Introduction: Painting Leather Shoes (or Other Leather Stuff)

Picture of Painting Leather Shoes (or Other Leather Stuff)
Your shoes are boring! At least, you seem to think so, otherwise you wouldn't be searching for how to paint them.

Fortunately, painting leather shoes is easy, and can have excellent results. There are communities online of shoe-painters (naturally the internet has a community for everything), but most people have never seen a sweet pair of custom kicks.

For this instructable, we'll be customizing a pair of Florsheim Imperial dress shoes. I wanted them to be spectators (white/black two-tone), but they were $140. The Black version was on sale for less than $50. Paint was less than $5, so the choice was clear.

This method uses Angelus Leather Paint, which is well known as a quality Acrylic leather paint. It stays flexible, comes in a range of colors, and for once, is inexpensive! These instructions would work well on most natural leather articles, such as wallets, purses, BDSM wear, etc. It isn't designed for suede or other textured leathers.

Painting leather shoes is a 3 step process:
  1. Prep leather by removing existing polish and coatings with acetone.
  2. Paint leather with Angelus paints.
  3. Finish with an Acrylic Finisher for a gloss or matte finish.

You will need:
  1. Acetone for removing existing coatings (available at Hardware Store) - nail polish remover NOT recommended.
  2. Angelus Leather Paint (available at many online craft suppliers. I recommend Dharma Trading Company.
  3. Q-tips
  4. Paper Towels
  5. Masking Tape (Quality matters - get a good blue tape, or premium green "Frog Tape")
  6. Paint brushes of various sizes
  7. A shoe.
  8. (optional) Angelus Acrylic Finisher or Angelus Duller

Step 1: Prep the Shoe

Picture of Prep the Shoe

Prep the shoe by washing any dirt or muck off the shoe.

Then mask any areas you don't want to get paint on. Masking tape quality does matter - use a good 3M blue tape, or the fancier green Frog Tape to get clean lines. In this case I masked the area above the spot I will be painting, because the shape of the leather and the size of my brushes will allow me to avoid painting the brogue.

In a well ventilated area, use the acetone to remove any existing coatings or polish. Use the Q-tips and paper towels to scrub any exposed areas. It should take on a dull appearance. Keep cleaning with acetone until you stop seeing polish come off on your towels! This step is crucial for good adhesion!

Step 2: Paint the Shoes

Picture of Paint the Shoes

Painting the shoes is simple. The Angelus paints have good coverage, and are easy to work with. When applying light colors over dark leather, expect to use multiple coats. I had to use 5 coats to cover black leather with white paint, but other colors usually work fine with 2-3 coats. Allow the paint to dry between coats, I recommend at least 20 minutes. As with most paints, several thin coats is better than one thick one!

After your last coat, carefully remove the masking tape. Don't allow the paint to dry completely before removing the tape - you want the slightly wet paint to "flow" a bit, making a smoother edge. You also don't want the tape tearing the fully dry paint when it is removed.

By itself, the Angelus paint has a semi-gloss appearance. This can be made more matte by adding Angelus Duller directly to the paint itself (~4.5mL per oz of paint). To get a more gloss appearance, you will apply the Angelus Finisher after the paint is fully dry.

Step 3: Apply Finisher

Picture of Apply Finisher

Angelus paints come out semi-gloss by default. For a gloss look, allow the paint to dry completely, and apply Angelus Finisher. It has the consistency of diluted milk, and is brushed liberally over the paint. Allow to dry fully, at least 24 hours, before using the shoes.

As you can see, the black and white spectators came out well! At the same time, I decided that my Doc Marten Industrials were too boring, so tuned them up with a navy, light blue and red color scheme. Go nuts!


PriyaP28 made it! (author)2017-01-07

Hi, i just started doing some hand painted leather purses. i am using normal acrylic paint. i cant find leather acrylic here in my place. i have few doubt, it would be great if some one could guide me.

1. How do i dilute my paint, i have heard if i use more water my painting won't last on leather. what do i use instead,. Can i use linseed oil??(but wont this take much time to dry?)

2. if i am painting on black leather, do i need to paint my pattern with white paint for my final color to pop? or is there something else i can some kind of primer?

i have attached my paintings . as u can see i haven't diluted my paint much so u can see my brush strokes. please advice me, what i am doing wrong.

ansonchia (author)2017-01-04

Hi, i think i just scrap off the glossy layer of my patent leather loafer by accident. Do you think i can restore the glossy look by applying the Angelus Finisher (high gloss). Thank you!

NolanFox (author)2016-08-24

Thanks for the Instructable!

Since it has been a few years, I'm curious how your painted shoes have worn with time? Have you had problems with the paint cracking? Also, when your painted shoes get dirty, have you been able to clean the painted areas without damaging them?

cheshirecat987 (author)2016-05-05

I want to paint a white leather belt black. How do I deal with the edges of the belt, where the leather has been closed and rounded off? Will the paint work differently on whatever material they used? It feels like rubbery plastic. Thanks!

JayneZ (author)2016-04-30

I'm painting my own bridal heels- they're imitation leather. Do I need to prepare them with acetone first or are they okay to start painting? Also why is nail polish remover not recommended? (I can't get acetone where I live/nobody ships it to rural Alaska)


phidauex (author)JayneZ2016-04-30

I'm not sure, if they have a shiny finish, then you may want to deglaze them still. If it is a matte finish, then the paint might hold fine.

Nail polish remover is mostly acetone, but also has other junk in it like fragrances and stuff to make it less harsh on your hands, it might work in a pinch, but not ideal. If you have a farm and ranch store or a little hardware store around you I'm sure they'll sell it, but I don't know how rural you are. ;)

JuliaT17 (author)2016-04-17

Do you think I can paint a leather jacket? On shoes the leather is equal and stays in a less motion than on a jacket... WIll it survive using or the paints will split up? I found in the Web only cases of painting on shoes, bags but what about jackets?

phidauex (author)JuliaT172016-04-18

I know people use the Angelus paints to do the back of jackets, in the style of old motorcycle or pilot jackets, with good success. The paint is quite flexible, but not as flexible as the original leather, of course.

I wouldn't recommend it for parts of the jacket that bend a LOT, like the elbows, armpits, etc., but parts like the flat front or back, with good prep, probably have a good chance of succeeding.

Check out this project from EMS on doing just that, might have some good inspiration:

DeaconS (author)2015-10-15

Hi. Are you still in the funkin' shoes up business? I want to paint some Doc Martens for my girlfriend for Christmas. I'm either going to get a blank pair and do them Aqua blue then paint daisy's on, or get a already blue pair and paint daisy's on (using your method). I was just wondering if you've done Doc's before and if you had any more advice/tips for me...

phidauex (author)DeaconS2015-10-15

Sounds cool! I'd recommend starting with a blue pair if you can - less painting to do, and the original blue color will be more durable than the paint coating. Either way, the big things are to use acetone or Angelus deglazer to remove the surface finish under where you are painting, and then using the clear acrylic finisher (matte or glossy) as a topcoat to seal it in. Have fun, the Angelus paints are really easy to work with.

kermitthehuman (author)2015-10-05

GREAT tutorial! Easy to understand, to-the-point, but detailed enough to lead us in the right direction. The only thing I'd add would be- If you decide to get the (fancy) green frog tape...after you have masked off all the necessary areas, get a (slightly) damp rag and wipe it over ALL of the frog tape. Don't scrub, just wipe it. You'll be able to see the tape appear to absorb the moisture. Reason being- green frog tape ONLY seals once it is wet...and many paints tend to run underneath tiny creases in the tape, onto areas that you don't want them to be...but sealing it PRIOR to painting will insure that all of your areas are perfectly masked off, and leave flawlessly-perfect lines.

Just a thought! Either way....thank you for this instructable!

phidauex (author)kermitthehuman2015-10-05

Thanks for the tip! I didn't know that the green tape worked that way.

JaeBoyd4 (author)2015-06-12

I let someone paint my shoes but I'm not a big fan of the work. Would white spray paint turn them back white? Here's picture of them.

JaeBoyd4 (author)2015-06-12

I let someone paint my shoes but I'm not a big fan of the work. Would white spray paint turn them back white? Here's picture of them.

JaeBoyd4 (author)2015-06-12


BenG8 (author)2015-05-06

Hi, will this work on leather football boots? Is the acetone still necessary if the boots are already white?

phidauex (author)BenG82015-05-06

It would probably work on football boots. The paint will probably need touching up more often when people are running into each other, but I painted a pair of work boots that have held up pretty well.

I'd still recommend using the acetone - the main reason for it is to remove the top surface of the polish, which can prevent the paint from sticking. Try a hidden area (like under the tongue) to make sure it doesn't remove the white color too much at the same time.

chris.montgomery.102 (author)2015-04-16

Will this work on patent leather that is cracked? Please let me know as soon as possible!

Well, it will work in the sense that you can paint it on, but patent leather would require a little more surface prep for good attachment, and no paint will completely mask or hide cracks.

You can contact Angelus for recommendations with their paints, or just give it a try.

taylor12340 (author)2015-03-24

Casaboy1 (author)2014-11-17

would love to have my pair of white nike airforce 1 painted. If anybody does this service plz help me

ariannachiriff (author)Casaboy12015-01-30

Hi! If it's not leather shoes, I can do that :) just find me on Facebook and PM me

jeanette.negron.10 (author)2014-10-29

Hi, I have a pair of Dansko white leather shoes I wore in nursing school, I am now done and would love my brother to paint something on them to make them unique and wearable as they were expensive and I want to get more wear out of them. Will this work on them?

Probably! The main thing to be successful with the Angelus paints is to make sure the leather is very clean, and that the polish is removed with acetone before painting. But if you do that, then there is no reason it shouldn't work even on well-worn leather.

genalyn (author)2014-10-16

Wtf is pleather? By REAL leather even at the charity shop and crack on! Handbags, biker leathers, shoes, anything. Your mind is your only obstruction

nmcdavid (author)2014-02-24

I have a couple of questions. Does this method work on pleather? Can I use any spray paint on pleather or just this paint.

mduncan8 (author)2014-01-30

what do you recommend for boots that are not real leather. *pleather?*

Tater Zoid (author)2014-01-21

Mmmmm, GoNuts!

AndieKae (author)2013-11-03

What size was the bottle of white paint you used? I'm working on something very similar but I'm unsure of how much I will need. Thank you so much for this tutorial. Can you believe I went to a specialty leather crafting store and they told me it wasn't possible to paint or dye leather that was already painted or dyed? I didn't believe that so I tried using fabric paint and it didn't work (cracked) but I wasn't ready to give up. That's when I decided to search online and found this tutorial. This makes me so happy! But it would be really nice to know what size of bottle to use and how far it goes. (How much is left over?) Thanks again!

phidauex (author)AndieKae2013-11-03

Angelus has a pretty good coverage rate - I think I used a little less than an ounce of white paint to paint the white parts on the shoes in the instructable, even accounting for an extra coat or two since I was painting over a black surface.

AndieKae (author)phidauex2013-11-04

Wow, amazing that so little makes such great coverage. Thank you so much for the quick and helpful response.

Silvermomma (author)2013-10-12

Wow! I have a pair of suede Dansko clog that I would like to change. Suede is the operative issue.  I assume I need to do additional preparation but don't know what.  Any suggestions?

phidauex (author)Silvermomma2013-10-12

Also, you may wish to look into Angelus Suede Dye. It doesn't have as wide a range of colors, but is designed for Suede. I've never used it before, but Angelus tends to make good products so I bet it works as claimed.

phidauex (author)Silvermomma2013-10-12

Suede isn't a great candidate for painting... That said, there were some suede accents on my wife's shoes that we painted. It did work, but we had to do a LOT of coats to get over the texture of the suede (maybe 10-15 coats, with partial drying between), and it ended up fairly stiff there. I'd recommend trying a small patch of some scrap suede before hitting the shoes to make sure the resulting look and stiffness is OK with you.

TóthBence (author)2013-03-23

Hi I bought a nike majestic court shoe and now thinking of painting the "nike swoosh" from its original blue to red. I just wanted to ask your guys opinion whether it works or not. Because they are far not in the same tones. Thanks for advance.

Justjanice (author)2012-07-14

If I want to paint a random design all over most of the shoe, and leave the background color as is, should I acetone the whole shoe? Will the finish restore the surface where I have not painted at the end?

rachel (author)2012-07-06

Fantastic work. I am inspired. I'm going to stop ruling out shoes that I love the style of just because I hate the color... This may be bad for my budget!

chris0910 (author)2012-04-10

Thanks for your effort in giving us tips on how to use angelus paint, i really foudn your post helpful, keep up the good work, also you might want to see this website about angelus paint

jessyratfink (author)2012-02-17

This is great! The finished product looks fantastic. :)

tarepanday (author)2012-02-10

I saw that your doc mar shoes have red stitching, did you paint it red too?

phidauex (author)tarepanday2012-02-10

Yes, I painted the stitching as well! Took a small brush and some patience, but it looks pretty good.

inquisitive (author)2011-12-09

Genius! I am a Shoe Girl at a local dept store and always want to bend the rules a bit and have something unique-time to scout the clearance racks with a new perspective!
So is the finisher just one coat needed and is it waterproofing at all? Could the shoes be polished with clear all over later or cleaned with the Dr. Marten's Wonder Balsam do you think?

phidauex (author)inquisitive2011-12-11

Bending the rules is one of my favorite hobbies. ;)

The finisher works well with just a single coat - it is very light. As for waterproofing... The final dry paint and finisher is essentially waterproof, it won't wash off. However, I'm sure it is no Nikwax. For "casual" use I'm sure they are as waterproof as you could ask for.

I'm sure you could continue to maintain it with most neutral polishes or leather treatments. Not sure how it would react to some of the more specialty items like Nikwax, but you could always try a small area first.

Warlrosity (author)2011-04-26

Holy jesus, those black/white ones are amazing. This is now a favorite.

phidauex (author)Warlrosity2011-07-06

Thanks! I just wore them to my wedding, and they were a big hit. Painted my wife's shoes, too!

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm an engineer in the renewable energy world, and help run a cooperative workshop makerspace in Boulder, CO called the Phoenix Asylum.
More by phidauex:Phoenix Asylum, Boulder, CODye Your Shoes (or other leather goods)Dynamic Motor Balancing - with Sugru and an iPhone!
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