How to Make Your Own Textured Backdrops

How to Make Your Own Textured Backdrops - Mastin Labs

Backdrops don't have to be a major expense—you can make your own textured photography backdrops on a budget. I was able to create two simple, yet versatile, foam backdrop boards for about $50. Each had its own unique texture, and paint on both sides, which gave me four distinct looks.

Before we begin, and even before telling you what supplies you might need, let me first encourage you to truly make these your own. You can do exactly what I did, but there are so many other ways to texture these walls. For the walls in this article, I used plaster to create different textures and then painted them. You could also easily do wallpaper or any other material you can get to stick to a thick sheet of styrofoam!

Supplies You Need to Build Your Own Photography Backdrops

  • 2 - 2”x2’x4’ Foam Insulation Boards - You can go for the thinner boards and save yourself a few dollars, but I really wouldn't recommend anything less than an inch thick. Especially if you’re going to coat the board with lots of plaster as I did. I went with the 2 inch thick ones and honestly, had there been even thicker boards I would have gotten them. Also, the thicker the board, the easier it will stand on its own or with light support.
  • Quick Spray Decorative Texture - This is a 50lb. bag of powder that you add water to and make plaster. I used a lot of this stuff, and I still have over half of the bag left. You can go for a bucket of pre-mixed plaster, but it’s almost three times the cost and, if you’re using as much as I did, you’ll run out quite quickly. I mixed mine in a 2-gallon bucket with a lid.
    • (NOTE: You can mix this stuff by hand, but I encourage you to spend $6 on a paint mixer attachment for a drill and save your arm from certain death.)
  • Spray-On Wall Texture - This is what I used to create the knock-down texture on one side of the board. It was really easy to do. I think had I known just how easy, I would have simply done the same thing with the plaster I made for the other wall textures. Still, the ease of use may be worth it. Anything that comes in a spray-on can is tempting. Wall texture, whipped cream, cheese. See what I mean?
  • Putty Knives - Truly, you could buy one of the cheap packs of plastic ones with various sizes. If you do want to go the nicer rout get a 4” knife and a 2” knife.
  • Trowel - Now we’re getting into the specific textures that I created. One of which was a plaster skip-trowel application to create a Venetian plaster look. If you’re not doing this and have no other reason to use it, you won’t need this tool.
  • The bristles of an old broom (or something else kind of like that). This one is also specific to some of the textures I made. I just grabbed an old, plastic-bristled, studio broom and took the handle off of it.
  • Paint - Decide what colors you would like your walls to be and select your paint. I went for a bright yellow, a darker blue, and a grey.
  • Plastic Sheeting - You’re gonna make a mess!

Preparing Your Workspace to Build Your Photography Backdrops

Contemplate your work area. You can work on these boards with them laid flat on the ground, or you can prop them up on a wall. I worked both ways at various times, and each offers its own benefits and drawbacks. Standing up means you’ll have to have a stool or step-ladder at some point. Laid flat means that you may have a hard time reaching over to apply plaster, paint, etc.

For the first couple of boards, I turned the sheet of styrofoam sideways and laid it flat against the wall length-wise. This worked well for the skip-trowel and knockdown textures. For the other two, I laid the styrofoam flat.

Preparing your work area makes such a huge difference! Sweep the floor of your work surface, lay out your plastic, and organize all of your paint and tools. Make sure you know what sink or water source you’re going to use and prepare that area.

How to Make Your Own Photography Backdrops

First, let me say that before making any of these, I had never done this before, or, aside from painting, used any of the techniques in creating them. I hope that you’ll see this as an opportunity to have fun, get a little messy, and make some art you can use to shoot with! I truly had a blast making all of these things!

How To Make a Skip Trowel/Venetian Plaster Styled Photography Backdrop

up close of skip trowel texture

Tools/Supplies Needed:

  • Plastic sheeting to contain any mess.
  • Quick Spray Texture and bucket to mix it in.
  • Water for making the plaster.
  • A large putty knife.
  • A trowel.
  • Paint and painting supplies.


Adding water and mixing the plaster.

Step One: Mixing your plaster.

In your bucket, toss in a good bit of the Quick Spray Texture. Add some cold water to it and mix it up well. If it’s thick and crumbly looking, add some more water. Your aim is a consistency that looks a lot like pancake batter (it doesn’t taste like it). If you accidentally overdo it with the water and make it too thin, no worries. Just add a little more powder. I found this stuff to be super forgiving. Just make sure you mix it really well and get all the clumps out. I might even recommend sifting it into the bucket.

Step Two: Plaster Application.

You’re going to do this in three steps, with some drying time in between each one.

  • SKIM COAT - This is the first step. Cover the entire surface with the plaster, using alternating angles. See the above video for the specific technique. Once the surface is covered, let it dry for one hour before continuing.
  • TEXTURE COAT - For this step, you’ll do a very similar application, but allowing the trowel to “skip” now and then to create more texture. Once covered, let this coat dry as well. 1-2 hours.
  • SKIM COAT 2 - This is a repeat of step one. Apply the plaster at a low angle, scraping it off at a high angle. Continue to change the direction of your wrist while doing this. Allow to dry for an hour.

In the video above, she is applying an actual Venitian plaster, which you sand after the 2nd skim coat. Because I used regular plaster and painted my wall/board, I did not sand my wall. You can do this if you wish, but I am very happy with the outcome that I got.

Applying the first skim coat to the foam board. Edited with Mastin Labs Ektar 100 preset

Second texture coat. Edited with Mastin Labs Ektar 100 preset

Step Three: Painting your photography backdrops.

You want to retain the texture that you created with the plaster, so this means you shouldn’t paint your new wall with a roller. Instead, use a big 4” flat paintbrush.

I painted my wall with two coats of paint, using only a 4” brush. Instead of painting in a single direction, I followed the lines and textures created from the skip trowel. I went across the entire surface in long, sweeping brush strokes. Also, on this first coat, I intentionally left areas unpainted here and there. This uneven coverage, and gaps in the paint allowed for a greater depth of texture once the second coat was applied.

Applying the first coat of paint, making sure to leave gaps for texture. Edited with Mastin Labs Ektar 100 preset

close up of gap texture Edited with Mastin Labs Ektar 100 preset

After the first coat has dried (around 30 minutes - 1 hour), you can apply the second coat. Use the same technique of sweeping brush strokes that follow the natural lines and textures of the skip trowel. This time, cover the entire board.

Depending on your color and how heavy your paint is, you might consider diluting the paint with a little water. The thinner paint will allow greater depth in the application of multiple coats.

Applying the second coat. Edited with Mastin Labs Ektar 100 preset

Skater on skip trowel backdrop. By Chris Daniels, edited with Mastin Labs Ektar 100 preset

How To Make a Knockdown Textured Styled Photography Backdrop

up close of knockdown texture

Tools/Supplies Needed:

  • Plastic sheeting to contain any mess.
  • 1 can of Spray On Wall Texture.
  • A large putty knife, trowel or squeegee.
  • Paint and painting supplies.

This is the easiest and most straightforward application of the four textures in this tutorial. Though I believe you could easily make this using the same plaster from the skip trowel (using a slightly thinner consistency), I'm going to show you how to create it out of a can, using Spray On Wall Texture. That's what I did, and it was crazy easy!

You can lay your board flat or place it up against a wall. Whatever works best for you. Be sure to lay out the plastic to keep things clean.

Step One: Spray It On.

Really. It's that simple. You can just follow the direction on the can.

Spray it on in a circular motion. I did about a third of the board at a time.

Allow it to dry for 1-2 minutes.

Spray on the texture in circular motions

Step Two: Knock It Down.

Using a larger putty knife, or even a squeegee or trowel, very lightly sweep the edge across the plaster knocking it down or flattening it.

knock it down in alternating, sweeping motions

Repeat steps one and two until the entire foam board is covered.

You can opt to do another layer on top for even more texture. I did.

Step Three: Paint It.

Nothing fancy here. Pick your color and apply it with a roller, brush, or whatever you wish. Paint it just as you would a wall in your home. Let it dry and shoot on it!

Portrait of studio buddy, Steve on knockdown texture. By Chris Daniels, edited with Mastin Labs Ilford PanF preset

How To Make a Heavy Plaster Free Form Styled Photography Backdrop

up close of free form textures made with broom

These are really fun to do! Remember that old broom head from our supply list? Here's where it comes in handy!

You'll most likely want to lay the boards flat for these. I initially tried to do the first one with the foam standing up, and it didn't go so well.

Painting the two freeform texture boards

Tools/Supplies Needed:

  • Plastic sheeting to contain any mess.
  • Quick Spray Texture and bucket to mix it in.
  • Water for making the plaster.
  • Broom head (or similar bristled brush).
  • Water to dip the broom in.
  • A large putty knife.
  • Paint and painting supplies.

Step One: Mix The Plaster.

You're going to use the same process for mixing plaster for the skip trowel, but this time you're going to make a lot more. Especially if you're covering two boards as I did. If you are doing two boards, you're going to make about a gallon of plaster. You're going for that same pancake batter consistency, and be sure to mix all the lumps out, or they'll show up on the wall.

Step Two: Schmear it Like Cream Cheese.

Now, using your large putty knife, take your plaster-batter and spread it all over the board. Heck, If you really want to go for it, use your hands or even dump some on the board and spread it around. Go crazy! Just get it out of the bucket and spread evenly across the foam.

Step Three: Sweep It!

Dip the broom or brush in a bit of water and sweep it across the plaster to make shapes and patterns. There is no specific instruction here. Just have fun with it and make lines and shapes that you like. Experiment. Remember to wet the bristles every once in a while. The wetting helps keep the plaster from building up on the broom too much. If the bristles do get too heavy, you can scrape off the plaster or even wash the broom if you want a clean start.

Using the same broom, I made two different textures. The first was more patterned. I started from the top of the board and made little overlapping rainbow shapes all the way down.

The second was more freeform. I did long, overlapping strokes with the broom, which ended up looking kind of like a ribboned texture.

Step Three: Paint

Really, you can do whatever you want here, but I used that same cheap 4" flat paintbrush. Just like with the skip trowel, I painted with the grain of the texture and left some unpainted spots here and there on the first coat for more depth.

Painting the boards

That's pretty much it for these, friends! I really hope that you have a lot of fun making these and please show us what you make and how you use them! As always, never hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or comments! Here are a few images I've taken so far one the ones I created:

Top Left Edited with Mastin Labs Fuji Original | Top Right Edited with Mastin Labs Portra 160+ | Bottom Images Edited with Mastin Labs Ektar 100

Fuji Film Lightroom Presets

Fuji Original Lightroom Desktop Presets

Mastin Labs Fuji Original Lightroom Presets are perfect for natural light sessions for outdoor family photos, engagements, and weddings. With the streamlined Mastin 3-Step Workflow™ and end-to-end support from our team,...