This is part 1 of a DIY Vintage Camper Makeover series, and in this post I am going to show you how to paint a vintage camper using this amazing acrylic paint I discovered from Sherwin-Williams. This painting tutorial has been paid for by Sherwin-Williams, but all of the opinions and instructions below are my own.
I wouldn’t have had any idea what to paint my camper with if I hadn’t wandered into a Sherwin-Williams store before I started, and the paint is pretty much the most important part of the transformation, so thank goodness they partnered with me on this post. True story.
A few summers ago, I bought a vintage camper and immediately started an entire camper makeover so we could use my vintage trailer to go glamping, have parties, and just have a cool little glamper clubhouse to hang out in.
I was gonna' do this entire DIY series back when I got my vintage camper, but then I decided not to because I am not really a DIY blogger. However, since I am STILL getting loads of questions and emails about the camper makeover, I am starting a DIY Vintage Camper series. How do we feel about this? Is good, yes?
I get asked the most about how I painted my camper (probably because the outside is the first thing you see and is usually what you want to start with when you get a camper), so I am starting this series with the outside and how I was able to paint it all by myself. Boom!
For the record, I named my camper Darla, so you might see me call her that. #darla1966 If you get a camper, and you pour your blood, sweat, and tears into it, it’s only fair you get to name it because it basically becomes one of your kids.
Ok, so before I got started painting this big girl, I consulted with the professional handymen in my family and also spent about 2 hours at a Sherwin-Williams talking to several experts on the best plan of action and the best paint to use on the exterior, so I will break down the steps for you.
// Step 1 // Buff that beast
Darla’s previous paint was flaking off like crazy. If I tried to paint over it, the finish would have been bumpy and inconsistent. Just like with putting on makeup, you always need a smooth clean surface if you want the finished look to turn out. I used a power drill with a wire wheel brush attachment, and I buffed off all the old paint (every speck) using this drill—by hand.
Of course, I was extra classy doing it 7 months pregnant in my swim suit. What? It’s hot in the summer! I recommend working in sections and taking lots of breaks between sanding. Plan to spend a full day on this. The wire wheel is also great for taking rust off knobs and bolts on the camper. Darla had plenty of rust to keep me busy for a day.
// Step 2 // Camper gets a bath
I used rust remover on all of the rusty spots around the windows, bolts, hitch, door, and the door step. I tried a couple of different removers and felt they all kind of worked the same but none were miracle workers. After the rust remover, I washed the entire camper really well. I used plain dish soap because dish soap is a degreaser and it doesn’t leave a residue. Making sure it’s squeaky clean will allow for a smoother paint application, and it keeps your paint brushes from getting nasty.
// Step 3 // Think it out
This really doesn’t need to be an actual step, but I kind of feel like it’s important. If you are gonna' spend 4 days to a week painting the outside of your camper, plus the money on supplies and paint, you might want to make sure you totally love the color and design. I got every pink and peach swatch I could find and surveyed family and friends until I was 100% positive on the color.
If you know me, I am never 100% positive about anything, and I never stick with a choice for very long, but it was getting hotter by the day, so that motivated me to choose. I ended up choosing Cosmetic Peach Sher-Cryl HPA SEMI-Gloss paint. This is VERY IMPORTANT. I read countless blogs and talked to multiple paint and auto experts. Sherwin-Williams was, by far, the most helpful, truthful, and accessible for exterior paint options, and I am telling you, two years later, the paint is still looking FRESH even after sitting in direct sun 365 days a year! Please just trust me on this.
Then I used my super awesome, talented, drawing skills to sketch out a few paint design options. I probably drew about 10 different designs, but then I ended up deciding on something very traditional and conservative (so not like me at all). Reasons I went traditional: 1. Being pregnant at the time and irritable, I wasn’t sure I could follow through on anything complicated. 2. I was afraid if I did a pattern, I would be over it in 6 months. I mean, remember when everyone LOVED chevron, and then 2 minutes later, chevron was so EW!? 3. A practical paint job is always a good idea.
// Step 4 //Remove hardware & tape
I spent about an hour removing the tail lights and caps and all the random little attachments from the camper so they wouldn't get paint on them. I actually ended up getting new tail lights because the originals were pretty nasty, but more on this later. Tape around any windows and corners to keep your painting lines sharp and clean.
// Step 5 // Just paint the thing!
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have the right paint. I am telling you, if you don’t use the right paint/primer, you might as well paint your camper with finger paint because it won’t last for more than a year. I used Sher-Cryl HPA Semi-Gloss in Extra White and Cosmetic Peach from Sherwin-Williams, and it worked like a dream. This particular paint is a new technology, ambient cured, exterior acrylic paint. It’s comparable to super durable urethanes and epoxies. It’s also chemical resistant, moisture resistant, rust resistant, corrosion resistant, low odor, has great color and gloss retention, and dries super fast.
So basically, it does EXACTLY what you need for a camper!
The best news is it’s basically a paint and primer in one, and it only takes one coat because it covers so well. It took me a full day (almost non-stop working) to paint the whole thing white. I taped off the windows and door, then I used a medium density hand brush to cut edges and trim, and then I used a semi-smooth roller to paint the body of the camper. I was really impressed with how smooth the paint is—the finish dries super smooth even if you use a roller.
What’s also amazing is you can literally use this paint on every square inch of your camper if you want (although I don’t recommend windows or tires for obvious reasons). I ended up painting the window trim and door trim because the rust was so bad in those areas, and it made the camper look so new and clean!
I let the white dry for 24 hrs, and then taped off the lines where I wanted to paint cosmetic peach and repeated the painting process with the cosmetic peach color. By the way, painting is by far the easiest step of the whole process (except for maybe doodling campers on scrap paper.)
Plan to spend around 3 days on painting, maybe even longer if you have a complicated design. I painted the hitch, hub caps, shade cover, and all the little rusted or ugly knobs and such that needed a new finish. The paint covers everything, and it basically looks delicious on every surface!
DO NOT do what I did and compulsively decide to add a metallic stripe using spray paint. I didn’t even think to look for exterior metallic spray paint—I just knew that gold was IN, and I wanted it on and in my camper a lot. The spray paint won’t hurt the camper or the paint job, but it will totally tarnish and fade in the sun and rain…which mine did. Oooops! If you want metallic, try getting metallic vinyl decals or talk to the experts at Sherwin-Williams and see what they would suggest because spray paint is no bueno.
DO let your kids help paint because they will be so excited to look back and say they helped with such an amazing renovation project, and they will feel a part of something exciting. Can we have a moment of silence for London’s butchered hair? Remember when she cut it all off? We try to forget!
// Step 6 // ENJOY!
I waited 48 hours before taking Darla on the road after her fresh paint just to be safe. Some paints say they can take up to 7 days to fully cure. Pay attention to that info. I still had a lot of inside work to do on the camper, so it wasn’t an issue for me because we didn’t take her camping for another 3 weeks. PS: I went camping when I was 9 months pregnant, sounds crazy but it wasn't because I was camping in a glorious camper with beds and a sink! #succeedingatlife
Isn’t she glorious? After painting the outside of the camper, I was even more excited to work on fixing up the inside so we could start using her! I am so proud of the way she turned out and even more proud that me, this unassuming wimpy girl, could take on such a big paint project, and I don’t think I cried or got frustrated even one time when painting her. It was all surprisingly doable.
Ok, hopefully I didn’t forget anything, but I know you will likely have a ton of questions! Hit me up in the comments below—I am happy to answer any questions you have for me!
PS: Stay tuned for Part TWO where I make over the inside of my camper!
PSS: It’s totally fine by me if you pin and share the crap out of this post. It was a lot of work, and I want as many people as possible to benefit from what I learned along the way.