Cooler Painting: A Detailed Guide

This coming weekend is my boyfriend's fraternity formal! On Friday we are heading to Pawley's Island for a weekend at the beach- hanging out and dancing the night away! So since they guys pay for pretty much everything (the hotel, dinner both nights, the actual formal dance) all the dates decorate coolers and pack them with drinks and snacks for the weekend. I don't know if this is a tradition outside of southern universities, but for weeks leading up to the function there are no coolers, or paint pens or spray fix to be found in any nearby Walmart and there are dozens of girls sitting in the sun or on dorm balconies painting away and listening peppy music.

This is my fourth year of cooler painting. I am a pro. In fact if I wasn't overloading and up to my eyeballs in school work, I would actually volunteer my painting services to other less-crafty girls (for the price of paint).

Cooler painting is a process and I would like to share that process with you.

Step one: Research
Know your date. Figure out what they like so you can make their cooler personal. Where are they from? What year in school are they? What sports teams do they support? Are they really preppy? Or fratty? Or trippy? Do they like to fish? Do they only wear patagonia?

Now if they are a freshmen it's really easy. It's their first cooler, they have no expectations plus it's their first formal in the fraternity so you can go all "fratty". Include their pledge number, their chapter, their fraternity's seal or crest or flag or all three.
Also know basic function information: location, date, etc.

For inspiration (or if you have no idea what the heck I am talking about and if you want to feel a little overwhelmed) visit the Cooler Connection. It's a facebook group with over 4,000 members and over 3,000 pictures of coolers. Here are some images I pulled from there for my cooler: my mood-board if you will...

Step two: Preparation
Gather your materials. Buy your cooler- the best cooler has a lot of flat surfaces which are easier to paint on. Buy paint and paint pens. Paint pens are key, they make everything look better. Now I have accumulated sooooo much paint and craft materials over my four years at college from all the cooler painting and homecoming painting and sorority crafting that I have an overflowing craft box. I suggest labeling all your paints and materials with your initials because you'll probably end up sharing with your friends and that way you get it all back in the end.

Step three: have fun, and just do it!
Since it takes a lot longer to paint a cooler than you'd think, I recommend the following: definitely do it with friends, if possible do it outside in a bathing suit so you can get tan while you work or pop in a movie or put on some pump up music and enjoy. Here is a picture of what I have on my cooler so far. I have a long way to go...

(the top so far-cup holders are not my friend)

(the back so far)

(one side so far-the checkered bit and the blue and pink stripes are patterns I copied from Peter's bathing suits, this way he'll match his cooler!)
By the way... this cooler is HUGE! I actually fit inside it. I told Peter that and he said : "Oh good, I've been looking for a place to keep you." Hehe, he's kidding of course. Here's a (bad) picture of me in the cooler so you can get some perspective.

I'll post pictures of the final awesome cooler and maybe a few more tips as soon as I get it done so tune in!

UPDATE : I have been noticing a lot of traffic from Pinterest (I'm flattered by the way) so I thought I'd update this post with a couple more pics of the final cooler!


  1. Wow, that is a huge cooler. You are doing an awesome job so far. Can't wait to see it finished. We go to the beach near Pawley's Island. Have a wonderful weekend and stay safe! Your Mom and I read another blog whose daughter just painted a cooler too. Hers was cute! Have an amazing weekend and enjoy these last days of college. Can you believe that your graduation is just around the corner. Your Mom was just talking about it on her blog today. She is counting down the days!!! Love & blessings to you from NC!

  2. You're so cute : ) Take lots of pictures in your dress...I can't wait to see it you have shoes?

  3. Your cooler looks great! And that picture of you in it is too funny!

  4. what types of paint do you use? every cooler i see the paint peels off of it!

  5. I love your coolers. I definitely wish I was as talented as you.
    But I have a quick question. My paint isn't peeling off of my cooler, but it's scratching off really easily.
    Do you put some sort of top coat on your cooler?

  6. Great tutorial! I can't wait to start mine :)

  7. I also am looking for what type of paints to use to get so much versatility that I see. I have painted a LOT of coolers....and I fine sand surfaces, clean with laquer thinner and paint with oil based enamel paint....very messy, hard to blend and deal with but works well. After drying and "curing" in the sun for a few hours I spray over the painted areas with heavy clear acrylic spray. This process still scratches off and/or wears off over time. I add printed directions that tells people to let it sit in hot sun whenever possibel to cure even further, thinking that over a few months the paint will become stronger and more durable. I see lots of acrylic little crafty bottles being used and also paint markers, this is unbelievable to me that it would stay on these coolers! Please post if I am missing something.

  8. I love looking at all the cooler ideas on Pinterest! My question is what do the guys DO with so many coolers? It sounds like they get them for every event. They could end up with 16-20 (very large!) coolers by the time they graduate!

    1. At our school the guys only got them for formal each year. So 4 coolers in all. If I had to make one for every date function I would just quit! Most of the coolers find their way to some corner of the fraternity house where they go to die. My bf ended up keeping 1 that stayed relatively in-tact that he'll still use.


    Thanks! We'll be doing one for our Razorbacks. Both my BF and I went to a small school that didn't have Greek life but we LOVE this concept and are stealing it. Yay! Love tailgating and this is perfect to show our Razorback pride.

    Thanks again!

  10. These are so cool I just had to follow your blog, haha.

  11. Do you think you can make me a list of what materials you use exactly? Making my own soon. :)

  12. How'd you make the blue and pink tie-dye looking pattern on the corners? LOVE it.

    1. The tie-dye bit is actually duct tape! I found it in the hardware store- they have all kinds of fun patterns and colors. Thanks for your comment!!


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