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Tailgate Tuesday: Painted Cooler Tutorial



For the second installment of Tailgate Tuesdays, I have a fun tutorial for you to dress up your favorite football beverages.

This probably comes as no surprise, but here in the South, tailgating is kind of a big deal. Everything from dresses to cupcakes are adorned with team logos. That includes, you guessed it, coolers.

I had seen some really great painted coolers on gamedays over the years and a few weeks ago, I finally decided to make my own.

DIY Painted Cooler

Materials Needed:
Ice chest/Cooler
Spray Paint Primer made for plastic (I used Rustoleum Fushion for Plastic)
Acrylic Paint (the cheap bottles you can buy at Walmart or any craft store) and Paint Pens
Sandpaper (optional)
Mod Podge

I did some research and the general method seemed to be the same. Sand, prime, paint, seal and seal again.

Well, being the rule-breaker that I am (read: lazy) I decided to skip the sanding and went straight to priming an extra cooler that we had laying around in the garage. Are we the only people who have somehow mysteriously collected a million ice chests over the years?

I primed the cooler with Rustoleum Fushion for Plastic. I sprayed the blue sides of the cooler white and the top green.



After I let the spray paint layers dry for a day, I started painting the designs in with cheap acrylic paint (because it is nice and thin) and paint pens. Since the paint was so thin, it took several coats to achieve the color I wanted.

I decided to paint the top of the cooler like a football field. I free-handed some stripes and a football in the center.


Next I wrote the fight song around the lid with a paint pen.


Then I sketched the main designs on the cooler with a pencil.


I roughly sketched out a Razorback face and then painted the designs on in several layers.


After I was happy with the designs and let them dry overnight, I added a layer of Mod Podge to the painted sections of the cooler.


If you’ve never used Mod Podge before, don’t freak out  when it goes on white. It dries clear, I promise.

After the Mod Podge had dried, I added a final layer of clear gloss Miniwax Polyurethane. The polyurethane is pretty toxic, so make sure and apply it outside or in a really well ventilated area.


That’s it! Let the cooler dry for at least 24 hours and then fill with lots of yummy tailgating food and booze!

I really like how it turned out. The finished product:


Because I already had the paint, cooler, Mod Podge and polyurethane laying around the house, this project actually didn’t cost me anything. If you needed to go out and buy all the materials, it could get a little pricey – but who can put a price on true team spirit?

We used it for the first home game and while there are a few scratches, we were really rough on the cooler and it made it through a Saturday full of tailgating fairly well.

Have you ever painted a  cooler?     Any tips or steps I missed?

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  • Tamara September 12, 2012, 12:21 pm

    Modge Podge now makes an “Outdoor” modge podge that might work better for this type of project.

    Looks great!

    Tamara recently posted..Things I love Thursday : Arkansas RazorbacksMy Profile

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    • Jessi September 13, 2012, 2:16 pm

      Thanks! I’ve heard of that, but haven’t seen any at Walmart and Hobby Lobby was picked over last time I bought Mod Podge. I will definitely be on the look out now :)

      Reply Link
  • Elizabeth @ Southern Color September 18, 2012, 8:24 am

    Love the cooler!! You are quite the artist, the Razorback hog looks great :)

    Reply Link
    • Jessi September 25, 2012, 10:04 pm

      Thanks so much! I love your blog-always happy to add another southern craft blog to my google reader :)

      Reply Link
  • Heather October 24, 2012, 11:46 am

    I really want to make a cooler, but I’m not very artistically inclined. I was wondering if you could glue pictures on if they would stay since you cover it with mod podge and polyurethane anyways. Has anyone ever done this??

    Reply Link
    • britiany March 30, 2013, 11:08 am

      I did that for a cooler I made for my army boyfriend I printed out 15X7 prints of the digital camo from office max and modge podged it on. You still want to prime the cooler when you do it and make sure the bottom is very well sealed after a day of use some of the paper started to come up other than that it worked pretty well.

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  • Michelle March 3, 2013, 9:58 am

    FYI: I’d use Polycrylic instead of the Polyurethane. Polyurethane will turn your white’s a yellow tint & “age” the rest of the chest. Polycrylic does not yellow.

    Reply Link
  • Matt July 18, 2013, 12:48 pm

    Just curious how this cooler is holding up over time. Thanks for the info!

    Reply Link
    • Jessi July 24, 2013, 3:40 pm

      Hi Matt! We were really rough on the cooler last season and it has a few scratches on it, but overall it’s held up pretty well. I think if I had sanded it and primed it more thoroughly it would be in even better condition.

      Reply Link
  • Ashley July 29, 2013, 10:47 am

    The cooler looks great! The only step I would have done differently is to sand it in the beginning. I know the paint says it sticks to plastic but the cooler will last much longer if you sand it first! Also to help with the scratches I do 3 thin layers of mod podge before I seal! I’m a fan of Min Wax water based polycrylic but I’ve seen a lot of debate over polycrylic vs polyurethane. And for mod podging pictures just make sure the ink is fully dry and spray it with a little hairspray so it doesn’t run. Then just put some mod podge on the cooler and the back of the picture, stick it on, and cover it with more to seal it on!

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  • tammy October 10, 2013, 9:14 pm

    I painted an ice chest using these steps except I did not add the polyurethane and when we used the ice chest the mod podge got all white again like it was when I first put it on. Any ideas what might have caused this reaction to the cold and how can I fix it? Any help is appreciated!

    Reply Link
  • Dawna Gay January 3, 2014, 10:12 am

    Hi there,
    I was wondering if I can place a custom order for painted cooler on wheels from you?
    It’s for my daughter’s 20th birthday & I am in Florida, my zipcode is 33592 if you need that to look up shipping.
    Please let me know asap, thank you:)
    Dawna Gay

    Reply Link
    • Jessi February 7, 2014, 5:01 pm

      Dawna- I am so sorry that I am just now responding. My comment notifications got turned off somehow. Can you send me an email to info@jessimakesthings.com about timeline/size of cooler etc?

      Reply Link
  • ashley jackson January 11, 2014, 2:25 pm

    Wps this is incredible GO HOGS WPS

    Reply Link
  • Mel May 23, 2014, 9:11 pm

    I love this cooler this is a great ideal, do sell these, I’m wanting somthing special for my husband and this is it, I live in Arkansas

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  • Toni Bailey August 21, 2014, 10:32 am

    I just came across your sight and have decided to paint our two coolers for football season. Have you ever used Spar Urethane instead of Polyurethane to seal a cooler? I have some Spar Urethane at home and it sounds like it will protect it better than Polyurethane. Any ideas?
    Thanks in advance!

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  • Gerald Buzbee January 20, 2015, 1:17 pm

    Thank you! I’m going to use some of these ideas to paint a couple of coolers to match my boat. Great looking Razorback but…
    Go Gators!

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