Leather is a versatile and attractive material that many artists enjoy painting on using acrylic paints. From jackets to shoes, purses to furniture, acrylic paint can allow you to customize and personalize leather goods with your own unique designs.
However, successfully applying acrylic paint to leather does require some special considerations. Acrylic paint is plastic-based, so it does not absorb into leather in the same way other paints do. This means following specific steps to ensure the acrylic paint properly adheres and lasts on the surface of leather over time.
Key Questions About Acrylic Paint on Leather
Before jumping into the nitty gritty details of prepping and painting leather with acrylics, it helps to get clear answers on some key questions upfront:
How Do You Get Acrylic Paint to Stick to Leather?
For best adhesion, you’ll need to lightly sand or scuff the surface first. This roughs up the top layer of the leather to give the acrylic paint something to grip. Thoroughly cleaning the leather first is also important to remove any surface treatments or oils that could act as a barrier.
What Kind of Paint Can Be Used on Leather?
Acrylic paint is the most commonly used type of paint for leather. It provides good flexibility and adhesion. Be sure to use acrylics specifically made for leather, not standard acrylic craft paints. Specialty leather paints contain binders, flow agents, and flexibility additives specifically formulated for applying acrylic paint to leather’s unique properties.
Does Acrylic Paint Come Off of Leather Easily?
Acrylic paint bonds well to leather, but does not absorb into the surface. This means it can crack or chip if the leather flexes or stretches without a flexible topcoat sealer. A clear acrylic sealer protects the paint and prevents flaking or peeling.
Is Acrylic Leather Paint Permanent?
With proper preparation and sealing, acrylic leather paints will create a permanent, lasting finish on leather items. The paint will not fade or rub off easily. Taking steps to maintain flexibility in the paint as the leather moves is key.
Preparing Leather for Acrylic Paint
Prepping the surface of leather is an essential first step before starting to apply acrylic paint. Cleaning and lightly sanding ensures proper adhesion so your painted design lasts. Here is how to prepare leather for painting:
It’s critical to thoroughly clean the surface of the leather first. This removes any dirt, grease, oils, or prior treatments that could prevent the acrylic paint from bonding. Here are tips for effective cleaning:
- Use a degreasing cleaner formulated for leather. Dish soap can also work in a pinch.
- Scrub the surface with a soft cloth and rinse all soap residue.
- Allow the leather to fully dry after cleaning before painting.
Sanding and Scuffing
For acrylic paint to properly grip the surface of smooth leather, you’ll need to rough up the top layer slightly. This creates texture, or “tooth” for the paint to adhere to.
Gently sanding or scuffing the leather before painting effectively does this. Try these methods:
- Use medium grit sandpaper (400-600) to lightly sand.
- Rub surface with steel wool in a circular motion.
- For soft leathers, even scrubbing with a stiff nylon brush can work.
Avoid sanding too aggressively, which could cut into the leather. The goal is to just rough up and texture the very top layer. After sanding, wipe away any leather dust before painting.
How to Apply Acrylic Paint to Leather
Once your leather is prepped, it’s time to start applying acrylic paint. Follow these tips for best results:
Use Thin Layers
Acrylic paint should be brushed on in thin, multiple layers. Thick globs of paint may crack when the leather bends or flexes. Build up color gradually for flexibility.
Allow Drying In Between Coats
Let each layer fully dry before adding another coat of acrylic paint. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for dry times. Thinner applications of paint will dry faster.
Use Specialty Leather Paints
Look for acrylic paints specially formulated for leather for best results rather than standard acrylic craft paints. Leather paints include binders, flow improvers, and flexibility agents for enhanced adhesion and bendability.
Paint in Sections
Especially for large leather pieces, it helps to divide the surface into sections and paint each area fully before moving to the next. This prevents the leather’s texture from shifting as you work.
Consider a Paint Pen for Details
For finer details, outlining, or sharper edges, use an acrylic paint pen instead of a brush. The pen nib allows greater precision and control compared to a brush.
Spray Paint Edges
For painting leather edges, opt for acrylic paint in an airbrush spray can. This allows the paint to fully wrap around the edges for consistent coverage.
Seal Paint Between Layers
If applying multiple layers of acrylic paint to leather over days or weeks, seal each painted layer with a fixative spray before adding the next. This prevents cracking or lifting of the dried acrylic paint.
Paint from Light to Dark
Save your darkest acrylic paint colors for last. Going from light to dark allows underlying colors to show through for a sense of depth if the top layers are more transparent.
Best Practices for Acrylic on Different Leather Types
Not all leather is the same! The thickness, softness, and texture varies widely. This affects how acrylic paint adheres and appears on the surface. Adapt these tips for your leather item:
Soft, flexible leathers are more absorptive. This can lead to acrylic paint soaking in unevenly and potentially cracking with movement over time. Using thin coats and plenty of sealant is key.
Paint adheres very well to rough, distressed leather thanks to the textured surface profile. Just ensure any coatings or oils used to weather the leather are removed prior to painting.
Faux leathers are typically plastic-coated with an artificial grain pattern. Adhesion can be more challenging. Using a bonding primer first helps the paint grip the slick surface.
Acrylic paint soaks in quickly on napped, porous suede. Allow paint to dry fully between very thin coats to prevent muddying on the delicate surface. Use a sealant to sit atop the nap.
Firm, Glossy Leather
Slick leathers may require extra sanding so paint can key into the tight grain instead of beading up on the surface. Adhesion promoter can also help.
Applying a Protective Topcoat Over Acrylic Paint
Once your acrylic leather painting design is complete, it’s critical to apply a protective topcoat sealant. This helps:
- Prevent painted acrylic from cracking or flaking if the leather bends
- Create resistance to scuffs and scratches
- Provide an even gloss and finished look
You have several options when it comes to choosing a durable yet flexible topcoat:
Acrylic Finisher Spray
Aerosol acrylic sealers provide an all-over protective shield and slight sheen. Look for formulas designed for leather that offer flexibility as the material moves and stretches. Apply multiple thin coats for best protection.
Thin layers of a water-based polyurethane can seal painted leather effectively. Oil-based versions may react with acrylic paint. Soft brush-on types work better than heavy high-gloss coatings for maintaining flexibility.
Several Mod Podge formulas work to seal acrylic paint on leather. The Triple Thick glaze provides the most durable, flexible finish. Use multiple thin coats for bendability and even coverage.
Beeswax Leather Balm
For a more natural leather sealant, choose a beeswax conditioner formulated specifically for painted leather. The wax provides water resistance without compromising the paint. Buff to an attractive sheen.
No matter which sealant you use, read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and do not oversaturate the leather. Too thick of a topcoat risks limiting flexibility of the paint and leather below.
Maintaining and Cleaning Painted Leather
Once you’ve prepped, painted, and sealed leather with acrylics, take measures to carefully maintain your finished pieces:
- Avoid soaking or saturating painted leather, which can loosen paint and cause cracking. Only wipe with a damp cloth.
- Spot clean painted leather with a soft cloth dampened with plain water. Gently dab stained areas instead of rubbing.
- Never use harsh cleaners like saddle soap, alcohol, or acetone on painted leather as these can strip the finish.
- For leather shoes, spray acrylic painted areas with a waterproofing protector spray before wearing to prevent scuffing or transfer of the paint onto other surfaces. Reapply protector every few months.
- Use a soft bristle brush to gently remove any dirt or debris from painted leather. Avoid using excessive moisture.
- To restore sheen on leather painted with acrylics, buff gently with a microfiber cloth. Do not use conditioners or polishes.
- Check for any cracks or flaking paint on high-flex areas and touch up with matching acrylic colors as needed. Reapply sealant.
- When storing painted leather items, avoid folding or creasing them in ways that crack the paint. Stuff with acid-free tissue to hold shape.
- Hang painted leather jackets or bags on wide, padded hangers to prevent stress damage to painted areas from the hanger hooks.
- For furniture, rotate painted leather cushions and moisturize the leather monthly with a few drops of olive oil to prevent brittleness long-term.
Troubleshooting Common Acrylic Paint Problems on Leather
Even when following the best practices, you may encounter some issues when painting leather with acrylics. Here are some common problems and potential fixes:
Acrylic Paint Flaking Off Leather
If acrylic paint begins flaking or peeling off of leather, the cause is likely:
- Insufficient surface preparation – be sure to sand and clean thoroughly first.
- No topcoat sealer – sealants prevent cracking and flaking as leather moves.
- Too thick of paint – apply very thin layers and allow drying in between.
- Oil-contaminated leather – clean off any leather conditioners before painting.
To fix, remove loose paint and reprepare the surface if needed. Give any remaining paint a flexible topcoat sealant.
Acrylic Paint Looks Streaky on Leather
If acrylic paint appears streaky or uneven on leather, the reasons may include:
- Poor quality brushes – Use soft bristle brushes that hold paint well.
- Too thick of paint – Thin coats provide more even coverage.
- Rushing strokes – Paint slowly using smooth, consistent strokes.
- Contaminated cleaning rag – Only use lint-free cloths.
Prevent streaks by using high-quality brushes, proper acrylic thinning, and careful application techniques.
Acrylic Paint Crackles When Leather Bends
To fix acrylic paint that cracks when you bend the leather, the solutions involve adding flexibility:
- Seal painted leather with a flexible topcoat.
- Ensure paint layers are very thin – thick paint is inflexible.
- Use specialty leather acrylic paints containing binding agents.
- Soften leather first with conditioner before painting.
Cracking can happen over time as leather ages. Periodically reapply flexible sealant to maintain paint elasticity.
Acrylic Paint Bleeds on Leather
If acrylic paint bleeds or spreads uncontrollably on leather, the leather surface likely wasn’t prepped properly. Solutions include:
- Thoroughly clean leather first to remove oils.
- Sanding or scuffing for texture so paint grips.
- Use a bonding primer on very slick leathers first.
- Apply thinner layers of paint and allow drying between coats.
Properly prepping leather before painting prevents bleeding and allows nicer acrylic paint coverage.
Tips for Painting Leather Shoes with Acrylics
Customizing leather shoes with acrylic paints is a popular application. Follow these tips for preparing, painting, and sealing leather shoes and boots:
- Clean shoes first with saddle soap applied with a soft cloth. Rinse thoroughly.
- Use fine grit sandpaper to roughness and remove shine.
- Mask off any rubber soles or edges cleanly before painting.
- Opt for thin layers of flexible leather paint built up gradually.
- Spray paint shoe edges using acrylic paint in an airbrush can.
- Seal painted leather with thin coats of an acrylic finisher spray.
- Spray finished shoes with a waterproofer before wearing.
- Touch up scuffs or cracks in the painted design as needed.
Taking the time to properly prepare and seal leather shoes will allow your acrylic painted designs to flex and last.
Inspiring Examples of Acrylic Painted Leather
Once you have the basics down, get creative with the leather items you paint using acrylics! The possibilities are endless. Here are some inspiring examples:
Paint personalized designs, characters, landscapes, or pop culture references onto the back of a leather jacket or vest. Use an acrylic paint pen for finer details.
Transform plain leather bags and purses with colorful abstract patterns, floral designs, or faux-texture techniques like wood grain or watercolor.
Make leather sneakers uniquely your own with painted accents, laces, swooshes, and outsoles. Try a dripping paint splatter look.
Modernize leather chairs, ottomans, or headboards by painting on solid blocks of color, geometric shapes, or gradated ombre effects.
Add monogram initials, names, or small custom designs onto leather wallets, wristlets, and small accessories.
With the right prep, paints, and sealing, you can paint just about any design onto leather items using versatile acrylics. The possibilities are endless!
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some common frequently asked questions about working with acrylic paint on leather surfaces:
Does Acrylic Paint Stay on Leather?
Yes, acrylic paint bonds very well to leather and becomes highly durable and flexible when properly sealed with a topcoat. Taking steps to allow the paint to flex as leather moves prevents cracking or peeling over time.
Can You Use Acrylic Paint Pens on Leather?
Yes, acrylic-based paint pens work extremely well for painting finer details onto leather goods. The pens allow greater control compared to standard brushes. Look for paint pens formulated for use on non-porous surfaces like leather.
Do You Need to Prime Leather Before Acrylic Paint?
Priming leather is not strictly necessary before painting with acrylics. However, using a primer designed for leather can help the paint adhere to very slick, non-porous leathers. Priming also helps the acrylic go on more evenly.
How Do You Seal Acrylic Paint on Leather Shoes?
Using a flexible acrylic finisher spray is the best way to seal painted leather shoes. The sealant protects the acrylic paint from wear, prevents flaking as the shoes bend, and provides an even glossy finish. Apply multiple light coats.
Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Faux Leather?
Acrylic paint can be used on faux leather. The plastic coating makes adhesion more difficult than real leather. Make sure to scuff the surface thoroughly and use light coats of flexible faux leather paint. Apply a sealing topcoat when finished.
Can You Use Fabric Paint on Leather?
It’s best to avoid regular fabric paints on leather. Fabric paints are designed to absorb into fabric and will not adhere properly to smooth leather. Specialty leather acrylic paints or leather dyes are better suited for painting leather items.
Painting leather with acrylics is an enjoyable way to customize and personalize your favorite leather items. By properly preparing the surface, using flexible paints designed for leather, allowing drying time between thin layers, and sealing the finished design with a topcoat, you can achieve beautiful, durable results.
Have fun unleashing your creativity to make your leather goods uniquely your own with acrylic paint!