Bored of your leather furniture’s faded hue, or want to give your chic leather jacket an extra bit of flair with a personalized design – acrylic paints can help.
Acrylic paints are a powerful tool that provides endless possibilities for painting leather – you can craft anything from a distressed look to textured designs, stencils, or stamps by using it. However, don’t forget to preserve your work with an appropriate sealer; otherwise, the artwork you created might start peeling off and cracking soon after application.
Many DIYers forget or are unaware that they must seal their work. As a result, they may find themselves with cracked and peeled paint after some time has passed. Moreover, sealing will protect the leather from fading away due to external factors like UV rays and rainwater.
So, in this article, I will provide step-by-step instructions, tips, and techniques to seal acrylic on your leather work. But first, let’s start by knowing…
Is Acrylic Paint Safe to Put on Leather?
Acrylic paint is typically made of pigments suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion which is considered safe to use on most soft fabrics, including leather.
Acrylic paint is versatile and available in various rich, vibrant colors to create beautiful effects on your leather project. And the good thing is once the paint has been correctly applied and has dried on the leather, it will not come off quickly like other types of paint.
However, when painting leather with acrylic paint, be mindful that the drying speed of these paints can cause difficulties; thus, it is vital to act swiftly and cautiously.
Additionally, not all acrylics are created equal. Since there are different types of animal skins like goatskin, sheepskin, cowhide, calfskin, horsehide, and even skins of exotic animals (like crocodiles and snakes), they might require distinct degrees of acrylic-based products for quality results.
So, if you can find one, it’s best to choose acrylic paint formulated explicitly for leather use. You can find these types of paints at most craft stores or online, most likely labeled “leather acrylics” on the bottle. Avoid using regular acrylic paints available for paper, canvas, or wood, as they might end up damaging your expensive leather quality.
Painting and Sealing the Leather with Acrylic Paint
In general, acrylic paint is safe on leather bags, jackets, belts, and even on your expensive car’s upholstery – as long as you take the necessary precautions and use the correct type of paint.
The simplest way to apply acrylic paint and sealant to leather is by using a brush. But you can also use a sponge or a piece of clean rag.
Here’s how to do it…
Step 1- Prep your working area
Working with acrylic paints can be challenging due to their rapid-drying nature. Moreover, accidental spills on an unwanted surface may be difficult to erase.
Therefore, before you begin with your cleanup and leather painting session, you must have all the necessary materials ready, which includes a water container to clean your brush, a paper towel to blot any paint spills, and some old newspapers or a drop cloth to protect your working surface.
Step 2- Clean the leather surface
Once you are ready, start by cleaning the leather surface you want to paint. Leather is a breathable material; if you skip this step, you may have a blotchy and uneven finish.
To clean leather, you can use a mild soap and water solution or explore specialized products such as Murphy Oil Soap, olive oil, and vinegar. Using a dry cloth or an old toothbrush, remove any dirt, grease, or other debris that might prevent the paint from adhering to the leather.
If the aged leather is in need of a good clean-up, then using an appropriate cleaning agent like isopropyl alcohol or a deglazer would also be beneficial. Subsequently, wipe away any remaining residue with either a wool dauber or towel until it’s completely dry before proceeding to the next step.
Step 3- Apply a base coat
The next step is to apply a base coat of thinned acrylic paint to the leather to help the actual color paint adhere better. You can use light-colored paint or even white paint as your base coat.
After a patch test on a small inconspicuous leather area, apply the base coat evenly to the entire surface and allow it to dry for ten to fifteen minutes.
Step 4- Apply the paint color to leather
Now, it’s time to select an acrylic paint color that you love. Keep in mind that the color will dry slightly darker than what is seen in its container, so make sure to choose carefully.
Begin by dipping your brush into the paint and then apply a thin layer of the hue onto your leather surface – small sections at a time should do. To avoid unsightly streaks, always use light strokes and be consistent with their direction. Don’t forget those edges and seams, either; they also need some coverage.
Once the leather piece is entirely decorated with acrylic, let it dry for a minimum of two to three hours. To deepen the color and make sure you didn’t miss any spots, go ahead and apply another layer or perform some touch-ups.
When you finish up painting your work of art, leave it out in the open air until completely dry – this could take anywhere from several hours to an entire day, depending on how thickly you have applied paint.
Step 5- Apply the sealant to the painted leather
After the acrylic paint has dried and set on your leather, you can add a top coat of varnish sealant or waterproofing spray to preserve it.
This is an optional step; however, if the item is subjected to heavy use, such as for handbags, wallets, or shoes, I highly suggest taking advantage of this added protection measure.
For sealing the acrylic-painted leather stuff, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and drying times. In general, you will need to apply the diluted product in a thin, light coat. Thicker layers of sealant get soaked into the leather and can cause cracks in the paint.
Can You Use Acrylic Paints to Coat Faux Leather Material?
Faux leather is a man-made fabric usually made from polyurethane or PU (a type of plastic) designed to look and feel genuine without using animal products.
So, technically you could use acrylic paint on faux leather in a pinch, but I wouldn’t recommend it as it is not designed for that type of material. And unlike genuine leather, faux leather isn’t breathable, so the paint is likely to crack and peel quickly without sticking for a long.
If it’s an important project and you want to paint faux leather to look like real leather, I would suggest using premium leather paint that can be used on faux leather.
Unlike acrylics, these paints are crafted from a flexible polymer which gives the surface an alluring and genuine leather appearance after drying. Moreover, they possess the durability to withstand recurrent flexes or bends without quickly cracking or peeling.
As an alternative, I would also recommend using specialized cleaning agents and leather paints (like Angelus) if you plan to clean and paint your expensive leather jackets or old handbags from popular brands such as Chanel or Louis Vuitton.
What are the Other Paint Options that Can Be Used for Leather?
Besides acrylics and specialized leather paints, you can use metallic or pearlescent paints to unleash your creativity and transform any leather material into a masterpiece.
From timeless athletic shoes, vintage automobile interiors, traditional handbags, and high-heeled pumps to retro bracelets and wallets – the possibilities of reviving old pieces are endless with these paints.
Even if you want to give your car’s dashboard a timeless look, pearlescent paint is the perfect choice for achieving an elegant sheen. Containing mica, this natural mineral reflects light in such a way that it produces an exquisite and captivating iridescence.
Pearlescent and metallic paints can also add subtlety and shimmering finesse to any leather project by adding depth and dimension with their reflective nature.
The bottom line
If you are looking for the easiest way to add color and artistic touch to your old leather item, acrylic paint is your go-to option.
Just remember to use light, thin coats, let the paint dry completely between layers, and apply a top coat of sealant or varnish to protect the paint and prolong its lifespan.
Without proper sealing, the acrylic paint on freshly painted leather might crack or peel off over time.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.