How to Paint on Leather: A Beginner’s Guide

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If you have an old leather jacket and you would like to give it new life, why not paint a cool design on it? I tried this a couple of years ago, and it turned out pretty awesome!

Since then, I have been hitting up thrift stores, buying cheap leather jackets, bags and purses to paint on, and then re-sell. I will be taking these items to local markets, and while I’m there I’ll be advertising my services to let people know that I can customize their leather items.

When you paint on leather, you have wearable art. This means you can wear the item you painted and have free advertising for your art everywhere you go!

Can You Paint on Leather?

Yes, you can paint leather. As I mentioned above, I’ve painted on leather bags, leather purses and leather jackets.

There are three main steps involved, cleaning and preparing the leather, painting on the leather, and sealing the paint to protect it from the elements.

It’s quite a process. But, it is definitely worth it in the long run when you see how you can make an old leather jacket look like something new and cool.

If you are interested in painting on leather, you are definitely going to want to continue reading this post.

What Kind of Leather Paint Should You Use?

When it comes to painting leather, there are a few different options for the types of paint you can use. Some paints are specifically made for leather, but I prefer to use the same acrylic paints I use to paint on canvases.

Leather paint is quite costly, and I really don’t think it’s necessary when regular acrylic paints will work just as well. Sure, leather paint comes in vibrant colors, but so does acrylic artist paint.

What I love about acrylic paint is that it is so versatile! It can be used on just about any surface, including leather, and it is quite reliable.

The one thing I should mention is that you will need to use acrylic paint that will remain soft. You don’t want it to end up getting stiff and then cracking. If you are painting on a leather clothing item it is going to bed, so you need paint that will bend with it.

When I paint on leather, I use either Artist’s Loft paints from Michael’s Crafts or Meeden acrylic paints. I often like to use metallic acrylic paints, because they make the designs pop.

In addition to tube paints, I also use acrylic paint pens. These are great for adding details and outlining designs. It can be difficult to use a liner brush on leather, especially if you have a shaky hand, so the pens are an ideal option.

Before using any paint on leather, including paint pens, I advise that you test the paint on a small area inside the jacket first. It is a lot better to screw up on an area that no one will see rather than screw up on the main parts of the jacket.

painting leather
This was my first attempt at painting on leather. I bought the jacket from a friend for $20. I drew the design on paper and used carbon paper to transfer it onto the jacket. I used metallic Artist’s Loft acrylic paints for the colors and a black Sharpie ultra-fine tipped marker for the outlining and details. I sealed the painting with Sculpey glaze. The artwork has held up for almost two years, with no sign of cracking, peeling, or fading. Once it was finished, my friend said she wanted it back! I told her that she can have it back, but it will cost her $100!

Prepping Leather for Painting

You can’t just sit down and start painting on leather. Before you can paint on leather, you must prepare the leather for painting.

It is necessary to clean the leather before painting. Otherwise, you could end up with a lot of old dirt sticking to the paint. This is going to ruin the look of whatever you plan to paint on the leather.

Most leather clothing items, including shoes and purses, are treated with oils. You will also need to get rid of these oils before you can begin painting.

If you don’t get rid of the oils, the paint isn’t going to adhere well to the leather. Eventually, it will begin to peel away.

You don’t need any special medium to get rid of the oils. All you need is a bottle of isopropyl alcohol and some sandpaper for this step.

Wipe the area where you plan to paint, using a circular motion as you go. The alcohol will remove the oil the leather has been treated with, along with any dirt that may be on the leather item.

Most leather clothing is treated with a silicon-based coating. You can remove this coating with high-grit sandpaper.

Even if the leather hasn’t been treated, I like to use sandpaper anyway. This ensures that the surface will be a bit rough and the paint will adhere better.

You can also use a deglazer solution to remove the coating, but I don’t find this necessary.

Painting on Leather Tips

Now we get into the fun part, actually painting on the leather. The first step is to outline your design. If I am working with black or other dark-colored leather, I like to use a chalk pen for this, because it is easy to wipe off with a damp cloth if I make a mistake.

When I painted on a white leather jacket, I printed out the design I wanted to use. Then, I used carbon paper to trace the design onto the jacket.

Once you have the design on the jacket, it is time to start painting. I like to use acrylic paint pens to go over the outlines first. Then I paint the larger sections with a variety of brushes.

I usually use smaller brushes when painting on leather, because many of the designs I use are quite detailed. Smaller flat and round brushes are my go-to’s.

Before moving on to the next step it is important to make sure that the paint has completely dried. I like to let the piece sit for at least a couple of hours before I seal the paint.

Sealing Your Artwork

If the leather item is going to be worn frequently, such as a jacket or a pair of shoes, I would definitely add a coat of finish to the artwork. This is going to seal and protect it from wear and tear.

When it comes to picking the right sealer for a painted leather item, there are a few options to choose from. The most commonly-used sealants are polyacrylic, oil-based, silicon, or wax sealants. I have used Sculpey glaze, and it seems to work quite well.

You can find sealants that are made specifically for painted leather items. Just make sure that the sealant you use is compatible with the paints.

Just as you tested the paint, you should also test the sealant in an area that isn’t visible, such as inside the jacket. If it works well, then you can use that sealant to seal and protect your artwork.

Ideas for Painting on Leather

There are so many types of designs you can use when painting on leather. I generally like to keep it fairly simple, but with enough details to give the designs a bit of edge.

Flowers are always a great option. I also like to paint sugar skulls on leather jackets. Many people like leather items painted with nature scenes.

Here are a few more options to consider:

  • Tattoo flash designs
  • Band names/logos
  • Animals
  • Personalize with names
  • Spiritual symbols (crosses, pentacles, etc.)
  • Portraits

Final Thoughts

I have always been known for being a bit eccentric, especially when it comes to my wardrobe. I also love to have clothing items that are totally unique to me.

This is why I love painting on clothing, especially leather clothing. While the process does take a bit of time, it is worth it when you see the end result.

You will end up with a unique item that people will be asking about. The more you wear it, the more likely you will be to have people asking you to customize their leather clothing.

This could end up being quite a money-making opportunity if you play your cards right!