Foamboards (table)

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Lightweight, laminated panels of foamed polymer (Styrene, Polyethylene, Polyurethane) adhered between one or two outer layers of paper, metal or plastic to produce a rigid structure in a variety of thicknesses, sizes, and densities. Foamboards belong to the family of graphic artboards that can be easily cut, mounted, printed, and laminated. Acid-free foamboards are used for matting and mounting works of art.

Depending on the board, the outer cladding may be adhesive paper, cotton archival paper, white clay coated paper, or a common brown kraft paper. Specialized outer coatings are made with aluminum, polymer sheets and/or fire retardants.

Types of foam used for the interiors are listed below:

FOAMS Polymer/foam type Characteristics Foamboard examples Working properties Risks
Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) thermoplastic/ closed-cell frequently used foam sheet with a wide density range; provides good insulation, moisture resistance and can be heat formed; buoyant Evasote, Sponge Aero Rubber
Polyester (PET) thermoplastic/ closed-cell Lighter weight than PVC, or balsa, but not as strong; moisture resistant and recyclable; higher densities are stiffer and stronger; UV resistant (McMaster-Carr) Can be soften and shaped with heat; cut with wood-working tools; tensile strength = 260-320 psi; Max temp=300F
Polyethylene (PE) thermoplastic/ closed-cell strong, resilient; shock-absorbing, good insulator, buoyant; water-resistant; can be heat sealed Ethafoam, Plastazote, Polyplank, Volara Variations in thicknesses and texture, but generally stiffer than polyurethane Highly inert but best not to use in direct contact with objects.
Polypropylene (PP) thermoplastic/ closed-cell Durable, non-dusting structural foam with very good cushioning properties; may have a longer lifetime than PE foams Microfoam; Propafoam; Polypro
Polystyrene (XPS) thermoset/ closed-cell XPS is extruded polystyrene. It is rigid, thermal insulation, lightweight, moisture resistant; will not rot or mildew (non-biodegradable); Crumbles and produces puffed beads; XPS does not crush as easily EPS Gatorboard; Ultraboard; Fome-Cor; Blue Board XPS; Foamular Stiff enough to hold plywood; can be built into a structure that has wood elements Not for outdoor use
Polyurethane (PUR) thermoset/ closed-cell Rigid, lightweight, waterproof, inexpensive; resistant to most solvents and atmospheric agent; flame retardant Corafoam; Coralight; Must be lined; easily shaped with woodworking tools not inert; deteriorates over time with the emission of volatiles; may be recycled at some centers
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) closed-cell Extra-lightweight; very rigid, durable, high density, resistant to water, oil and chemicals; high insulation for vibration, noise and heat; fireproof Artcare archival foamboard; Sintra, Forex; Komacel; Celtec Can be cut, softened and shaped with heat, and painted; tensile strength = 370 psi; Max temp=170F Cannot be recycled but may be reused; produces noxious gases when hot; hazardous to the environment

Synonyms and Related Terms

cartón pluma (Esp.); plaque de plastique expensé (Fr.); foamboard; foam board; foamcore; mounting board; cushioning; packaging materials

Commercial Products: Foam Core; Artcare; Fome-Cor®; Gatorfoam®


  • packaging; cushioning
  • structural panels, partitions; wood replacement; light duty housing
  • signage; decoration; advertising; composite layups
  • architectural models
  • insulation for sound, and temperature; vibration dampening

Collection Risks

Foamboards vary widely in their potential for off-gassing hazardous materials and should be tested prior to use. Boards containing beaded polystyrene may release beads from cut edge.

Environmental Risks

In general, foamboards cannot be recycled, just reused. This is because they are composed of multiple types of inseparable materials, i.e. foam, paper, adhesive, etc. The exceptions are foamboards without surface coverings, such as ... and foamboard with coverings of the same materials, such as....

The area of main concern the the environment is the trash disposal of PVC boards (Sintra, Forex, Komacel, etc.) because PVC breaks down into toxic residues. See Red list of Materials

Resources and Citations

  • Wikipedia: Foam Accessed Dec 2023
  • Richard S. Lewis, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 10th ed., 1993
  • Hoechst Celanese Corporation, Dictionary of Fiber & Textile Technology (older version called Man-made Fiber and Textile Dictionary, 1965), Hoechst Celanese Corporation, Charlotte NC, 1990
  • Random House, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Grammercy Book, New York, 1997
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998
  • Art and Architecture Thesaurus Online,, J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles, 2000
  • Rachael Perkins Arenstein, Lisa Goldberg, and Eugenie Milroy, ‘Support and Rehousing for Collection Storage’ In ‘Preventive Conservation: Collection Storage’ Lisa Elkin and Christopher A. Norris (eds.), Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, New York. 2019.
  • Pam Hatchfield, Pollutants in the Museum Environment, Archetype Press, London, 2002
  • A Glossary of Paper Conservation Terms, Margaret Ellis (ed.), Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York City, 1998

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