Using Acrylic Paint On Leather

What do you do with an old pair of leather shoes, a leather jacket, or maybe a handbag when they are past their best? Do you treat the faded and flaking look like a new aged aesthetic, throw the item away, or try and give it new life with some paint? Painting leather can be fun as long as you have the right tools for the job. So, can you use acrylic paint on leather and, if so, what is the best way to get a good result? 

In this guide, I will talk about some of the different methods and options available when using acrylic paint on leather. This includes tips on prepping the leather, creating the design, and making sure it doesn’t crack or peel off afterward. We will look at different types of projects, such as jackets and shoes, as well as the issue of painting faux leather with acrylic paint. There is also a section on leather paint, in case you aren’t convinced about using your standard craft-store acrylic paint.

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Leather?

The short answer here is that you can use acrylic paint on leather and get a pretty good effect. The properties and colors of acrylic mean it should work well for bold imagery and be easy enough to use. However, there are certain steps you need to take through the process to get the best result. Those that are patient and careful should get a nice build-up of color with minimal risks of the design cracking or peeling. Those that rush or skip steps may be disappointed with the results.

Can You Paint Leather With Basic Acrylic Paint?

You don’t have to go out and get a specialist paint for leather if you don’t want to, or don’t have the budget for it right now. It is possible to get a good result with a general acrylic for arts and crafts. Just make sure to use the same type through the whole process to get the right layers and build the color. You can treat the paint the same way as you would when working on other surfaces and not have to worry about any toxic chemicals.

Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Leather Jackets?

Yes. There are two main types of leather items that are mentioned in this guide. One of them is a leather jacket. You may have an old, faded one at home that you don’t wear that much or have outgrown. Perhaps it is the right size for your teenager and you can help them customize the jacket with a fun painted design. The flat back panels of the jackets should prove to be a great surface for interesting and more complex designs. You could add lettering for slogans, recreate characters from fandoms, or add other original designs.

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Leather Shoes?

It is a little harder to paint leather shoes because of the smaller surface area and all the curves. You run the risk of designs cracking if you aren’t careful. But, there are ways to avoid this, as you will see below when learning how to paint leather with acrylic. With the right design and enough care, you can create something really fun and long-lasting on an old pair of school shoes or a pair of hand-me-down walking shoes. Painted leather items of all kinds are great for giving life to new accessories. So, why not also consider painting leather bags or belts too.

How To Use Acrylic Paint On Leather

The best thing to do before you start creating any sort of design for your leather item is to clean the material. The cleaner the leather, the less chance there is of dirt and oil getting into the paint and stopping it from sticking or getting the even coat that you want. There are leather bleach products out there that you can dilute with water. Some people say to use a wool dauber for the best results, but this is for more professional work. A scrap from an old towel should be fine.

Next, you need to think about the design that you want on your item. It is a good idea to have this mapped out and ideally drawn onto the material before you start. Working with white chalk is great so you can see the designs really clearly as you work. You can also rub out and reapply without damaging the material in case the scale or centering is off – or if there is a typo.

How To Get Clean Lines Painting On Leather

If you want a more professional look to the design, especially with any copied images or lettering, it may help to bring in extra tools for cleaner lines and shapes. One option is to use tape. Tape gives you a nice block between the paint and unpainted surface that results in a clean straight line. Painter’s tape shouldn’t be a problem on the leather either. The alternative is to make a stencil, fix it in place on the leather material, and then paint in the color. This could be a better choice if you are more confident in your drawing skills than painting skills. Or, maybe you can print off a template of specific characters or fonts and use that.

How To Prevent Acrylic Paint From Cracking On Leather Shoes

The next step is to add the paint and build up the colors. You want to do this in thin layers and keep reapplying rather than one thick coat of paint. One reason for this is that you lower the risk of the material cracking, which is a big concern when working with shoes. Work in thin coats in the direction that the shoe flexes so the paint works with the material and not against it. Let the coat dry and repeat until you get the saturation of color intended. It may also help to flex the shoes when wet to prevent cracking and to avoid adding any heat when drying the coats. Let them dry naturally.

How Long Does Acrylic Paint Take To Dry On Leather?

You need to be patient when letting acrylic paint dry on leather. The best thing to do is leave the coat of paint to air dry for a couple of hours before you add the next layer. It needs to be fully dry rather than tacky so you can be sure of the best result and adhesion in the long run. Once you have all the layers on and the design is complete, leave the item for a good 48 hours at room temperature.

Don’t put it in the sun to speed things up or else you might see some damage and cracking early on. Do your best to leave it completely alone without touching it. Touching the paint when tacky could lead to smudging or fingerprints that you can’t unsee. It is better to wait 12 hours longer than you need to than have a mistake you have to put up with for 12 years.

How Do You Seal Acrylic Paint On Leather?

Sealing acrylic paint on leather is a process that you shouldn’t skip. A sealant is a great way to add some protection to your design and keep the painted surface strong and looking at its best for years to come. The best products provide a clear finish that you will barely notice. Apply this sealant to your leather jacket or painted leather shoes once the paint is fully dry. The sooner you do so, the lower the risk of the piece getting dirty, cracked, or damaged in some other way. Wipe the design down and add the sealant in thin careful coats.

Depending on your product, you can either dilute it with water and dab it onto the leather or sprint it on. Sprays can be easier to use for a more even coat. Either way, make sure not to soak the leather and apply too much. Keep adding layers until you have a thick protective seal in place. Leave it to dry for at least 24 hours.

Does This Work On Faux Leather?

It is possible to paint faux leather, which is good news for those of us with imitation products we want to customize. The only issue comes in prepping the material. It is a good idea to use isopropyl alcohol to get rid of surface grease, wax, or dirt and a deglazer to deal with any silicone in the coating. Once treated, you should be able to work in the same way as painting real leather with acrylic.

Using Leather Paint Instead Of Standard Acrylic

If you aren’t keen on the idea of using your normal acrylic paint for this project, you can get specialist leather acrylic paint instead. The benefit here is that you should get a better finish with a material designed to bind with the leather fabric. The downside is that you may not find the same range of color as there are with standard acrylics. You may also have to pay a lot more.

One of the best brands to consider here is Angelus. They have one of the broadest ranges of colors and sizes, as well as some helpful sets. A good starting point is with one of the company’s starter sets of 12 bottles of paint. There is only 1oz of paint for each color, so you may only get a couple of projects out of them. But, there is a nice selection of colors if you want to go for a fun multicolored design. There is also a similar set with the same amount of paint colors in a Neon theme. This is great if you want those leather accessories to stand out a little more and have a sort of 1980’s retro vibe going.

If you want a little more of a certain color, there are options with 40z of paint instead. This one is a pretty basic white leather paint. While it doesn’t look that exciting on its own, this could allow for a really interesting monochrome design, such as a checkerboard pattern. This is where that careful work with tape or stenciling helps a lot.

It is also worth noting that Angelus has a finisher for your acrylic. This come is the same size as the white paint, so there should be more than enough to cover your design and get the shine that you want to freshen up your leather items.

Finally, the company also has a few sets that could be a big help to those starting out with painting leather with acrylic. This sort of kit could provide better value. You get some small bottles of their leather paint, a little bit of deglazer for prepping the leather, and then some brushes.

Choosing The Right Paint For Painting Leather Shoes And Jackets

The specialist leather acrylic paint is a great idea if you are just starting out and want to make sure you get the very best finish on your items. It may be worth any extra expense if this is a more important project, such as a treasured item you don’t want to ruin or a gift for a loved one. But, if this is a bit more casual and you are playing around with thrift store items you should be fine with normal acrylic. The most important consideration is how you use the paint and treat the material rather than the type of paint itself.

Conclusion

As you can see, learning how to paint leather with acrylic isn’t as straightforward as just slapping some acrylic paint on your jacket or shoes and waiting for it to dry. Enjoy the full process of preparing the leather, creating the design, working coat by coat to get the color, preventing cracking, and then sealing the design at the end. Once finished and completely dry, you should have a revamped leather item you are proud to wear.