How to Paint Leather

To know me is to know that I am obsessed with all things animal print—but especially leopard print. I consider it a key element to my “hip and cool aunt look.” Haha.

So, that was the inspiration behind figuring out how to paint leather shoes. I painted these plain Birkenstock sandals, because I absolutely LIVE in Birkenstocks all summer.

But you could use this technique for painting leather on lots of different things; like shoes, handbags, wallets, or jackets. Also, you do not have to paint new leather or suede—thrift something! Or give something you already own a new life.

Painted leather Birkenstocks

An alternative title for this post could be “how to paint leopard print.” Although I consider myself a creative person, I am not the most skilled at painting or drawing. So, if I can paint leopard print … so can you! You can watch this video to see the print come to life:

What kind of paint can I use on leather shoes?

I used Angelus acrylic leather paint. It is medium thickness, not super watery, but not crazy thick either. I needed two coats for the lighter color I used and only one coat for the darker.

It is sold in smaller quantities, so this is best for small articles like shoes or other fashion items (not leather furniture).

Painted leather Birkenstocks

How do you paint leather shoes without cracking them?

Three tips. First, use thin layers of paint. You can add as many layers as needed, but don’t brush the paint on super thick, caking it on. This can lead to cracking or peeling.

Second, really let the paint dry between coats as well as before you use (wear) the item. You want to let the paint soak into the leather as much as possible before use.

And three, painting smaller areas (rather than the entire item) will also help with cracking.

Supplies to make painted leather Birkenstocks

Supplies:

Practicing leopard print with paint brushes

Step One: Practice your leopard print, you can see my crap first try on the right side. I realized I needed more variance in the two colors.

For leopard, you want two layers. The base layer is a lighter brown and you create odd shaped circles or horseshoe shapes. The second layer is a darker brown (or even black) and you half outline the shapes and add a few small spots throughout.

Even if you are not painting a design, I would recommend testing the paint on some scrap leather and/or fabric. The only scrap leather I had on hand was black, so I tested the paint on that, but then practiced my design on fabric so I could see it.

bottle of leather acrylic paint next to sandals

Step Two: Prep the leather. If you are using something thrifted or used, you may need to gently clean the item first, as you don’t want any dust or dirt on the item before painting. Not all leather feels the same, and some is coated.

If your item seems glossy, lightly (very lightly) sand it with fine sandpaper. You want the paint to be able to soak into the leather, not slide off the surface. My Birkenstocks didn’t need any prep as they were new and the leather already soft.

Step Three: Paint the base layer. I found I needed two coats of paint, so I waited until the first coat was completely dry before adding the second.

Painted Birkenstock sandals

Step Four: Add the outline layer along with small dots for the leopard print. You don’t want the outlines to look perfect—everything about this should look a little askew (as it would in nature). You also want to take care not to have any brush marks showing, as that kind of ruins the look too.

I kept my practice piece nearby while I painted so I could refer to the look I was going for.

Painted Birkenstock sandals

Step Five: Allow the paint to dry completely before using. I think it’s best to let this dry overnight before wearing them.

Painted Birkenstock sandals

And that’s how to paint leather shoes! I love how these turned out, and I can’t wait to wear them all summer long and get my annual Birkenstock foot tan. Thanks for letting me share! xo. Emma

P.S. Looking for other ways to transform a pair of shoes? Check out these posts!

How to Paint Leather

how to paint leather shoes with acrylic leather paint

Keyword birkenstocks, diy project, painting leather
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Dry Time 12 hours
Total Time 12 hours 15 minutes
Author Emma Chapman

Ingredients

  • 1 pair Birkenstock sandals or leather item
  • Angelus acrylic leather paint in flat black, beige, and bowler brown
  • paint brushes
  • scrap leather or fabric

Instructions

  1. Practice your leopard print, you can see my crap first try on the right side. I realized I needed more variance in the two colors.

  2. Even if you are not painting a design, I would recommend testing the paint on some scrap leather and/or fabric.

  3. Prep the leather. If you are using something thrifted or used, you may need to gently clean the item first, as you don’t want any dust or dirt on the item before painting. Not all leather feels the same, and some is coated.

    If your item seems glossy, lightly (very lightly) sand it with fine sandpaper. You want the paint to be able to soak into the leather, not slide off the surface.

  4. Paint the base layer. I found I needed two coats of paint, so I waited until the first coat was completely dry before adding the second.

  5. Add the outline layer along with small dots for the leopard print.

  6. Allow the paint to dry completely before use. I think it’s best to let this dry overnight before wearing them.

  • I love how they came out!! At first glance at the top pic I just assumed they were printed like that 🙂

  • That’s a brilliant way to personalize leather items, thank you, Emma, I will update an older leather west 🙂

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