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The day finally comes when the guy you’ve been talking to asks you to be his date to formal. Your mind immediately goes to: What will I wear? What will we do? Then the real panic sets in, you only have a month to paint a cooler for them. Lucky for you, here is a step-by-step guide on how to make one and some ideas of what to put on it!

You will need:

  • A cooler (preferably without indents or curves)
  • Spackle (for indoor and outdoor use)
  • Putty knife
  • Sandpaper
  • Paint primer
  • Lots of colored paint
  • Trace paper
  • Painter’s tape
  • Paint markers
  • Pencils
  • Brushes
  • Mod Podge 
  • Spray paint sealant (UV protection and indoor/outdoor use)
  • And most importantly, alcohol

Step 1: Spackle

After you buy the cooler, there will most likely be a logo on it that’s indented into it—“Igloo,” for example. Use the putty knife to spread the spackle all over the logo to fill in the indents and make the cooler level. Now, it does take about 24 hours to completely dry before you can sand it.

Step 2: Sanding 

After the spackle is completely dry, use sandpaper all over the cooler, including the lid, to smooth out the surface so the paint will stick and go on easier. This can be quite messy so do it over a sheet or outdoors. After sanding, get a wet paper towel and wipe off the excess grains.

Step 3: Priming

You can pretty much use any form of paint primer, the spray kind or paint on. Before you prime, use the painter’s tape to tape off the smooth and shiny surface in-between the cooler sides and the lid (this part will not be painted at all and left white). Roll on or spray the primer all over the cooler and it will most likely leave a white layer. The primer isn’t completely pigmented, so the cooler will not be plain white, just a thin layer. Leave to dry for another 24 hours.

Step 4: Brainstorming design ideas

Before you actually start the painting, you kind of want to have an idea of what you want to put on each side. Some ideas include your date’s favorite alcohol, the fraternity that they’re in, favorite sports team, the football field of the school you go to, the location of the formal, their favorite music artist, hobbies, etc. In addition to painting the sides and lid, most people put a small design going up the corners of the cooler to separate the designs on each side. This can include dice, cup pong, alcohol bottles/cans, footballs, soccer balls, bowtie, surfboard, etc. 

Step 5: Start painting

What I liked to do is paint the entire background first, wait for that to dry, and then use a pencil to either trace your design, using either tracing paper or by freehand! If you’re worried about not having fine edges, that’s what the paint pens are perfect for!

Step 6: Seal

After you have finished painting the cooler, get the paint-on Mod Podge (gloss), and brush a layer on the whole cooler. Wait for that to dry, and then just to add extra protection, use the spray paint sealant to protect from UV and water damage. 

Step 7: Add the alcohol

Once you have your painted and sealed cooler, you’re ready to add you and your date’s favorite alcohol inside, and have a blast at formal!

This cooler will be a great memory of the time together that will last for many years! 

Hayley Veltri is a Senior at the University of Florida and is a journalism major with an event management minor. She has a desire to work in the magazine industry and/or social media.
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