There are many different techniques for how to paint sneakers. Whether you want to customize an old pair, or just do a quick touch-up on a new shoe, there is something here for everyone. I’ll share how I paint my shoes and the best paints and methods that I’ve found. You can also check out my painting tips on how to make your custom shoes last as long as possible!
I will get straight into the steps on how to paint sneakers but if you are not sure what paint to use or how to prepare the surface of the shoes for painting then I recommend you also read past the steps as I will be answering questions such as “What paint works best for sneaker art”, “How do I prepare shoes for painting”, “Can I use acrylic paint on shoes” and much much more.
Preparing sneakers for painting
For the best results when painting sneakers, you need to prepare the surface to ensure the paint sticks to the surface but different surfaces need different preparation.
Preparing leather sneakers
Preparing leather surfaces for painting is a tedious task that many people do not take the time to complete.
To ensure lasting results, properly prepare your surface with an appropriate product such as Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer before laying down any paint or stain.
Preparing synthetic surface sneakers (like vinyl)
You can paint synthetic / vinyl shoes with Angelus Leather Paints once they are ready.
The process is simple. Gently sand the surface first, then apply angelus leather preparer and degalizer to your painting surface for further preparation.
Use a clear Adhesion Promoter Primer made specifically for synthetic-surfaced items like this which will help provide an excellent bond between the surface and paint.
Repeat the procedure until all sides of the surface have been coated thoroughly.
Preparing canvas shoes for painting
Canvas shoes are easy to prepare as well.
Clean the surface first with a cloth or sponge, ensure there is no dirt. Wash the shoe surface if needed. To prepare the shoe for painting, apply Angelus primer to it.
You may use whatever color of paint you like after that; just be sure to wait for them to dry before proceeding!
Now before you start painting you have to ensure the soles are protected. I say this as I have seen so many painted sneakers that look ugly as the artist has let the paint drip onto the sole and you can see brush marks on the rubber side of the sole.
Prepare the sole of your shoes
Tape should be used to protect the soles while painting your shoes.
The rubber or composite material of shoe soles will hold onto paint but the material is not designed to hold onto paint forever.
It will peel or crack off so it’s best not to paint the soles to start with unless the sole is already painted.
Prime the surface of the sneaker for painting
The surface you’re painting on will need to be cleaned and prepared before you begin, so it’s clean and ready to use.
If they are old shoes, clean them with mild soap and water, but do not use harsh chemicals like bleach, which might damage the shoe.
The Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer is an excellent solution for preparing leather surfaces.
Apply the product as directed on your surface, using a dust-free cloth or paper towel, then let it dry for at least 15 minutes before painting.
Prime the prepared surface of the sneaker with white paint if you are painting a white sneaker. If you are using darker sneakers then leave the surface as-is.
Design your sneaker artwork on paper before painting
If you are not good at drawing and free handing your artwork, I suggest using printouts or drawing on paper how you want your shoes painted. This way it makes it easier for the artist as they see how he/she wants their work translated onto a shoe surface.
If you have no idea how to draw your shoe design then you can download photos of your shoe from all angles (top, front, side, and rear) and print them out and then draw your design on the printout.
It’s a lot easier to erase and correct drawings on a printout of a sneaker than on the actual sneaker.
Paint your designs. Decide how many colors will go into each layer of your design. Use markers or pencils if needed. It will help you see what your completed painted sneaker will look like and you can experiment with color combinations and see what works.
It’s good to do this because what you think may work in your mind’s eye, may not work in practice.
Once you are happy with the design, you can start penciling in your design onto the actual sneaker.
Transfer the sketch to the sneaker
Transfer the sketch to the sneaker with a marker. It’s best to use a pencil to start with so that you can still erase any mistakes that you make.
Once you have penciled in the design then go over it with oil-based markers so the design doesn’t get erased when you apply paint and other products on top of it later in the process. If you do not have oil-based or alcohol markers like a Sharpie.
If you want certain portions of your drawing to be darker than others, use a pencil to darken them again, but this time apply pressure as if you’re coloring with a pen or marker.
You can also transfer drawings to your sneakers using the method below.
Mask off areas not to be painted
If there are areas that you do not wish to have paint or risk having painted then mask those areas off with tape to protect those areas.
You can also use a masking liquid to mask off other smaller areas. This is optional.
Paint your sneakers
Paint should be applied in thin layers, with each layer drying before the next is applied. This prevents you from applying too much paint and allows for a smooth finish that doesn’t crack or peel away with time.
Paint in the same direction as the shoe’s bend. The reason you do this is to keep the paint going with the shoe fibers so that it reduces the risk of damaging the paint when the shoe bends.
Do not leave any bubbles in your paint. You will want to pop them with a pin or something similarly sharp before moving onto applying your next layer of paint.
Allow for each layer of paint to dry fully before adding another, this is important as it prevents cracking and peeling away of layers when they are applied too thickly on top of one another.
If you are painting on canvas shoes or a shoe made from any surface that is not smooth, then try to press into the material or canvas some of the paint to ensure that you don’t end up with tiny white areas that aren’t covered in paint.
Even though my eyesight is fine, I like to use a good old fashioned magnifying glass to look at the detail in my paintwork. Nothing will ruin a good design more than a rushed paint job.
At the same time, don’t layer on the paint too thick or the paint will not dry properly and it will actually crack and flake off once it’s dry.
Allow shoes to completely dry between coats.
You must allow yourself time to let each coat thoroughly dry before adding more color otherwise there’s a chance that colors may bleed together if added simultaneously which can lead to an undesirable effect down the line so be patient here.
Fix mistakes before sealing the paint
Any design process will benefit from the removal of mistakes, which is an important aspect of any design procedure. Don’t worry if you make the blunder of painting your shoes; hide those unsightly mistakes with Angelus white leather paint.
Seal the paint on your sneakers
Your painted sneakers should be coated with a suitable clear top coat to avoid chipping, scratching, and other damage after they have dried fully.
Additional questions for how to paint sneakers
As I mentioned at the beginning, you can jump straight into painting your sneakers but if you have not done this before you should learn some of the basics of painting shoes so that the paint stays on the shoe and doesn’t crack or peel off.
What paint works best for sneaker art?
The simplest way to paint your shoes is by using simple acrylic paints or acrylic paint pens. What works best are paints designed for painting sneakers. No paint is good if you don’t prepare the surface.
You can use any kind of acrylic paints, paint pens, oil paints, pens, or ink to paint sneakers but you need to pick the medium (paint) that suits the sneaker material – that means, don’t use water paint on leather as it won’t last.
This is because, like painting art, you need to ensure the paint type is suitable for the surface so that it doesn’t crack or peel off.
Can I use normal acrylic paint on shoes?
You may also use any acrylic paints available at arts and crafts stores such as plain old artist’s acrylics, or wall paint from the hardware store. But the best results come from using specialist shoe paints such as Angelus paints as they are designed for the heavy wear that shoes go through and cover most of the materials that make shoes.
You can also use acrylic paint pens such as Posca pens. These are pens that are filled with high pigment acrylic paint and come in a variety of nib thicknesses that will suit your needs. They also dry permanently and only need to be sealed if you want to protect your sneakers from wear and tear.
How to paint shoes without cracking?
The key to painting shoes without cracking is to apply the paint in multiple thin layers. You may be enthusiastic and want this project over and done with quickly but the key to how to paint sneakers is patience.
Let the layer dry and then apply another. If you can’t wait for each drying time, give it at least a few minutes for each layer to settle.
If you see the paint starting to drip or bubble, stop. Let it dry before you hit the point of no return and ruin your sneakers.
- Paint should be applied in thin layers.
- Paint in the same direction as the shoe’s bend.
- Don’t apply heat to the paint in an attempt to dry it.
- Acrylic paint sealants are excellent for preventing paint from chipping.
Can shoes be spray painted?
Is spray painting shoes possible? Yes, it is! Spray paint is a fast method to cover the whole shoe.
While you may want to use automotive spray (the same stuff that graffiti artists use) or airbrush paint using an airbrush, the same type of airbrush that people use to paint model airplanes.
I recommend airbrushing as you have more control and you can paint more detailed lines as large spray cans cover too big an area.
Please note that if you go down the airbrush route, you will also need to invest in a good air compressor.
Now spray paint does not always soak into the shoe surface and it remains on the surface of the shoe instead of going inside.
This is a good thing but can also be a bad thing as you want the paint to stay on the shoe surface. Not going inside can be a problem. So what do you do?
You prepare the surface such as sanding it to ensure you remove the protective coat that shoes are given at the factory. This will allow the paint to stay and soak inside the surface layer.
Joseph Colella (Joe Colella) is an Editor and Writer at WastedTalentInc. As a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech).
While Joseph holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent fashion he spent years applying for various Art degrees; from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), to failing to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney.
While he jokes about his failures at gaining formal art qualifications, as a self-taught artist he has had a fruitful career in business, technology and the arts making Art his full time source of income from the age of 18 until 25.
His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. Joseph’s art has been sold to private collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia.
He is a trusted source for reliable art advice and tutorials to copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.