Painting a Tumbler




Introduction: Painting a Tumbler

About: Hi! My name is Wolfgang Haney. I have a Bachelor's of Science in Systems Engineering with a Mechanical Option and I am a Technical Specialist in the AEC Industry. I like to consider myself a maker. I have a lo…

During football season, I spend a lot of time at my parent’s house hanging out and watching LSU football games. Most of the time, my parents have neighbors and friends over to watch the games as well.

Towards the end of last season, one of my dad’s friends brought his custom painted tumbler and his wife also brought hers. I thought they were super cool, even if they weren’t LSU themed. They told me where they got them painted at, a little bit about how they understood that the guy did it, and how much it cost them. And well, it was fairly expensive. I think the cost was so high because the guy uses automotive paint and specialty equipment to customize them. The quality is really good and he can do some really cool designs, but I couldn’t justify the expense when the type of design I would like is very simple and also I couldn’t pass up the chance to try it myself. Now the guy who painted my dad’s friends’ tumblers was already in a very similar industry painting and dipping guns, knives, automotive parts, and etc. So, for him to paint these tumblers he doesn’t need much, if any, upfront investment, especially if his customers bring the tumblers to him. I’d love to have all of the equipment required to paint like he does, however, I am not rich, so this had to be done on somewhat of a budget.

Step 1: Make a Plan

I knew that I wanted to paint my tumbler with purple and yellow and I wanted it to be LSU themed. I had an extra LSU decal laying around that I had ordered before for something else and had never used it, so I figured I’d use it for this project. I also knew that my best bet to keep this somewhat budget friendly would be to use spray paint. I figured that the finished product would have a little bit better quality if I used model spray paint. It’s my understanding that the model spray paint you get at hobby stores is essentially automotive paint, and I knew it was better quality than regular spray paint since I used it often for building model cars.

I watched a few videos on YouTube to get an idea of how other people painted their tumblers and found that it was fairly straight forward. I even picked up a few tricks that I hadn’t thought of.

Step 2: Gathering Materials

After figuring out how to do it, I started looking around my house to see what materials I already had, and what I would need to purchase. I ended up having almost all of the materials already, even a few extra tumblers I had gotten from various company reps and jobs. But because all of the extra tumblers I have are either YETI or RTIC brand and I didn’t want to mess them up since this was my first attempt, I decided that I would just purchase the cheaper Wal-Mart brand tumbler.

For this project my materials list was as follows:

  • Tumbler
  • Decal(s)
  • Paint
  • Clear Coat
  • Sandpaper
  • Masking Tape
  • Zip-loc Bag

I believe that Wal-Mart carries everything you need to complete this project. They may not carry the model paint (they used to, but I haven’t seen it in a long time) and depending on what design you want, you may have to order decals or have them made somewhere else. I already had my decal (which I had ordered before) and most of the materials, but everything other than the paint that I needed, I bought at Wal-Mart. Then, I bought the model paint at Hobby Lobby.

Step 3: Preparing to Paint

Before painting, I had to prepare the tumbler in order to get the best results that I could.

Because I wanted to keep the stainless steel at the bottom uncovered, I masked it off first using blue masking tape, making sure to cover all of the bottom. Then I took my X-acto knife and, using the flat side that isn’t a blade, I tucked the tape into the groove on the bottom of the tumbler.

Next, I took 120 grit sandpaper and scuffed up the tumbler all the way around. Because I masked the bottom off first, it would stay shiny and not be scratched on accident while I scuffed up the rest. This step makes it easier for the paint to stick to the tumbler.

Lastly, I took the lid to the tumbler and placed it inside a sandwich size Zip-loc bag, made sure to get as much air out as possible, and placed the lid on the tumbler with as much of the excess bag inside as possible. This makes it easier to keep paint from getting inside the tumbler.

Step 4: Painting the Tumbler (First Color)

After I finished preparing the tumbler for painting, I took it outside and placed it upside down on a patio stone in a fairly level area. I took my first color, which will be the color of the design on the finished product, and I sprayed it all the way around the tumbler making sure to only spray light coats. The key to making it turn out better is to be patient and make many light coats. Following the instructions on the can of paint, I sprayed light coats at the recommended intervals until I was happy with the color and coverage.

I waited the recommended amount of time for the paint to dry and then sprayed clear-coat to seal the paint. I followed the same procedure for clear-coating the tumbler as I did when I sprayed the first color.

Step 5: Adding Decals

After the clear-coat had completely dried, I cleaned the tumbler with a small amount of rubbing alcohol and a paper towel. I then took my decal and following the instructions that came with it, I placed it where I wanted to design to be on the cup. I made sure that it stuck to the cup completely and that it didn’t have any air bubbles underneath it. Then, I took it back to my painting area and applied the next color.

Step 6: Painting the Tumbler (Second Color)

After the clear-coat had completely dried, I cleaned the tumbler with a small amount of rubbing alcohol and a paper towel. I then took my decal and following the instructions that came with it, I placed it where I wanted to design to be on the cup. I made sure that it stuck to the cup completely and that it didn’t have any air bubbles underneath it. Then, I took it back to my painting area and applied the next color.

To do more than two colors, and to add more designs, simply repeat steps 5 and 6 until you finish with all the colors and designs. You can also paint, apply stickers, place decals and leave them, and etc. to create different designs and then simply clear-coat over those to seal them in.

Step 7: Finishing Up

Once I was done painting and the final layer of clear-coat was completely dry, I removed the masking tape and took the lid out of the bag. Then, I took a few Q-tips and some nail polish remover (100% Acetone) and very carefully cleaned up the paint lines where necessary. Last, I hand washed the tumbler and lid, filled it with ice-cold sweet tea, and enjoyed the finished product.

Some things to remember:

  • The color that the decal covers up is the color the design will be when the decal is removed.
  • Take your time painting, I messed up a couple times by getting impatient and painting too much or too soon between coats.
  • Clear-coat the paint before applying decals, the clear coat will seal the paint and make it way less likely to come up if you need to adjust the decal while putting it on.
  • Definitely clean the finished tumbler before using.

Even though, this is the cheaper generic brand tumbler (which actually works almost as well as the name brand ones), it is currently my favorite. It didn’t turn out perfect, mostly because I was painting outside, and I think also because the clear-coat I was using didn’t seem to agree with the model paint very well (maybe next time use model clear-coat also?). But I still get plenty of compliments on it and even more when they find out that I did it myself with spray-paint. And now that I’ve got one, my wife wants one too. So I guess I’ll get to practice painting a little more.

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Question 3 years ago on Step 3

What happens if I got spray paint inside the cup?


Answer 1 year ago

He said he used acetone to remove some errant marks. So you can use acetone for cleanup.

To prevent it getting inside your cup, taping over the open top would be effective. And if there is trim around the top you don't want to spray, tape can be used here, too.


Question 2 years ago on Step 1

What spray paint did you use?


Answer 2 years ago

I used Testors Model Masters spray paint.


5 years ago

Nice LSU cup!


Reply 5 years ago

Thanks! It's become my favorite cup!