Turn MDF Into Marble




About: Hi! I'm a propmaking student learning how to create props and visual effects for theatre and film :) always keen to learn new things!!

Nothing says class like a bit of marble. Those Mediterranean stonemasons knew what they were doing with their big ol' pillars looking all fancy. But of course marble is heavy and expensive and so we must adapt.

Here's a method of making some boring old MDF into something much more interesting! We use this in the theatre industry for backdrops and flooring over huge scales, so I'd love to see it applied elsewhere!

Step 1: Base Coat

Choose a reference picture for the sake of colour matching.

Mix up some acrylic paint to match the background colour- I mixed white, black, orange, yellow ochre and a tiny bit of pthalo blue to make a pale green grey.

Use a paint roller or a paintbrush to slap a layer over the entire surface you're painting. I painted a 5mm thick MDF board but you can make this on as big or small a scale as you'd like.

Let it dry.

Step 2: Glaze

To make the next layers blend and slide around in more organic shapes, we want a slipperier surface than that dry paint.

Roll a layer of clear acrylic glaze over the surface and let it dry.

Step 3: Start Some Clouds

According to my reference, I mixed yellow ochre, orange, white, and black acrylics with glaze and water so it was a nice runny mixture.

You're gonna want to be in a well ventilated area. Paint on some puddles of this paint in stripy shapes and flick them with methylated spirits to make them bloom and dapple. It takes a bit of messing around and the metho gets really smelly so wear a respirator if you have one!

Use a combination of a rag and paintbrush and metho and blend out different sections of the paint so they look like clouds.

Let it dry, then sand down the entire surface very lightly, (I used 240 grit sandpaper,) just to give the next layer something to bite into.

Step 4: Repeat

Mix a slightly darker version of that last colour you used and repeat the last step, darkening some areas on the board.

This extra layer just adds another dimension.

Let it dry then sand it down lightly and roll on another layer of glaze.

Step 5: Veins

Grab a nice fine paintbrush for this bit!

Mix your reference's darkest colour, (I used black and pthalo blue acrylic paints.) Paint some lines across the dark areas you already have. Keep them free and organic but still all going in one direction - just check your reference!

Roll your brush between your forefinger and thumb as you drag the paint along to get varying thicknesses.

Work in small sections and while the paint is still wet, blend it out with a second brush dipped in methylated spirits. Keep some edges sharp and soften some out, go wild!

Step 6: Finish

When it's dry we want to dull the whole piece down a bit.

Mix a small amount of your leftover base colour with more clear glaze and roll it over the whole piece. It should knock those stark veins right back into the rest of the piece :D

Then it's done: a marble slab worthy of a Greek bathhouse!



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    13 Discussions


    Reply 22 days ago

    No worries! It's basically a really cheap wood board made of wood fibres all bound together, so it doesn't have any grain lines like normal timber, which makes it easy to cut and screw into without splitting.

    MDF is short for Medium Density Fibreboard, they should have it at any local hardware shop. You might have seen hobby craft project kits sold (like the birdhouse picture I've attached below) made of MDF pieces because it's a cheaply manufactured material.
    Draw backs of MDF are that traditionally the fibres are bound with formaldehyde, which is an irritant and possibly carcinogenic, so take care to wear a respirator if you're cutting or sanding it, (there are also non-formaldehyde MDF sheets available too now.) It's typically cut with a laser cutter instead of a saw, to avoid producing the hazardous saw dust.
    Also when exposed to moisture, the board can swell and warp. A lot of cheap flat pack furniture uses MDF so if you've ever had a dodgy bookcase that's fallen apart due to a bit of water, it's probably MDF haha

    For the sakes of this technique you could paint the marble effect on just about any surface :) I just used MDF because I had it already cut, laying around and it makes a good blank slate for painting on!

    Hope this has been helpful and not too confusing!

    Peter Balch

    22 days ago

    I believe it's traditional to use a feather as the "brush" when painting faux marble. Have you tried it?

    1 reply
    rhallettPeter Balch

    Reply 22 days ago

    No that sounds like a good idea though!
    I used a fitch brush painting this one

    Photo 20-3-19, 9 14 28 am.jpg

    23 days ago

    Very nice results...thanks so much for sharing your work!


    23 days ago on Step 6

    Thank you for this great tip. I'm a wood carver and I think this would be a swell way of mounting some carvings, again ThankYou. . .JoeB


    24 days ago on Step 6

    Awesome looking results! I've used two part epoxy infused with spray paint and powdered tints to achieve simulated stone.

    1 reply

    Reply 23 days ago

    That's awesome! I've not worked with powdered tints before how do you use them in this case? Do you just spray the epoxy/paint all over the surface then spray the powder over it while it's wet or something??


    24 days ago

    Very impressive! If you are trying to create a "marble" slab (for a table top for instance) do you use the same technique on the edges of the MDF or do you need to create a thinner slab and then miter/connect both pieces to continue the pattern from top to sides?

    1 reply

    Reply 23 days ago

    Depending on the thickness you could do both!
    If you can find MDF thick enough for the slab you're trying to make, then yes you could paint the edges. But that can become rather heavy once you're looking at thicknesses over 25mm, so thin pieces around the edge is a great idea!

    As far as the painting technique goes, you could stick it on just about any flat surface, edges included :D


    24 days ago

    Fantastic technique, and very impressive results! Nice work, thank you for sharing this : )

    1 reply

    Reply 24 days ago

    Thankyou! It's much easier than it looks, anyone could do it! :D