can see from my painter’s masking tape below, the adhesion of the paint to the Smoothfoam was also not excellent. Given I painted white over the white foam this was not a big deal for my project. But if I had been painting colored stripes I would have been very disappointed with the results.
Also there really is not way to mask areas properly. As I have mentioned, Smoothfoam is not completely smooth. So there are dips and crevices along the surface. My paint found every single one of those crevices under my tape. I just used a small brush to widen my lines and touch up the uneven edges.
I ended up making three projects with my Smoothfoam samples. Each of these will eventually be on my blog with a full set of instructions so stay tuned to The Country Chic Cottage for full project information. My first project is a cute little patriotic pot with Phoomph flowers (you can find a full review of Phoomph here). I used the Smoothfoam in my pot to hold up my dowel rods. Again I was not impressed with the hold of Smoothfoam as entire chunks break away from the surface when you are trying to insert something like a dowel.
Below you can see my entire painted American flag project. I am happy with the way it turned out after I touched up the uneven lines from masking with paint. I also covered the entire outside with patriotic ribbon. Again I did not have good luck cutting the Smoothfoam with the knife and was left with a horrible looking side on one end of my flag. If you look closely that side is to the right and you can still tell how uneven the cut is. Get the full tutorial on The Country Chic Cottage now.
My last project is a little something for Dad. I love the way that paint pens write on the Smoothfoam surface. I cut these coins from a stick of Smoothfoam and painted them with a few coats of gold metallic paint. This would be a great project for the kids. Dad will look great wearing one of these around on his special day. Learn how to make this kids crafts for Father’s Day here.
While Smoothfoam claims to be a smooth version of Styrofoam, I found the surface to be slightly smoother but definitely not smooth enough for most applications. Either one can be used with equal success in decoupage projects. For paint projects, Smoothfoam does perform better but be sure to keep in mind that paint adhesion and masking are difficult. If you need to cut a piece of foam to size for your project, Styrofoam is the clear winner. Also use Styrofoam for all of your projects where you will be sticking something into the foam and expecting it to stand up.
- StyroCutter Plus from Floracraft Product Review - August 19, 2013
- Styro Cutter from Floracraft Review - June 20, 2013
- Comparison of Styrofoam versus Smoothfoam - June 3, 2013
- Americana Glass Chalkboard Paint from DecoArt - May 20, 2013
- Decoart Patio Paint - April 29, 2013
- Phoomph for Fabric by Coats and Clark - April 19, 2013
- Fabric Mod Podge - April 3, 2013
- Fiskars Cuts+More Scissors - March 18, 2013
- Americana Clear Chalkboard Coating by Decoart - February 27, 2013
- Perfect Pearls Mists by Ranger - February 11, 2013
Dale Rose Stream says
Another very thorough test of the two ‘styrofoam’ products. You come up with a lot more tests than I ever would have thought of! Great job.
Julie McGuffee says
I’ve used Dow Brand Styrofoam for years and I use Smoothfoam too. It all depends on the project. For example, I love to cover Smoothfoam balls with glue then sprinkle with glitter. Smoothfoam doesn’t soak up (for want of a better term) the glue as much because it is more dense, so it would be my choice in this instance. Regarding cutting. I use a craft knife for cutting both products and if I’m cutting something thicker, I use a knife from the hardware store with a LONG break off blade. It leaves a nice smooth edge. If I’m cutting a straight line on a sheet, I cut against a metal ruler on a tempered glass surface. If you want to cut a ball in half, make a “pilot” cut first going as deep as possible, then use dental floss to cut thru the center that can’t be reached with the knife. (You can buy half Smoothfoam balls BTW.) Craft knives are obviously not appropriate for children. Cutting with a plastic knife can be made easier if you first rub the edges with candle wax. BTW, cheap plastic knives work just as well – but neither is great for either product, especially Smoothfoam because it is so dense. Hope these tips help.
What glue do you recommend to glue paper on the smoothfoam?
There is a glue from Beacon Adhesives called “Hold the Foam!” and it’s made specifically for polystyrene foam. However, you can use plain old white glue or Mod Podge if you are covering the whole thing, decoupage-style. And I wouldn’t be the Craft Test Dummy if I didn’t suggest you should practice a couple of swatches first to compare results for the way you want to use it. Have fun and good luck!
Hi Angie, I just found your comparison today and it’s so nice to see that somebody else actually cares about these things (I know I do). I actually did something very similar to what you did: I compared foam balls to spun cotton balls. Here are the results of my test if you are interested in reading:http://www.spunnys.com/craft-foam-balls/