Painting leather can add some unique color to your next leather crafting project. Or can help freshen up a dull spot in your favorite couch. But before you start throwing paint onto your leather, let’s go over some basics.
Leather paint is very versatile for many different fabrics and leathers so it will go a long way. In this we will go over an introduction on how to paint leather and what you need to get started.
What kind of paint do you need?
Painting leather with your average paints will not do you too well. Although these paints are acrylic based paints, it doesn’t mean any acrylic paint will work.
As there are many different paints out there for multiple different surfaces you are going to want to avoid your average paint. I recommend the Angelus leather paint as it is a water base paint that coats leather very nicely. They have a basic kit to get you started painting leather that I’d recommend.
This kit will cover brushes, cleaners, primary colors, black and white. Which if you do not want to spend too much money on paint, getting primary colors will greatly help.
Angelus paints are very good and can be mixed between colors easily. Plus since they are water based, you can easily lighten the color with some water. This is also helpful for the leather since it won’t add oils or sometimes alcohol.
These paints are an acrylic paint, but unlike average acrylic paint they will lay a lot smoother. Since acrylic paint is made to be used on a canvas or other hard surfaces, it becomes very thick pretty quickly. You do not want this as regular paint will crack easily.
Itested tree different acrylic paints to see the difference between each one.
The left is leather paint, the middle is an acrylic ink while the right is a Folkart multi-surface acrylic paint.
You can see the multi-surface paint is a little too thick, yet the ink is a little too thin. Looks like leather paint is a nice middle ground.
While you can use Angelus to paint vivid colors, you can also use dye in your painting. Dye can be used to fill in background of a painting or bolden texture from a stamped leather. Brands do not matter as you will have no issues with painting around dye as long as it is not an alcohol based dye.
Tools needed for painting leather
To get started painting you will need some paint, paintbrushes, some sealants and leather/ an item with leather.
Just like dyeing a piece of leather, you are going to want to clean the surface before applying your paint. This can be done with a small amount of rubbing alcohol and water or Angelus leather preparer and deglazer. This will remove any dirt and oils that are on your leather before applying paint or dyes.
This is used before dyeing also and will help lay even coats of paint/dye. The deglazer is a little better than alcohol and water but it is not mandatory as long as you clean the surface.
Paintbrushes are an obvious necessity if you plan on trying to paint any sort of detailed image. Luckily it doesn’t matter too much on the brand or type, any paint brushes will work. Obviously the cheaper ones will not last as long though so keep that in mind.
Angelus 1 oz paint bottles come with small brushes attached to the cap, but avoid using these. They are very difficult to get very detailed strokes and tend to spread very wide.
I use the Royal & Langnickel brushes, but keep in mind how detailed and the size you are painting. The smaller details will need a 0-2 brush, whereas covering a big area might need an 11 size.
Lastly you will need some leather or a leather item. Like I said, the paint is very versatile, you can paint shoes, couches, or wallets, as long as it’s a leather type fabric.
Prepping to paint your leather
Once you have your material ready you will want some sort of drop cloth or some napkins at your station. It is very easy to spill over paint or dyes and they will stain clothes and even wood. So placing some paper towels or bags down will help avoid creating a mess.
The paper towels will also help to wipe off your brush.
Since most of your paint will be water based it is a good idea to have a cup of water for the paint and washing brushes.
When mixing colors it is a good idea to have some extra piece of leather around for testing. Many times the paint will look good in your mixture but once it hits leather it will look slightly different.
This is fine if you don’t mind painting over off colors. But why not try to get it how you want in the beginning!
If you are haven’t painted too much or it is very important not to mess up, it may be helpful to have some painter’s tape. This especially will come in handy when painting shoes or getting into very detailed areas.
Unless you have a bunch of paint or you know you only want to use a couple colors you are going to need somewhere to mix the paint. These paint mixing dishes can be purchased fairly cheap and will come in handy.
You can also use a paper plate or the lid to a plastic container that will work well. Mixing will become a big part of the painting process for finding specific colors you want to use. This is definitely true when you work with only primaries.
Which if you are getting started you might want to stick with the primary red, yellow and blue as these can make all colors when mixed. Getting these three colors will be the most bang for your buck since you can create a wide range from these.
When mixing it will be good to take note of how you got specific colors you made. Jot down on a notebook how many drops you mixed to create the ideal color so you know for next time.
Lastly if you want to avoid coloring your fingers, get a pack of rubber gloves. This acrylic ink will sit in the edges of your finger nails for a couple days and dyes can color your fingers easily.
How to paint leather
So now that you have everything to paint the leather and set it all up, it’s time to start painting.
Start with your dyes before anything. If you plan on using a dye for whatever reason on your leather use this first.
This is because dyes are usually more watery than paint. So when you place the dye down onto the leather it will spread out in all directions. This makes it easier to cover your areas, but can also ruin a piece that was already painted.
Now that your paint is ready and you tested on your extra piece of leather you can start laying down some strokes.
While painting work from the background to the foreground. This will help speed up the painting process because you won’t have to continue touching up areas you have already painted.
For example if I wanted to paint a flower I would start with the whole flower one color, red.
Then add the center spot, white. Since this is lighter than the red, it may take a couple coats.
This will help avoid having to place the white center, add red then touch up the white area again.
You also will want to avoid globbing on the the paint in an attempt to cover a large area. This can cause the paint to dry unevenly and end up leaving the paint looking discolored in certain areas.
Instead add a fair amount of paint to the center your object and spread it throughout the area you need to cover. So in the flower I would start with red in the middle and pull it to the outside edges.
Avoid trying to take on too much of an area in one sweep, instead work in a specific areas then move further to the edge.
Always allow the paint or dye to dry fully before adding a new color on top or else this can cause the colors to mix. Using a heat gun or hair dryer can greatly speed up this process for you.
When painting in stamped or carved areas you will need to add some extra paint to fill the grooves. You will want to make sure to press the ink or dye into these marks to avoid having to go back.
Since you will be using acrylic inks it is ok if you mess up as it is very easy to go over dried paint. Even when the color is darker on the bottom than the color you are trying to add on top.
Just like regular acrylic on a canvas, you will be able to go lighter if you need to but it will take a few coats.
When using chrome tanned leather or a finished leather you can quickly rub off a mistake if the paint is still wet. After placing the paint, while it is still wet, take a damp rag and rub away the mess up. These slicker top leathers will take longer to absorb the paint so you will have some extra time to work with.
Finishing the painting
When you have finished your painting and dyeing you will need a finisher/sealant to seal the ink. Acrylic finishers by Angelus can be used or Fiebing’s resolene and they usually have different finishing looks. Some of these finishers have a more glossy or matte look.
If you have done any leather crafting before or dyed your own leather, you will be familiar with these sealants. But if not, pick a glossy or matte look and apply with a rag or a paint brush. Make sure your painting has dried completely before adding or it will smear the wet paint.
Allow the sealant to dry and now it can be crafted into an item.
Quick tip when painting shoes
Since there is a lot of shoes with leather we wanted to touch quickly on couple tips for shoes.
Avoid painting any rubber on shoes or rubber material in general. This paint will not stick to rubber as it is made for a more natural fabric. After drying on rubber, you will see it almost immediately start to chip away.
Also if you are painting shoes and want to bring life to the sole you can use Angelus sole bright. Mix this sole bright 50/50 with a close dye color you are aiming for. Dyes will be able to penetrate the sole more effectively than the acrylic paints.
Those are some helpful tips on how to paint leather and what is needed to accomplish your goal. And with any type of leather or leather item you are painting you will still want to follow this process. Wash/deglaze the area, apply dyes, work from background up, then apply a sealant.
Learning how to paint leather will not come overnight (at least not too well). But neither will painting or any type of leather crafting so it will take some practice.
Found this very good video by Don Gonzales talking about how he paints his leather. This was the first video I saw before trying to paint leather. Might be a little long, but it is very informative!