How to Paint Foam Latex Appliances




About: I create and teach makeup effects and prosthetics for a living. I love The B52's, good sarcasm and boring things like history, science and Radio 4.

Shock! Horror! It's flat, opaque and looks nothing like skin whatsoever. When compared to its translucent cousins, gelatine and silicone, that foam rubber nose could look like an unwelcome option.

But foam latex does have its advantages. It is durable, absorbs perspiration rather than collecting it in pockets and it doesn't dissolve or melt. Best of all, you can repair, re-glue and re-colour knowing that it's opacity will hide a multitude of sins- that is if it's well painted! This article will cover a simple procedure for colouring a foam appliance on the face.

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Step 1: Get Your Materials Together

You will need:
" Pros Aide & remover
" Acrylic paints (I like liquitex, but most brands will work fine)
" Rubber Mask Grease Paint (RMGP)
" Alcohol activated makeup (Skin Illustrator/Stacolor/Kryolan)
" Plastic cups
" IsoPropyl Alcohol
" Cheap bristle brush/chipbrush (12mm/1/2)
" Cotton tipped buds such as Q-Tips

Step 2: Mix Your Base

The combination of Pros Aide and Liquitex led to the name PA-X, a durable and flexible paint which can be used on both skin and foam latex. Invented by Dick Smith, it has become an industry standard for painting foam appliances.

You mix up the base colour of the subjects skin using the acrylic paints, getting as close as you can. You can tweak with washes and makeup later. It takes a while to confidently mix flesh tones, so have a play and try several attempts. A little goes a long way so you do not need to mix gallons of paint! Half an egg cup will be plenty.

For this makeup I started with Unbleached titanium (off white), adding reds, raw umber, yellow ochre and a little Olive. Once you are happy with the colour, add 40-50% Pros Aide and mix well. It will look lighter than before because of the whiteness of the Pros Aide but because Pros Aide dries clear the colour will return to normal. For darker skin tones, I like to start with a little warm colour like Apricot and add appropriate shades like Umber and Sienna to avoid going too cold.

Step 3: Brushes

The big brush is a half-inch decorators bristle paintbrush, cut halfway down.

The ruined looking brushes are sable and synthetic mix brushes repeatedly stamped onto a surface and back-combed with a wire brush to spread the bristles. This makes applying natural looking stipples of colour much quicker.

Also, use a sharp blade and scrape the brush to create the curled tips.

Step 4:

The appliance glued in place using the Pros Aide, edges worked a little with IPA alcohol. Give the whole appliance a coat of Pros Aide thinned with a little water. This seals the foam and prevents any paint soaking into the foam-after all it is essentially a latex sponge.

Dry carefully with a hairdryer, powdering as soon as it is dry. Pros Aide glue remains shiny and tacky when dry, so ensure you powder before any facial expressions are pulled as everything that touches will stick. If this happens, a little IPA on a brush or cotton bud will un-tack it.

Step 5:

On with the first coat of PA-X paint (thinned with water), blended into the skin about 5-10mm beyond the edge of the piece. I used water to help blend. It is essential to avoid a sudden line where the paint finishes.

Try applying in a stippling motion. This will give you a more natural looking distribution of colour. It needs a few more coats, some lighter and some darker to break it up drying each coat before applying the next. It definitely needs some red.

Step 6:

A few more coats of PA-X washes. Never dump a thick layer of paint on as it wrinkles horribly when the face moves. Layers of washes are better, giving gradual change. Squint and look from a distance, and ask yourself:- "Too red?" "Too orange?" "Too pale?"

Address these by applying colour wheel logic. 'Too red' needs a touch of green in the next wash. Take a little of your base PA-X onto a palette and add a drop of Olive. The Pros Aide in the PA-X will keep it flexible, so don't add more.

Step 7:

The finished PA-X paint job. There are about five layers of stippled washes. A light no-colour powder and we are onto the last stages.

Step 8:

Again using a stippling motion, apply thin washes of Skin Illustrator. I have used Natural 1 & 2, Rice Paper and a touch of Brown for freckles.

The great thing with these alcohol colours is the washes can be thinned right down with IPA so you can apply tiny amounts of actual pigment, and the solvent evaporates quickly. Very handy for tweaking colour.

I also apply some washes using the cut down half-inch decorators brush. I dip the brush into the Illustrator wash, and flick the end bristles which distributes an 'airbrush spatter' evenly over the appliance and skin.

You could use an airbrush if wanted to, but for ease I like the paintbrush for quick colour changes and cleanup afterwards.

Step 9: Step 6

The final makeup. I used a little RMGP to shade around the eyes. Skin Illustrator paints dry matt, which helps subdue any unwanted shine from the PA-X. If you still get some shiny areas, try a little anti-shine cream.

Remove appliance with Super Solv, Pro Clean or similar.

Step 10: Reference. Always Reference...

Reference is always a good thing, and it always pays to have good, varied images to keep your painting fresh and informed. Get into the habit of collecting reference photos to get an idea of natural looking skin on various people and skin types.

Once a foam appliance is on, it obliterates the skin colour underneath and it is easy to forget what was there. I like to take clear photos of the subject prior to makeup, and also collect good images from magazines.

I also found some good books, like the National Geographic books and portrait collections. These are also great tools to refer back to when designing your makeup. Also, photo sharing sites such as flickr ( are great. Just type in what you are looking for (old face, sunburn or freckles etc) and trawl away. Reference often leads you into new directions you had not planned on going!

Happy sticking!

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    42 Discussions


    4 years ago

    This kinda reminds me of a character off of star trek


    7 years ago on Step 4

    What appliance did you use? this one looks amazing - perfect buffy style vamp!

    2 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 4

    It was one I made for a demo teaching a while back.



    Reply 7 years ago on Step 4

    ah bugger thats a shame - tis exactly what i was looking for too lol - typical really :) thanks for letting me know though.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Hi all...
    I'm using latex over my upper body. I was going to stop the latex under my jawline and use paint on my face which will cover a latex appliance. Is there any way I can apply the latex paint on the appliance? If I can will I be able to re-use the appliance? I need to use it twice and I'll be done with it. If I can do it I can eliminate the slight color difference between the latex and the paint.

    On a related note...same costume...I'm wearing tights that are the same color as the latex (teal) but I'd rather have my legs not feel like fabric. I was thinking of covering the fabric with the same latex as on the rest of the body. Would that work? And would the latex affect the elasticity of the fabric to the point that I couldn't remove my foot without tearing the latex?

    Thanks in advance for any advice!


    4 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Randy

    You can use latex paint on the appliance if the appliance id latex or foam latex. If you water a little down, you should be able to create a gradual blend rather than a sudden hard edge which will be more obvious. You may be able to reuse the appliance, depending on what you used to apply it.

    Most oil based removers actually damage foam latex appliances, especially the ultra thins edge needed to get a flawless blend. You may be able to use alcohol to remove it (careful around the eyes) or use latex as a glue so it peels off later more easily.

    I think the latex will restrict the fabric and make it difficult to remove the tights...and go to the bathroom too.  I think either do a test on a piece of spandex/Lycra to see the amount it stops stretch.

    Are you planning on applying the latex while you wear the tights???  Latex soaks into the fabric and may take a while to dry so better to do this in advance.  

    If you do it beforehand, then you will need to put the tights on a pair of dummy legs (like the kind used in store window displays).  Then if there is a problem with stretch restriction then it will be one of getting them on - not getting them off!  A test on a small stitched tube of spandex or Lycra will take a lot of the guesswork out of this before committing latex to the tights.



    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for your reply. I'm using a foam latex appliance and spirit glue to attach it to my face except for the edges which I use latex. If I put latex on the tights, I'd do it while wearing them.

    I thought that latex might not work well to cover fabric that was tight on begin with since it shrinks as it dries anyway. The alternative is to live with the teal color of the tights and use paints for the details on the legs.

    Matching everything will be hard but if people will be looking more at my upper body anyway so it might be okay to not mess much with the fabric.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I gave it a shot tonight. I found latex to be extremely difficult to use when applying on yourself. You will invariably move a certain way so that latex from one part of the body touches another part and then tears. The bend at the inside of the elbow is a common problem spot.

    I'm sure the order in which you do it matters. I did my arms first and that was a mistake. It seems that the best way would be to complete whole sections with all the layers and then apply a fixer to the surface. Then you can move on to the next part and do the same thing. That way the arms won't stick to the side of your body.

    So I'm thinking do the torso first to completion. Do one arm to completion, Then the other arm to completion. The question is WHEN should I apply the appliance? Before I do the body or sometime in between doing sections? After applying several layers of latex and using a hair dryer to speed up drying, I started to perspire and the latex just pulled away from the skin in different spots.

    I put latex stripes on the tights. That worked out okay, of course the latex did grab a good hold through the fabric and onto my skin. When I removed them they were puckered where the latex was applied but otherwise looked re-usable.



    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Stick the appliance on first, then do the latex.

    Latex will stick to itself when dry so you need to talc it to stp this from happening. I usually work on other people so this is not normally an issue, but as you have to move and bend to work, the stuff is sticking. Fetish users often use silicone oil in a spray to stop the latex from sticking and to give it a shine. Silicone oil does not damage the latex like most other oils do.



    7 years ago on Introduction

    Hey this is more of a question than a comment. Since I have purchased foam latex prosthetics from multiple online stores for halloween and no one there will answer me in a timely matter (Weeks) thought id ask u...
    My question is... I want the prosthetic to be skin colour, and HATE the feel of grease paints, could I use a foundation for skin tone instead or would this ruin the mask? The prosthetic is quite large, takes up my whole face, and I dont want to paint it, my face, my arms, neck, back etc just to have it look real. Any sugestions would be greatly appreciated!!

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction


    I would use PAX paints instead.  Prepaint the appliance before you apply it so that the colour is almost all done prior to application. Paint close to the edge but keep back 5mm (1/4 inch) from the very edge as this may roll and stick to itself.  Powder after PAX paint dries.

    Normal makeup or greasepaint will not work on bare foam latex as the oils soak into the latex in a way that they don't on skin and you end up with a visible line where the piece stops on the skin.

    Use Pros Aide as a sealer to help stop this from happening.  I would use PAX to join the edge and then use makeup you like over the top as the sealed appliance doesn't soak up oils in the way bare foam does.



    7 years ago on Introduction

    Do you know of anywhere in the US that sells Alcohol activated makeup that's cheap? That stuff seems expensive!!!

    1 reply

    Bearing in mind that the alcohol activated colours are state of the art professional makeup, so they will be the most expensive. In the US it is about half the cost in the UK....It is about $65 versus £100 which is about $150 to us.

    Otherwise use PAX and tweak with makeup thinned with alcohol so it can be applied as a liquid rather than as a greasy oil. The cost of Skin Illustrators is worth the durability on set but if that is not where you are using it, then it makes sense to not seek out the most durable (and expensive).

    Also, perhaps consider making your own:



    If you oil based artists paints, then need to use water based acrylics. They would not mix with the water based Pros Aide, would take too long to dry, could damage the rubber and are probably not good for skin.

    If you mean oil based (crème or 'greaspaint') makeup then yes, but you may find that the oils adsorb into the appliance and not into skin. This means that the appliance edge is made visible by the change in colour.

    You should ideally use Rubber Mask Grease Paints (RMGP) which is a castor-oil based makeup with a high percentage of pigment created specifically for colouring foam latex. Most of the colouring should be done with the PAX paint, and tweaked with either RMGP or Skin Illustrator or similar alcohol based colours.

    Hope this helps


    I would not advise using oils paints. Use acrylic versions instead...they make white acrylic and I'm guessing you are not that pale so you should be able to mix any skin tone using them.

    Not sure what mineral gum is...if it is the same as the spirit gum adhesive used traditionally in theatres then no. Spirit gum is not going to last, especially with sweat, and much less irritating that spirit gum too. Plus it is mixed with the acrylics to make the PAX base, so you get a lot out of it.

    Pros Aide is cheaper than spirit gum too, usually about £25-£30 for a pint ($35-$45) and will last a long time, and make the PAX too. There are also cloned versions of Pros Aide (Mouldlife make a version called Aquafix) which is about half price. The same quantity of a good spirit gum would likely cost way more than that.

    But I would not use oil paints on the appliance or skin.