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How to colour leather shoes

Updated on May 6, 2014


Non-fabric shoes are awkward to colour as they don't absorb dye in the same way as satin or canvas shoes. I've coloured leather (and faux leather) shoes with various brands of shoe dye but it's often difficult to get the specific shades I want. So I came up with my own method and find it just as good as, if not better than, the commercial brands. Please note that it probably WON'T work on patent leather, metallic or other glossy finishes.

Whatever method you use – mine or Lady Esquire or spray paint – you'll probably find that the colour only lasts a few weeks to a few months. For example, where you would normally get scuff marks on the toes, the colour will come off quite quickly. Likewise the heels of shoes that you drive in will get scraped. But the flexibility of the paint as described below should make it last longer than non-flexible paints. And you don't need to worry about it washing off in the rain or discolouring your feet. And once you've achieved the colour you want, keep extra paint in a little screw-top bottle and you can use it to touch up those scuffs and scrapes!


You'll need:

  • approx 20ml (1 fl oz) of a good-quality fabric or acrylic paint;

  • fabric or latex-based glue (if using acrylic paint);

  • a medium-sized brush (I use a 1-inch sponge brush as it doesn't shed bristles, and doesn't leave brushstrokes).

Make sure the shoes are clean. If necessary, apply a little Cif (or similar cleaning product) and rub gently with a soft toothbrush or nailbrush. Wipe off with some kitchen roll and rub again with a soft cloth to make sure no product remains on the shoes.

It's very difficult to make dark shoes a lighter shade so if you're trying that, start by “priming” the shoes with a pale grey paint – either Deco-art acrylic paint mixed with a little glue (see proportions below), or Tulip 3D paint without glue.

Acrylic paint
Acrylic paint
Fabric glue
Fabric glue


  • Mix the necessary paint colours to get the shade you want. If you're having trouble matching a specific colour, choose a lighter shade because it is easier to go darker afterwards if you need to. Once you've got a shade you're happy with, add a little latex glue (eg Copydex) or fabric glue (eg Hi Tack Trimit or Hi Tack Fabric Glue) as this will make the paint flexible and more long-lasting. Non-flexible paint will flake off the shoes very quickly. If you're using a good-quality fabric paint such as Tulip or Jones Tones, these are already flexible so won't need glue added. You can add Tulip/Jones paint to the acrylic paint instead of glue to add flexibility while mixing shades. Approx 1 part glue to 5-6 parts paint should suffice. At this point the whiteness of the glue may make the paint look lighter but the colour will strenghten as it dries.

1st layer
1st layer


Brush on the paint sparingly - it's better to do 2 or 3 thin coats rather than one heavy layer. But apply as evenly as you can. Wipe off any drips/smears along the edges of the shoes as you go, with kitchen roll or a cotton bud, because once the paint is dry it will be very difficult to remove. Likewise any smudges on buckles or embellishments. I like to brush on the paint in long, smooth strokes and then gently pat with the flat of the sponge brush to smooth out any stroke marks. Don't worry about the original colour showing through at this stage - it will usually take at least 2 coats to cover it up.

2nd layer
2nd layer

Allow to dry for AT LEAST an hour. If you have time, leave overnight before applying the second layer as this will allow the first layer to “cure”.

In the meantime, make sure your extra paint mix doesn't dry out, either by keeping in an airtight container or by adding a couyple of drops of water and then covering over with cling-film.

Apply a second layer of paint, as per the first layer.

After allowing to dry thoroughly, check the colour. This is especially important if you want the shoes to match a particular outfit. The shade can change on drying compared to the wet shade. At this point you can decide if you would like to apply a third layer, or if the paintwork looks even enough and the right shade.

and finally ...

If you have used acrylic paint, the shoes may look matte. Tulip “slick” paint has a slight sheen. Metallic and pearlescent paints will also result in a nice sheen/shimmer.

I like to apply a clear spray at this point to seal and protect the colour. I use Rustoleum Crystal Clear - this comes in matte, gloss and semi-gloss so you can choose the finish you prefer.

If you choose not to apply any spray, you might find the shoes are prone to chalky scratch marks, and more likely to stain.

If you would like to repaint the shoes at a later date, bear in mind that multiple layers of paint will be more likely to peel off so it's best to limit the number of times you re-do them.

© 2014 Lkenny Crafter


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