Can You Airbrush Shoes? What You Need for Pro Results

Light blue paint being added to the cup of an airbrush straight from the bottle.

An airbrush gives you complete control of paint flow and stroke width, can be used with a variety of paints and mediums, and produces smooth, even results.

If you’re not very confident with your paint brushing skills but would still love to create custom DIY shoes, could an airbrush be the solution? Is it even possible?

Can you airbrush shoes? An airbrush can be used to paint shoes with incredible results. Generally, high-quality acrylic paints that have been properly thinned and applied in multiple thin layers will work best. Once the design is complete, seal the shoes with a finisher to protect your work.

Any amazing project begins with having the right tools for the job at hand. Some shoes require special prep work, and others do not.

Also, there are many beginner mistakes that you can easily avoid. We’ll cover all that and more in the following.

Can You Use an Airbrush to Paint Shoes?

You can airbrush any shoe using the right paint, equipment, and technique to create a new look.

The paint, equipment, and technique differ based on the shoe’s material, but the idea is the same.

Preparing Vinyl and Leather Shoes 

Vinyl and leather shoes need proper preparation before you can start with the airbrushing.

You need to lightly sand off the shiny topcoat with sandpaper before applying new airbrush paint. Sand in circular motions until the surface appears dull.

Clean the surface and apply a deglazer (Angelus Leather Deglazer works perfectly) to make sure that the paint really sticks to the shoe.

Angelus Leather Preparer 5oz
  • This preparer is a must have before starting leather projects like dyeing leather.

After that, proceed to taping the areas that you don’t want to paint. If necessary, you want to stuff the shoe with newspaper to create an even surface without wrinkling. 

Find more details on preparing leather shoes for paint and learn about the option of spray painting leather in this article.

Preparing Fabric Shoes

Fabric shoes do not need the same preparation to be airbrush painted.

You might want to throw them in the washer if they are super dirty, but otherwise, just start by taping them.

Tape the soles and other parts of the shoe that you don’t want to paint. Remove the shoelaces and stuff the toes with newspaper or plastic bags. 

The Basics

Once prepared, you can go ahead and airbrush your paint on the shoes.

You can create different effects with an airbrush and be really creative. The closer you hold the airbrush to the shoe, the more concentrated the color will be.

Airbrushing really close to the shoe is suitable for details, but this requires practice.

To create an even coat of the same color all over the shoe, you want to hold the airbrush a little farther away.

Make sure to airbrush in thin layers letting every coat dry before applying another one. You will usually need two to four coats

Which paint you need for airbrushing shoes depends on the material of the shoe.

What You Need To Airbrush Shoes

You will need an airbrush, compressor, paint, different additives, sticky tape, finishes, glazes, and washes, depending on your planned design.

Only the paints and finishes will depend on the material of the shoe; the airbrush and compressor are simply a matter of your preferences or what you have on hand. 

What’s the Best Airbrush for Beginners?

Painting with an airbrush is not as hard as it may seem. It will require practice, but with time you will quickly master the art.

There are, however, some airbrushes that are easier to handle than others. Low-quality airbrushes are not as forgiving and can be a struggle to handle in the long run. 

Terms you want to look for when finding your airbrush are gravity-feed, dual-action, and good quality.

Here are three excellent choices

  • Badger Model 105 Patriot is a great beginner’s airbrush. It can be used with a wide variety of paints, glaze, finishes, and more. It’s easy to control and great for detailed work. (Read my full review here.)
  • Iwata Eclipse HP CS is also a good quality airbrush. This model has an efficient paint flow and is easy to use. It is easy to clean and can hold a lot of paint. 
  • Paasche Airbrush TG-1AS is good for very detailed work and easily worked with because of its big size. This one can also hold a lot of paint. 

Badger Air-Brush Co. Model 105 Patriot Fine...
  • The new Model 105-1 "Patriot" is a dual action gravity feed airbrush; comes with instruction manual
  • The Patriot's innovative and efficient precision design is enjoyed by crafters, artists, and...
Iwata-Medea Eclipse HP CS Dual Action Airbrush Gun...
  • Features a 0.35mm needle and drop-in self-centering nozzle combination comes with a large 1/3 oz...
  • Generous 1/3 oz sized cup is designed with a new funnel shape, which makes for easy clean up and...
Paasche Airbrush TG-1AS Airbrush, Gold
  • TG Airbrush: The TG is Paasche's highest end airbrush and delivers the finest detail of all our...
  • Paasche TG Airbrush: Set includes .38mm spray head, PTFE packing for spraying any type of fluid

You’ll need an airbrush compressor as well. The airbrush won’t work without one because this is what gives the airbrush pressure to spray the paint.

Personally, I recommend the Zeny Pro. It’s reliable, great quality, and overall a great value.

You will also need to include an airbrush cleaning kit (I use this one and am thoroughly satisfied) and airbrush cleaner (Iwata-Medea makes an environmentally friendly cleaner that works really well).

You want to clean your airbrush often so that your paint won’t clog and destroy future airbrush paintings. 

Best Airbrush Paints for Shoes

The best airbrush paints for shoes are not the cheapest ones. You are looking for paints that will stay on your shoes without cracking when walking in them. 

Fabric shoes made of cotton, nylon, or polyester require good quality acrylic paint. (Check out this article for a complete list of fabric paint recommendations.)

Believe it or not, Angelus Leather Paints are known to work extremely well with fabric shoes because the paints do not stiffen the fabric over time but rather remain soft and flexible.

With a bit of thinning, they do a fantastic job when used in an airbrush.

Angelus Leather Paint Starter Kit Set of 12 1...
  • Set of Angelus Leather Paint in Twelve Colors
  • COLORS INCLUDED: Black, Blue, Brown, Turqouise, Lilac, Purple, White, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green,...

For vinyl and leather shoes, you want to look for long-lasting, thin paints, consistent in coverage and color.

Here are some examples of the most recommended airbrush paints

  • Vallejo Metallic Air Paint has the best variety in metallic colors and has a very consistent coverage in color and in coverage. However, some colors are thicker and tend to dry out over time if not used. 
  • Vallejo Basic Colors Airbrush Paint has a very wide color range, doesn’t require much thinner, and comes in a set of 16 colors. These tend to dry on the airbrush tip fast, so you need to keep cleaning it. 
  • Citadel Air Paints are easy to work with and thin. They have a great finish and consistent color. This is a trusted paint for models and miniatures, but it will work well on shoes too.

Vallejo Metallic Colors Model Air Paint, 8 bottles...
  • The pigments used for airbrush colors are ground to the finest possible consistency
  • Colors can be mixed with one another or diluted with water
Vallejo Basic Colors: Acrylic 16 Airbrush Paint...
  • Airbrush straight from the bottle, no thinners
  • Smooth coverage even with a thin coat
Hobby Model Choose-Your-Own Paint Set (Air Paints...
  • Buy only the colors you need, but still save money with a bundle!
  • One flat shipping rate, no matter how many you buy!

Common Mistakes To Avoid 

Airbrushing your shoes can be tricky, but knowing these common mistakes will make the process easier and give you the best result

  • To get the best result, you need to thin the paint. This prevents clumping in the airbrush that can create an uneven color or clogs. You’ll find a complete guide to thinning acrylics for airbrushing here.
  • Not using the right additive in your paint can ruin your result or cause cracking. Angelus 2-Soft Fabric Medium is perfect for softer materials like fabric shoes. Vallejo Flow Improver will help to thin the paint and allow you to apply multiple thin layers on vinyl or leather shoes.
  • Cover your paint with a layer of finisher (Angelus Finisher is amazing) to protect your newly designed shoe. Skipping this step allows the paint to be exposed to weather and dirt, and results will not be as durable.
  • Painting the soles can give the shoe a messy look with time, especially if the shoe has been worn a couple of times. The airbrush paint will come off, leaving the soles in uneven color. So, avoid painting the soles altogether. 
  • If you want a neon or metallic color to pop, don’t use multiple coats of that paint. This will only darken it. Instead, add some white to the desired paint in the first layer, and then decrease the amount of white color with every layer. Finish off with a layer without the white, and you will see it pop. 
  • Rushing your airbrush painting is a mistake. Take your time to touch up and paint with control. Be original, and don’t try to copy others too much. The best results usually come from expressing yourself and doing so with care. 

Related Questions:

Does Acrylic Paint Stay on Shoes? 

Acrylic paint will stay on shoes if applied in the right way. You need a surface where the paint will stick.

As described above, such a surface is easily prepared with deglazer or rubbing alcohol.

You also want to make sure not to paint too thick of a layer of acrylic paint on the shoe since that will cause cracks to form more easily.

After letting the acrylic paint dry, you need to apply an acrylic paint finisher. There are finishers specifically designed for leather and vinyl shoes or fabric shoes. 

How Do You Protect Painted Shoes?

A final layer of finisher will do a great job of protecting the shoe. These finishers come in matte, satin, normal, and high gloss for you to choose from.

Also, using high-quality paints and applying them after the correct shoe preparation will help with the durability of your painted shoes.

You should always be careful when wearing the shoes to protect them further from dirt and scratches. 


You can make cool designs and have your shoes really stand out by painting them with an airbrush.

Having the correct gear and preparing the shoes properly are keys to your success. And don’t forget to protect your painted shoe with a layer of a finisher. 

Be creative, and most importantly have fun. 


Last update on 2024-05-28 at 03:58 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print


I'm a hobby enthusiast with a real love for painting miniatures. I also happen to run this site and write the majority of its content!