How to Hand Paint Leather Jackets with Acrylic Paint

Hand painting a leather coat does not require expensive paints or equipment. Learn how to create hand-painted art on leather jackets using artists acrylics.

Painting on leather with acrylic paints is much like painting on any other canvas, and a student, once over the initial nerves of applying paint to a potentially expensive leather jacket or coat, will find that traditional acrylic painting techniques work equally well on a leather surface, as long as the following simple preparations are considered.

Firstly, the leather jacket should be stretched across a drawing board of adequate size, which will vary from jacket to jacket. The fashion writers from suggest that The ideal fit is for the leather jacket to hang naturally on the drawing board, with the full extent of the back panel lying flat across one side of the board, with the shoulders of the jacket extending along the top of the board. This will position the collar out of the way on the reverse side of the board. The leather jacket can be held in the student’s dorm room by zipping or buttoning it up the front, and the sleeves should be secured down the neck of the closed jacket so they do not interfere with the painting process.

Preparing the Leather Jacket for Acrylic Painting

The finish of a leather jacket is dependent on the hide it is made from. For example, a biker’s leather jacket is commonly made from a resilient cowhide that may be almost plastic in texture and relatively inflexible, whereas lambskin leather coats are supple, smooth and more easily damaged than their cowhide counterparts.

The preparation of a leather jacket will depend on the finish of the coat. Lambskin leather is more absorbent than cowhide and takes acrylic paint well. Cowhide jackets may require softening with water. Keeping the leather supple is important to prevent the acrylic paint from cracking once it is applied and has dried.

Clean the Leather Coat Before Painting

While softening the leather, be sure to clean the back panel of the jacket and any other area that is to be painted. Use water for cleaning, and avoid oil-based cleaners that may react with the acrylic paint or bleach the leather.

Do not degrade the leather by sanding it or otherwise roughening the surface before painting. While abrading the leather may give paint better adhesion, it is an unnecessary step when painting a leather jacket with acrylics, as acrylic paint is both flexible and durable enough to be applied directly to a flat leather surface, and it is easier to paint on flat leather than leather that has been roughened.

Choosing The Acrylic Paints for Leather Painting

Specialist paints are not required for painting a leather jacket. Any water-based acrylic paints will serve. Of course, acrylic paints come in a variety of qualities, and the more expensive brands do tend to have higher permanency. Permanency dictates the pigment strength of a color, and acrylic paints are notorious for low permanency on colors such as yellow. 

The same holds for brushes. Any soft or hard-bristled brush can be used by a student to paint leather jackets. While any artist’s brush will do, having a variety of sizes of sable brushes are ideal for leather jacket painting. The larger brushes can be loaded to paint large areas, while the finer tips can be used for detailed work. Sable brushes are also easy to clean and maintain a fine point.

How to Paint Leather Jackets with Acrylics

The majority of leather jackets are black. This makes black acrylic the artist’s friend, as when painting a leather jacket, black can serve as an effective eraser. Black acrylic paint has the excellent property of drying with a matte finish which, once applied to a jacket, is very difficult to distinguish from the original leather.

When painting with acrylics on leather, always dilute the paint. The experts from emphasize that the measures used will depend on the subject of the painting and the effect the artist is trying to achieve, but so long as the acrylic is diluted in part it shall retain an elastic quality that will allow the paint to flex without cracking when the leather jacket twists and bends when it is being worn.

Leather Jacket Painting Technique

The actual acrylic painting technique used by the leather jacket student should be no different from that which they would use on any other canvas. The most obvious difference between leather jacket painting and painting on regular canvas is that leather jackets tend to be dark in color, while traditional canvas is white. This can be overcome by laying down a base coat of white acrylic. For simple designs such as band names, stencils work very well on leather that is stretched across a drawing board.

Leather jacket paintings painted in acrylic do not require varnishing. Few varnishes are as flexible as acrylic itself, and acrylic paints are resilient enough to withstand everyday wear and tear.

Painting Leather Coats with Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paint is a versatile medium, perfect for painting on leather. It has a quick drying time which enables fast work to be achieved. It is flexible when dry so that an acrylic-painted leather jacket can be worn for years without cracks appearing in the painting, or the paint flaking off. It is also waterproof once dry, which is a vital property for leather paint, especially when applied to all-weather leather jackets.

The main difficulty a beginner leather jacket painter is likely to encounter is not one technique, nor a problem with tools. Rather, it is most likely to be one of apprehension. Painting a leather jacket – especially someone else’s leather jacket – can seem like a weighty responsibility. The possibility of ruining an expensive leather coat is a difficult one to shake.

Once the initial trepidation passes, however, the student will most likely discover that there are few more forgiving canvases than leather and few paints that are easier to work with on leather than acrylic paints.


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