The Ultimate Cooler Painting Guide


It’s that time of year, ladies — crafting season is upon us. You’re getting a big which means you’ll need to make a paddle, or a little, which means you’ll need to make literally every other craft on the planet. No matter how much you try to prolong it, graduation is rapidly approaching — that means grad caps to remember. And of course, just around the corner is formal — the best weekend of your life, preceded by the worst crafting experience you’ll ever be a part of. It will take hours and hours of hard work, but this tutorial will make you look like a pro.

Materials You Will Need:

• A Cooler, any size
• Sander
• Sandpaper
• Face mask to protect your lungs from plastic dust
• Spackle
• Blue painter’s tape
• Primer, two cans
• Mod Podge paint
• Polycrylic sealer, two cans
• Bristle paintbrushes
• One large foam paintbrush
• Acrylic paint
• Black Sharpies
• Hair Dryer (optional)
• Non-Latex Gloves (optional)

Step-By-Step Basics

• Prep your cooler
• Sand (rough grit 60-80)
• Sand (smooth grit 120-160)
• Wipe residue off with damp cloth
• Fill the grooves with spackle- Let dry for 12 hours
• Sand (smooth grit 120-160)
• Brush dust off with paper towel, or dry rag
• Tape with Painters tape
• Spray Primer x2 (Light Sanding (smooth grit) in between layers)
• Wipe off any residue with dry paper towel or cloth.
• Spray or Paint Mod Podge

Paint your Cooler

• Apply two layers of base color paint. Spray or paint Mod Podge in between layers.

Paint on Designs

• After painting designs, allow paint to dry to avoid pulling the paint and smearing your beautiful artwork.

Sealing your Cooler

• Mod Podge one or two layers on your “final” product, allow drying time between layers.
• If you are using a paint Mod Podge you will want to apply with the foam brush.
• Apply your final sealer (two coats)- Minwax, Mod Podge outdoor, Triple Thick, Et.
• Allow drying time in between coats
• Allow one to two days of drying and setting before delivering your cooler.

Tips, Tricks, And What to Buy

The Best Coolers
The flatter the better, you don’t want a lot of grooves or designs. White coolers work better, so you don’t have to worry if the primer doesn’t cover every nook and cranny. Don’t worry if there is a logo. This is what the spackle is for.

The best place to get coolers I have seen is Big Lots. They are so cheap there and there are so many options of sizes and colors. Other places you can find coolers- Target, Walmart, the grocery store, or any outdoor/sporting good store.

When purchasing a cooler at one of these stores make sure you look for coupons! There are a ton of apps out there that offer them, I mean if you’re trying to save a little. (my favorites are Target Cartwheel, and SnipSnap)

It’s also a good idea to purchase in package deals to get the most bang for your buck. This Amazon deal includes three different ones. Hello gifts for everyoneeeee!

Sander and Sandpaper Suggestions
Heavy grit to the plastic finish off (I would use 60 or 80), and move on to a smoother grit to make sure the cooler isn’t bumpy (Maybe 120-160).

My choice on sanders is a Mouse Black + Decker Detail Power sander. It may not be huge, but it certainly gets in all the nooks and crannies. It’s a detail sander and since coolers have little ridges this will be the best at getting inside of them.

After you are done sanding, you’re going to want to get a damp cloth and wipe off the residue so it allows your primer to adhere to the cooler. ONLY use the damp cloth before you spackle, not after! Also, allow ample drying time between using the damp cloth and putting the spackle on.

Spackle and Primer
After you sand, you’re going to want to spackle in the ridges in the cooler. I like Drydex. It’s quick-drying and goes on pink (if that wasn’t convincing enough), then dries white. It’s around $6 and you have more than enough for additional coolers down the road. Bondo is also a great product and can be found in most auto stores, as well as Home Depot.

If there are only small ridges to fill in you could pour in clear nail polish as an alternative, however drying time is significantly longer and you’re not going to have a clear idea if it is all the way hardened.

Before you spray the primer give the spackle/bondo one last quick sand and brush off residue (do not apply water). You’re going to want to use your painter’s tape to cover the edges of the cooler/ wheels. Keep this on the entire project.

There are a lot of primers out there, make sure you read the description for what they can be used for. You want it to say plastic!

• Krylon (Can be purchased at most craft stores and Home Depot)
• Krylon indoor/outdoor white primer
• Krylon fusion for plastics (sanding isn’t necessary)

You can buy anything acrylic from your local craft store. My preferences are Martha Stewart and Liquitex, they both give the best and brightest hue.

Are you going to put writing on your cooler? Maybe a monogram?

• Paint pens- Deco or Sharpie work really well. You want oil-based pens.
• Sharpies- regular tip, the fine tipped ones pull off the primer. (Side: a trick I learned in my cooler painting days is if you accidentally mark your cooler with sharpie, you can trace over it with a dry erase marker and wipe it- comes right off. Or dab a q-tip with a little nail polish remover. Boom! Done!)
• Sealers- the best I have seen is the Minwax Spray in the Semi Gloss finish.

General Tips
• Sand and prime outdoors. It makes a mess… trust me, my basement carpet will never be the same.
• Wear the Face Mask, you might feel super intense, but your lungs will thank you.
• Do not skimp on drying time. If you are impatient, like me, use a hair dryer.
• Make sure you are using a new foam brush to apply Mod Podge Layers, you don’t want paint residue ruining your designs.
• Always Mod Podge before Minwax!
• I wear non-latex gloves while painting, yes I care about my manicure, and this way you don’t have to worry about all those sprays, glues, and paints ruining it.
• I think this goes without saying, but wear clothes you don’t care about- I can’t help with acrylic paint stains in clothes.

A lot of guides advise you to put Mod Podge coats in between each layer of paint, I don’t advise this. Think about nail polish- the more coats you have the thicker it is and more likely it is to crack or peel off. Layers should go like this:
Primer, Mod Podge, Primer, Mod Podge, Base Coat (2 layers), (optional Mod Podge but I wouldn’t), Detail work, Mod Podge, Sealer.

Design Tips
• Pinterest is your best friend.
• DaFonts, has lots of cool, free fonts for tracing
• Use a Monogram App- I can’t recommend this enough. There are so many free apps in the appstore, download one, plug in your monogram, email it to yourself and print it out as large as you want.
• Plan out your design in advance.
• Remember if you are mixing paints to achieve a desired color- you will likely only get that color once so make enough of it. Unless you took precise measurements.
• Only paint one side at a time and worry about the corners last.
• Have a plan for the corners though that will help the cooler flow
• To transfer designs, just print out your design and trace it with a pencil onto some tissue paper. Lightly tape the tissue paper on to the cooler (don’t press it down — it might take off your base coat).
• If tracing is too difficult, just Mod Podge designs onto the cooler and paint over them.

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We are Marian and Meag. Best friends navigating post-grad depression and self-medicating by blogging and drinking too much wine. If you're not laughing or offended, we're doing it wrong. Grab life by the cork! Check us out over at

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