Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cooler Painting Tutorial

Hey everyone! Happy October! 

One of my friends asked me to give her a guide as to how I painted a cooler back in the spring. Now, if you aren't familiar with cooler painting, here's a quick run down. It seems to be an only Southern college tradition and it's bigger at some schools than others. Basically how it works is that when a fraternity boy invites you to his formal it is proper etiquette for you to paint him a cooler. The cooler is then brought, filled with drinks, to the formal. The cooler is usually hand painted and personalized for the boy. Some might say...that's a lot of work for just a boy (aka my mom) but the concept is that he is paying for pretty much everything so all you have to do is the cooler :)

I don't have any step by step pictures but the pictures are from the cooler I painted for a Sigma Nu at Vanderbilt! (also please excuse the crappy iPhone quality...I took them at 4am before I left and this was also before I had my nice camera!) Also, there seems a be quite a few different ways to paint coolers. Mine might have more steps than most but in my opinion, if I'm putting all this time into painting it, I want it to last. And so far, this one did.

Step 1: Sand

You don't need to sand super, super well but just enough to kind of scuff up the surface so the primer will stick. I used a coarse sand paper then a finer grit after to make sure it was sanded pretty well. Again, this is just me being extra sure but I think this is one of the most important steps because everything is going to peel off or chip if the paint doesn't adhere well to the cooler

Step 1.5: Spackle over logo

On the front of the cooler, there is usually an indented logo of the cooler brand. I didn't really want to paint over this and just leave it so I took spackle (doesn't really matter what kind...you can get any at Home Depot or Walmart!) and with a spackle knife filled in the logo. Lightly sand after.

Step 2: Prime

I used Kilz 2 primer which you can get at Home Depot, Walmart, etc. I love this stuff. It sticks well to most surfaces and you don't actually have to sand shiny surfaces super well for it to work (however, again, see my opinion on step 1 for amount of sanding). I think I did 2 coats because part of my cooler was red.

Step 3: Paint

This is the fun part. Paint whatever designs you want on the sides and top! (See tips at the bottom for painting ideas!) I just used regular acrylic paint and then paint pens for the details.

Step 4: Seal

This may be the most important step of all. A lot of girls and places on the internet say to just use Modge Podge. PLEASE DON'T. Modge Podge is NOT water proof. What I used to seal (and this is also what we used to seal our square project last spring if that tells you how much I trust it) is Minwax Polycrylic. I cannot stress how wonderful this stuff is. You can just get it (again) from Walmart or Home Depot. It comes in a few finishes (gloss, matte, and satin I think) and you just shake it up and paint it on. It looks a little cloudy when it goes on but it dries clear. I think I did 3 coats. Seriously ya'll...please trust me on this. Seal with Polycrylic!! 

And that's it :)


1. If you're looking for inpiration, check out Pinterest or Cooler Connection on Facebook

2. I free handed most of my drawings BUT this is how I did the lettering. Print off the letters for the size you want then flip it over to the unprinted side. With a regular pencil color the area where the letters are. Just color the whole thing in with pencil graphite :) Then tape the graphite side to the cooler where you want it so that you can see the printed side. Trace over the edge of the letters with a pencil. When you trace you will leave a graphite imprint on the cooler then you can see where to paint!

3. If you write on the handle like I did...make sure to seal that too! I did it last minute and forgot then when Josh carried the cooler down to the beach, he had "the good life" on his hand :)

Good luck!


  1. How long do you let each side dry?

  2. I have the same type of cooler, around the rotating circles of the handle my paint is chipping! How is yours not?

  3. Thank you I am glad about the encouragement! I love your site, you post outstanding. woodbridge painting