Painting Leather Shoes (or Other Leather Stuff)

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About: I'm an engineer in the renewable energy world, and help run a cooperative workshop makerspace in Boulder, CO called the Phoenix Asylum.
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

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

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

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!

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47 Discussions

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SrishtiL1

Question 8 months ago

I really love the original brogues! Can you please tell me where you bought them? Thank you.

1 more answer
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phidauexSrishtiL1

Answer 6 months ago

Sorry for the late reply - the shoes are Oak Street Bootmakers "Trench Oxford". They are the shoe version of their Trench Boot, which they only make occasionally.

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JayneZ

2 years ago

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)

Thanks

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KotoAJayneZ

Reply 11 months ago

I know that most nail polish removers that still contain acetone have oodles of other ingredients, like nail conditioners. I would be leary because the acetone is taking the finish off to make the surface ready for paint to stick. You may be able to substitute another stripping agent. Do you have a hardware or paint store?

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phidauexJayneZ

Reply 2 years ago

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. ;)

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ansonchia

1 year ago

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!

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NolanFox

2 years ago

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?

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cheshirecat987

2 years ago

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!

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JuliaT17

2 years ago

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?

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phidauexJuliaT17

Reply 2 years ago

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: http://www.evilmadscientist.com/2014/cls-jacket/

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DeaconS

3 years ago

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...

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phidauexDeaconS

Reply 3 years ago

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.

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kermitthehuman

3 years ago

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!

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phidauexkermitthehuman

Reply 3 years ago

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

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JaeBoyd4

3 years ago

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.

image.jpg
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JaeBoyd4

3 years ago

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.

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BenG8

3 years ago on Introduction

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

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phidauexBenG8

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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.

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