Choosing the Right Protective Coating

Some Food for Thought

January 26th, 2018

With the vast array of protective coatings available for 3D foam carving and cutting projects it can seem daunting to select the right material for your needs. As a general rule of thumb, there are five factors to consider when choosing a protective coating: the environment, the final project it is going to be in, the traffic and handling the project is going to be subject to, the texture of the finished project, the required fire rating for the project, and the budget.



Where is the final project going to be situated? Will it be inside a climate-controlled building? Will it be outside? If outside, what sort of weather will it need to withstand? Heat, cold, humidity, strong wind, blizzards, and fluctuating temperatures can cause havoc with protective coatings if the coating is not intended for that particular environment. When a coating fails it cracks, bubbles, peels and flakes. Depending on the size of the project, repairing or restoring it can bankrupt a shop. In order to avoid this, choose a protective coating for you 3D foam project that has been formulated to withstand the environmental pressures that project is going to face. Pure polyurea coatings are generally the best choice for extreme environments, and also for projects intended for long-term outdoor use. UV resistant and dimensionally stable in extreme heat and cold, polyurea coatings are far less likely to break down in harsh environments.


An often overlooked factor for protective coatings is the extent to which a project is going to be handled. If a piece is going to be situated far out of reach of people then the using a hybrid or polyurethane protective coating will most likely suffice, because the piece is not going to be subjected to high traffic and handling. Conversely, if the piece is going to be situated in a high traffic area, or is perhaps even going to be intentionally handled on a regular basis, a stronger pure polyurea protective coating is going to be necessary.


Different protective coatings lend themselves better to smooth and textured finishes. Cure time can be a contributing factor to this. Coatings that have a longer cure time provide a longer settling time for the material before it sets. This allows for the coating to cure in a smoother finish. Coatings that cure into a harder finish can also result in smoother surface because they can be sanded smooth without damage to the coating’s protective qualities. For a textured surface a quick curing coating is an easy means of producing a stippled finish. If you are looking to create a specific texture, such as tree bark or skin, there are also coatings that have been designed to cure in particular textures. Therefore, choosing a coating that works with the required surface texture of a finished project will significantly reduce the labor required to achieve a particular look


Make sure you know if you need to use a fire-rated coating for a project. Such requirements more typically stem from projects that are going to be indoors in public spaces, but it is good to check well in advance with your client. Many coatings come in both fire-rated and non-fire-rated versions. Generally the fire-rated versions are less dimensionally stable (read break down easier) than the non-fire-rated versions and are more expensive. However, the cost of a fire-rated rated coating is nothing to the costs that can associated with failing to use one if required.


Naturally budget plays a role when it comes time to choose a protective coating. While it might be tempting to pick the cheapest coating available, as discussed above, this can actually be the most costly choice in the end. A better solution is to build the cost of the appropriate coating into the quote for your clients. This avoids both the temptation to boost profit margins by using cheaper materials and the danger of finding out that you need to use a more expensive protective coating after you have already set the price, effectively short-changing yourself. Always remember that the most cost effective measure for protective coatings is to use the right one the first time.

Interested in learning more about protective coatings? Start here

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