November 20, 2017

DIY Decorating Your Cornhole Boards

A few weeks ago, we discussed how to build your own cornhole board set (check out the article here), and that left us with a pair of functional, but rather plain-looking boards. Today, we’re going to talk about decorating those bad boys and making them the envy of your next tailgate.

As I mentioned last week, there are innumerable ways to decorate your boards, and what works best for you depends on your personal preference. For example, some people like a more plain wood finish where all that’s necessary is some wood stain and lacquer. Others create designs with different shades of wood stain, some create designs through wood burning, and still others just slap a coat of paint on them. Perhaps most commonly though, people like to adorn their boards with large stickers (usually of their favorite sports team) and paint or stain their boards to match. In fact, many of the commercially available boards with intricate designs use a 4 foot by 2 foot adhesive skin to cover and decorate the playing area of the board.

These are all perfectly fine ways to style your boards, but there are several drawbacks to them as well. Staining the boards is effective, but it is not a style everyone finds appealing or would choose for themselves. The stickers and skins tend to be very expensive (usually $30+ apiece for a sticker that would be big enough to fit well on a cornhole board and much more for a skin that covered the whole playing surface) and you run the risk of them peeling off over time. Instead, I like to use a method that, with a computer, a printer, and some contact paper, will allow you to adorn your cornhole board with just about any image you can conceive. So let’s get started.

Materials:

Contact paper (approx. 7 feet of a 2 foot wide roll)

Scotch tape

Painter’s tape

Latex paint (various colors dependent upon your design)

Lacquer (fast drying, no sanding, see below)

Tools:

Computer with Microsoft art and Word (or comparable software)

Printer

X-Acto knife

Large cutting board or cutting surface

Paint brush

Small touch-up paint brush

Small paint roller and paint pan (optional but recommended)

Yardstick or tape measure

Sawhorses (optional)

Make a Plan

  1. Before you can start decorating your board, you need to decide what it is going to look like. What is your theme going to be? What colors do you want to use? If it’s a sports team, which logo do you want to put on it? These are the type of decisions you need to make.

Tip: Keep it simple. It’s great to want to tackle a really complicated design right off the bat, but you need to think about how much work it will take and how feasible some of these designs may be. If you are making a sports team design, pick the simplest, most straightforward logo your team has. For example, if you want to make an Iowa State board (god help your soul), go with something like this:

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NOT this:

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2. Next, decide on a color scheme. In most cases, the logo you choose will give you a good reference on the colors that will work best, but it is ultimately up to you as to how you want to integrate them into your final design. If you are going for a sports team design, most teams have a two color scheme that makes choosing colors fairly straightforward, but others have three or more and you must decide which you want to use and how you want to use them. Iowa, for instance, has black, gold, and white in their color scheme and you would need to decide which ones you would want on your board (ex: do you want a gold logo with a black background or a black logo and gold background). The logo I will be using has a blue and orange logo on a white background and I will be using all three of those colors in my final design (see image).

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Tip: Most paint stores (specifically Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc.) keep a record of how to make specific sports teams’ colors on hand and can easily provide you with the exact team colors you are looking for. All you have to do is ask.

3. Once you have a theme, logo, and color scheme, it’s time to start thinking about what your board is going to look like exactly. Do you want to have a border or do you want the background to be all one color? Where exactly do you want your logo? How do you want to integrate the colors in your design? In essence, what’s your vision for this project? I, for instance, have a Tailgate Society theme and logo and will integrate the logo’s colors into the board with an orange border on the outside of the platform and a blue border around the scoring hole.

4. Sketch your design. Ok, you don’t literally have to draw it out, but you should have a solid visualization of what your board looks like before you do anything else. However, it can be useful to make a quick sketch of your design. A good tool is the “paint” software on your computer, which can allow you to see how your colors and logo would mesh in the final project. It’s better to find out your idea might not work now rather than after you have already started painting. Here’s the digital sketch I made of my board:

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Get Your Materials

Now that you have your plans, it’s time to get your supplies. Many of you will have several of these materials lying around already (paint brushes, cutting boards, etc.) but there are a few things I would like to highlight.

  1. First, there are a wide range of paints you can use on your board, but I recommend using an interior/exterior latex paint. It’s relatively cheap, easy to clean up, and should leave a fairly smooth finish. These paints also usually provide the most color options and will be easiest to get the exact color you want mixed for you. They do have some durability issues, but we’ll talk more about that below.
  2. Second, you want to make sure you have the right paint brushes. Specifically, you will need at least one medium/large paint brush (2-3 inch brush) and a fine tip touch-up brush (I use a fine tip art brush that you can get at a craft store for a dollar or two like the one pictured below). You may also want a separate lacquer brush if you choose to protect your board using that method. I also recommend you get a small paint roller (like the ones pictured below) as these greatly decrease the time it will take you to paint the large areas and will leave a smoother finish.
Kings Cowboy Hat | The Tailgate Society
Kings Cowboy Hat | The Tailgate Society

3. Third, you will need some contact paper and painter’s tape, which is what you will use to make your designs. You can find a roll of plain, run-of-the-mill contact paper in most stores for about $5, but I do recommend you avoid thinner versions as these are a bit unwieldy for our purposes.

4. You will also need a sharp X-Acto knife to cut your design (see image). If you don’t have one laying around, you can pick one up at a craft store for a few dollars.

5. The last thing I want to highlight is the fast drying, no sand lacquer we are going to use here. As I said above, one of the drawbacks to using latex paint is that it is prone to damage, and a thin coat of lacquer will go a long way toward protecting your design. (There are other methods to protect your design and I discuss some of those later.) I’ll talk more about applying the lacquer below, but I want to note the two best options you have when choosing a lacquer. The first option is the two hour lacquer pictured here. I have used this before with great success, but you need to be careful in its application as it can cause the paint to run if not applied carefully. It is also problematic as you will need a lacquer thinner for cleanup. However, it is relatively cheap, only about $7 for a quart, and does work well. The other option is a water-based lacquer. This type is less likely to cause the paint to run (though you still need to apply it carefully) and you will only need water for cleanup. However, I am not sure it quite as effective as traditional lacquer and it is about twice the price of other lacquers. Either way, I recommend getting a lacquer with a gloss or semi-gloss finish to give your board a nice shine.

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Create Your Logo Stencil

Now that you have your plans and materials, it’s time to create the stencil for your board’s logo. The easiest way to make a template is just to print off an image of the logo you have chosen and use it. The problem is, the home printers most of us have access to are limited in the size of paper they can use and thus the size of the image you can print. Quite frankly, an image printed on a standard 8.5-by-11 piece of printer paper is not going to be big enough to decorate a cornhole board. However, I have come up with a little trick that will let you create a much larger stencil using a standard printer and allow you create an image that will fit perfectly on your board.

  1. Locate and open Microsoft Paint (or similar software) on your computer.
  2. Copy and paste the image you want to put on your board into the field (see image).

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Note: In order to get the most symmetric result using this technique, it is best to set the field in the paint program so that it has the same border ratio as an 8.5-by-11 sheet. In this case, the shorter side should be .773 as long as the longer side. So for example, if your longer side is 600 pixels long, the shorter side should be approximately 464 pixels long.

Note: If you have a wider image, you will probably want to have the longer side on the bottom, and if you have a taller image, you will want your longer side running vertically. See below.

3. Using the line creating tool, place both a vertical and horizontal line across the midpoints of both the top and side cutting the image into four equal sections (see image).

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4. Open your writing software (Microsoft Word, etc.) and set margins to zero or near zero.

5. Highlight and copy one of the four sections of your image and paste it into the writing document.

Note: If the long side of your image is on the top/bottom, you will need to change your writing document orientation from “Portrait” to “Landscape” for the ratio to work properly.

6. Expand the pasted image so that it fills the page in the writing document (see image).

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7. Repeat for the other three sections of your logo image, pasting each section on a separate page in the writing document. The writing document should contain four pages, each one a section of your image.

8. Print the writing document.

9. Using tape, reconnect the four sections, creating a large print out of your logo (see image).

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Note: There may be some minor inconsistencies in how your images line up, but so long as they are close, those minor issues can be corrected in the next steps. Also, as you can see, my printer started to run out of ink.

10. Cut two sheets of contact paper approximately the size of your image (about 17 inches by 22 inches in size).

11. Tape the two sheets of contact paper on top of each other and then tape your image on top of them (see image).

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12. Place on your cutting surface and, using the X-Acto knife, cut out your image stencil (see image).

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Note: The nature of your design will determine which part of the cutout you want to keep. If you have a single large image, you will want to use the cutout. If it is a more detailed image (like the text in my design) you will want to use the frame. See image.

Paint Your Board

Now that you have your plan and your logo stencil, it is time to start painting. As I said before, how you paint will depend in large part on the look you want, but there are a few tips I recommend for getting the best and cleanest results. In particular, it is best to put down your secondary colors first and cover them with painter’s tape or contact paper and then fill in with your background color afterwards. This will give you nice, sharp lines when you peel off the tape (see below). Also, I recommend using the small paint roller I mentioned before as it will give you the smoothest finish. Lastly, if you have the space, I recommend working on both boards at the same time to save time and effort.

  1. Paint your border areas (see image).
Kings Cowboy Hat | The Tailgate Society

Note: As I said above, if you have a large, fairly simple image (like a single letter or a simple logo) your best bet is to put your paint down first and cover it with your logo stencil, just like I did with the painter’s tape for the border. If that is the case, you will also need to paint the center area where your logo will go at this time.

Tip: It is best to put down two coats of paint. Make sure the first coat is fully dry before putting down the second coat.

2. Cover border areas (and other design areas if applicable) with painter’s tape or contact paper (see image).

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Tip: For the border around the hole, I used a 10 inch diameter bowl as a guide and cut out two round pieces of contact paper. The trick is to make sure you get it centered over the hole when you place it.

3. Paint the background. Again, two coats are recommended (see image).

Kings Cowboy Hat | The Tailgate Society

4. Once the paint has dried, remove contact paper and painter’s tape (see image).

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Note: If you already put down your logo stencil as discussed in steps 1-2, then you can skip steps 5-7.

  1. Place your stencil on the board (see image).

    Kings Cowboy Hat | The Tailgate Society

Note: Placing the stencil can be a little tricky and the contact paper unwieldy. Make sure you mark where you are going to place the stencil before you peel off the stencil and take great pains to get it in the right spot. As you can see, I used a yardstick as a guide.

Note: When placing the stencil, do your best to ensure that it is smooth, especially around the exposed edges. However, some bubbling is to be expected (see image above) and some seepage under the contact paper likely. Do your best to prevent such seepage, but we will address how to fix the seepage that does occur below.

  1. Paint the areas in the stencil. Once again, two coats are best (see image).

    Kings Cowboy Hat | The Tailgate Society
  2. Once paint has dried, remove stencil (see image).

    Kings Cowboy Hat | The Tailgate Society
  3. If you have a border, tape the top edge of the platform on the side and paint the side panels to match the background color (see image).

    Kings Cowboy Hat | The Tailgate Society
  4. Using a fine tip paint brush, touch up your designs. Depending on the complexity of your design, you may have a lot of touch-up to do or you may have very little. As you can see with my complex logo, I had lots to touch-up (see image). Preferably, the less touch-up you have to do the better, as your overall result will look cleaner, and that is why I recommend a simpler image. However, some touch-up is to be expected.

    Kings Cowboy Hat | The Tailgate Society

Note: There may be a need to touch up some other places besides your logo, such as borders. Take the time to check your board carefully and make any touch-ups you might need.

Note: This can be a tedious process depending on how much you have to do. The touch-up on my boards, for example, took me over two hours. Patience is key if you have lots of touch-up to do, and remember, you don’t have to do it all at once. Also, a podcast is a great way to help make the time go by while you paint, so I recommend you check out one of TGS’s great podcast offerings.

  1. Once you have finished your touch-up, double check to make sure everything is just how you want it and that there are no glaring flaws that need to be corrected.

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Protect Your Design

Now that you have your design completed, it’s time to protect it. There are other methods for protecting your board besides the method I will describe here (like a clear spray enamel) and if you know of something better, by all means go with that. That said, the reason I go with a lacquer is that, once dried, it gives you a perfectly smooth finish and provides great protection for your board given the wear and tear it is likely to face. Again, there are issues with using lacquer (that I highlight below) but it is a good option if you are careful.

  1. Make sure paint is totally dry. No matter what method you use to protect your design, the biggest factor that will cause smearing is that your paint is not totally dry. I recommend waiting at least 24 hours or more before trying to put the protective coat on your board.
  2. Clean the board surface. While letting your board dry fully, dust is likely to settle on the board and that can cause issues when putting on the protective coat. With a clean, dry, soft rag, gently remove any dust or particles on the board.
  3. After carefully reading the directions on the can, apply the lacquer to the top and sides of the board using a paint or lacquer brush. This is a very delicate process and one in which great care must be taken. Add a small amount of lacquer to the brush and spread it gently on a portion of the board. Do not attempt to spread it far (as aggressive brush work can cause the paint to smear) and return to the can often for more lacquer. Also, do not glob on large amounts of lacquer at once as this can start to dissolve the paint and can cause smearing.

Tip: It is best to work over each color individually to help prevent smearing (i.e. coat one color first and then coat the second color after). That said, I recommend gently coating your logo first using long, soft strokes to protect it from smearing.

Note: Some smearing is possible no matter how much care you take as you can see from my board (see image). Some colors seem more prone to move as well, but I have not found a consistency in which colors are more problematic.

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  1. Once the first coat of lacquer has dried (follow directions on package) apply a second coat. You can be much more aggressive on your second coat as the first coat will provide a good layer of protection to the paint.
  2. Let lacquer fully dry.

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Paint the Legs

Once the protective coat is fully dry, it is time to paint the legs (as you don’t want your lovely painted board to have plain wood legs). However, I recommend that you wait until after you have put the protective coat on the top of the board before you move on to paint the legs, as you don’t want to damage your image when you flip the board over.

  1. Flip board over.
  2. Extend legs so that they are straight up and down (see image below).
  3. Paint legs with appropriate color. I recommend two coats.

    Kings Cowboy Hat | The Tailgate Society
  4. Once paint has dried fully, apply protective coating.

Note: Since the legs are all a single color, there is less concern about the paint running.

And that will just about do it! You now have a custom-painted cornhole board with a solid protective coating ready for your next tailgate. The only thing left is to find a set of cornhole bean bags to match your theme. You can find a variety of options/colors on Amazon or other websites.

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Really, your options for decorating your boards are only limited by your imagination. Here are some other designs I have made in the past using this method (yes, I have a lot of friends who are SEC fans). Happy Cornholing!!

Kings Cowboy Hat | The Tailgate Society
Kings Cowboy Hat | The Tailgate Society
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Kings Cowboy Hat 6 Articles

Staff Writer & Graphic Designer

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