Cooler Painting 101

Last week at Lily Grace, we decided it was finally time to paint ourselves a cooler. We brought them to Carolina Cup and since big bro, Fripp & Folly, invited us to tag along with them we figured it was only fair to make them one too. Our painted coolers were a raffle item for our favorite customers to enter to win!

Never heard of this crazy idea? Fear not my friends, it's never too late to learn! First things first, you've got to make a plan. You’ll want to have your ideas picked out ahead of time. I usually pick out my designs and either print/draw them out and use them to reference while painting or pull them up onto my computer to reference. Once you've done that you should assembly your supplies and painting station.


  1. Cooler of your choice
  2. Spray primer with White Paint (I like to use Krylon Fusion for plastics)
  3. Electric sander/sanding paper (fine grit and coarse grit)
  4. Old tarp/sheet/newspaper to paint on and protect your floors
  5. Synthetic brushes of various sizes
  6. Foam tipped brushes
  7. Acrylic paint
  8. Acrylic paint pens (optional)
  9. Painters tape (optional)
  10. Modge-Podge Outdoor
  11. Mini wax water based sealant
  12. Polyurethane mini wax sealant you've got an idea of what you’d like to paint, you must go prep your cooler! Prepping includes taking it apart, sanding, more sanding, and priming. When I paint a cooler, I take off the handles (if possible), wheels, lid, and anything else possible. When yo u think about it, the ten seconds it takes to unscrew the handles is way easier than trying to paint around them.

Then you move onto sanding! At this point, I've invested in a power sander; I got mine off Amazon for about  30 dollars and it’s my baby (plus I feel totally cool using power tools).But, if this is a onetime kind of thing, regular sand paper will do the trick  too! The key is to start with a very coarse grit paper. You’ll want to sand until the finish that came on the cooler is gone. We sand the cooler because if we don’t the paint won’t stick! After using the coarse paper, use a fine grit paper to take off any of the deep scratches and even out the whole surface.

After everything seems all sanded and level, wipe down the cooler with water and paper towels to get rid of any residue left behind and prepare to prime! I lay out my sheet under my cooler and place my lid separately down on the sheet. I like to use a spray primer with white paint added so that it makes the base colors easier to put on ( it’s way harder to paint on a dark surface and get the color to actually look like it should than to paint on a white surface). After 

I've sprayed all the sides in even coats, I let them dry for about an hour, paint them with the ‘Mo dge-Podge’ and a foam tipped brush, let that dry and then spray paint with the primer again to make sure the color is even. I let this dry for a long time; usually about 5 hours! * Take note to be careful to not leave it outside after you paint it; I spray mine outside because of the fumes, but if you leave it outside, water will ruin it at this point and dirt will be hard to get off!* primed and ready to go I start off my painting my base coats. You’ll need two or three so make sure to do them all first before you add your designs! I use pretty much any brand that has the color I like. Some from Walmart, hobby lobby, or wherever! Just make sure that all the paints you use have the same type of finish, I like the matte finishes the best, they’re  easier to layer. Once you finish your base coats go ahead and start on your designs! Work from broadest to most detailed, when doing the details I like to use acrylic paint pens because it’s easier to control than a brush. All things and shapes and logos look better with a black outline, it looks cleaner and more “professional”. If you’re stuck on what to  do next or how to do something (like wood grain for example) there are TONS of tutorials on YouTube.

After you get all your designs done and painted let the whole cooler dry and put a layer of Modge-Podge on top and allow it to dry over night. In the morning, paint a layer of mini wax sealant over the Modge-Podge and it dry for about 10 hours. *** DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP *** Once your cooler has been mini-waxed, you can then use polyurethane to waterproof and life proof it. If you do not use the mini-wax before the polyurethane, all your designs will come out with a yellow tint to it and trust me that won’t be pretty!!

Allow the whole cooler to dry for at least 24 hours before yo u use it for anything. If you would like to do multiple coats of the polyurethane you can! Just make sure you wait a couple hours between coats. The polyurethane needs at least 24 hours to set to make the cooler water proof and scratch proof. If you don’t wait 24 hours, you might as well have never even sealed it!