Painted Cooler Tips and Tricks


Apparently there is a huge amount of painted coolers out there done by fraternities. Some of them are really intricate and beautifully designed. I just wanted a simple cooler to match my hubby’s boat name and my daughter wanted to do a completely painted cooler for her boyfriend for his birthday. I never imagined when I started surfing Pinterest that I would come across so many wonderful ideas! It’s quite amazing to see some of the artistry on coolers.

I kept my cooler very simple and used a stencil to make painting it easier.

Top only painted cooler

My daughter however went all out and painted all sides and the top with different scenes.

Fully painted cooler on all sides

Since there is so much of an interest in painting coolers I thought I would share some tips and tricks to ease the process of painting your own cooler. Painted coolers would make a great present for any occasion so let your imagination go wild!

Tip #1

Make sure to sand the surface of the cooler and wipe down with rubbing alcohol. Sanding helps the paint to adhere. The alcohol takes off any left over sanding dust and oils from your fingers.

Painted Cooler Tip 1 Sanding

Tip #2

Make sure you use good quality acrylic paints. I happened to use Martha Stewart’s brand but there are several out there that state they are dishwasher safe after curing for 21 days. I found that the paints that are dishwasher safe don’t scratch off as easily as the paints that are not dishwasher safe.

Don’t forget the quality of the brushes. If the brushes are not a good quality they will leave brush hairs in the wet paint which will make the paint peel when you try to get them out. Have a wide size variety of brushes so that you can not only paint larger sections but are able to touch up the fine lines.

acrylic paints and brushes


Tip #3

If you don’t think you can paint, use the stencil like I did. It makes it very easy to get nice clean lines. I even had someone think the painting was a decal when they first saw it.

Simply tape the stencil in place and outline it with a pencil before you start painting. I happened to print out my design on regular copy paper and cut the stencil with an X-acto knife. I used a standard #2 pencil and the lines came out just dark enough to see the design without interfering with the paint.

Stencil placement on top of cooler

Traced design from stencil

Tip #4

Unless you are painting a design like my daughter did that takes up the entire side of the cooler with a background, start painting in the upper right hand corner for those of you that are right-handed and the upper left for those that are left-handed. This keeps your hand out of the paint while it is drying. If you do accidentally smudge the paint, wipe off the mistake with rubbing alcohol.

Be sure to apply one thin coat at a time. Let the paint dry completely in between coats. I would suggest only applying 3 coats at most so that the paint does not become too thick. I only used one coat because the paint went on so well and it had a nice coverage.

Beginning to paint the outlined design

Dry for at least a few days but preferably for the full 21 days recommended to be dishwasher safe. Even though you will never put the cooler in a dishwasher, letting it dry that long will help the paint to keep from scratching off.

Tip #5

Top Coat! Top Coat! Top Coat!! I cannot stress enough how important it is to seal the new painted design with a super good top coat spray. I sprayed mine with an acrylic top coat which worked well but after a couple uses my cooler did end up scratching a little. My daughter used a high quality spray glaze finish that worked much better.

Make sure you put on several layers of top coat so your beautiful artwork won’t scratch off after all your hard work painting it on.

Top only painted cooler

I have plans of painting another cooler, because I think they are so cool and make for a unique gift. You should head over to Pinterest and search for “painted cooler” for some inspiration for yourself. I know that is what I will be doing.

If you have ever painted a cooler please comment below on any tricks or tips you have learned.

If you are painting your first cooler and have questions please ask in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them and help you out!

I would love to see your creativity so be sure to comment with a link where we can all see your painted cooler! And, please make sure to share this post with your friends and family.


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