Painting Shoes

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010 | How-To, Resources, Uncategorized

One of the most useful things I’ve learned how to do in small-budget theatre is changing the color of a pair of shoes without making them look as if they’ve been painted with house paint.  Done properly, you can make a cheap pair of shoes match your outfit, or (if they are in relatively good shape) a pair of old shoes look like new.

Here are some tips.

Don’t try and turn a pair of white shoes black, or black shoes white.

Start with something within the same color tone of your finished piece.

Unless this is for a production that only runs for a week, you’ll start to get cracks in the paint of even the best done paint job.  You’ll be able to go longer between touch-ups (due to cracking, flaking, scuffing, etc.) if you start with something similar.  For example, if you want brown shoes, start with black or navy.  If you want white shoes, start with cream or off-white.

Use dye on canvas, spray paint on leather.

There are specialty spray paints for shoe leather, and if you have the budget, they are well worth the money.  They penetrate the leather so they are less likely to crack, although you can still run into a problem with scuffs.

If you can’t afford the leather paints (or can’t get your hands on any at the exact moment you need it), floral spray paints also work well.

And, truth be told, I have purchased $2 cans of generic spray paint from the local hardware store, and made it work.  You need to be extra vigilant with the shoe prep, and expect to do touch-ups.  I would absolutely not recommend doing the super cheap option on anything with a run longer than four days.

As for dye, I have found canvas shoe dyeing to be somewhat tricky as there isn’t a good way to keep the dye off the rubber soles.  Sponges and paint brushes work fairly well.

Also, straight shoe polish will work wonders on suede shoes.  You can deepen browns, or take brown shoes to black fairly easily.

Do not try and paint suede shoes white.  It never looks good.

Which brings us to . . . Preparation.

Acetone (nail polish remover) should be a staple in the costume shop.  You need this to remove the finish coat on the shoe (we’re back to leather shoes here).

Use a soft rag, soaked in the acetone and take off the polish in small circular strokes.  You’ll know you’ve taken enough off when either nothing more comes off on your rag (you’ll be throwing the rag away by the way), or you get tired of working on it and give up.  Because the shoes where probably made with dyed leather to begin with, you’ll never get ALL of the color off (which is why you need to start with something similar to the final color in the first place).  But you do want to make sure that you have an evenly colored and textured “canvas” on which to paint.

Once you have prepared the leather, you’ll need to tape off all areas of the shoe that should not be painted.  Cheap masking tape is fine (though I did just have a bad experience with glue residue on a pair of shoes).  Time spent taping correctly and efficiently will give you a more professional look.  Don’t forget metal buckles and areas that are elastic.

If you are painting open toed-shoes, or sling-backs, or sandals, (or similar) be sure to tape the inside of the shoe as well.  No-one’s foot completely covers these areas, and you’ll want to preserve the contrasting color and finish.  And there is the ick factor – actors don’t want to put stinky, sweaty feet next to shoe paint.  If the shoe is completely enclosed, simply stuffing tissues or paper towel to keep paint out of the inside is enough.

Whenever you use spray paint, remember: light, even coats avoid drips and runs.  Also, start with the hard-to-reach areas (the underside of the shoe, straps, the back of the heel) and do the easy parts last (top of the foot, sides, toe.  Also, don’t forget that spray paint is toxic, so use in a well-ventilated area with a respirator.

You can get really creative from here.  Do a bottom layer in a solid color.  Add some texture with an air brush or laying an open-weave fabric over and “stenciling” in.  Finish with a dusting of glitter or clear high-gloss.  The possibilities are pretty much endless.

Just look at the fantastic pair I found online!

Amazing looking hand-painted shoes. Check out the "before" in the lower left corner.

What tips to you have on painting shoes? What works? What doesn’t. One of the best things in theatre is sharing stories so that we all learn what to (not) do to succeed!

Happy New Year to everyone!

11 Comments to Painting Shoes

December 30, 2010

One trick to protecting the crepe or “rubber” soles when you’re spray painting shoes is to apply liquid dish soap all over the edges and stitching of the sole, let it dry fully (or even just until it’s not runny), and then spray. Use a room fan, work only in a well ventilated area, don’t leave out overnight unless it’s secure, dry (not humid or foggy), and protected from wind &critters. After the paint is dry, you can wipe off any soap that remains.

For masking, use BLUE “painter’s tape” — in any hardware store, some stationary stores, and all home DIY or crafts stores. It doens’t leave a residue, removes easily, and is easier to see and work with than regular masting tape.

“Shoe Make-up” is the brand of shoe paint and dye I always used — ofent still found in dime stores, drug stores (black, white, brown), and shoe repair stores or kiosks.

Happy hoofing it!

December 30, 2010

Hey The Girl Pie, thanks for the tips! Im wondering if you have experience protecting the soles of shoes when youre dyeing (not painting) the shoes? Would love to hear your thoughts!

January 1, 2011

I am a fan of shoe painting. I can recommend Design Master spray paint. Our local craft stores carry it in a number of colors and it adheres pretty well.

Good pointers on taping. I love making two tone shoes for 40′s and 50′s shows by taping off areas on oxfords or wing tips that are past their prime.

I also had pretty good luck last year creating blue suede shoes for All Shook Up. This musical has a number that requires all the men to have them. I purchased a faux blue suede from Denver Fabrics online store. I cut and barge cemented the suede on.

February 21, 2011

If you have a pair of shoes that you absolutely must paint an opposite color e.g. bone to black as I have had to do, I have a few tips. For all of the following- please wear proper protective garments, mask and gloves in a well ventilated area:
1. Stuff shoes to avoid shrinkage.
2.Completely strip the shoe with Meltonian Color Preparer or Acetone. This may take several applications.
3.Use a liquid leather dye or scuff cover in a tone to match your desired end color (I like Fiebing’s leather dyes, but Kiwi scuff cover makes a good substitute.) Allow time to cure as directed by your dye of choice. This is the most vital step, as it will provide a new base tone for when your spray inevitably flakes off.
4. Mask off any areas you don’t want sprayed. Spray shoes desired tone (I like Nu-life or Meltoninan available at cobblers/shoe repair shops and MWS, it can only be ground shipped, so plan ahead if you must order that special color!) Allow cure time as directed by manufacturer. This may take two coats. Be patient and allow dry time for both steps!
5.If your sole is light, apply edge and heel dressing to the edge of your sole. Allow to dry.
6. Apply a coat of wax or creme shoe polish to match your color, buff and allow directed cure time. Apply a coat of mink oil, buff and allow directed cure time. This is the second most vital step as it reconditions the leather and helps to prevent it from cracking.

Even with these tips, this only works when going light to dark and you must plan this days in advance as the key to your success will be in allowing the shoes to completely cure between all steps. You will never be able to return the shoes to their previous state, and they will still require more upkeep than if you start with a closer tone match.

As for the comment above, when dyeing shoes, a good way to protect your soles is to use water soluble gutta or resists. They will take a bit of brushing to remove, even after you use water to dissolve them. These are available at silk paint suppliers.

February 21, 2011

Excellent suggestions! Thank you!

June 16, 2011

I find if you get some thick duct tape apply this (thouroughly)to the sole of shoes or trainers that you are dyieng then you should be able to dye the material nicely without the rubber soles changing colour too!

September 12, 2011

i noticed you didn’t mention the shoe paint. i work in a shop that doesn’t get good ventilation, and spraying outside in nyc near the water can get me a fine and some nasty looks. i usually use angelus show paint, there are several placed to order these from and mixing color is just like mixing acrylic paints to get the perfect color. it is also fast drying and you need to order a matte or glossy sealer, it saves time on taping, and saves your wardrobe from having to fix tons of cracked shoes. i’ve used it from a basic street shoe, sneaker, to a ballet shoe. works! and i’m hooked:
they also come in tons of some really great colors as well. hope this helps.

November 23, 2011

I am going to do the painting on my bags as well, to match it with the shoes….Thanks for the tips!

January 16, 2012

would anyone know whether I would need something to protect the paint (spray) on the sole of the shoes that I am customizing?

I have dyed the soles on my next project metalic blue (really lovely, from original black) and before I proceed and potentially ruin it on the pavements, I wanted to know if that is the process of painting the soles or whether I should put another layer of some sealant or other product to cover it for protection?

I would appreciate any comments.

Thank you in advance and all the best in 2012!!

April 22, 2012

hey! I want to paint/dye a pair of dark red heels into postbox red. Any suggestions greatfully recieved :) x

September 24, 2012

Painted shoes with couple coats of acrylic paint and modge podge sealer. They looked really nice. I wore them for a show and now they are cracking. What is the best way to fix the cracking? Do I need to redo them or use a different paint to fix the cracked parts and peels. It was hard finding the bluemint color, almost aqua! Help!

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