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How to Paint Leather – Step By Step to Stunning Results

Leather paint can be used on almost 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 to 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 basic steps. Let’s explore how.

What is Leather Painting?

How to paint leather is one of the many important leather working how-tos. Quite simply, leather painting is painting on leather, which is pretty straightforward, but it’s important to follow a few basic rules to make your paint last long and prosper. Lucky for you, those steps and some leather painting application tips are all set out below.

Brushing on Blue Acrylic Angelus Leather Paint - Liberty Leather Goods
Brushing on Blue Acrylic Angelus Leather Paint

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 made especially to adhere to leather. 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. 

Cleaner/Deglazer

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.

Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer - Liberty Leather Goods
Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer

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 to apply the finisher.

Acrylic Angelus Leather Paint Kit with Brushes and Daubers - Liberty Leather Goods
Acrylic Angelus Leather Paint Kit with Brushes and Daubers

Leather Paints

In color or colors of your choice. These are acrylic-based paints, which are made especially for painting leather. You can buy different sizes of jars, as well as sets of colors. Angelus leather paints are high-quality paints that cost about $3 for a one-oz jar and cost less per ounce if you buy 4-oz or pints or quarts. Kaps, Fieblings, and Jacquard also make high-quality leather paints.

Acrylic Angelus Leather Paints with Deglazer and Brushes - Liberty Leather Goods
Acrylic Angelus Leather Paints with Deglazer and Brushes

Flat or Foam Brush

You’ll also need a brush to apply the paint and finisher. You can use foam brushes or flat brushes. Both come in various sizes, so choose one that’s appropriate for your project. You can probably get by with just one brush. Be sure to wash it immediately after use or wrap it in plastic to keep the paint from drying between coats.

Angelus Paint Brush Set - Liberty Leather Goods
Angelus Paint Brush Set

Paint Finisher

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 at about the same price. LeatherWorld Technologies offers a top coat in three 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 waterproofer, like Scotchguard or Mod Podge Outdoor, to protect it from the elements. The finishers are water resistant. This additional layer of protection will help preserve the integrity and appearance of your leather item.

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. To nourish the leather, it’s a good idea to treat your finished project with shoe cream or shoe leather polish. This can be done when the project is finished and as needed after that. 

Saphir Leather Conditioner Oil - Liberty Leather Goods
Saphir Leather Conditioner Oil – Liberty Leather Goods

Brush or Rag

To apply shoe cream or polish, you can use either a brush or a rag. A soft cloth or rag is ideal for evenly spreading the product over the leather, allowing it to penetrate and rejuvenate the material. Alternatively, a brush can be used to work the cream or polish into the leather’s texture. After application, buffing with a soft cloth creates a smooth, shiny finish

Rags or Paper Towels

Anytime you paint anything, it’s a good idea to have something handy to wipe up drips or spills. Rags can be reused and are generally more absorbent, while paper towels are disposable and convenient for quick clean-ups.

Here is a step-by-step walkthrough video on painting leather:

Helpful Items to Begin Leather Painting

Here is an easy-reference table with paid links to items that I trust – these are a great place to start, taking you from prep and cleaning through finishing/sealing.

TypeDescriptionSource
CleanerAngelus Leather Preparer DeglazerView on Amazon
BrushesAngelus Paint Brush SetView on Amazon
PaintsAngelus 12 Color Starter Paint SetView on Amazon
SealerAngelus Matte Acrylic FinisherView on Amazon
Leather Painting Items

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. If you need more friction, you can use an old toothbrush or a bigger scrubbing brush for bigger objects.

3. Let it Dry

Allow the item to 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 the cleaner/deglazer to whatever part of your 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.

When you’re finished, your leather should look duller, and some of the colors might come off. Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s directions.

Applying Deglazer for Paint Prep - Liberty Leather Goods
Applying Deglazer for Paint Prep

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

You can 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.

Angelus Leather Paints and Brush Kit Set - Liberty Leather Goods
Angelus Leather Paints and Brush Kit Set

You can do this on your prepared leather if it’s dry or on a piece of scrap paper. If you put it on your object and it’s too thick, wipe it off immediately with a rag or paper towel. If the paint seems too thick, add a little bit of water, mix it, 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

Apply the paint in thin, even layers with your flat or sponge brush. Applying the paint too thickly can lead to cracking or peeling later on. 

Adding More Blue Acrylic Angelus Leather Paint - Liberty Leather Goods
Adding More Blue Acrylic Angelus Leather Paint

9. Let the Paint Dry

Allow the paint to dry for 15-30 minutes until it 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.

Applying Yellow Acrylic Angelus Leather Paint - Liberty Leather Goods
Applying Yellow Acrylic Angelus Leather Paint

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

You can apply the finisher with a brush or rag in a thin, even coat. After you apply the finisher, let it dry for 24 hours before using your painted leather or proceeding to the 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 start painting your leather masterpiece. Gather the materials and have fun!

Related Questions

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.