Last Updated on August 7, 2023 by bethrmartin
If you’ve ever been curious about painting leather, you’ve come to the right place. Painting on leather is an easy and fun way to add personality to any leather item.
Leather paint holds up incredibly well, and you can achieve stunning results with a bit of creativity. I’ve been painting all kinds of leather projects for years, and I can’t wait to share the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way with you!
Personalized painted items make great gifts – you could even turn this skill into a business!
Whether you want to give a new life to a piece of furniture or create your ultimate glam leather jacket, this guide will give you all the tools to show you how to paint on leather and ideas of what to paint.
So grab your paintbrushes, and let’s start painting!
What Kind Of Projects Are Best For Leather Paint?
The best thing about painting on leather is that you can paint anything that’s leather – and even beyond!
(I’ve used the same paint on canvas shoes with excellent results.)
This craft can help to personalize anything in your life, and this is an excellent way to make extra unique gifts for your loved ones.
Here are a few leather painting project ideas to get you started, but don’t let this hold you back. If you have an idea, take this guide and make it work!
- Leather shoes are perfect for painting.
- Coasters are a great housewarming gift.
- Personalized baby shoes for a fantastic gift.
- Add a pattern or your pet’s name to their collar.
- Home accessories like napkin rings make great gifts.
- Enhance a vintage leather jacket.
- Customize a purse with your favorite details.
- Update an old belt with a pop of color.
- Embellish furniture like a panel of a vintage leather sofa or a replica Eames Chair with a bold pattern.
- Add initials or a pattern to your wallet.
- Paint the edge details of a piece of furniture for an unexpected pop of color.
- Make your own painted leather earrings for an easy craft project.
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Supplies You Will Need To Use For Painting Leather (No Matter Your Project)
It’s easier than you might think to paint on leather, but having the right tools and supplies is critical for the paint to adhere to the leather properly. After testing tons of products and through lots of trial and error, these are my essential supplies:
Key Leather Painting Supplies
1. The Leather Item You Want To Paint
You can paint any type of leather (or even faux leather). You will prepare the surface of your leather depending on what you are painting and what kind of leather the product is.
Preparing your leather is the most crucial painting step – even more important than the actual painting. If you prepare the leather properly, you can prevent the paint from cracking and ensure that the paint will be durable.
The purpose of the Deglazer is to prepare the surface of the leather and remove any existing finish. Removing the factory finish will rough up the existing surface and give the paint a better surface to stick to.
If you don’t want to invest too much money into your first project, use nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol instead of the Deglazer. Nail polish remover is harsher, so if you plan on painting multiple leather projects, I highly recommend upgrading to the Deglazer.
If you skip this step or rush, your project will likely not last very long. And who wants to see their time wasted?
3. Cotton Balls + Q-Tips
Removing the existing finish can be pretty messy, depending on the type of leather you are working with. Cotton balls are great for applying the Deglazer on the leather surface, and Q-Tips are perfect for tight spots.
A soft cloth will also work here, but the leather finishes don’t wash out well, so I’ve found cotton balls to be a simpler solution.
If you have a thick finish on your existing leather and are working on a project that will get a lot of wear, you really need to rough up the surface to ensure the paint sticks the best. I use multiple grains of sandpaper to rough up the surface before paint application.
5. Masking Tape (Optional)
Painting can get messy, so if you are just painting a small portion of a project, it’s always best to mask off the rest of the area with tape to protect your leather.
I’ve tried many leather paint brands, and the one brand that I absolutely love is Angelus leather paint. Their acrylic paint is available in tons of beautiful colors, it goes on smoothly, and it’s just the best paint for leather overall.
7. Your Favorite Paintbrushes
Since it’s best to use acrylic leather paint, you can use any paintbrush compatible with acrylic paint. If you already have a favorite acrylic paintbrush, then I recommend sticking with what you already love.
I have tried Angelus brushes, and they are not my favorite, so don’t feel the need to use them if you don’t want to.
After you finish your design, you will seal your project with an acrylic finisher. The Finisher will preserve your painting and form a protective coating to prevent paint cracking.
The Angelus Leather Acrylic Finisher is available in three sheens: High-gloss, Satin, and Matte. The High-Gloss Finisher will have the most shine, Satin will have some shine, and Matte will have the least amount.
These sheens look the best when applied with an airbrush, but understandably not everyone will be up for this. It’s no issue to apply the Acrylic Finisher with a brush, but it makes even the Matte Finisher look shinier than it would if you applied it with an airbrush.
For that reason, I always choose the Matte Acrylic Finisher.
When you are feeling like an advanced leather artist, and you want to invest in some new tools and tricks, these supplies can take your painting to the next level:
An airbrush is an excellent way to get smooth lines and extremely thin coats of paint with any painted leather project. Once you master hand painting, you might want to move on to what an airbrush can offer your art.
2. Paint Additives
Angelus makes many additives that manipulate how their leather paint looks and performs. Duller makes the paint look even more flat (and more like an off-the-shelf Nike shoe), and 2 Soft will make the paint flexible and work better on fabrics – and this is just the beginning.
When you feel confident, you can start looking into the world of additives and how you can further shape your designs.
Whether you buy stencils or make your stencils with your Cricut, adding these to your painting can transform your leather paintings. Stencils will look best with an airbrush, so master that step first.
Your Step-By-Step Guide To Painting On Leather
Step 1. Plan Out The Design For Your Leather Project
Step 1 might be the hardest step of them all – decide what design you want to paint on your leather.
The process is the same whether you are painting shoes, furniture, or a vintage handbag. Come up with your design, decide on your colors, and map out your plan on the leather.
Sometimes I like to practice my design on a scrap piece of leather, or even paper, to ensure I’m happy with the look before I start. You can also draw out the outline of your plan first with a special leather marking pen so you know precisely the size and shape of what you will be painting.
This choice is entirely up to how you prefer to work. Depending on what I’m painting, sometimes I just start painting, and sometimes I draw out my work first – there’s no correct answer here.
If your design will cover a small portion of the leather you are working on, it’s best to tape off the surface that will remain unpainted. Using masking tape, cover the entire area around your design that you want to stay clean. The tape will protect the rest of your project and ensure you don’t damage the leather surrounding the painting.
Step 2. Prep The Surface Of Your Leather
How you prepare your leather surface will depend on the type of leather you are painting and what kind of design you will paint.
Look at the surface of your leather and the design you want to paint and determine how you need to prepare the surface. If the leather surface has a matte finish and intend to paint a small delicate design, you can most likely get away without using the Deglazer.
If your leather has a high shine with a thick factory finish, roughing up this surface for the paint to stick is critical. Apply the Angelus Deglazer to a cotton ball and wipe down the leather surface that you are going to paint. Continue to do this until you can see the grain of the leather.
If you plan to paint a large design or solid panel, you should also use sandpaper to rough up the leather surface. You may feel like you are damaging your project, but when it comes to painting leather, sometimes things need to look worse before they can look better.
Painting Nike shoes or a similar project will definitely need to be sanded and Deglazed for the paint to adhere properly.
Step 3. Paint!
Now the fun part – it’s time to apply paint!
Angelus paint is much thinner than normal acrylic paint because acrylic leather paint is specially formulated to bond to leather best. It is essential to apply the layers of paint in thin, even coats. Thin layers of paint will help the paint flex with the leather so you can avoid cracks in the future.
Pro tip: If you want to paint a very light color design of black leather, it’s best to start with two coats of light gray paint under your entire design. Then mix a small amount of white paint with the shade you want to use next for your next layer. This process will ensure a nice, saturated pop of color on top of the black leather.
It’s best to start with the lightest color in your design and work toward the darkest shade. If you make a mistake, hiding it with a darker color is always easier.
Allow the paint to dry completely between layers. Don’t worry – this paint dries quickly, so you only need about 10-15 minutes between each coat for dry time.
Pro tip: If you feel confident mixing colors, go for it! Angelus paint blends beautifully. If you are working on a larger project or think you will need to paint touchups later, it’s best to stick with the standard color range because remixing the exact color is almost impossible.
Step 4. Seal In Your Work
Now the hard part is over, and you must protect your design well.
An acrylic paint finisher will seal the paint and ensure that your design can flex with the leather. When painting leather, this step is just as critical as preparing the surface of the leather!
The leather finisher has a very watery consistency, and it’s essential to apply this in thin coats, or you will see bubbles. Apply the Finisher to the whole piece with a clean cotton rag, a sponge, or a brush.
Cover your design in a thin coat of Finisher, and if you see any bubbles, keep moving the medium around to get a smooth finish. Work quickly so you don’t risk damaging your painting.
Step 5. Let Your Design Dry Completely
Once the Finisher is applied, set your project aside.
After you seal your work, it can be tempting to start using it immediately. Let your paint dry completely for 24 hours before use.
Patience is critical here, and don’t skip this step, no matter how tempting. You don’t want to risk damaging your beautiful new painting!
Are you feeling inspired? Once you get started, you will see that leather is so easy to paint, and you be shocked at how many items you can add your creativity to!
Learning how to paint leather is a relaxing hobby, a great way to add flair to your favorite fashion items, and you can even use it to start a lucrative side hustle. Leather paint can be a great gift for artists, or you can make your own presents with your new skill.
The main difference between painting leather and any other painting job is how you prepare the surface and finish the surface. Once you get this down, nothing but your imagination can hold you back.
I hope you found this tutorial helpful, and I hope painting leather items will be as fun for you as it is for me!