Leather paint can be used on most any kind of leather to restore or change its color or add some fun designs. It’s easy, and not too costly. Let’s look at all the info you’ll need to learn how to paint leather.
Painting leather involves approximately 11 steps from preparation through drying. The right tools are key for success and will make paint application much easier. We’ll cover tools, preparation, applying the paint, and finishing techniques to protect your painted leather project.
It’s easy to paint leather. You just need a few materials and to follow a few basics steps. Let’s explore how.
What is Leather Painting?
Quite simply, leather painting is painting on leather. And leather painting is pretty simple, but it’s important to follow a few basic rules to make your paint last long and prosper. And, lucky for you, those steps are all set out below.
If you buy some kind of leather object—anything from shoes, to clothing, to furniture, to car seats—you can paint it. So if you have a leather couch that’s scuffed or stained—or if you’re just tired of the color—you can repaint it. You can paint these items a solid color or add a fancy design—anything you can imagine you can do.
Most leather that you buy has a finish on it. It’s really important to “deglaze” the leather—get rid of that finish—before you begin painting. This will help the paint to stick to the leather.
If you are going to paint leather, it’s a good idea to use special leather paints. These are specially formulated to stick to leather and to be flexible, so the paint won’t crack or peel.
Keep reading for detailed instructions on how to get started painting your very own leather masterpiece!
What Tools/Supplies Are Needed to Paint Leather
Dish Soap and Rag or Scrubber (optional)
If your leather object has dirt on it, it’s a good idea to clean it first.
You’ll want to purchase a leather cleaner/deglazer like Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer ($4 for 5 oz) or Fieblings Deglazer ($4.50 for 4-oz) to take the finish off of your leather. You can use other kinds of products to remove the finish, but some leather artists warn against some of these because they might damage the leather. Here are some things you can try: acetone or non-acetone nail polish, lemon juice, or rubbing alcohol.
Cotton Rags or Cotton Balls or Pads or Wool Daubers
You’ll need one of these (more than one if you’re using the cotton balls or pads or wool daubers) to apply the cleaner/deglazer. You can also use these for applying the finisher.
In color or colors of your choice. These are acrylic-based paints which, as described above, are made especially for painting leather. You can buy different sized of jars, as well as sets of colors. Angelus leather paints cost about $3 for a one-oz jar and it costs less per ounce if you buy 4-oz or pints or quarts. Kaps, Fieblings and Jacquard also make high-quality leather paints.
Flat or Foam Brush
You’ll also need a brush to apply the paint and finisher. You can us foam brushes or flat brushes Both come in a variety of sizes, so choose one that’s appropriate for your project. You can probably get by with just one brush. Be sure to either wash it immediately after use or wrap it in plastic to keep the paint from drying in between coats.
After you finish painting, you’ll want to apply a finisher to seal and protect your painted leather. This will protect it from scuffs, scratches, and moisture. Angelus makes acrylic finisher in Matte, Gloss, Satin, or Normal—depending on how shiny you want your painted leather to be (costs $4 for a 4 oz bottle). Fieblings finisher costs $8.50 for 4 oz and Leather Hero also makes a sealer for about the same price. LeatherWorld Technologies offers a top coat in 3 different glosses for $20 for 8 oz,. while .Weaver sells a clear, glossy leather sealer for $23 for a quart.
Water Proofer (optional)
If your painted leather will be out in the rain or snow, use a water proofer, like Scotchguard or Mod Podge Outdoor to protect it from the elements. The finishers are water resistant.
Newspapers or a Drop Cloth
You’ll probably want something underneath whatever you are painting to protect the surface. Newspapers or brown paper shopping bags work well under small projects like shoes. Drop cloths are great for bigger projects.
Painter’s Masking Tape (optional)
If you want to keep paint off a certain part of whatever you’re painting, you can use masking tape to protect that part. If you’re painting shoes, for example, and don’t want to paint the soles, you can place tape over the sole where it meets the upper.
Shoe Cream or Polish (if you’re painting shoes)
All that deglazing and painting can dry out your leather. It’s a good idea to treat your finished project with shoe cream or polish to nourish the leather. This can be done when the project is finished and as needed after that.
Brush or Rag
To apply shoe cream/polish and buff.
Rags or Paper Towels
Anytime you paint anything, it’s a good idea to have something handy to wipe up drips or spills.
How to Paint Leather Step by Step:
1. Prepare Your Leather Object
Remove anything that comes off of your leather piece if don’t want to paint it. For example, if your leather couch has legs that you can remove, take them off before you begin. If you’re painting shoes that have laces or anything else that’s not permanently attached, remove them! (You can paint laces, too, if you want, but not while they’re in the shoes.)
2. Clean Your Object, if it Has Visible Dirt
Put a little dish soap in warm water then dip a rag or sponge into the water and wipe off the dirt. You can use an old toothbrush or bigger scrubbing brush for bigger objects if you need more friction.
3. Let it Dry
for a little while. It’s ok if it’s still a little damp when you go on to step 4.
4. Apply the Cleaner/Deglazer
Apply it to whatever part of you leather you plan to paint. Use a rag or cotton balls or pads to apply the deglazer. You don’t need to apply a lot of pressure, but you should rub hard enough to remove the finish.
Your leather should look duller when you’re finished, and some of the color might come off, too. Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s directions.
5. Let it Dry for a Few Minutes
This should just take 15-30 minutes. You can work on step 6 while you wait.
6. Get Your Paints Ready
Mix your paints to get the color you want or use them straight from the jar. If mixing, be sure to mix enough to cover both shoes with several layers of paint, probably 3-6 layers. You want to apply thin even layers. Take your brush and spread a little paint.
You can do this on your prepared leather if it’s dry or do it on a piece of scrap paper. If you put it on your object and it’s too thick, wipe it off right away with a rag or paper towel. If the paint seems too thick, add a little bit of water, mix and check the consistency.
Be really careful here—just add a little water at a time and keep testing. You can always add a little more, but you can’t take it out once it’s in!
7. Protect Anything That Won’t be Painted
Cover anything you weren’t able to remove but that you don’t want to paint—such as couch legs or soles of shoes—by covering them with masking tape. To protect a larger area, you can cover it with paper or plastic and tape around the edges.
8. Apply a Layer of Paint
with your flat or sponge brush. Again, you want to apply the paint in thin even layers. Applying the paint too thickly can lead to cracking or peeling later on.
9. Let the Paint Dry
for 15-30 minutes, until the paint doesn’t feel tacky when you touch it
Repeat steps 8 and 9
Repeat until your leather is completely covered and you can no longer see the color underneath.
10. Let dry for 24 hours (or more)
This will help ensure the paints are dried throughout.
Here is an insightful video demonstrating paint application to details of tooled leather pieces:
How to Finish Leather Step by Step:
1. Apply the Finisher
There is a description of different finisher options in the materials section above. You can apply the finisher with a brush or rag. Again, you want to apply a thin, even coat. After you apply the finisher, let it dry for 24 hours before using your painted leather or going on to any next steps.
2. For Shoes
It’s also a good idea to apply a shoe cream or polish to rehydrate the leather—you can apply several coats to help protect your leather and make it look even more beautiful
3. Apply Water Proofing (if desired)
Follow the directions from the manufacturer. And if you’re using a spray, be sure to have plenty of ventilation.
Now you’re ready to get started painting your leather masterpiece. Gather together the materials and have fun! For details on selecting one of the nicest types, click here for my guide to Angelus leather paints, and to learn about others, click here for my article on leather paint types.
How long does leather painting take?
Well, it really depends on two things. First it depends on the size of what you’re painting. Second it depends on the complexity of your design. It will take a few hours, at least, including drying times between layers.
How long does leather paint last on an item?
If properly applied—including preparation and sealing—and cared for, leather paint should last for a long time. How long it lasts will depend on how much It is used—just like any other leather product whether it’s painted or not.