Cooler Painting DIY

[Originally published Summer 2013]


{Cooler I painted last summer}

      If you attended a southern college you know all about greek cooler painting traditions, however for those who did not and are still in the dark it is a whole other world.  Fraternities host a few events every year (i.e. Carolina Cup, Spring and Fall Form) where they invite a date and go somewhere with their fraternity usually for an entire weekend. The boys pay for the trip and the girls are expected to show up gorgeous, ready to party with a beautifully painted cooler, sometimes fully stocked depending on the occasion. The coolers are custom creations painted by the girl for her date, and are often made to represent the guy’s personality and interests. They host a collaboration of logos, lyrics and images of “fratty” things. The most common images are Jack Daniels, Southern Tide, Southern Proper, Vineyard Vines,College Mascots,  Natural Light, Ralph Lauren, etc. Obviously it us not just southern colleges that partake in this tradition, but it is considered taboo in the South to not partake under this greek protocol.  As a Junior in college, I have painted my fair share of coolers over the past three years— for a boyfriend, a couple friend’s dates and as a business on Etsy. I have also helped design and paint aspects of coolers for sorority sisters, however unless its special I usually pass since painting a cooler is time and effort consuming. 





Buy a cooler. (Depending on the event, the size will vary: Large coolers for Formals, small for summer or gifts) 

Primer. Use a white plastic sealer and make sure you cover the cooler entirely. 

Have an abundance of acrylic paint, paint pens and spackle if you want to cover cooler logo indents

Paint brushes of all shapes and sizes. None of those cheap black sponge brushes!!!

Sealer. I always use Waterproof Mod Podge and then cover that with Miniwax Polycrylic Spray 

TIME. Make sure you have planned enough time to paint the cooler. Priming and Sealing each take 1-2 days and then the time  painting it depends on how detailed and large the cooler is. 


How to:

1. Design your cooler. 

     You need to pick what you want to have painted on the cooler. A good source of inspiration is The Cooler Connection Group on facebook, or by finding images on Google, Etsy or Pinterest. If you know the person you are painting the cooler for well then it is easy to figure out what music, alcohol brands, clothing brands and other things they like. If you are painting the cooler for a date you don’t know very well, just ask him some general questions so you can choose from a list for the cooler. That way instead of him just telling you what he wants on the cooler it can still be a surprise. Of course, hints of the guy’s fraternity are always welcome as well as your own affiliation. Often it is fun to add the recipient’s name, the occasion and sometimes the location you are going for an event, or even the event title.  I draw it out beforehand like a diagram so I know exactly what will go where and so I can make sure it will all fit. 

2.Apply the primer. 

      Follow the directions on the can to prime your cooler.To make sure you can not see any of the original color of the cooler you might have to do 1-3 layers. Make sure you do not prime when it is humid outside, it will make the primer sticky and not dry properly. 


3. Paint your cooler.

   [As a general tip, it is easier to paint if you can remove the handle.] Prepare your work space  Acrylic paint does not come out of fabric and is hard to get off surfaces. Start by painting your background color. After this I usually draw on the outlines of my designs but it is perfectly alright if you want to freelance it. When that is dry move onto the big sections and then the details. It is easier to cover up mistakes and you won’t have to maneuver around wet paint all the time.  If there is something that you know you cannot paint, do not feel ashamed to modgepodge a printed out picture or a logo onto the cooler instead. I know plenty of friends who do it for monograms, beer labels and sports logos. Be sure to be careful!! The paint scratches off easily and the more layers you add the more likely it is to peel off. Sometimes the layers are necessary but beware.


4. Apply the Modgepodge and then sealer.

    Wait to make sure your paint is completely dry before applying the modgepodge. I usually do 2-3 coats depending on the location on the cooler.I am known to give an extra couple coats to the handles and the edges that meet the ground. After 24 hours, go ahead and apply the sealer. Make sure to follow all the directions on the teal can. 


Overall, unless you are super artistic keep it simple. It is better to be simple with pristine images, instead of having a hot sloppy mess, and know that your date will truly appreciate whatever you do make for him. If he doesn’t then find another guy who will. 😉

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