Cooler Painting Tutorial

April 22, 2014

Cooler Painting Tutorial

April 22, 2014
Cooler painting tutorial

Painting coolers at my university is not a common thing; however, I have seen the idea all over the internet and decided I wanted to make a cooler for my boyfriend for his fraternity’s formal. I used The Cooler Connection on Facebook and a few other sources to help me make my first cooler. I hope with this step-by-step post, I can help the cooler painting process be much less stressful for you!

Things you will need:

  • Cooler
  • Sand paper / sander (60 grit and a fine grit)
  • Plastic spray primer
  • Spackle
  • Mod Podge
  • Sealant
  • Pencil
  • Stencils, Printed images
  • Painter’s tape
  • Paint pens
  • Acrylic paint, many colors
  • Paint brushes, many sizes for painting designs
  • Foam paint brushes for painting backgrounds, Mod Podging and sealing
  • Newspaper / plastic tarp

Step one: Buying your cooler

You have many options for your cooler. Your options include large and small sizes, coolers with wheels and without, round coolers, and coolers with drains. For my cooler, I picked a standard Igloo cooler without wheels. The one I purchased from Wal-Mart was an Igloo 48-Quart Breeze Ice Chest and retailed at $18.88 (pretty cheap if you ask me). Click here to view the cooler I bought.

Step two: Getting started

Sanding my cooler

Before you begin painting your cooler you will need to sand all of the surfaces you plan to paint. Doing this will ensure the durability of your cooler. If you do not sand your cooler, the paint will not stick because of the protectent coding on the cooler already. Sand your cooler down with a heavy grit sand paper until all of the surfaces you want to paint are rough. Then go over the surfaces with a fine grit sandpaper to smooth the surface. Before you begin priming your cooler, be sure to dust/wipe your cooler down with a wet rag after sanding to get all of the sand dust off.

Step three: Filling in the holes

Next, I filled in the Igloo logo on the front of the cooler with speckling. I chose to do this so that I had a flat surface to paint on the front of my cooler. Once the speckling dried, I sanded it down to make a flat surface. I also tapped parts of my cooler that I didn’t want painted, such as the handles.


before and after speckling

Step four: Priming your cooler

Next, I took my cooler outside and sprayed the entire thing with a primer spray paint. I used a Rust-Oleum spray primer (purchased at Wal-Mart for around $4) because the product is specifically made for adhering to plastic / medal and making the surface paintable and long-lasting. Krylon or Rust-Oleum spray primers are the best for this purpose. 

The sides of the cooler should be covered completely and let dry for at least 24 hours before the detail painting begins. 

Primed cooler and painted top

Step five: Painting

Taping my design

Painting the sides of the cooler is a tedious task because each has to be done one at a time to allow paint to dry. You can start with any side you like. I chose the top because it was a nice flat surface to begin with. Also, my cooler allowed me to take the lid off of my cooler. I kept the lid off to avoid accidentally sealing the cooler shut with paint or Mod Podge. I began by painting a solid layer of a background color all over the surface. Once the background was dry I covered the entire top with a layer of Mod Podge. Once the Mod Podge was dry (I waited about a day) I used painters tape to create the TKE flag on the top of my cooler. i painted over the tape and once the paint was dry I peeled it off. I then went back with red paint to touch up anything that needed touched up.

Next, I used printed out what I wanted the text to say. I chose to put my boyfriend’s name and his pledge class (Fall 2012). I scribbled led all over the back of the printed text and traced it onto my cooler. The lead transferred onto my cooler so that I could see the lines when I began to paint the words.

When the design was finished, I covered the entire side with another layer of Mod Podge and let dry over night. You can never really have too much Mod Podge over your designs because it will help seal your work and protect it from chipping off as acrylic paint tends to peel. 

My final lid


After painting my lid, I moved on to painting the sides. Again, I started by painting my background color and Modge Podging. Next, I IMG_4890printed out images of some of his favorite things, such as Vineyard Vines whales, Blue Moon, and Chicago sports teams. I cut the printed items out and Mod Podged them onto the cooler. If you are comfortable drawing these images and icons freehanded, go for it! I wanted my images to be perfect, so I chose to print them on regular computer paper and waited about a day so they wouldn’t smudge when I Mod Podged them onto my cooler. Once the Mod Podge was dry I began to paint over the images with paint and paint pens. 

After the Mod Podge was dry I began to paint over the printed images. I chose to do the Vineyard Vines whales on the front of my cooler, along with the name of his formal. I chose to do this so that my boyfriend would have a token to remember this event. I also added bow ties / a hair bow to go along with the formal theme. Again, I printed out what I wanted the text to say. I found the Vineyard Vines font through the fonts page on The Cooler Connection. I scribbled led all over the back of the printed text and traced it onto my cooler. The lead transferred onto my cooler so that I could see the lines when I began to paint the words with a black paint pen. 


Continue to paste and paint your images onto the cooler, side by side.  I also advise painting well onto the bottom side of the cooler as well because the thickness of the paint you are applying makes it more likely to chip and peel off and having the paint extend toward the bottom of the cooler gives you more protection. Because each side of your cooler will likely be a different color, you will need some way to connect the sides without them looking sloppy. I decided to paint bowties onto the corners to hide the lines where the colors of each side meet. Bowties are a very common corner trick and very simple to do. I have also seen golf balls, baseballs, beer tap handles, etc.

Step six: Finishing your cooler

After you have painted all sides of the cooler, one last coat of Mod Podge won’t hurt. I also painted a cute saying on the bottom of the inside of the cooler that read, “If you can read this, call a pledge” as a fun way to spice up the white inside. I can definitely see my boyfriend joking around and saying that, so I decided to add it to spice up the plain white inside of the cooler. As a final sealant against weather, sand, or whatever else your cooler might encounter, I covered my cooler with Minwax Ploycrylic Protective Finish, Semi-Gloss (*UPDATE 3/19/17 – I made a second cooler and used EnviroTex Lite Pour-On High Gloss Finish instead of the polycrilic from Walmart. This sealant is like 50 layers of varnish and is much stronger when it comes to protecting your cooler.) I also sealed the bottom of the cooler to make sure that there was no way layers of paint could peel. Once your cooler has dried completely (I waited about 24 hours) fill it with goodies for your date and enjoy formal!

My finished cooler
My boyfriend and I at his formal 🙂


  • Blaire December 18, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    So I’m painting my first cooler and after I mod podged the side after I painted the background color. But now the acrylic paint wouldn’t stay on the mod podge and it looked absolutely horrible. Is there a way to get around this? I ended up just repainting the whole side of the cooler again so it would be matte and easier to paint on and it seems to be working now.

    • klogss May 21, 2015 at 3:08 pm

      Blaire, I am so sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. I just saw this! I never had this problem. I hope you figured everything out!

  • Taylor May 8, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Hey! I loved your cooler tutorial and I am going to be working on one soon. I haven’t really had the time to do one, but I am going to make time this summer to work on one for my annual beach trip. One question I had was what do you do to the bottom of the cooler. I know you don’t really see that part, but I don’t think I want it to look unfinished so I was just wondering what you did. Also, I was wondering how many coats of primer you put on before you started painting. I’ve seen where people have listed the number of layers for the modpodge and sealer, but never the primer. Thank you!

    • klogss May 21, 2015 at 3:13 pm

      Hi Taylor,
      To answer your first question: I sanded the bottom, but I didn’t completely paint it. I just painted the edges around the bottom the same color as each side so you couldn’t see the color of the cooler. Then I also sealed the bottom so the paint wouldn’t start pealing on the bottom and make it peel up on the sides. Does that make sense? I am not really sure how else to explain it.
      To answer your other question: I think I did two coats of primer on my cooler. After I did the first coat I realized how rough it was so I used a fine grit sand block to smooth it out a little. It didn’t really take the primer off, but I did another coat just to be safe.

      I hope that helps!

  • Alice July 23, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    How did you seal the inside of the cooler? Did you do the same as the outside!

    • Katie Lizz July 23, 2015 at 6:51 pm

      I just did the same thing as the outside 😊

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