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How To Paint A Cooler For Dummies: The Be All, End All Guide

Cooler Decorating

While the boys hoot and holler about football stats, fantasy teams, big hits, and bigger bets, we ladies know what football season really means: tailgating. I imagine heaven as one long, never-ending tailgate, where the booze flows freely and the grills never burn out. The day a philosopher bases a utopia around tailgating is the day we will finally reach the perfect society. That’s how great tailgating is. One of the most important factors of tailgating is making sure the beer, booze, and bags of wine are kept at an optimal, cold temperature. What vessel is not only vital to keeping things cold, but somewhat a staple in Greek life? Coolers, of course!

Painting coolers has turned into a Greek tradition. You paint coolers for tailgates, formals, big/little reveal, birthdays, and really anything you can think of. Whenever there is an event, chances are, a cooler is appropriate. It seems easy enough, but in order to have a beautiful cooler that isn’t only water, weather, and chip-proof but also able to hold up to a rowdy tailgate, it’s important to know what you’re doing.

What You’ll Need:

  • A Cooler (the less curves and texture, the easier to paint)
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Spackle
  • Sandpaper
  • Paint Pens
  • Mod Podge
  • Wax Paper
  • Polyurethane Sealer
  • Primer Paint
  • Sharpies
  • Pencils
  • Brushes (bristle and sponge)
  • Wax/Tracing Paper
  • Painter’s Tape

The Process

Step 1: Sand And Spackle
First thing’s first. Take your spackle and go over any indents (example: Igloo’s logo is indented in the cooler). Make them as smooth as possible and let it dry completely. Now is the time for some elbow grease–sand, sand, sand, sand your cooler until it’s as smooth as recently shaved legs. It might seem tedious and exhausting, but it’s worth it when the cooler is still in use years after you finish, still looking fresh!

Step 2: Primer
Now that your cooler is smoother than McCoy, you can get started on the priming stage. To save yourself some work, I recommend using spray paint that is made to adhere to plastic. It sticks and dries faster than traditional paint. Do a couple coats to make sure all sides are evenly primed.

Step 3: Pick Your Designs
Of course, you might already have an idea of what you want on your cooler, but this is a perfect time to draw out what you want on each side, plan out what goes where, and so on. Print out logos, pictures, and crests, and trace the more complicated pieces on tracing or wax paper with pencil. If you’re feeling ballsy, you can freehand things, but just know that stencils and tracing paper are available.

Step 4: Transfer Your Stencils Onto The Cooler
Freehand your designs and logos onto the cooler. If you’re using tracing paper, place the paper with the image you want to transfer onto the cooler exactly how you want it to look (DON’T PUT IT UPSIDE DOWN OR BACKWARDS). Make it easy on yourself and tape it to the cooler so it doesn’t move around and compromise the look of the image. You can either press decently hard with a pencil over your image to transfer it or use a Sharpie to transfer it to your cooler. Be wary with a Sharpie, though, because you don’t want it to show through the paint when everything is said and done. If you have an extremely complicated image that you don’t feel comfortable recreating yourself, print out a high quality image of what you’d like and simply Mod Podge it onto the cooler later in the process (read: not now).

Step 5: PAINT
Break out those paints and pens, because it’s time to get colorful! Make sure you paint one side at a time, but other than that, it doesn’t matter where you start. Use the paint pens for small details and writing, the sponge and foam brushes for covering large areas, and the regular brushes for everything in between. Tape off certain areas so that your aren’t painting on another side or messing up another area. If you’re painting each side a different color, make sure you make the corners of the cooler as neat as possible and think about painting bow ties, golf balls, or anything else to make the transition look smooth. Mod Podge after each layer of paint, but be careful, because Mod Podge can “pull” the paint across the cooler. Also, this is the stage where you’d Mod Podge those intricate images!

Step 6: Let It Dry
When you finish your last side, sit back and wait until the paint is fully dry. Then, apply one or two layers of Mod Podge all over the cooler to really make sure the paint doesn’t chip. Allow a full day to let the Mod Podge dry on the cooler.

Step 7: Seal It Up
This is the most annoying step, but the most important. Make sure each layer of sealant you use is completely dry before you start the next layer. You can use spray or a brush on sealant, but just make sure you use a clean brush and you clean it super well when you are finished!

Step 8: Dry And Load It Up
Let the sealant dry for at least a day after your last coat, and then fill it up with all the goodies your heart desires. Enjoy!

Product Suggestions

Sandpaper

  • Heavy grit to get the finish and textures off, fine grit to smooth.
  • Consider getting a detail power sander with some of your sisters. It’s less than $30 dollars at Home Depot and it takes out the elbow grease of the painting process

Primers

  • Krylon indoor/outdoor white primer (for normal-sized coolers you will need at least two cans).
  • Krylon Fusion for plastics in white works the best, and you don’t have to sand.
  • Bulls Eye Water-Base Primer and Sealer by Zinsser (Apply two or three coats so it dries fast and flat. Can be purchased at most home improvement stores.)
  • Adhesion Primer from any auto supply store. It should be near the bondo, and it’s made specifically to make paint adhere to plastic and metal.

Sealers:

  • Minwax (the spray-on works well, too)
  • Outdoor Mod Podge Paint On (green label)
  • Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic (clear semi gloss)
  • Mod Podge Spray Sealer
  • Mod Podge Paint-On Sealer (messy to work with but it’s one of the best)
  • Krylon Clear Matte Finish

Inspiration:

  • Cooler Connection Facebook Group
  • TSM’s Photo Gallery

Enjoy tailgating with your own perfectly customized cooler and watch how many formal invites you’ll get later in the semester, thanks to your new cooler painting skills!

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Hakuna Moscato

Hakuna Moscato (@HakunaMoscato) is a contributing writer for Total Sorority Move. and Post Grad Problems. A born and raised Maryland girl, she's obsessed with the Baltimore Ravens, Old Bay, and anything that has the Maryland flag pattern on it. She's a newly retired student-athlete and sorority girl, but not quite ready to call herself an adult, especially since she still has to be carried out of bars. With a Long Island in hand, she's ready for whatever life is throwing her way. Maybe.

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