These tips show how to paint shoes and add unique hand-painted designs to your canvas shoes or sneakers with acrylic paint. There are also tips for painting leather or vinyl shoes or trim. We’ve tested a bunch of art supplies and recommend our top picks.
This is part of the complete ebook, How to Paint Shoes: Beginners Guide to Painting Canvas Shoes with Acrylic Paint, available for instant download.
Create Your Own Hand-Painted Shoes
A few years ago my teenage daughter started customizing canvas shoes (which is now a business venture) and hasn’t turned back since. Since that time we have also ventured into leather, mesh, and vinyl surfaces as well. These are our tips for best results.
If you’re like us, you may not want to buy new supplies for each project so we have listed several options in case you already own something that can work.
As new supplies come on the market we try them out and, if we like them, update this article to include them.
Our ebook provides more information than we can fit in a blog post. Click Here to Get It Now. It downloads instantly and includes all of our tips. If you’re already experienced with acrylic paints on canvas, you probably just need a few ideas for specific materials to use (see below).
Get All the Tips in One Handy Ebook
Shoe Painting Art Materials & Supplies
I am linking to products with my Amazon affiliate account. These are products we like.
You can paint canvas, leather, mesh, and vinyl shoes (or a combination). Each type of material requires different preparations.
Options include Converse, Nike, Jordans or any other makes or models you like. You just need to know what type of material you are painting so you can prepare and paint them properly.
The base color or colors of the shoes does not matter. Most shoe parts are paintable except the soles. Shoe soles do not take paint well so just tape those off to protect them while you paint.
If you want all these tips in one handy file, click here for the ebook.
If this is your first time painting shoes, consider getting a test pair at a thrift shop to experiment on.
Test Your Materials First
Because there is no way for us to test every possible surface and finish, do this at your own risk and always test a small area first to be sure you are happy with the results.
2Paints and Primer / Preparer
We’ll first go over the supplies needed and then the step-by-step instructions.
For Canvas or Mesh Surfaces
Use these two products combined (1-part paint mixed with 1-part 2-Soft Fabric Medium).
You do not need to use any other products to prepare a canvas or mesh surface.
Before Angelus Leather Paints were available, we created our painted canvas shoes with these items:
- Acrylic primer (to prepare surface) | All-purpose wall painting primer works great but you have to apply thin coats. You can also use Gesso (artist’s canvas primer).
- Acrylic paints | Golden (brand) is top notch quality – goes on beautifully. You can also use any acrylic paints sold at craft shops such as Decoart, Martha Stewart, Folk Art, artist’s acrylics, or acrylic wall paint.
- Acrylic Paint Thinner | Thin layers are key to preventing cracking and getting a good end result. Acrylic Paint Thinner is the same stuff used with airbrushing.
For Leather Surfaces
Leather surfaces must be prepared first with a product like Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer (which is a mild acetone) before they are ready to paint. Read more in the step-by-step instructions (below).
For Vinyl Surfaces
Vinyl requires 3 steps before it is ready to paint.
- Use sandpaper to gently roughen the surface.
- Apply Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer to further ready the surface.
- Then apply a clear Adhesion Promoter Primer (spray) made for vinyl, rubber, and other plastic surfaces.
Once that’s done, you can paint vinyl surfaces with Angelus Leather Paints.
To Protect Soles
The rubber or other composite material of shoe soles does not hold paint nicely. It is best to tape off areas like this to protect them from the paint.
For Detail Work
You may already have favorite art supplies for fine or detailed work. These are some we love.
Pay attention to tip sizes! They range from fine to thick.
Markers for Filling in Colors
Posca Paint Pens | Amazon
Markers for Outlining
Note: Metallic markers may run when Scotch Guard is applied on top.
- Pencil for sketching design on shoes
- Synthetic paint brushes (suitable for acrylic paint).
- Paint tray, water cup for rinsing brushes, rag.
- Airbrush kit | for fast, even coverage.
For Protecting Painted Shoes
These are listed in order of preference.
- Angelus Acrylic Finisher – available in matte, satin, normal, and high gloss, or
- Scotch Guard for outdoor fabrics or polyurethane, or
- Mod Podge Outdoor, and any other durable sealant (must apply very thin layers).
Planning Your Design
- If you can paint it on a flat canvas, you can probably paint it on canvas shoes.
- Unless you’re an artistic daredevil, start simple.
- Pick basic designs you can fill with solid colors and outline with marking pen. From a distance, these simpler designs really look great.
- Go DaVinci on your second pair when you’ve had some practice.
Before You Start
- Try your design on paper first (to be sure you like it), then draw it on the shoes using an HB pencil.
- Heavy lines will show through the paint, so press lightly.
- And don’t forget to protect non-paintable surface like the soles and insides first.
Shoe Painting Steps
1Tape Off Non-Paintable Areas
- Remove shoe laces and start with clean shoes.
- Apply vinyl tape or painter’s tape to any areas you do not want to paint including the soles.
- Decide if you will paint the inside and prepare surface appropriately.
- If shoe is flimsy, stuff it with something like a rolled-up cloth to provide a sturdy painting surface.
- Apply Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer as directed on product using dust-free cloth. Allow to dry at least 15 minutes.
A Best method
- Paint directly on the surface with diluted paint (1-part Angelus Leather Paint mixed with 1-part Angelus 2-soft Fabric Medium).
B Old School Method
- Prime the canvas areas you will be painting with very thin layers of primer or gesso.
- Allow to dry completely (usually takes an hour) or use a hair dryer or heating tool to speed it up.
- You want the canvas covered in primer, but not so thickly that you lose the texture. The texture helps the acrylic paints “grab” the surface.
- Follow the 3 steps listed here: sand the surface, apply Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer, and the apply a clear Adhesion Promoter Primer (spray).
3Plan / Sketch Your Design
Draw your design(s) on the shoes using an HB pencil. Go lightly or the pencil will show through the paint.
4Paint Your Shoes
Fill in your designs with paint. Plan out your layers: will you do the background first or last?
Use marking pens to outline your designs and add details. Fan art, quotes, poetry, or graffiti: anything goes.
For a steadier hand, use a small rolled towel to prop up your hand in a good drawing position.
Consider using tape to block off shapes or areas for painting later.
Always allow paint or markers to dry thoroughly before doing the next layer.
A heated drying tool (at 300°F | 148°C) can be used to make Angelus Leather Paints dry faster.
5Protect Your Art
After your shoes are painted and you have allowed everything to dry thoroughly, it is recommended that you apply a protective finish.
These products are listed in order of preference. Test small areas first to be sure they won’t smudge.
A Best Method: Use Angelus Matte Acrylic Finisher, also available in satin, normal, and high-gloss finishes.
B Protect with Scotch Guard. There are several types: we use the one made for protecting outdoor patio fabric. Follow the product instructions.
C Alternately, you could use polyurethane, Mod Podge Outdoor, and some other durable outdoor sealant suitable for painted surfaces.
There are a few options for covering up mistakes or removing paint.
Cover Up Paint Mistakes
- Angelus white leather paint covers nicely.
- If you used primer, you can reapply it over top and repaint your design.
How to Remove Paint from Sole of Shoe
If you get acrylic paint on the sole of the shoe, it may be removed with one of these. I tested all of them on different shoes and each one worked.
Before trying it, tape over the good areas you want to protect.
You can find all of these products at home improvement stores:
And live long and prosper!
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛