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What Kind of Paint Can I Use to Paint My White Leather Nike AF1 Sneakers?

I watched a TikTok video of a kid giving his sneakers to a street artist to paint. The street artist went to his trunk, popped it open, where there was a cornucopia (you like that word, don't you?) of acrylic paint (for canvas), spray paint, I'm pretty sure I saw (2) crow bars, and candy wrappers.

You know? The standard stuff.

The street artist, then, proceeded to - dare I say it - defile the sneakers. He started painting on them...with the acrylic paint & spray paint that CLEARLY were not meant for the sneakers!!! He did an okay job - and handed them back to the kid, I believe, paint still wet. And then just walked away. And all I'm thinking is, "I hope this kid didn't pay this guy"...

This video had hundreds of thousands of views (okay...), and everyone was in the comments excited to do the same thing to THEIR shoes (Nooo!!!)

I grasped at my imaginary pearls, shook my head, and quietly said to myself, "The lies..."

But when I go online and see this often. People using regular acrylic paint, sharpies, or poster paint (?!?) to paint their sneakers.

But let's cut this TikTok-er & the artist A LOT of slack because - every sneaker artist I've talked to, painted their first shoes with regular acrylic paint because....WE DIDN'T KNOW ANY BETTER!!!

And you're probably reading this article because you'd like to learn from my NUMEROUS and PLENTIFUL painting mistakes - and avoid them at all costs. Well played...

After painting your sneakers with regular acrylic paint, ONCE, you realize that, that is a terrible, TERRIBLE idea. Why? Because it cracks & chips within SECONDS of you wearing them. It's devastating & plain embarrassing, to see the work you spent hours on, flaking to the floor in pieces, with every step you take.

Super Squirrel, you need to purchase paint SPECIFICALLY for leather.

And with that said, let's cover some of the basics when it comes to painting your Nike AF1s.

The Step You Can NOT Skip Before Painting

Before painting your sneakers you have to make sure you prep them, correctly. This step will make or break how well your sneakers receive the paint. Also, it'll keep your sneakers from cracking after the 1st, 12th, or 65th time you wear them.

You're going to start off by sanding them with 400/600 grit sandpaper. Next, use 100% acetone + cotton balls to strip the factory finish off the sneaker.

TIP: Strip the factory finish off, using the acetone, outside - where there is a lot of cross winds. Make sure you wear protective gloves while doing this task. And when I say protective gloves, the yellow kitchen gloves that you can get from your local store for $2, work great.

The Beginner Friendly Paint You Should Start With.

Angelus’ Paint is the #1 paint used by sneaker artists. And, luckily for all of us, it won't break your budget. Each color you purchase is <$3 for a 1 oz bottle.

1oz doesn't sound like a lot, but trust me when I say that these paints go a LOOOOOOOONG way before you run out.

The (very close) second best is Jacquard’s Neopaque or Lumiere paints. Jacquard is a bit more, in price, ~$4.50 for a 2oz bottle, but ALL their paints are a bit thicker than Angelus, opaque, and vibrant.

You can't go wrong with starting out with either.

With This, You Only Need One Layer.

Adding this flexible adhesion promoter adds a little more stretch to your paint. I mix in 7-8 drops in the paint that will be added to the first layer of the sneaker paint job, and ONLY the first layer.

Using too much of this in each layer of your paint job gets - streaky & gunky.

The Sealer You May Have Never Heard Of.

As far as the finisher, or sealant, you should use to protect your paint job - DO NOT use Angelus’ brand. The consensus is in, and every sneaker artist I know agrees - it's terrible.

THEE finisher to use is Liquid Kicks Official Top Coat Finisher and Leather Sealer.

Grab the 2oz. bottles to start with, because a little goes a LONG, LONG way. I use 2 small squirts to cover both shoes - and after heat sealing it, and letting the products meld together for a day or two - watch it resist any scratches, dings, or overall clumsiness (I'm the latter) that might happen when you wear them.

My personal favorites are the Factory Finish or the Matte Finish.

One of the greatest fears a person has, that spent their whole weekend painting their shoes, is that after wearing them 1-2 times, the paint is going to start chipping off. And that could be from you tripping over something, or someone stepping on your kicks, or someone dropping or spilling something on them.

I've seen people try to put ziploc bags around their shoes to protect them from - the elements, other people, or again - their own clumsiness.

Silly yes. But does it still happen? You know it...

This is a "scratch test" done with a butterknife, after I applied the Liquid Kicks Finisher, and gave it a few days for all the elements to smoosh together and settle!

Even I was nervous to do this at first...

But again, it's something you're not going to have to worry about after you've applied this finisher. Which is nice. One less thing to have to think about.

That said, painting your sneakers - whether you're touching them up so they look fresh & white again, or remixing the colorway to match your new outfit you bought this weekend - is a satisfying process.

Gather your weapons of choice (your paints, brushes, etc) and go forth, and move around some paint on your Nike AF1s.

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