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How To Paint On Leather In 3 Simple Steps

Painting on leather is a great way to customize leather items. Wear your art around with you by painting a leather bag, wallet, jacket, or even leather shoes! Customized leather items also make great personal gifts for friends and family, as they are both beautiful and functional.

Painting on leather only take 3 steps. First you have to clean the leather and remove any glaze finish that it might have. Next you have to make sure you are using the right paint for leather. And finally you have to seal your paint to protect it from harm.

Sounds easy, right?

Let’s look at each step in more detail.

What kind of paint should be used on leather?

You have a few different options when it comes to choosing paint for your leather. You can buy specialty leather paint, or you can use acrylic paint.

Leather paint may be more expensive, but it often comes in a set of vibrant colors tailored specifically to work on leather. Many leather artists find these an ideal starting point for their leather painting needs.

Regular acrylic paint can also be used for painting on leather. Acrylic is an exceptionally versatile medium, and veteran crafters know how reliable it can be. Just be sure that the acrylic you use will not grow rigid and crack if the leather you paint on can bend.

The most popular paints for leather are:

Other fun options to create more details are acrylic paint pens, such as Sharpie paint pens or Posca pens. These are ideal for small details or if you want to do lettering and text on your painted leather. Paint pens offer much more control than a brush and acrylic paint will.

As with any new medium or surface, be sure to test your paint on an inconspicuous area and let it dry. It is better to potentially ruin a small, hidden area than it is to find that your beautiful image isn’t stable.

How do you prepare leather for painting?

No matter your medium, a clean surface is always beneficial when it comes to painting leather. If you don’t clean the surface of the object you want to paint, the paint will stick to dirt, dust, and oils instead of the leather. This means that the paint will be more likely to chip, break off, or wear down.

To prepare the leather surface, use Isopropyl alcohol to wipe down the area where you will paint. Move the wipe in a circular motion and be sure to gently but firmly wipe away any grime, especially if you are painting something like shoes or a purse, which may have been dirtied from use.

If you find the paint is still not sticking well after cleaning, this may mean that the leather has been treated with a silicon-based coating. You will need to remove this coating before you can successfully apply paint to your project. This extra step might be a vital one in making sure you’re able to finish your leather painting project.

To do this, you have two options. One option is to use high-grit sandpaper to lightly sand your leather surface. This will leave behind a rough texture, which is an ideal surface that the paint can hold on to.

Another option is to use a leather deglazer solution to remove the paint. This solution is a specific formula that will remove any coating that will prevent your paints from sticking to your leather object. If you’re having trouble getting acrylic paint to work on leather, this is a possible solution to help your project succeed.

How do you seal paint on leather?

Applying a finish to your leather piece is optional but highly recommended. Applying a finish will protect your painting from wear and tear, making it ideal for things like wallets, purses, and shoes. A leather sealant will also prevent the paint you applied from cracking, helping to preserve your artwork and keeping it safe.

You have a few options when it comes to choosing a seal for your leather. You can choose a polyacrylic, oil-based, silicone, or wax sealant. Many sealants are available specifically for painted leather products, so research what is available to you.

One of the most vital factors in choosing a seal is to make sure it is compatible with the paint you used with your leather. Again, you may want to test the paint and sealant together in an inconspicuous place. This will ensure that the combination you decided on will work for the rest of your piece.

Both Fiebings Resolene and Angelus Matte Acrylic Finisher are good options to try first.

Can you use markers on leather?

You can use markers on leather, but you must be careful about which kind of marker you choose. Not all markers will have the same effect. However, some markers and pens will make it easier to add delicate detail and lettering to your painted leather.

You cannot use alcohol markers, water-based markers, or highlighters on your leather piece unless you want a very transparent application of color. These kinds of markers are simply not opaque enough to leave behind a bold design, especially on dark or black leather.

Instead, opt for markers that are acrylic paint-based or oil-based. These markers tend to be much more opaque, giving you a bright design that will be durable as well. Posca pens are excellent markers to use on leather.

One last note on markers: if you are choosing to switch between acrylic and oil-based markers, make sure the sealant you chose works well with both. An acrylic-based seal will not go over well if you’ve used an oil marker, so you may need to seal those areas with a different product.

Tips for painting on leather:

  • Testing is important! There is no right answer to how to paint on leather, which means that you have many options. This also means there are lots of possible outcomes, so be sure to test in inconspicuous areas before you begin your leather painting.
  • Use markers and pens for fine details. No need to stress out over tiny brushes when a small pen nib will do the trick. If you have acrylic or oil-based paint markers, you can use them on your leather painting.
  • Prepare the leather before you begin. Make sure you used Isopropyl alcohol to clean the surface, especially if the leather was dirty to begin with. Use a deglazer or lightly sand the surface of your leather in order to get the best possible adherence to the leather.
  • Seal your creation once it is dry. This is especially important on pieces that are likely to experience a lot of wear and tear. Apply the sealant only to the places on the leather which you have painted, as it may leave behind a noticeable glossy finish.
  • Add a fabric medium to your paint. If you’re having trouble preventing your leather painting from cracking during testing, a fabric medium may help the paint become more flexible and durable when dry.

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