Container Paint Recommendations and How-To’s

Worried your container won’t blend with your surroundings? Or concerned it’ll look outdated with a bit of rust? Extend the life of your storage solution with container paint.

This guide will walk through the ins and outs of shipping container paint. We’ll discuss recommendations, FAQs, and how-to’s, including:

  • The kind of primer and paint to use
  • Specification and toxicity questions
  • How to apply paint on the exterior AND interior
  • Maintenance best practices
  • Custom logo recommendations and branding best practices
  • The cost to paint a shipping container
  • Modifying your container with paint before purchase

What primer to use?

Consider the following options for a container primer. We’ll dive into the details of each in a minute.

  • An easy rust reformer turns rust into a paintable surface without needing to sand it down. It also helps prevent future corrosion.
  • A combined DTM waterborne primer and paint saves time and money.
  • High-quality direct-to-metal (DTM) waterborne epoxy primer.

What paint to use on shipping containers?

Use a marine-grade direct-to-metal (DTM) waterborne color to paint and maintain your container.

custom paint color

The benefits of high-quality, industrial-grade waterborne container paint include:

  • Water and corrosion resistance
  • Strong durability
  • Less harmful fumes
  • Non-yellowing properties

AVOID solvent-based container paint. Although it requires less drying time and has a shinnier finish, its harmful emissions can be dangerous.

Or, to get the best of both worlds, you may consider going with new waterborne acrylic alkyd paint technology.

This new container paint technology offers the health, environmental, and non-yellowing benefits of a waterborne enamel. Plus, the shiny finish, ease of application, and longevity of alkyd and other solvent-based (oil-based) enamels.

New waterborne acrylic alkyd technology is also great if you plan to paint a fancy mural or logo on your unit. The acrylics in it are ideal for painting art and colors over.

Is Shipping Container Paint Toxic?

Before 2017, the overwhelming majority of shipping containers were coated with solvent-based paint. Solvent-based coatings were used in the PAST because of the relatively easy application and less drying time.

But solvent-based container paint can be toxic for worker and occupant health and safety. It can also be hazardous to the environment.

To address these concerns, newly manufactured containers are now painted with direct-to-metal (DTM) waterborne coatings.

The volatile organic compound (VOC) content of waterborne container paint is much, MUCH less than in solvent-based paint.

Beyond fewer toxic VOC emissions, waterborne coatings are also less odorous. So they emit less toxic fumes during application and drying.

Waterborne container coatings still have some solvents. But not nearly as much as solvent-based paints. In fact, with less than 50g/L VOCs, waterborne DTM paint meets environmental standards today.

So, if you’re worried about the toxicity of container paint, use high-quality waterborne paint such as acrylic or the new waterborne acrylic alkyd technology.

These options will mitigate the release of lead and asbestos.

Steps To Paint Your Container

  1. Wait to paint your container until it’s dry and sunny out.
  2. Cleaning and preparing your container
    • Use a pressure washer to remove dirt and dust.
    • Use a wire brush or low-grit sandpaper to clean off excess rust patches, corrosion, shipping line decals, loose paint, and/or grease on the surface of the container.
    • Pressure wash once more to ensure the surface is clean.
    • Rub some vinegar on the areas that need special attention and then let your container DRY.
    • Avoid sandblasting your container because it may strip off the original protective marine-grade paint and rust-resistant zinc coating.
  3. Spray or roll a “rust reformer” primer as an adhesive.
    • Use a paintbrush or roller to apply primer ON TOP OF the original marine-grade paint. If you don’t need to paint your entire container and would rather minimize costs, focus the primer solely on the affected and/or rusted area your targeting for maintenance.
    • Let the primer dry in full.
    • You can also use combined paint and primer product to maximize adhesion and save time.
  4. Spray or roll a high-quality waterborne DTM acrylic top coating.
    • Once your primer has dried completely, use a sprayer or heavy-duty roller to apply the paint.
    • It’s ideal to apply 2 or 3 coats of paint. So, in between applications, be sure to wait to let each coat dry completely.
  5. If you want to paint the interior of your container, follow these steps:
    • Be sure your unit is open and ventilating.
    • Wear appropriate protection over your nose, mouth, and eyes.
    • Avoid spraying container paint on the wooden floors.
    • Spray a high-quality epoxy zinc-rich primer on the steel frame.
    • Then spray a high-quality waterborne epoxy high build coating.

How to Maintain Container Paint

Keeping up with the integrity of your container’s paint will minimize rust and corrosion and extend its life.

And as a result, you won’t have to use your precious time, dollars, and energy getting a new unit down the road.

Here are some maintenance best practices for container paint to minimize rust and maximize paint adhesion:

  • Spray a rust reformer product on affected areas to transform rust into a primer (i.e. firm, airtight, paintable surface).
    • These products usually do NOT require sanding beforehand.
    • BUT you can use vinegar on problem areas beforehand if you want to go the extra mile. But if you take this extra step, let the vinegar dry completely before applying container paint.
  • After priming the area, spray or roll a high-quality DTM waterborne container paint in your choice of color.
  • If time and your budget allow, use more than one coat. But be sure to let each layer dry before applying the next.
  • Or…consider using a combined paint and primer option to get the job done all in one.

Add a Logo to Your Container

Have you considered painting a logo, insignia, or emblem on your unit to enhance the exposure of your brand and/or organization? What about adding a decal?

These are fantastic ways to market and advertise without having to do much work.

Whenever someone passes by your painted container, they’ll see the logo–whether it’s for your company, school, team, or your own business venture.

Then they’ll (either consciously or unconsciously) make a mental note. And boom, your brand gets put on blast. Or maybe even goes viral.

This is the exact reason why container manufacturers paint their logo and decals on units in the first place.

If you want your logo done right, we recommend having it done professionally. Your logo speaks volumes about your brand, after all.

Branded Container with Logo

At Container Markets, we’ve partnered with top container companies who have dedicated and experienced modification teams.

We’ve vetted each and every one of our Premier Partners to verify their eye for detail, quality of workmanship, and perfection in artistry. This includes testing their expertise in applying logos, mural, and decals on containers.

So when working with one of our Premier Partners on your custom container paint, we guarantee satisfaction.

Because we realize that the misrepresentation of your logo and brand is simply NOT a risk you can take.

Tips to Minimize Cost

A 20ft container can take 3 to 4 gallons of DTM waterborne paint, which can get pretty expensive.

And for a 40ft or 40 High Cube, the shipping container paint specification calls for double that amount. So you’re looking at 6 to 8 gallons for larger container sizes.

Not to mention the primer and other supplies you’ll need. This process can get pricey AND time-intensive.

If you want to keep costs down, just treat the highly rusted and/or affected areas of the container. All you need is a wire brush, sandpaper, vinegar, rust reformer, and 2-3 targetted coats of DTM waterborne paint.

To ensure the job is done right, reduce costs and maintenance, and mitigate supply runs, consider having your unit painted before you buy it.

Prefabrication specialists

Have Paint Applied Before Purchase

Get the best protection by having your unit painted before you buy.

Having storage container paint applied professionally will ensure it’s done right the first time around and looks clean and pristine.

If you’re wondering about the optimal way to save in the long-run, we recommend letting specialists take the reigns for the following custom jobs:

  • How to camouflage a storage container
  • Best way to match your container with a custom color
  • How to paint a mural on a shipping container
  • Perfecting the application of your logo

Our Premier Partners have decades of experience perfecting storage container color. They can also match a shipping container paint specification per agreed upon costs and terms.

And you can rest assured they’ll thoroughly prepare the substrate before applying special DTM waterborne paint, adding that final touch you’re looking for.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us! We’re here to help.