How to Emboss & Paint on Leather

Updated November 21, 2016

Embossing and painting are great ways to spruce up inexpensive leather articles, or to make a show piece out of any leather bargains you may find. Embossing is creating raised designs on the surface of leather. Correct embossing gives the leather a beautiful, professional-looking finish. Painting leather can really jazz it up with colour. To do either requires special techniques, as working with leather is not like working with fabric.

Choose a soft leather or tooling leather to emboss. These leathers are more pliable and will be easier to work with.

Choose a template with the design you want to emboss in it. If you are using several templates, such as lettering, you may need to do one at a time.

Lay your leather on a table. Put some rags into a bowl of water. Wring them slightly, keeping them wet but to avoid too much dripping, and lay them out on your leather. Leave them there for 15 minutes or so to wet the leather.

Turn your template upside-down and lay it onto a wooden board. Nail it into place so that it will not move around.

Remove the rags from your leather and wipe off excess moisture. Place a towel over the leather and iron it, with the setting on high, with steam to keep it moist. The water and heat will help soften the leather.

Take your leather and decide where the embossed design will go. Lay that area over the template, with the front side of the leather facing down on the template, so that the back of the leather is facing upwards towards you. Arrange it so that the design will come out exactly where you want it.

Put a thin piece of styrofoam on top of the leather. Apply weights on top of the styrofoam, such as heavy books or bricks. Allow it to sit for six hours. Do not move it during this time.

Remove the weights and the styrofoam, without moving the leather. You should be able to see the leather pressed into the template. The edges should be fairly pronounced. If all the edges are not pronounced, you can firmly tap on them with a rubber mallet.

Remove the leather from the template. If you want to emboss more designs, start again, being careful not to bother the new embossed design you just created. When you're done, allow the leather to dry.

Clean your leather well with some water and a cloth. If your leather is shiny, it has probably been waxed. Use a fine grit sand paper and rub the leather gently to remove the shine from the areas you want to paint. Wipe it with a damp cloth again.

Clean the area you plan to paint further by dipping an old toothbrush in rubbing alcohol and brushing the leather with it. This will remove any oils or coatings that might prevent the paint from adhering.

Mix one part water-based acrylic paint with one part water. Paint on your leather using craft brushes. Apply one coat and allow it to soak into the leather. You can apply a second diluted coat if you like.

Apply more coats of paint, this time undiluted, onto the area you have just painted in order to make it darker or brighter. You can apply several coats, but only apply one thin coating at a time, giving it a few minutes to dry in between coats. When you are satisfied with the intensity of the colour, you don't need to apply any more coats.

Carefully flex and pull the leather from the edges as the paint dries, so that it retains flexibility and you will have less cracking. Be careful not to let the painted areas touch any other areas to prevent smearing.

Allow the paint to thoroughly dry.


Practice on pieces of scrap leather or old leather before working on expensive garments. Leather work requires a bit of practice.

Things You'll Need

  • Leather garment
  • Metal templates
  • Wood scraps
  • Nails
  • Rubber mallet
  • 1/4 inch thick styrofoam
  • Weights
  • Towel
  • Iron
  • Rags
  • Craft paint brushes
  • Acrylic paints
  • Sand paper
  • Water
  • Old toothbrushes
  • Rubbing alcohol
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