Monday, July 19, 2021

How to Paint Shoes

Have you heard about this shoe painting craze? My younger girls are 11 and 13 and were dying to try painting their own shoes. 

The trend originally started with people customizing their Nike Air Force 1 shoes. 

But who wants to paint a pair of $90 shoes. I mean, what if you choose the wrong colors or they don't turn out how you want?

I have a hard time buying my kids shoes that cost $90 anyway. I definitely am not going to let them paint them. 

Walmart has come out with a pair of white shoes that won't break the bank. Heck, if you want you can paint 6 pairs of custom sneakers for the same price as 1 name brand. (Eligible for commission)
painted shoes


I told my girls the last week of school to make a list of things they wanted to do over the summer. The first thing we tackled were painting shoes. 

They love to paint just about anything, so this was right up their alley. 
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purple and white painted shoes
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  • a pair of Shoes 
  • Acetone 
  • Cotton balls
  • Paint (see below for options)
  • Paint brushes


For this project we used white shoes from Walmart. They're pretty inexpensive.  

 They can sometimes be hard to find in the store. I talked with an associate at Walmart and she said that as soon as they get some in stock they are gone within the day.  

 So we opted to order them online. Within 3 days they had arrived. It sure beats having to check the store daily to see if any came in. 

 One thing I like about these shoes is that they don't have a glossy finish. Glossy + paint tends to = peeling. These shoes have a matte finish.  

 You can use other brands or types of white sneakers for this project. 

white shoes


The acetone is used to clean up the shoes before painting. 

According to everything I read, there is a film on new shoes that must be removed for the paint to adhere correctly.

We used an acetone nail polish remover.


There are a few different types of paint that will work for shoes. We used acrylic paint for the purple and blue shoes.  

For the red shoes, I created my own fabric paint using a textile medium. We did not try leather paint or paint pens.
  • Leather paint is designed to work well on leather and vinyl. Angelus Leather Paint is a trusted brand and you can get a starter kit with lots of colors.
  • Fabric paint is designed to be flexible. Because of this there will be less cracking. 
  • Acrylic paint has by far the largest variety of colors available and is the least expensive. 
  • Paint pens would be easy to control and paint exactly where you want to. However, quality paint pens are quite expensive and a lot of paint would be needed to paint both shoes. My girls actually have some paint pens, but they didn't want to waste them on the shoes.
Lastly, you can create your own fabric paint using Folk Art acrylic paint and Folk Art textile medium.  

 You will combine the paint with the medium to create fabric paint. This gives you a wide array of colors to choose from while adding that flexible quality to the paint.  

 I do not recommend using spray paint, unless you want the entire shoe painted. I am not sure how well it would adhere and it would be hard to keep it from getting the inside of the shoe or on the sole.  \ 

Read on to the end to find out how well these paints did on the shoes over time.

Paint Brushes

Use a small paintbrush so that it is easy to paint the smaller sections of the shoes. 


Step 1. Remove the Laces

The very first thing to do is to remove the laces from the shoes to avoid getting paint on them.

Set them aside. You can re-lace them once the shoes are completely dry.

removing shoe laces from shoes

Step 2. Clean the shoes thoroughly.

Next, thoroughly clean the shoes with acetone.

The easiest way to find acetone is to look in the nail polish remover aisle of the store. Find a nail polish remover that has acetone in it.

Lightly soak a cotton ball with acetone and rub it firmly all over the surface of the shoe. 

And yes, this will remove some of the nail polish you may have on your fingernails too :)
cleaning off the shoes with acetone

Step 3. Decide how you want to paint the shoes.

It is helpful to determine how you want the shoes to look once finished. The girls decided to paint different sections of the shoes with lighter or darker shades of the same color.  

You can paint all the sections different colors if you like. This is the time to let your creativity shine. 

To achieve different shades of the same color, they simply added white paint to a darker color to lighten it. 

If you decide to mix paints, it is important to use the same brand. 

Step 4. Paint the Shoes

Paint the shoes using very thin layers of paint to avoid cracking as they are worn. It's a good idea to paint at least two thin coats. Let the first coat dry thoroughly before painting the second coat. 

Painting the shoes took the girls about 3 hours. I'm sure you could do it faster, but they were being very careful. 

I'm quite glad it took a lot of time. They get so bored in the summer that any project that lasts the whole afternoon is a welcome thing around here.

Tips for Painting Shoes

  • Use THIN layers of paint. And AVOID thick coats of paint. It's better to have two thin layers than one thick one. It will help to prevent the paint from cracking as they are worn. If you look at the picture below, you can see it is the first coat. It's a little uneven and splotchy. Don't worry, the second layer of paint will even it all out.
  • Use a small brush. The girls used brushes that were between 1/4 and 1/2 inches wide. If your brush is too big it may be frustrating to keep the color where you want it.
  • Take your time. It is much better to go slow and be careful, than to make mistakes by trying to get it done quickly. 
  • Consider not painting the top of the shoe. You see that area with all the small holes? That part of the shoe is bent with each step. Since it is used so much, it will be the first area that the paint will crack. To keep your shoes looking nice longer, leave that area white.
  • I don't recommend using painter's tape to tape off areas of the shoe. I think that taping off areas gives a false sense of security that paint is not going to go where you don't want it to. The shoes are too curved to get a good seal on the tape and paint can easily slip under it. My girls are 11 and 13 and they were able to be careful enough without any tape. 

painting shoes


The answer to this somewhat depends on the type of shoe. If you are painting canvas shoes, definitely try acrylic or fabric paint.  

If you are painting a vinyl type sneaker like we are, then acrylic, fabric or leather paint are all options.  I couldn't seem to find a definitive answer on which was best. So I'll tell you about our experience.

We didn't try leather paint. I hear that it works well. It seems a bigger expense to buy leather paint that would only be used for the shoes. I preferred to get paint that we would be able to use for other projects in the future.  

If you have tried leather paint, I would love to include your experience and results! 

Let's talk about the two types of paint we did try. Acrylic craft paint and fabric paint (made with a fabric medium). So which is the best option?

Acrylic Paint

For the blue and purple shoes, my girls used regular acrylic craft paint. It was easy to use and required only two thin coats of paint to adequately cover the shoe. 

I think it was the better option, it was easier to paint and only needed 2 coats. 

custom painted blue and white shoes

purple and white painted shoes

Fabric Paint (made using a textile medium)

For the red and grey shoes, I opted to create a fabric paint using a textile medium. I chose acrylic paint colors that I liked and added the textile medium to it. The ratio is 1 part acrylic paint to 2 parts textile medium.  

The resulting paint is very thin. I found that it took me 4-5 thin coats to completely cover the shoe without splotchy unevenness. It also creates a glossy finish, which is fine, just something to know. 

I think if I would have used store-bought fabric paint, it would have been thicker and not such a pain to keep adding coats.
red, grey and white painted shoes


My 13 year old opted to add a layer of fabric mod podge to seal her shoes. This ended up giving them more of a shiny finish as well. 

This was a fun DIY that the girls and I really enjoyed. 
Want to watch the video?  ↓↓Click the link ↓
I decided to customize the red shoes a little bit more by adding some vinyl cutouts. 
Now I'm ready for my sons football season! Go DONS!

painted shoes with customized vinyl

I hope you feel inspired to make your own custom shoes! I'd love to see how they turn out. Send me a picture via email:


Don't forget to pin it!!
blue and white painted shoesred, grey and white painted shoes


  1. How do you paint leather shoes if you don’t have leather paint? Is there even a way?

    1. If you don't have access to leather paint, my next suggestion would be trying fabric or textile paint. Consider purchasing leather shoes from a thrift store to experiment with different types of paint.

  2. Hi can you paint a canvas shoe instead of a leather shoe?

    1. Yes you can paint on canvas shoes. I would suggest a using a fabric paint in that case.

  3. I love this idea! It's such a creative and budget-friendly way to give old or inexpensive shoes a fresh look. Your detailed instructions and insights into different paint options are really helpful. I can imagine doing this as a fun DIY project with my kids too.