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How to color styrofoam balls.

There comes a time in every parent’s life when they must help a child assemble a molecular model of methane gas.

Naturally, styrofoam balls hooked together with lollipop sticks are the material of choice. The sole reason styrofoam was invented was so elementary school children could do science projects, bring them home, and put them in the back of the closet to be crushed under a dollhouse and a wad of dirty clothes. But how do you color the balls? Styrofoam is notoriously hard to work with. It melts under the weight of spray paints. Coloring balls with markers or crayons only leaves a little pile of white gritty foam on the table.

After a lot of trial and error, I found a great solution. I mixed about a tablespoon per ball of Elmer’s School Glue with a few drops of food coloring gel. I rolled the balls around in the dyed glue until fully covered. Then I skewered each ball with a plastic knife and drove the knife upright into small slits I made on the lid of a shoebox so the glue could dry overnight.

In the morning, the glue was dry and the colors were opaque and jewel-toned bright. The balls retained their shape. They were still porous enough that it was easy for my daughter to stab the lollipop sticks into the balls, hooking them together.

colored styrofoam balls

Glue-dyed styrofoam balls with plastic lollipop sticks

Methane was never more beautiful.

Thanks to Shannon for hosting WFMW. I am posting this at the very end of Wednesday, so as not to sully her nice tradition over there with trite and virtually useless advice. If I can help one parent and child who are out there, Googling like crazy in the waning hours of the evening, madly looking for styrofoam ball help and on the verge of a meltdown because IT’S DUE TOMORROW, then it is worth it.

12 comments to How to color styrofoam balls.

  • Wow I never would have thought of that! We’ve just painted them with paint in the past, but the results were less than stellar (given that we were making the solar system, that’s a pun, that is). What a jeenyus you are, Gretchen.

    Jenni’s last blog post..Numbers

  • Mom-of-mopsy

    I would have liked seeing Aidan’s methane project. How about a picture or is it already buried in the back of the closet?

  • Is it already at school? Because Mom-of-mopsy is right, we need photos.

    Heth’s last blog post..True Love

  • Shayne

    Duly noted and tucked away in my brain for when I reach that time in my parenting life! You’re so clever!

  • Jay

    God bless the internet! Search for something as obscure and unlikely as “how to color styrofoam”, and get an in-depth answer. For the record, my kid is in 4th grade and needs to do a cross-section of the earth. I was thinking of using hobby spray paint, like the ones used for the poly-carbonate bodies of the remote controlled cars, but glue is more accessible. Thanks.

  • Christina

    Thanks for the tip!

    I tried paint but it kinda flaked off (I think I used Tempra paint).

    I’ll try the glue method next!

    I put the paint in ziploc bags, added the balls and then retrieved them with wooden skewers and stuck them in a blob of spare foam to dry. (too much paint in the bag caused drips).

  • Thank you Thank you Thank you!!! I now know one more reason Styrofoam was invented. To make a model of animal cells. Somehow we made it to middle school with out the need to paint Styrofoam (how I’m not sure, with three kids, I thought we had done every project with every type of material known to man and the people at Michael’s). I now know that you can stick it together with toothpicks and that Popsicle sticks are great for painting the food color glue mixture. How did our parents help us with projects before Google. For pictures of the colors and the completed project you can go to my blog http://movinwritealong.blogspot.com/

    Twinzmommy’s last blog post..Searching

  • connie

    Great idea- thank you. We are making plankton for an under the sea project!

  • Lizbeth

    Yes, it was due tomorrow. Yes, there was a frantic trip to Michael’s. Yes, I Googled “color stryfoam ball”. Yes, it seems to work! But will it survive the bus and the locker? THANKS!!! It is soooooo comforting to know I’m not in this alone!

  • Meagan

    Thank you! I’ve also found that powdered makeup (like bronzer) works well to cover them if you spray them after with hair spray

  • I initially bought some styrofoam balls to glitter for Christmas, but I couldn’t wait. I’m using them for Halloween. This method works wonderfully. First insert barbecue skewers into the balls about one inch deep. Then, you can use elmer’s glue or mod podge matte with a hint of water in it. Add Acrylic Craft Paint to the glue mixture and stir well with a paint brush. I like the paint because it gives an “undercolor” for my glitter to sit on top of. Now just roll the ball in the glue/paint mixture and let it drip. You can let it dry and do one or two coats if you’re not glittering. If you just want color and no glitter, just add a lot more Acrylic Craft Paint. After they dried, I sprayed them down with a good coat of Dollar Store Aqua Net Hairspray. They look great! Tomorrow I will thread them onto a thin black ribbon knotted at the bottom and knotted also below every glitter ball then hang them from the ceiling with thumb tacks. My colors for Halloween are burnt orange, chestnut brown and black. Good Luck Everyone!

  • An afterthought: I did not have a large piece of styrofoam in which to place my glittered balls to let them dry, so instead I filled a heart-shaped candy dish with some buttery soft candle wax I happened to have and that worked out okay! Just remember to place newspaper underneath the whole area to prevent glue/paint getting on your surfaces. Thanks!

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