Daunting as it might seem, you can use acrylic paint on leather to change its color, apply decorative elements, or simply revitalize it after fading and wear.
From armchairs to desk chairs, couches, and even beloved jackets, this guide will teach you how to properly apply acrylic paints to leather surfaces for stunning transformations and DIY projects.
Acrylic paints are made of acrylic polymer binder, water, and pigment. When the water in the paint evaporates, the paint dries and leaves only the binder and pigment behind for a vivid, durable result.
While some projects call for other kinds of paint, acrylic is an excellent go-to for most uses, thanks to its many benefits:
Can You Use Normal Acrylic Paint On Leather?
The polymer in acrylics is what makes it so popular for use on leather: it dries to a durable yet flexible finish and won't damage your leather with caustic ingredients.
You can use normal acrylics on your leather items, but adding a sealant is crucial to the paint’s longevity. This is particularly important if your leather project will see a lot of contact or wear. Examples include shoes, jackets, couches, and other items you’ll use daily or often.
You can also use acrylics and sealants on faux leather surfaces. After cleaning, remove the silicone or polymer coating most faux leather surfaces have with some deglazer specifically meant for leather and faux leather.
When researching your options to paint leather surfaces, you’ll probably come across products described as leather paints—formulas specifically meant for leather. While leather paints do offer a little more durability (depending on the brand), they’re really just acrylic paints that have been thinned out more.
Considering they’re cost-prohibitive to many hobbyists and leather-workers—and don’t come in as many colors—using standard acrylics is almost always a better option, with or without dilution.
How To Paint Leather With Acrylic Paints?
Before you get started, gather the correct leather-painting supplies. These include your water-based acrylics, quality paint brushes, rags or towels for clean-up, and a sealant that's specifically meant for acrylics.
The label should provide this information; they come in both paint-on and spray formulas, and either is acceptable to use.
1. Clean your leather
You can use leather bleach (diluted) or mild detergent and water if you do not have leather bleach available. If the surface is stained, keep in mind you'll need more coats to completely cover your item. Note: if using faux leather, you may need to remove the previous finish/coating with a deglazer too.
2. Apply your paint
Usually, you won’t need to dilute your acrylic paint before painting it on your leather. If desired, however, mix it with about 25% water or less for the initial coat or two. Some leather-painting professionals and hobbyists prefer to paint their entire project with very thin, diluted coats (gradually building up the color), but you can use the paint as-is, too. Apply your coats evenly and thinly, and allow each one to dry before applying another.
3. Allow it to dry
Your paint should be completely dried, not just dry to the touch. To test, gently press your thumbnail into an inconspicuous spot on your project. If it leaves a noticeable indentation, your paint needs more time.
4. Apply a sealant.
(More on that below.) Allow to dry.
How To Seal Acrylic Paint On Leather
Sealants are often treated as an afterthought (if they're thought of at all), but they're actually the most important step of leather painting. Without a high-quality sealant, your paint can fade, crack, or peel after minimal use.
Carefully wipe any dust or lint from your painted leather surface, then mix/prepare your sealant per the label instructions.
Apply as directed and allow to dry. Sometimes, multiple coats might be needed. If desired, you can also apply a waterproof top coat for extra protection. This coat should dry for a minimum of 24 hours before the item is used.
Some popular sealants for painted leather projects include Angelus, Fiebing’s, and Mod Podge, although a variety of quality sealants are on the market today.
Just make sure it's compatible with your acrylic, as well as the intended use of your project. For example, the same sealant that works on a decorative item might not be durable enough for leather shoes or a purse.
Tips To Remove Paints From Leather Surfaces
If you change your mind about your leather makeover after doing a test swatch—or accidentally spilled some paint where you didn’t want it—there are ways to remove the paint from your leather.
Before you begin, you’ll need water, some cloths, non-acetone nail polish remover, leather cleaner, oil (baby oil is best, but cooking oils can work fine too), leather conditioner, or isopropyl alcohol.
- 1If the paint is water-based, scrub with a cloth and water to soften it up, then scrape off with a hard plastic item that won't cut the leather (a credit card, for example). If it's not water-based, or simply proving too difficult to dampen, rub the paint with a bit of oil. Take care not to use too much—just enough to scrub the paint away.
- 2Clean the leather with leather cleaner or mild soap and water. If some paint remains, try nail polish remover. Be sure to apply a leather conditioner afterward.
- 3Finally, rubbing alcohol can remove any lingering paint still on your leather surface. This should be used as a last resort, as scrubbing leather with alcohol can dry it out and cause cracking, fading, and other damage. Follow up with a wet cloth, then apply a leather conditioner.
Acrylic Paint On Leather FAQs
How do you keep acrylic paint from cracking on leather?
If your acrylic paint cracks after applying it to leather, there might be two reasons. Either the application of paint was too thick, or it didn’t dry properly between coats. Additionally, skipping the crucial step of adding a sealant can lead to cracked paint due to faster wear and tear.
Does acrylic paint wash off leather shoes?
If the acrylic paint hasn’t dried yet, water and some light scrubbing will remove it from leather or pleather shoes. However, once dried—and especially once it’s sealed—acrylic paint is largely permanent, even on shoes.
Is acrylic paint waterproof?
Acrylics are water-resistant, meaning they can endure some contact with water before degrading or becoming damaged. However, they are not completely waterproof on their own; you'll need to add a waterproof coating after painting and sealing.
What can I put in acrylic paint to make it waterproof?
Although you can mix in a waterproof additive to most paints, acrylics won’t always take this well. To waterproof acrylic paint on leather without affecting its application, finish your project with a sealant and waterproof topcoat.
You can also prime your piece first, which will decrease the porousness of the surface a little and help prevent water damage.
Can I paint cracked leather?
Any damage or cracks in your leather surface should be restored before applying acrylic paints. This will keep your paint from cracking, chipping, or peeling as well.
Can I paint leather with chalk paint?
Yes, you can paint leather with chalk paint. These are different from chalkboard paints; they’re simply latex paints that give a matte, “chalky” finish when dried.
However, this lack of glossiness also makes the finished product prone to scuffs and scratches. There are acrylic varieties of chalk paints available, which would be more durable—just follow with a high-quality sealant.
Are leather paints and leather dyes/stains the same thing?
No, leather paints and acrylics coat your leather; dyes and stains actually penetrate the leather to deposit pigments below the surface. Think of it like staining wood versus applying a coat of paint: the paint sits on the surface, but the wood will absorb the stain.
If you’re debating between staining or painting your leather, there are some advantages and disadvantages to bear in mind. For one thing, it’s generally cheaper to use acrylic paints than leather stains or dyes.
Another factor to consider is the color you're after. Paints come in a variety of shades and can be applied to any color leather. Stains and dyes cannot lighten leather; they can only deepen or tint it.
Lastly, consider durability. While you will see more of the leather’s grain with stains and dyes versus painting, you’ll also notice more fading as time goes on. Acrylics and sealants give an extra layer of protection to your leather items. They also keep the pigments truer for longer.
Painting leather is much less complicated than it might seem and can be inexpensive with beautiful results when you use acrylic paints and the proper sealant.
Acrylics can transform furniture, clothing, jewelry, purses, and other leather items with incredible new looks—and, when done correctly, even make your projects last longer.