Protect Your Painted Shoes
You’ve worked for hours — days even — tracing your design, laying on the layers, fading the colors properly, and painstakingly painting the finest details on your kicks. But now you’re afraid to wear them.
We’ve all been there. When you’ve poured your heart and soul into a custom shoe paint job, the last thing you want to do is see your new colors and designs crack, peel, chip, or wash away.
While there’s never any way to ensure a pair of shoes will stay flawless — much less a custom paint job — consider these methods before, during, and after painting, to help ensure you’re doing the best you can to protect your new kicks.
1. Prep the sneakers properly.
Prepping the shoes may be the most important part of a custom shoe paint job. The amount of prep work depends on the materials you will be painting. For most shoes, the paint job will involve painting factory-coated leather. Painting over the factory coating is ineffective, because the glossy coating prevents the paint from chemically bonding to the leather itself. So, apply this leather preparer and deglazer with cotton balls or a soft rag, and rub that factory coating off until a waxy substance begins to accumulate on the surface of the shoe. Once that coating has worn away and you’ve let the shoe dry, you’re ready to start painting.
2. Use the right shoe paint.
When doing an aftermarket paint job on a pair of leather sneakers, there’s really no substitute for quality paint. And the best custom shoe paint on the market is this acrylic leather paint from Angelus. It’s specifically formulated to chemically bond to leather, so if you prep the shoes right, the paint should not chip or crack after application. (NOTE: If you cut corners and try to use acrylic paint that is not specifically formulated for leather, you’re more likely to ruin your shoes than end up with a cool pair of custom kicks.)
3. Let each layer of paint dry properly.
The normal rule when painting shoes is to apply several, successive THIN coats of paint, until you get the solid color you want. Applying thick layers can result in drips, uneven coloration, or poor bonding of the paint to the leather. So brush each layer on thin, and let it fully dry before painting on the next layer. To reduce the drying time between layers, you may want to use a heat gun, like the Wagner Furno 300, which Angelus sells for sneaker painting.
4. Apply a sealer to protect your new paint job.
After you’ve applied all of the thin layers of paint that you intend to lay on, and you’ve waited for all the layers to dry, it’s tempting to put the new shoes on right away. But there’s a final step that’s well worth taking to protect your hard work: sealant.
We recommend one of these finishing sealants, which are available in a range of finishes: matte, satin, normal, and high gloss.
While no custom shoe paint job will be as tough and durable as a finish straight from the factory, if you use the right supplies and follow the proper procedures, your custom paint job can rise pretty close to the same level of durability. Take your time, have fun, and good luck!
These tips show how to paint shoes and add unique hand-painted designs to your canvas shoes or sneakers with acrylic paint. There are also tips for painting leather or vinyl shoes or trim. We’ve tested a bunch of art supplies and recommend our top picks.
This is part of the complete ebook, How to Paint Shoes: Beginners Guide to Painting Canvas Shoes with Acrylic Paint, available for instant download.
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Create Your Own Hand-Painted Shoes
How to Paint Shoes
Our best tips for creating hand-painted shoes on canvas, leather, and vinyl surfaces.Buy Now
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PDF Format | About Ebook
A few years ago my teenage daughter started customizing canvas shoes (which is now a business venture) and hasn’t turned back since. Since that time we have also ventured into leather, mesh, and vinyl surfaces as well. These are our tips for best results.
If you’re like us, you may not want to buy new supplies for each project so we have listed several options in case you already own something that can work.
As new supplies come on the market we try them out and, if we like them, update this article to include them.
Our ebook provides more information than we can fit in a blog post. Click Here to Get It Now. It downloads instantly and includes all of our tips. If you’re already experienced with acrylic paints on canvas, you probably just need a few ideas for specific materials to use (see below).
Shoe Painting Art Materials & Supplies
You can paint canvas, leather, mesh, and vinyl shoes (or a combination). Each type of material requires different preparations.
Options include Converse, Nike, Jordans or any other makes or models you like. You just need to know what type of material you are painting so you can prepare and paint them properly.
Converse Canvas Sneaker | Amazon
Nike Air Force Sneaker | Amazon
The base color or colors of the shoes does not matter. Most shoe parts are paintable except the soles. Shoe soles do not take paint well so just tape those off to protect them while you paint.
If you want all these tips in one handy file, click here for the ebook.
If this is your first time painting shoes, consider getting a test pair at a thrift shop to experiment on.
Test Your Materials First
Because there is no way for us to test every possible surface and finish, do this at your own risk and always test a small area first to be sure you are happy with the results.
2Paints and Primer / Preparer
We’ll first go over the supplies needed and then the step-by-step instructions.
For Canvas or Mesh Surfaces
Use these two products combined (1-part paint mixed with 1-part 2-Soft Fabric Medium).
You do not need to use any other products to prepare a canvas or mesh surface.
Angelus Leather Paints | Amazon
Angelus 2-Soft Fabric Medium | Amazon
Before Angelus Leather Paints were available, we created our painted canvas shoes with these items:
- Acrylic primer (to prepare surface) | All-purpose wall painting primer works great but you have to apply thin coats. You can also use Gesso (artist’s canvas primer).
- Acrylic paints | Golden (brand) is top notch quality – goes on beautifully. You can also use any acrylic paints sold at craft shops such as Decoart, Martha Stewart, Folk Art, artist’s acrylics, or acrylic wall paint.
- Acrylic Paint Thinner | Thin layers are key to preventing cracking and getting a good end result. Acrylic Paint Thinner is the same stuff used with airbrushing.
For Leather Surfaces
Leather surfaces must be prepared first with a product like Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer (which is a mild acetone) before they are ready to paint. Read more in the step-by-step instructions (below).
Angelus Leather Paints | Amazon
Leather Preparer and Deglazer | Amazon
For Vinyl Surfaces
Vinyl requires 3 steps before it is ready to paint.
- Use sandpaper to gently roughen the surface.
- Apply Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer to further ready the surface.
- Then apply a clear Adhesion Promoter Primer (spray) made for vinyl, rubber, and other plastic surfaces.
Once that’s done, you can paint vinyl surfaces with Angelus Leather Paints.
To Protect Soles
The rubber or other composite material of shoe soles does not hold paint nicely. It is best to tape off areas like this to protect them from the paint.
For Detail Work
You may already have favorite art supplies for fine or detailed work. These are some we love.
Pay attention to tip sizes! They range from fine to thick.
Markers for Filling in Colors
Posca Paint Pens | Amazon
Markers for Outlining
Note: Metallic markers may run when Scotch Guard is applied on top.
- Pencil for sketching design on shoes
- Synthetic paint brushes (suitable for acrylic paint).
- Paint tray, water cup for rinsing brushes, rag.
- Airbrush kit | for fast, even coverage.
For Protecting Painted Shoes
These are listed in order of preference.
- Angelus Acrylic Finisher – available in matte, satin, normal, and high gloss, or
- Scotch Guard for outdoor fabrics or polyurethane, or
- Mod Podge Outdoor, and any other durable sealant (must apply very thin layers).
Planning Your Design
- If you can paint it on a flat canvas, you can probably paint it on canvas shoes.
- Unless you’re an artistic daredevil, start simple.
- Pick basic designs you can fill with solid colors and outline with marking pen. From a distance, these simpler designs really look great.
- Go DaVinci on your second pair when you’ve had some practice.
Before You Start
- Try your design on paper first (to be sure you like it), then draw it on the shoes using an HB pencil.
- Heavy lines will show through the paint, so press lightly.
- And don’t forget to protect non-paintable surface like the soles and insides first.
Shoe Painting Steps
1Tape Off Non-Paintable Areas
- Remove shoe laces and start with clean shoes.
- Apply vinyl tape or painter’s tape to any areas you do not want to paint including the soles.
- Decide if you will paint the inside and prepare surface appropriately.
- If shoe is flimsy, stuff it with something like a rolled-up cloth to provide a sturdy painting surface.
- Apply Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer as directed on product using dust-free cloth. Allow to dry at least 15 minutes.
A Best method
- Paint directly on the surface with diluted paint (1-part Angelus Leather Paint mixed with 1-part Angelus 2-soft Fabric Medium).
B Old School Method
- Prime the canvas areas you will be painting with very thin layers of primer or gesso.
- Allow to dry completely (usually takes an hour) or use a hair dryer or heating tool to speed it up.
- You want the canvas covered in primer, but not so thickly that you lose the texture. The texture helps the acrylic paints “grab” the surface.
- Follow the 3 steps listed here: sand the surface, apply Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer, and the apply a clear Adhesion Promoter Primer (spray).
3Plan / Sketch Your Design
Draw your design(s) on the shoes using an HB pencil. Go lightly or the pencil will show through the paint.
4Paint Your Shoes
Fill in your designs with paint. Plan out your layers: will you do the background first or last?
Use marking pens to outline your designs and add details. Fan art, quotes, poetry, or graffiti: anything goes.
For a steadier hand, use a small rolled towel to prop up your hand in a good drawing position.
Consider using tape to block off shapes or areas for painting later.
Always allow paint or markers to dry thoroughly before doing the next layer.