Painted Cooler Tutorial

Have all the paint pens vanished from your local craft stores? Are there coolers lining the aisles of the closest Walmart to campus? That’s because it’s cooler season! Or spring…I guess that’s what most people call this time of year.

But if a fraternity gentleman has invited you to his formal, it’s cooler season. The task of painting a cooler may seem daunting at first. But don’t fret! I’ve created a general guide to cooler painting. Read through it before you start and you’ll do great!


  • Cooler (more on choosing one below)
  • Blue painter’s tape
  • Spackle
  • Plastic putty knife or something to apply spackle
  • Coarse sandpaper (60 grit)
  • Fine sandpaper (220 grit)
  • Krylon Fusion plastic primer spray paint, white
  • White tissue paper
  • Pencil
  • Screw Driver (if handles and wheels are removable on your cooler)
  • Matte Mod Podge
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Paint pens
  • Paint brushes
  • Printed art or logos
  • Minwax Helmsman Clear Outdoor Urethane Sealer

Selecting Your Cooler

When selecting your cooler try to find one without a lot of indentations. You also need to think about what this cooler will be used for and which size would be appropriate. Walmart is probably your best bet in terms of lowest prices and size of selection.

spackleandprimePrepping Your Cooler

Start off by using the blue painters tape to cover all handles, wheels, white edges of the lid where the cooler closes and anywhere else you do not want to paint.

Take your cooler outside and sand every surface you plan to paint with the 60 grit sandpaper. A lot of people use electric palm sanders for this, which will save you a little bit of time but probably cost you another $20-$150. Once you’ve sanded off the cooler’s original coating, take the 220 grit sandpaper and go over the cooler again until it is very smooth.

If you would like to get rid of any logos or small indentations on your cooler, use the plastic putty knife to fill them with spackle. Once the spackle has dried go over the area with the 220 grit sandpaper once again.

Take your cooler back outside to prime it with the Krylon Fusion plastic primer spray paint. It will probably take at least two coats to completely cover the entire cooler. I recommend waiting at least 24 hours to start painting after priming, and preferably seven days for the primer to become completely scratch resistant.


I recommend planning out EVERYTHING before you begin painting. Make sure they are images you know you are capable of painting. Once you’ve decided on the design for your cooler, paint each side and corner a predominant background color in the designs you plan to use. Once the background color is dry you can add your images, words or designs.

10172719_10201652811148451_138506247_nDrawing With Tissue Paper

If you can’t draw to save your life like me, I recommend printing out an image you want on your cooler and then tracing it onto a piece of tissue paper in pencil. After that, lay the piece of tissue paper on the cooler wherever you want the image and trace over it with a sharpie or paint pen.

Printed Images

If you would like to print out an image and attach it to your cooler you can do that also. Print out the image and if it is in color spray it lightly with hairspray and allow it to dry so that the ink does not run. Cut it out and apply mod podge to the place on the cooler you plan to place it and on the back of the image. Once the image is on the cooler and smoothed out, apply another layer of mod podge on to and then allow it to dry.

Sealing Your Cooler

After all of your paint is dry and you’ve made sure every detail is how you want it, apply 1-3 layers of regular or spray on mod podge to your cooler. I recommend doing one side at a time and allowing it to dry before doing another side.

Once all of the mod podge has been applied and dried, apply three coats of Helmsman® Spar Urethane by Minwax and wait at least two hours between each coat. Wait at least 24 hours after your last layer of Minwax to remove all of your painters tape and use the cooler.


Check out all of my finished coolers and order your own here.


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