Whether you’re a talented painter in other media or have no painting experience at all, painting on leather can be fun. You can decorate a brand new leather item with paints, or refurbish an old piece of clothing or furniture. 

But you can’t just pick up your regular watercolor paints and apply them to a leather handbag—you’ll need to follow some specific steps and processes. Here, we’ll show you how to paint on leather, from prepping your surface to sealing it afterward. And, we provide some inspiring projects for you to try out.

What Paint and Supplies You’ll Need to Paint on Leather

To paint on leather you’ll need a leather item, acrylic leather paints such as Angelus paint, and paint brushes.
To paint on leather you’ll need a leather item, acrylic leather paints such as Angelus paint, and paint brushes.
  • Leather conditioner for dry leather
  • A deglosser (isopropyl alcohol) for shiny leather
  • A leather item, new or used, like shoes, a wallet, a notebook, a bag, or jewelry
  • Leather paints
  • Paint brushes
  • Paint sealer

The leather painting supplies you’ll need will vary depending on the type of item you’re painting and the condition of your leather. Painting a whole leather couch or a pair of outdoor shoes requires a slightly different set of supplies from a small pair of earrings or an evening purse that will only be used occasionally. Basically, if you’re painting leather that will be highly functional, you’ll need to invest some time and money in prepping and finishing your leather before and after the actual painting. Otherwise, your handiwork just won’t last.

If your leather surface is dry and hard, you’ll need to condition it first. You’ll also need to apply isopropyl alcohol if your leather is shiny with silicone or other finishings, to make it more suitable for painting.

Most leather paints are acrylic based, but for the best effect, don’t just use your “regular” acrylic paints that you use on paper, canvas, or wood. Leather paints are formulated specifically for leather, and last better. Angelus paint is especially popular among leather painters.

Regular paint brushes can be used for some paints, while other varieties suggest you use a sponge or foam brush. Check the leather paint manufacturer’s instructions.

2 Leather Painting Projects to Try

How to Paint Leather Shoes

Before and after photos of old sneakers, from Gigi Rodgers’ course  Sneaker Customizing for the Beginner: Learn How to Paint Your Sneakers
Before and after photos of old sneakers, from Gigi Rodgers’ course Sneaker Customizing for the Beginner: Learn How to Paint Your Sneakers

You don’t need to be a great painter to learn how to paint on leather. Breathe fresh life into an old pair of leather sneakers in this fun course. With the right preparation and materials, and guidance from instructor Gigi Rodgers, anyone can revamp an old pair of shoes that have been sitting at the back of the closet with leather paints.

Painting Leather Boots with Acrylics

Instructor iPaintCreatures creates leather art through his unique designs in his course  Painting on Leather With Acrylic - Painting from the Imagination.
Instructor iPaintCreatures creates leather art through his unique designs in his course Painting on Leather With Acrylic – Painting from the Imagination.

Instructor “iPaintCreatures” walks you through the steps of hand painting a pair of boots with your own leather art designs and pictures from your imagination. He includes step-by-step guidance on drawing on leather, painting with acrylics, art supplies you need, and his own artistic process that you can follow.

3 Expert Tips for Painting Leather

How to Prepare the Leather for Painting

Whether you use old or new leather, you’ll want to clean and prepare it thoroughly first. Start by wiping it with a damp cloth. If the leather is glossy, use isopropyl alcohol to remove this and make the surface better able to absorb the paint. If the leather is dry, apply a conditioning leather oil to it, at least a couple of weeks before you want to paint it.

How to Seal Acrylic Paint on Leather

After you’ve finished painting, it’s important to seal the paint with an acrylic finisher, especially if your leather item is going to be used a lot. How do you seal acrylic paint on leather? If it comes in a can, simply spray on a layer according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or paint it on with a foam brush if it’s a liquid. Wait at least 24 hours for the finisher to dry properly before using your item.

How to Remove Paint From Leather

Does leather paint wash off? In short, no. Once you’ve applied paint to leather, it’s difficult to remove, so it’s better to avoid needing to remove it in the first place. 

If you do make a mistake and need to know how to get paint off leather, don’t reach for a solvent like mineral turpentine or paint thinner, which damages leather. If the paint’s wet, dab as much as you can off with a paper towel. Then, mix some mild detergent (like dish detergent) with warm water and sponge away as much paint as you can, and follow by applying a leather conditioner. If the paint has already dried, gently scratch it off with the tip of a knife. Then, spray the paint with a mild citrus cleaner, and dab it off with a dry cloth, repeating this step if you need to. Follow with a leather conditioner.

5 Amazing Example Leather Paintings

Transform an old pair of leather sneakers into an almost-brand-new pair by painting them. 
Transform an old pair of leather sneakers into an almost-brand-new pair by painting them. 
Leather wallets provide an ideal canvas for leather painting. Image via    Instagram   .
Leather wallets provide an ideal canvas for leather painting. Image via Instagram.
A plain leather bag can be turned into a glam evening accessory with customized paintings. Image via    Instagram   .
A plain leather bag can be turned into a glam evening accessory with customized paintings. Image via Instagram.
Add color to embossed leather with leather paint. Image via    Instagram   .
Add color to embossed leather with leather paint. Image via Instagram.
These leather feathers look like the real thing. Image via    Instagram   .
These leather feathers look like the real thing. Image via Instagram.

Personalize Your Leather Products

How to Add Modern Calligraphy and Hand Lettering to Leather.