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Painting a Shipping Container: Tips & Tricks for Longevity and Style

30 November 2023


Tips & GuidesConversions
man painting a shipping container

Whether you’re customising a brand new unit, or giving something old and tired-looking a new lease of life, painting a shipping container can completely transform its appearance. It can also help it last longer, blend into its environment, or even become part of a company’s marketing strategy. However, there’s a lot to consider before you get started. 

Why paint a shipping container?

Reasons for painting shipping containers range from giving them a brand new look, protecting them from the elements to ensuring the shipping container lasts for longer

A new shipping container will likely be in top condition and won’t necessarily need painting. However, the majority of units are blue or green, so you might want to change its appearance for personal or business reasons, or give it a lick of paint so it lasts for longer. 

Pros and cons of painting a shipping container

Painting a shipping container comes with its own set of pros and cons. Understanding these advantages and disadvantages can help you make an informed decision.

Advantages of painting a shipping container

When it comes to painting shipping containers, it offers a variety of advantages that go beyond just aesthetics. They can range from protecting against rust and corrosion to increasing brand visibility.

Moreover, painting your container offers the opportunity to add a touch of individuality and character and can improve the visibility of your business if you choose to add a logo.

Extended life span

Applying an additional layer of paint onto your shipping containers provides extra protection from the elements, making them less susceptible to rust and corrosion. This, in turn, improves their durability and helps you save costs later down the line.

Branding or marketing purposes

Some companies paint shipping containers with their business logo for events or festivals. Not only does this reinforce a professional image, the container becomes a mobile advert, which is especially effective if it’s located in a busy area with lots of passing traffic.

Aesthetics and customisation

By painting your shipping container, you have the ability to seamlessly integrate it into its surroundings, preventing it from standing out excessively. Additionally, this presents an opportunity to be creative as you can choose colours, patterns, or designs that align with your personal tastes or your business’s brand.

Disadvantages of painting a shipping container

While painting a shipping container offers numerous benefits, it’s essential to consider the potential drawbacks associated with this process.

Cost of materials and labour

Painting a shipping container can involve expenses related to purchasing paint, primer, equipment, and potentially hiring professionals for the job. These costs can add up, especially if you opt for specialised coatings or intricate designs.

Ongoing maintenance

Painted surfaces require periodic maintenance and touch-ups to ensure their continued protection and appearance. Over time, the paint may chip, fade, or require recoating, which adds to the maintenance responsibilities and costs.

Time and effort

Preparing the surface of a shipping container for painting and applying the paint can be time-consuming and labour-intensive, especially for larger containers. 

For containers that might have rusted or have other external damage, thoroughly cleaning the surface, removing rust, and applying primer are vital steps that demand careful attention and substantial effort.

Looking for an alternative option to painting your shipping container? Discover the benefits of cladding your shipping container and how to do it in our comprehensive guide How To Clad A Shipping Container: Shipping Container Cladding Instructions & Benefits

How much time and money will it take to paint a shipping container?

The time and costs involved in painting a shipping container depend on the size and condition of the container, the type of paint you select, and whether you’re completing the job yourself or hiring someone else.

Painting a shipping container yourself

Depending on the condition and the layers of paint required, you can expect to spend two to three days preparing and painting a 20-foot container, and three to four days on a 40-foot container

If you’ve bought the container for domestic use, then it will need a lot more attention.  Although every project is different, you may need to spend one to two weeks grinding and sanding the inside surface to remove rust in the marine grade layers.

You can expect to pay anywhere between £200–£550 for the paint and primer, and extra if you’re investing in spray painting machinery or other equipment.

Hiring a professional to paint your shipping container

Hiring a professional to paint your container will be significantly more expensive, although it can save you a lot of inconvenience.

The time and costs will again depend on the quality and size of the shipping container, but also on the skills and approach of the company you hire. On average, it should take one to two days for a 20-foot container, and two to three days for a 40-foot container. The costs can be anywhere between £300–£1,500 using standard shipping container paint.

If you’re looking to hire a professional, view our painted shipping containers to find out more about our services.

What paint to use on shipping containers

Choosing the right paint for a shipping container will ensure your container looks good for longer, and that it’s protected from the harsh environmental conditions it might be subjected to. 

A paint specialist will be able to help you select the best type of paint for your specific needs, taking into account the container’s location, the level of durability required, and the skill required to apply it.

Oil-based paints

Oil-based paints are durable and waterproof, making them suitable for withstanding extreme temperatures. However, it is important to consider some drawbacks. Oil-based paints have a longer drying time, requiring patience during the painting process. 

It is important to note that oil-based paints emit potentially harmful fumes during application, requiring the need for proper ventilation. Furthermore, the use of solvents is required for cleaning brushes and rollers used with oil-based paints, which adds an extra step to the process and may increase the overall maintenance required.

Alkyd paints

Alkyd paints are also oil-based, but they’re kinder to the environment than traditional varieties. They’re durable and resistant to fading, and don’t smell overly strong. However, they’re generally not as able to withstand extreme temperatures.

Acrylic paints

Acrylic paints are easy to apply, they dry quickly, and they don’t have much of a smell. Plus they’re resistant to fading and chalking. However, because they’re water-based, they may not be as durable as oil-based paints, and they might not be resistant to extreme temperatures.

Epoxy paints

Epoxy paints are waterproof, durable, and able to withstand exposure to both chemicals and extreme environmental conditions. However, they tend to cost more than other types of paint, and they require special application techniques. 

Paint options for insulating storage containers

If you’re painting the interior, ceramic shipping container paint is a great choice as it also helps to moderate the temperature. 

You can also consider adding insulating additives to traditional paint. These additives, such as ceramic beads or hollow glass microspheres, help to improve insulation properties by reducing heat transfer. They can be mixed with paint and applied to the container’s surface.

Are shipping containers painted with lead paint?

Some older shipping containers were covered in lead-based paint, which was chosen for its durability and low cost. However, lead paint is toxic and several countries have now banned it.

If you have an older unit, research its history to find out if lead paint was used as it could pose a risk to your health. If it is coated in lead paint, you’ll need to sandblast the surfaces to remove it.

Which paint do we recommend?

This is really down to personal choice when you’ve taken all the factors into consideration, including the conditions it’s stored in and the durability you’re looking for. 

How much paint will I need to paint a shipping container?

The amount of paint you need depends on the size of the surface area, the number of layers you’re going for, and how you’re applying the paint.

Whilst one coat of container paint is usually enough, you’ll need two or more if you’re applying a light colour over something darker.

On average, allow around 20 litres of paint per coat for a 20ft container, and 40 litres for a 40ft container. Also bear in mind that if you’re planning on spraying the paint, you’ll also need to add thinners. 

What colour should I paint my shipping container?

This depends on what you’re trying to achieve – whether that’s blending the container in with its surroundings, making it more attractive, or applying your company’s brand colours. 

It’s worth noting that the choice of colour for a shipping container can have an impact on both the interior temperature and the appearance. While insulating your shipping container can help regulate temperature, the colour choice can still play a role. 

Lighter shades tend to reflect sunlight, reducing heat absorption and maintaining cooler interior temperatures. However, it’s important to note that darker shades can absorb more heat, potentially leading to hotter temperatures inside the container. 

On the other hand, darker shades can also provide better camouflage for rust, protecting the appearance for a longer time. Therefore, finding the right balance between temperature control, rust visibility, and visual maintenance is crucial when deciding on the shade for your shipping container.

How to paint a shipping container

If you’re tackling the paint job yourself, make sure it’s fully prepped before you begin. Also make sure to always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you apply the paint safely and effectively. 

man painting shipping container

Shipping container surface preparation

To properly prepare your shipping container for painting, begin by removing any line markings, labels, and stickers using either a razor blade or a heat gun. Once that step is completed, thoroughly pressure wash the surfaces and allow them to dry completely. Take the necessary time to address any rust by utilising a wire brush or applying rust removal chemicals. 

For a consistent and uncorroded surface, it is recommended to consider sandblasting the container. This process will guarantee optimal adhesion and provide a smooth surface, allowing for effective application of insulation materials.

sandblasting a shipping container

Preparing the surface without sand blasting

While it effectively removes rust, sandblasting can also strip away the original rust-resistant zinc coating and protective marine-grade paint. Unless there is a specific need to eliminate toxic paint or address extensive corrosion, it may be more time and cost-efficient to skip the sandblasting step altogether. 

Priming your shipping container

Priming your shipping container is a crucial step in the painting process that helps ensure a smooth and long-lasting finish. Primer serves as a preparatory coat, providing a stable surface for the paint to adhere to and enhancing its durability.

Priming twice with an epoxy primer will help you achieve a smooth, even-toned finish. 

Container paint application

How you apply the paint to your container will influence the quality and durability of the finish. Always use a high-quality brush or roller and apply the paint in thin, even coats leaving plenty of time for each one to dry. If you’re using a spray gun, we recommend using a compressor with a minimum of 50 psi.

applying paint with to a shipping container

Painting a shipping container with a roller

Painting a shipping container with a roller is a relatively straightforward and cost-effective way to get the job done. Provided you prepare the surface thoroughly and use the right technique, using a roller can result in a smooth, high-quality finish.

Painting the exterior of a shipping container

You’ll usually need more than one coat to ensure an even, rust-free finish. Bear in mind that water-based paints are usually richer in colour than alkyd enamel and other industrial paints, so you may not need to use quite as much.

Painting the inside of a shipping container

Consider using a paint that has insulating properties to regulate the temperature within the space. To mitigate the risk of inhaling harmful fumes, ventilate the area thoroughly and limit the use of paints using volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Applying a protective coating to the shipping container

Applying a clear protective coating or wax on top of your paint can further enhance its durability and protect it from corrosion.

How to paint a rusty shipping container

Painting a rusty shipping container comes with its own challenges, although you can achieve a high-quality finish if you put the time and effort in and follow the steps above. 

Applying a rust converter product can also help, as it provides a more adhesive surface for the paint, and it can prevent the rust from spreading any further. 


Shipping container painting isn’t always an easy task, especially if your container is old and rusty. However, if you follow our recommendations, you can transform an ordinary container into something that stands out for all the right reasons, whilst adding several years to its life.

Still debating between hiring a professional or tackling a DIY painting project? Get in touch with us today to discover more about our specialised shipping container painting services – no obligations attached!

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