From the traditional painted moccasins of indigenous peoples to the customised Doc Martin boots of the punk and later fashion movements, painting leather shoes has long been a form of self-expression and is associated with various cultural movements. Leather is not always the easiest material on which to apply paint, but there are several paint types which can be used to create an attractive effect if applied properly and with the right primers and finishes.
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Standard Acrylic Paints
Standard acrylic paints come in a vast range of colours and are widely available from art and craft stores and one of the most popular media for painting on leather shoes. This type of paint can crack easily on the areas where the shoes is most flexible, especially if applied too thickly. If using this type of paint it is best to apply in thin layers and coat the shoe afterward with a clear leather varnish.
Latex paints can be bought in craft stores and have the advantage of retaining a degree of flexibility when dry, so they are less likely to crack than other types of paint when the shoe leather becomes worn. It is necessary to lightly sand the shoe first to produce a rough surface and apply a latex primer--also available from craft stores--before starting to paint onto the leather.
Professional Leather Paints
There are a few specialised leather paints on the market. Usually these are acrylic-based, but more powerful than standard acrylics. Suppliers also will produce a professional-grade leather deglazer and primer to remove colour, polish or varnish from the leather shoe before painting. Various "finishers" in matt or satin finishes with which to seal the painted colours are also available. These paints are available from specialist craft and leather shops and theatrical wardrobe suppliers.
The most durable way to apply colour to your shoes is with leather dye. Because this is thinner than conventional paints and available in fewer colours, it is not so suitable for complex or highly detailed designs. Dyes are available from shoe stores and cobblers and are usually applied by daubing it on to the shoe using a small sponge. It is normally necessary to use "dye-prep," available from the dye supplier, to ensure the surface of the shoe will accept the dye.
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