How to Paint a Cooler: 6 Easy Steps

Whether it’s for continuing a Greek tradition, for formal invites, or wanting to do something creative to pass the time, it’s ALWAYS a great idea to spice up your favorite brand of cooler!

But how do you do it, and what will you need?

In this article, we go over everything you need to know and walk with you every step of the way!

What Do I Need to Paint a Cooler?

Here are the things you need to do before you paint a cooler!


  1. Primer
  2. Putty
  3. Paint
  4. Sandpaper or sand foam
  5. Foam brushes, brushes, and paint pens
  6. Painter’s tape
  7. Stencil or tracing paper
  8. Mod podge

Here Are Some Product Suggestions

  • Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic (clear semi-gloss)
  • Outdoor Mod Podge Paint On (green label)
  • Adhesion Primer (the kind that’s designed for cars)
  • Heavy grit sandpaper for the finish and textures
  • Fine grit sandpaper for a smooth final finish
  • Detail power sander
  • Chip proof paint

6 Steps to Make Your Own Perfectly Customized Cooler

Here’s how!

Step 1 – Sanding and Smoothing


The first thing you need to do before painting coolers is to sand them down and use some elbow grease.

For this, you can use regular sand paper or some sand sponges, which are easier to grip than sand paper.

Sanding will take quite a while, and you want it to be super smooth (like recently shaved legs), so it’ll be easy to fill it with color later!

Applying Putty

Next, if there are any existing indents on the cooler, applysome putty onto the cooler.

This is more of a personal preference if you’d like a perfectly smooth, cooler canvas to work with, like getting rid of Igloo’s logo.

If you choose to use putty on the cooler, you must let it dry completely before proceeding to the next step.

The putty usually takes 24 hours to dry completely, so plan for this.

When the putty is completely dry the next day, make sure you sand those areas down one more time. You want to ensure your efforts to smooth out the cooler surface are well-spent!

Step 2 – Priming Stage


When you’re done with the final sanding, the next step is to prime your cooler. Priming your cooler before painting will let your paint adhere to the cooler better.

If you have the chance to choose the color of the primer, try to pick a color as close as possible to the final color of your cooler.

If not, you know you can never go wrong with a white primer!

White Primer

You’ll want to detach the lid before painting your cooler with a primer, then prime them separately.

When it comes to cooler painting, you also want to make sure that you paint all over the entire surface, leaving no space untouched to make it evenly primed.

Two coats of primer will do for cooler painting. Make sure you let the first coat of primer fully dry before you apply the next layer.

Step 3 – Applying Some Painters Tape


The next step is to tape the parts you don’t want to be painted on, like how the top part usually stays white.

Tape along the entire top part of the cooler to protect it from the paint seeping through.

Step 4: Apply the Base Paint!

Whether you go for traditional paint, spray paint, acrylic paint, paint pens, or paint sticks, you can show off your new cooler painting skills!

Grab your regular brushes and apply your base coat onto the cooler. You can freehand things for the first coat if you use the same base coat color for the entire cooler.

Applying With More Than One Color

But if you’re planning to do more than one color, put tape on the divide on the cooler where one color ends and a different color begins, and color it one side at a time.

Don’t just do one coat. Make sure to apply at least a few coats for the base paint of your cooler.

Step 5 – Designing


Now that you’re done with the last coat of base paint, you can start designing your cooler!

You can start by drawing on your cooler freehand with a pencil, then fill in the small details accordingly.

But if you want an extremely complicated image to make a beautiful cooler and need a guide, we suggest you print your high-quality image first.

Then, trace over the intricate images. Press decently hard with a pencil on your tracing paper to transfer the design onto the plastic surface.

If you don’t have tracing paper available, you can use tissue paper or carbon paper.

If you’re using spray paint, you will need to transfer the image to a stencil before spray painting it.

If you’re using acrylic paint, fill the image with paint. Paint pens will also be useful for this stage, especially if you want letters and numbers to write out.

And if you’re using different colors for your final design, remember to let one color of paint dry before applying a different color, so there’s no chance of them mixing.

For instance, if you design it with details like painting bow ties or golf balls, you want to ensure the transitions are smooth and clear.

Mod Podge Process

There’s also another alternative to make a beautiful cooler without actually painting it.

You can do this by printing the image you want on paper and simply mod podge it onto the cooler later.

Step 6 – Sealing

You will also need to apply mod podge sealant after each coat of color. It’s an annoying step, but trust us, it’s worth it!

Make sure to let the sealant dry before applying the next coat and apply one more sealant layer after the final drying process.

Like when you apply color, make sure you do it one side at a time.

Mod podge paint is available in glossy, matte, and glitter finishes for your project. Although, the glossy mod podge finish usually looks better.

When applying the mod podge, make sure you either use a brand-new brush or thoroughly wash an old one and dry it completely before using.

The Importance of the Brush

It is important to have a good brush because it ensures that no paintbrush hairs will fall off while applying the mod podge and stick onto the cooler later.

After covering the entire surface, let the mod podge dry for a full day before packing it with all the goodies your party needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

More questions about how to paint coolers? We’ve got you!

Will Spray Paint Stick to a Cooler?


Spray-on works better than the traditional kind. It will stick to the plastic better, be easier to apply, and dry faster!

Does My Cooler Need Primer Before Painting?


Primer is the glue that holds the paint to the cooler’s plastic surface. Without a primer, your paint, whatever kind of paint it is, will NOT stick to the plastic and ruin your project.

Can You Paint a Metal Cooler?


Although how to paint a cooler made of metal is longer and more time-consuming, it’s not impossible to paint and restore it to bring it back to its fresh years!


See? We told you it was easy!

With the steps and procedures provided, we hope that your cooler will get all the love and care it needs! Enjoy your new personalized coolers and watch how many guests fall in love with them!

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