Gatorfoam Technical Bulletin
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Tri-Dee Distributors Inc. 
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Gatorfoam®                                       Gatorfoam Price List]
Gatorfoam is a series of unique, lightweight structural panels consisting of a rigid Polystyrene foam core faced on both sides by smooth, moisture resistant man-made wood fiber veneers. The foam and veneers are permanently bonded together in a sandwich construction. The face laminates have been specially developed to provide an excellent surface for painting, silk screening, laminating and photo mounting.

The exterior qualities of Gatorfoam make it a top choice for signage, props, floats, exhibits and point of purchase displays to name but a few applications for this specialty panel product. 

Gatorfoam panels are a strong, structural and moisture resistant material. When exposed to long periods of very moist conditions, there is little or no change in either the face or the core. Exposure of unprotected faces to exterior conditions has no effect other than a slight bleaching and a moderate tendency to bow toward the sun. Ultra-violet radiation (sunlight) degrades unprotected foam. Therefore, any exposed foam should be protected with a good quality, pigmented water base coating or other U.V. barrier, and large panels should be well supported to protect against any bowing movement. (see further note of caution regarding UV penetration under the heading "Painting".)

The black Gatorfoam is not recommended for exterior use. The Polystyrene foam core is impervious to moisture; however, ultra-violet radiation (sunlight) degrades unprotected foam. The black color further aggravates this problem as dark colors absorb ultra-violet light.

Due to the thermoplastic properties of the extruded Polystyrene foam core used in Gatorfoam laminated foam panels, the maximum continuous use temperature of the product is limited to 165 F The maximum intermittent use temperature is 180 F.

Caution should be taken to avoid exposing Gatorfoam panels to an open flame during storage, handling, installation or use, because this composite panel will burn. However, the burning or combustion rate of Gatorfoam panels can be reduced significantly when completely coated with at least 3.5 mils of coating (in tumescent) classified as "Fire Retardant" by Underwriter's Laboratories.

As we have stated, Gatorfoam laminated foam panels are both rigid and strong. However. like other panel products, they may bow under certain conditions. Potential for bowing, of course, is much greater in the thinner panels and in full 4' x 8' unsupported panels or on panels that are treated differently on one side than on the other, e.g. laminating sheet materials to one side only or exposing one side of the panel to a higher heat source than the other side. We suggest that similar precautions for controlling bowing be taken with our Gatorfoam panels as would be taken with most other panel products. (Please note that the 3/16" panel is not warranted against warp.)

Gatorfoam panels are manufactured flat and graded for flatness prior to packaging. Occasionally, however, panels may be received in a bowed condition - usually the top panel in the carton. These panels should be allowed to return to their original flat state prior to processing. Generally this can be accomplished by either:


  1. Removing all panels from carton and standing on their long edge in a vertical plane with enough spacing between sheets to allow air circulation around both sides of the panels for at least 24 hours. This permits both overlays to uniformly equilibrate with their environment and return to a flat state as manufactured.


  2. Inverting the panel (concave side down) on a flat surface and allowing it to remain for 3 to 24 hours (depending on the environment). To insure maximum flatness, full size wood frames edge glued to the perimeters of the panel should be sufficient. Extruded aluminum channels or wood frames to fit panel edges also work well. For extremely critical applications, one of our thicker Gatorfoam panels should be considered. For panels where coatings cover over 60% of the surface area, it is be advisable to similarly coat the opposite side.

Gatorfoam panels are offered in white, natural and black face laminates.

The core of Gatorfoam is an extra dense, high quality extruded Polystyrene. It machines with a very clean edge and offers a quality surface for painting. If for any reason the foam edges are not as smooth as desired after machining, it can be lightly sanded with a fine grit sand paper.

Gatorfoam MARKETS

Advertising Media Graphic Art Supply Stores Parade Float Manufacturers

Television Stations (props and sets)

Convention Centers and Exhibit Halls Public Utilities and Phone Companies
Department Stores Silk Screening Shops Graphic Designers
Display Departments Point of Purchase Manufactures Theatrical Properties and Scenery Studios
Grocery Store Chains Museums Sales Promotional Aids
Fast Food Store Chains Display and Exhibit Manufactures Architectural Model Builders
Lettering and Sign Shops Colleges and Universities Educational Tools
Photo Mounting Shops Amusement Centers (Six Flags, Disney World) Toy Manufactures
Color Labs Store Fixture and Planning Companies State and Federal Agencies
Art Supply Stores    

Physical Properties ASTM Method Value
Density D-1622 15 lbs/ft3
Compressive Strength D-1621 500 psi
Tensile Strength D-1623 300 psi
Shear Strength D-273 165 psi
Dimensional Stability D-2126 1.2% max
Water Absorption D-2842 0.062% by Vol. after 96 hrs.
Closed Cell Content D-2856 97%
"K" Value Insulation Factor C-177 0.291
Freeze Thaw D-2126, 25 Cycles No disbonding or distortion
Mold & Mildew Resistance D-3273 Does not support Growth
Dielectric Constant D-1678 1.3
Flammability Test  See note: This test was done in 1974 and then rejected in 1976.  There is not a current test for Flammability. D-1692- 1974 Burn Test Pass


The ideal cutting of Gatorfoam is done with equipment normally used in woodworking, but it may also be cut satisfactorily with hand tools and other specialty tools.

CIRCULAR SAWS - Since Gatorfoam is woodlice, it may be cut with standard table saws. For best results consult your tool supplier for specific recommendations.
BAND SAWS - Gatorfoam may also be cut with a band saw, however, the blade should be thin with the finest teeth possible.
ROUTERS AND SHAPERS - Irregular cuts and shapes may be cut with a standard wood router. The tool should have as many wings as possible with positive rake hook angle and face shear for smooth, clean cuts.
SPECIALTY TOOLS - Due to its versatility, the Cutawl Precision Power Tool, Model K-11 is good for irregular shapes. For specific cutting recommendations, the equipment manufacturer should be contacted. The Cutawl is manufactured by the Cutawl Company, Bethel, Connecticut, 06801(203) 792-8622.

A method for successfully cutting Gatorfoam with Guillotine or die cutting equipment has not been identified.

While Gatorfoam can be cut by hand, the strength of the face surface makes it difficult. If there is very much detail in the pattern to be cut, other methods of machining are more desirable. For straight cutting by hand, best results have been achieved with knives with thin, short blades (i.e. paper knife #1 -R, Blade #2, Hyde Manufacturing Company, Southbridge, Massachusetts, 01550.)


Contact Cement Adhesive - Because of the nature and application of contact cement, no special surface preparation is needed. The surface should, of course, be kept clean and free of any oil contaminates as with any other surface to be glued. If adhesive is solvent base rather than water base, caution should be taken to avoid contact with foam core as the solvent can cause core to deteriorate. Sufficient open time must be taken with solvent based contact cement to avoid solvent penetration of the facer.
Water based contact cements are recommended.

Other Adhesives - The panel surface must be sanded in the area where gluing is to occur. The sanding "breaks" the laminate surface and allows for more adhesive "bite".

Roll Coater, Spray, Paint Roller, Paint Brush

The adhesive chosen will dictate application technique, cure time and bond quality. Consult your adhesive manufacturer for specific recommendations.

Laminating Fabric (Velcro, etc.) - For best results:

  1. Use water base glue for indoor-outdoor carpet (Roberts #3055 or comparable).
  2. Apply with fine notched trowel (1/16" sq.) thin uniform coat. Avoid large amount as bleed through can occur.
  3. Use rubber brayer to roll down fabric - let dry 24 hours.

Gatorfoam needs no special preparation before priming or painting. The surface should of course, be kept clean and free of any oil contaminates as with any other surface to be painted. If the surface has become lightly soiled or scratched, it may be hand sanded with a silicon carbide dry paper 180 grit or finer. After sanding, be sure to clean surface well to remove any dust particles. For optimum results, we recommend that the surface be sealed with a good primer. See following section on "Paint System".

To date, these types of paints have been used very successfully:

Acrylic Base Enamels (Water base and oil base)
Oil Base Lacquers (Solvent base)

Caution should be exercised, however, when using oil base or solvent base systems, not to allow paint to make contact with the polystyrene foam. These types of paints are likely to attack and deteriorate the foam core.

Any of these common methods of applying paint may be used:

    Spray Coating, Roll Coating, Brushing

Spray coating normally offers the best all-around results with smoother, more uniform coverage. Curtain coating is not recommended due to a bubbling action created in the paint. The bubbling is caused by an air displacement and solvent flashing situation when applying a high volume of paint so quickly. This problem may be minimized by specifying flat pigment and slower solvents in the paint or by using water base paints.

The paint system may vary depending on the individual requirement or desirability. There are currently a wide range of systems in use. These include:

High Grade System Low Grade System
2 coats primer 1 coat primer
2 coats pigmented enamel 1 coat pigmented top-coat
2 coats clear top-coat  

      Any good grade of paint from a reputable manufacturer would be adequate. In cases where the foam edges might be subjected to exterior exposure, it will be necessary to protect the edges from deterioration by the high intensity ultra-violet light from the sun. A good coating of a pigmented water-base paint or similar UV barrier should be sufficient to provide this protection (please note that in exterior applications, edges must be inspected and touched up as necessary). From time to time, customers have experienced problems from UV penetration due to insufficient UV inhibiting pigment in the paint. This is particularly true with darker colors, i.e. dark red, deep brown, black, etc. If such colors are used and exposed edges of foam are not covered with a water base paint that has a heavy load of UV inhibiting pigment or with a good quality UV barrier, we will not be liable in the event of a foam/glue line failure. For full information on UV inhibitors contact your paint suppliers. Since a Gatorfoam panel is of a combustible nature and will burn readily if it comes in contact with an open flame, to avoid a hazard from fire, we suggest that all exposed surfaces be coated with a minimum of 3.5 mils of an Underwriter's Laboratories approved in tumescent (fire retardant) coating in all interior applications to reduce the risk of accidental ignition. Contact your local paint dealer for information or sources of these paints.

Drying by oxidation and evaporation is preferred. When it is possible, allow the freshly painted Gatorfoam to dry the length of time suggested by the particular paint manufacturer.

If forced drying by hot air ovens is used, sufficient flash time should be allowed in order to prevent blistering of paint. This is usually approximately ten minutes. Oven temperatures must be controlled to a maximum of 180 F for 1 1/2 minutes to prevent deterioration of foam and possible WARPAGE of the Gatorfoam panel.


Black, White and Natural Gatorfoam has been successfully used by photo mounters for several years but experience has proven that the natural and white face provide a better surface for photo mounting. The white face has a harder surface that may require sanding before applying adhesive to insure a good bond. Gatorfoam Natural offers the best surface for uniformly bonding of the pressure sensitive films with little or no surface preparation (i.e. sanding).

Black Gatorfoam requires careful mounting particularly in low humidity conditions (such as indoors in cold climates). The finest quality mounting films are recommended. Surfaces should be carefully prepared before mounting.

The surface should be clean and free of any dust, trash, oil or other contaminates prior to mounting. Gatorfoam may require lightly sanding of the surface for a good adhesive "bite". If you sand, take extra precaution to remove sanding dust prior to mounting.


  1. Maximum temperature not to exceed 1 80"F
  2. Maximum pressure not to exceed 15 PSI. (Panel Pressure)
  3. Maximum time not to exceed three minutes.
  4. Panels in excess of 3/16" thick should be placed in the press and pre-heated prior to mounting.

For best results contact the supplier of the laminating material for their recommendations.


  1. The choice of films is "the most important" consideration when using pressure sensitive film for mounting photographs to Gatorfoam. Before using any pressure sensitive material, please contact the manufacturer for recommendations concerning the use of their respective laminating materials in conjunction with Gatorfoam.
  2. For best results the use of equipment specifically designed to apply these pressure sensitive films should be used.
  3. When using pressure sensitive films, Gatorfoam should be at room temperature in order to achieve optimal results.

Gatorfoam is a combination of polystyrene and a polymeric impregnated veneer. because of its unique composition, there are no conservation standards that specifically apply to Gatorfoam. Both White and Natural Gatorfoam have successfully passed the Photo activity Test conducted by the Image Permanence Institute of the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Conservation mounting requires special materials to ensure that the art to be preserved will remain undamaged in the future. Many major museums have successfully used Gatorfoam to mount exhibitions for many years.

Testing at both room temperature and 150 F resulted in out gassing at the parts per hundred million range only. The base paper used in Gatorfoam are in the acidic range, however, the saturation process reduces the mobility of the acid. The average pH of the finished Luxcell facers is 6.5 - 7.0 pH. For long term storage, protection should be provided from ultraviolet light.

CAUTION: Since long term results are not available, use with artifacts of metal composition could have chloride reactions.

Gatorfoam panels are manufactured flat and graded for flatness prior to packaging. However, like other panel products they may bow under certain conditions. Potential for bowing is much greater in the thinner panels and in full 4' x 8' unsupported panels especially on panels that are treated differently on one side than on the other, i.e. laminating materials to one side only or exposing one side to a higher heat source or humidity than the other side. We suggest that similar precautions for controlling bowing be taken with Gatorfoam panels as would be taken with any other panel product. For extremely critical applications, we recommend using 3/4" or thicker. With panels that are covered over 60% of the surface area, it is advisable to similarly coat the opposite side.


Gatorfoam panels are rigid, lightweight and easy to handle. Widely used in the screen print industry the suppliers of equipment and inks can provide you with specific recommendations to achieve maximum results. In 2003 the Gatorfoam white facer was upgraded to a new bright white color. This new bright white color provides a superior color to direct print over. With the Bright White Gatorfoam direct print graphics have a very eye popping appearance. We recommend that the white face be used with the following surface preparations and drying process.

For optimal results in screening on Gatorfoam panels, we recommend that the panel be sealed with a clear sealer prior to the base coat. The surface should, of course, be cleaned and free of any surface contaminates (i.e. oils, dust particles, etc.) prior to sealing. If surface has become soiled or scratched, it may be lightly hand sanded with a silicon carbide dry paper 180 grit or finer. To avoid clogging of screens be sure that loose dust from sanding is completely removed from panels.

Drying by oxidation and evaporation is preferred when it is possible, to allow the freshly printed Gatorfoam to dry the length of time suggested by the particular ink manufacturer.

If forced drying by hot air ovens is used, sufficient flash time should be allowed in order to prevent blistering. . Oven temperature must be controlled to a maximum of 180 F for 1 1/2 minutes to prevent deterioration of foam and possible warp age of the Gatorfoam panel. When using ambient drying racks, drying time is usually approximately ten minutes.

While experience has shown that Gatorfoam does not offer a good surface for ultra violet inks, several major screen printers are currently printing onto a coated paper and laminating to the natural face Gatorfoam. The lower price of the natural face product helps offset the additional costs of laminating. See our section on "Photo Mounting" opposite page.




White Face: Natural/Black Face:
1. 3/16" 4.1 pcf 1. 3/16" 13.3 pcf
2. 1/2" 7.9 pcf 2. 1/2" 7.3 pcf
3. 3/4" 6.0 pcf 3. 3/4" 6.0 pcf
4. 1" 5.4 pcf 4. 1" 5.2 pcf
5. 1" 4.7 pcf 5. 1'" 4.5 pcf
White Face:   Natural/Black Face:
1. 3/16" 137# +/- 8# 1. 3/16" 131# +/- 8#
2. 1/2" 136# +/- 8# 2. 1/2" 131# +/- 8#
3. 3/4" 104# +/- 6# 3. 3/4" 99# +/- 6#
4. 1" 88# +/- 5# 4. 1" 87# +/- 5#
5. 1 1/2" 74# +/- 4# 5. 1 1/2 73# +/- 4#

Below are results of testing performed on the five thicknesses of Gatorfoam that we manufacture. The test procedure involved measuring the force required to flex a given length of Gatorfoam to 2", 4" and 6" away from horizontal. The force was applied to a 144 inch square (12" x 12") area in the middle of a 36" span. Sample length was 48" with a 12" width. Only 3/16" Gatorfoam would flex beyond 2" from horizontal. All other thicknesses broke either before or just after 2" had been reached.


From time to time, certain creative applications require a panel larger than 48" x 96". This can be accomplished by butt joining panels of Gatorfoam. The following are our suggestions for permanently bonding two or more panels to make one oversize sheet. This is the procedure used by various fabricators.


  1. Miter edges of the two ends to be joined.
  2. Align and then drill or rout holes for multiple dowels in both pieces of Gatorfoam.
  3. Set dowels into first piece using a white polyvinyl acetate glue. Allow to dry thoroughly.
  4. Using water base contact cement, coat both mitered edges with a very thin coating of glue. Let dry until there is no tack when you touch the glue.
  5. Insert dowels into holes in second piece after dropping a small amount of the white glue into each hole. Press glued edges of foam firmly together.
  6. For extra smoothness of face surface, fill the seam with a spackling compound and sand with a fine grit sandpaper.

Since we exercise no control over the way in which our products are stored, handled or used after shipment from our premises, no warranty, expressed or implied, is made as to the effects of their use. Our products are offered in good faith and our representatives are available to help the customer obtain the best results based on information and tests believed reliable. Our only warranty obligation is to replace or accept return of material which we have determined to be defective. Uniwood makes no warranty of any kind, express or implied, including without limitation any implied warranty of merchantability. No person is authorized to make any representation or warranty on behalf of Uniwood and any such statement shall not be binding.


Making canvas panels out of Gatorfoam or  if you are going to paint directly on Gatorfoam, you should put a coat or two of acrylic or oil "Gesso" on it so that it will be absorbent enough to adhere the paint and to separate the linseed oil in the paint from the board.  The oil will eventually degrade paper or linen canvas if applied directly.  

How to cut foam core neatly:

To cut foam core neatly there are only 2 pieces of equipment necessary; a metal ruler and an extremely sharp blade. I prefer a cutter (the type that requires that you break off a section of the blade when you want to sharpen the tool). The reason I prefer these is that, with an X-Acto knife you have to purchase a new blade every time one gets dull. When cutting foam core I strongly recommend that you change your blade no less often than once every 8 cuts. That's a lot of blades to buy! If you're using a cutter you just break off the end and proceed with your next cut. My personal favorite is called Auto-Lock because it is a more substantial weight and construction than most and it is comfortable in my hand. I bought it from a regular office supply store.


Be sure to work on a mat or other surface that will not be damaged from this process. Draw a line in pencil on the foam core to act as a guide for cutting. Lay your metal ruler along this line and hold it steadily with your off hand (your left hand if you're right handed). With your dominant hand make a cut just deep enough to cut the paper on the top of the foam core. It is important to cut into your ruler rather than trying to keep the blade lined up with the ruler. Next, make a second cut deep enough to cut through the foam only. Finally make a third cut to cut through the bottom piece of paper. You should now have a very straight, very neat edge.

foamcor1.jpg (13260 bytes)
Cutting into the ruler
(slight exaggeration for demonstration purposes)


If your edge is very jagged and has holes your blade was not sharp enough and caught on the foam core rather than slicing cleanly through it. Change your blade.

If your edge is not straight you did not cut into the ruler. What I mean by "cutting into the ruler" is that the leading edge of your blade should slightly point toward the ruler as you're cutting. See photo above


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