What Kind of Shoes Can You Paint? How To Do It the Right Way

High-top canvas shoes painted with an Aztec-style theme.

Creativity doesn’t have to be limited to a canvas or other traditional artistic approaches. Today, people are using all kinds of objects to express themselves. 

The human body itself, entire walls, tables, cars, shirts, and hundred of more items are commonly used as a “canvas” for artistic expression, but what about the humble shoe? Is that possible too?

What kind of shoes can you paint? Any type of shoe can be painted, but preparation and paint type will vary based upon the material of the shoes. For canvas and mesh shoes, acrylic fabric paints will give the best results, and for leather or vinyl shoes, leather paint is recommended.

If you’re a bit hesitant to try your hand at shoe painting, don’t worry.

There really isn’t much to it all as long as you follow some basic guidelines, which you’ll find below.

Truly, the hardest part about painting your shoes will be deciding on the design! The rest is all about having fun.

What Type of Shoes Are Best for Painting?

You can, in theory, paint any shoe that you want. The trick is to prepare them in the right way and choose the right kind of paint. 

Canvas Shoes

Canvas shoes absorb paint quickly and don’t require much preparation

You want to wash them if they are very dirty, but other than that, you just want to tape the areas you don’t want to paint.

Also, make sure you have a smooth surface to work on by stuffing the shoe with newspaper or plastic bags.

Canvas shoes are soft, and having them stuffed will make it easier for you to paint them.

You want to be looking for paints, pens, and airbrush paints specific to fabric shoes. Fabric additives are also an option. 

Be sure to read my article “Best Canvas Shoe Paint” for bright, bold color choices and special tips.

Mesh Shoes

Mesh shoes are harder to paint small details on but are very easy to cover in one color or two. 

Like canvas shoes, they don’t need much preparation other than taping and stuffing.

Because of the many layers of mesh material, you do not want to use fabric paint to paint details on a mesh shoe. Instead, use acrylic paint for details.

Airbrushing paint for fabric shoes is recommended when painting larger areas on mesh shoes. (Find details on airbrushing shoes here.)

This is the best way to achieve an even color on the whole shoe. You can also use fabric paint with a makeup sponge to reach all the layers of mesh evenly. 

Leather and Vinyl Shoes

Vinyl and leather shoes need more preparation for the paint to properly adhere and last longer on the shoe.  

You want to lightly sand off the shiny top layer in circular motions with sandpaper. Making your surface a little rough will protect the paint in the long run.

The dull surface will later be covered in paint and finisher, creating a smoother surface again.

You can also use a deglazer (Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer is perfect for this) or rubbing alcohol to remove that shiny layer and any dirt on the shoe.

This step is crucial for the paint to stick.

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

You want to use leather paint to paint these shoes. An option is adding film hardener additive to shoe paint. 

More Possibilities

Leather and fabric paints are good to use when painting shoes, but you can also use basic acrylic paint, paint pens, spray paint, and airbrush paints when designing your shoe

(More details on your options and excellent recommendations in my article here.)

The size of your brush will determine how much you can paint at once. Use smaller brushes for details and mid-size brushes for larger areas.

Avoid bigger brushes since these are harder to control and very difficult for forming details.

The same goes for the size of the pens and nozzles. Another creative way to achieve a different pattern and texture is to use various sponges. 

Even DIY ideas like dipping your canvas shoe in paint and shaving cream have spread on social media.

You’ll be surprised by how creative people are when customizing their shoes, and you can follow in their footsteps or come up with your own different method entirely! 

What Kind of Shoes Should You Not Paint?

There is not really a limit as to what type of shoe you can paint. The only rule is that you use the right paint and technique for the right kind of material.

Mixing paints or painting with the wrong type of paint will lead to cracks or paint not adhering to the shoes, both of which will look messy and unprofessional. 

  • Make sure to use fabric paints for canvas and mesh shoes. For details, you should use small, thin brushes or paint pens. Fabric spray paint or airbrush paint for canvas and mesh shoes are options as well. 
  • Use leather paint for leather and vinyl shoes. Details are painted best with a small brush or leather paint pens. Do not use sharpies; they will not stay on. Use leather spray paint (here are the best options) or airbrush paint for leather.
  • Make sure that your shoes are of good quality. Old, worn-out shoes won’t produce good results, but they are perfect to use for practicing before you attempt painting a good pair.

Best Paints for Shoes

Finding the right paint for your shoe type is crucial. Paint canvas and mesh shoes with fabric paints and leather and vinyl shoes with leather paints.

So, here are the best fabric and leather paints for your shoe type explained. 

Fabric Paints

The beauty of fabric paints is that they stay soft and won’t crack with the movement of the shoe. Here are some recommended paints for canvas and mesh shoes:

Angelus Neon Leather Paint 1oz 12 Color Set Kit...
  • 12 NEON COLORS: This includes a set of twelve neon 1oz color paints Rio Red, Tahitian Pink, Jamaican...
  • WIDE APPLICATION: Our Angelus Acrylic leather paint is perfect for any smooth leather goods, such as...
Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow 10 Color Set
  • Dye-Na-Flow 10 color set
  • Includes fluid acrylic paint
Jacquard Textile 8 Color Set
  • Textile 8 color set
  • Includes primary and secondary colors
DecoArt DSS99-26 SoSoft Fabric Acrylics Paint,...
  • Excellent coverage
  • Need no heat setting or medium

Leather Paints

Leather paints should stay on the shoe and not crack or peel off with movement.

Here are some recommendations of the best leather paints for leather and vinyl shoes

  • Angelus leather paints are widely used, very popular, and superb in quality. You can use a film hardener additive to have the paint stick better to vinyl shoes since these materials have little movement. 
  • Jacquard makes an Airbrush Color line (check out this awesome green) line that works with leather and vinyl shoes. 
  • The Stylin line from DecoArt works on leather and is a good budget choice. 
  • Kaps Super Color Dye Paint is a practical and long-lasting option available in more than 30 colors. 

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,...

Related Questions:

Do Painted Shoes Need To Be Sealed? 

Sealing your painted shoe is your best chance for protecting the paint from cracking, peeling, and getting dirty.

You should always include a top layer of finisher as part of your painting process. The finishing seal can give your shoe a satin, normal, matte, or high gloss finish.

Angelus, a name you’re familiar with by now, makes a fantastic finisher, but products like Mod Podge can be used as well.

Painting your shoes properly, including this finishing step of sealing them, will help the durability of the painted shoe. 

Can Painted Shoes Get Wet? 

Painted shoes can only get wet if you have sealed them with a finisher and waterproofing spray.

The finisher will protect the shoe from moisture, cracking, and dirt and will allow you to clean it.

Acrylic paints are water resistant but not waterproof. Applying a finisher and waterproofing coat will be more forgiving to rain and water.

However, you should avoid puddles and rain just to be on the safe side. 

How To Fix Mistakes When Painting Shoes? 

Some mistakes are easier to fix than others. 

  • You can often just wipe the mistake away on leather and vinyl surfaces before the paint has dried. Dried leather paint on the soles can be scratched off using a toothpick before the finisher has been applied. 
  • Methanol, mineral spirits, and WD-40 can be found in home improvement stores and are effective for removing paint on the soles. 
  • Paint your mistakes over with another color. You should start painting with a light color just for this purpose. Continue with darker colors covering your mistakes as you go along. 

Not all mistakes can be fixed, but you can turn these to your advantage with enough creativity. Make them happy mistakes.

You will get better at painting your shoe with time and practice. 


Any shoes can be painted, leaving you a great result. The trick is using the right paint and technique to match the shoe’s material.

Whether you are using paint, spray paint, paint pens, or airbrush paint, you need to make sure they are suitable for your shoe.

Leather paints are for leather and vinyl shoes, and fabric paint goes with canvas and mesh shoes. 

There is no shoe you cannot paint. Even a worn-down shoe can be good for practice painting.

Brands like Angelus, Jacquard, and DecoArt have great fabric and leather paints for painting your shoes.

Adding additives to the paint will enhance their adhesion and durability qualities. 

Don’t let your hard work go to waste by not sealing them with a finisher.

Finish your work with a layer of finishing seal that will protect them from moisture, dirt, and cracking.

Don’t be afraid of mistakes. There are many ways to fix them as you learn the art of customizing shoes. 





Last update on 2024-05-28 at 04:38 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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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!