Upcycle a Plastic Container with Paint Pens

How to upcycle a plastic tub with paint pens

As much as we try to avoid lots of plastic packaging it’s almost impossible not to acquire a few plastic containers and tubs when purchasing items in the shops. If they are sturdy and easy to clean it makes sense to reuse them and give them a new look and new purpose.

A pink plastic tub decorated with hearts and turned into a twine dispenser

Today I’m showing you how I took an empty laundry brightening powder tub and turned it into a pretty string dispenser with a love heart makeover.

the sustainable craft challenge logo

It’s that time of the month when I host the Sustainable Craft Challenge and am joined by some of my creative crafting blogger friends from around the world to share a craft project or idea that has a sustainable or eco friendly twist. This month our theme is LOVE so stay tuned at the end of this tutorial and brace yourself for an explosion of hearts and flowers and all things lovey dovey!


I don’t use this kind of laundry brightener very often so a tub lasts for several years in our house. I don’t know if this particular brand, with its bright pink tub and gold lid is available worldwide. This upcycling idea will work with whatever kind of tub you have, it was just the gorgeous vibrancy of this pink tub that led me to believe it MUST be reused somehow, it’s too pretty to just throw in the recycling bin.

You will need:

  • A clean, empty plastic tub or container

  • Acrylic Paint Pens

  • A metal skewer (if you want to make it into a string dispenser)

Wash your tub thoroughly and remove any labels. The label came off this tub pretty easily after a soak in warm water but if yours is well stuck you could try something like Sticky Stuff Remover or Goo Gone which are both effective.

Decorate your plastic tub

Now it’s time to get creative with your paint pens.

I was given a set of paint pens for Christmas and other than a quick rock painting experiment this is my first time properly using them. I follow the amazing Bine Braendle on Instagram and love her bright and colourful aesthetic and thought this vibrant pink container would be perfect for that sort of vibe and I figured that hearts would fit with our sustainable craft challenge theme of LOVE.

This may look complicated but it’s really very simple if you just break it down. If you can draw a heart, a line and a dot you can create something like this.

drawing hearts on a plastic tub

Start by drawing hearts of different sizes all over your plastic tub. Remember to give your paint pens a good shake and pump the nibs down a few times before using them to get the colour mixed and flowing.

Some of the paints flowed better than others. My pens are quite fine so the larger hearts look a little bit patchy at this stage. That’s ok, don’t worry as we are going to cover them anyway.

Let the paint dry and then start decorating the hearts.

I had fun trying lots of different heart doodles but you could do yours so they are all the same if you prefer.

You could try one or two of these ideas or a mix of them all:

  • Outline in a contrast colour

  • Outline in dots

  • Draw smaller hearts inside

  • Draw dotty flowers

  • Draw flowers with lines as petals

  • Draw lines to create a criss cross grid

  • Outline a heart in scallop shapes

doodle painted heart
A painted doodled heart

You could plan on paper first but I didn’t and that was half the fun. You can just add more and more to each heart until you are happy with the design. I think 90% of what I did here was actually just dots - dots make everything look cute!

Dab your pen nibs regularly onto scrap paper to make sure the paint is flowing. I found if the nib was too dry it would scratch the base layer of paint off but if plenty of paint was flowing that didn’t happen.

Just remember to allow each paint colour to dry before you attempt to go over it with another colour.

If you really hate something you can remove it with a damp cloth if it’s still wet or just scrap it off with your fingernail if it’s dried.

You’ll need to protect your tub heart design with a clear varnish if it’s going to be handled a lot, something like a spray on varnish would work well. I’ve not needed to do that as I turned my decorated tub into a string/twine dispenser and to be perfectly honest I just don’t reach for string that often. For most of the time this is going to sit on a shelf next to my desk looking pretty.

Your finished heart decorated tub could be used to store anything. You could fill it with chocolates and give it as a Valentine gift, store buttons or beads in there etc. Or leave the lid off and use it as a plant pot or vase, store pens or paint brushes in it, honestly the options are endless!

I was just deciding what to use my tub as when I looked at the corner of my desk and saw this. Disclosure: I am not a tidy crafter, despite all my best efforts. This poor old ball of twine is just dashed into the corner all sad and forlorn. This tub is just the right size to make a lovely string or twine dispenser, but for that it needs a hole in the lid.

To make a hole in the plastic tub lid you will need some sort of metal skewer. I have a trussing needle which has been a useful piece of craft equipment pretty much all my life. It’s meant for trussing poultry but I can honestly say I have never trussed a chicken in my life. It came with a set of kitchen knives many many years ago but quickly found its way from the kitchen to my craft stash where it’s been very useful. You don’t need a trussing needle for this, anything metal and pointy will do.

Heat your pointy metal thing in a flame for just a few seconds and then poke it through the middle of the plastic lid. It goes without saying that YOU NEED TO BE CAREFUL as you do this. Consider holding your skewer with your oven gloves or pot holder. Keep the hot skewer away from your skin. Have the window open just in case there are any nasty plastic fumes etc.

A hot metal skewer should slide through the plastic very easily. I reheated mine and reinserted it in the hole and wiggled it around a bit to make the hole bigger.

You could drill a hole in the lid if you prefer.

Sand away any burrs so the hole is nice and smooth. You don’t want to damage the twine as you pull it through.

Twine dispenser upcycled from a pink plastic tub, decorated with hearts

That’s it! A old plastic container turned into a heart themed string dispenser. Doodling all these hearts was so much fun, if you look closely they are not all perfect but all together they look so pretty.

And just to show that I do actually use all these thing that I make, here is my lovely new string dispenser next to my desk, my mini drawer unit and some other recycled plastic food tubs I made last year that help me corral all my bits and pieces.


Ok, now it’s time to check out all the other LOVE themed projects shared by my friends in the Sustainable Craft Challenge.