Whether you are looking to repair your scuffed leathers or change it up for a different look, coloring your leather gear with acrylic paint is super simple and can yield great results. Let's tackle this simple, fun project and get you back out there looking better than ever!
Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/IcuNoc_S_78
The beautiful thing about this job is you don't need much to do it, and the supplies are readily available and inexpensive. Find these items at your local crafts store:
- Acrylic paint (and thinner if you plan to apply the paint with a spray gun)
- Leather cleaner (we recommend Angelus EZ Cleaner but any will do)
- Leather Deglazer/Preparer (again we recommend the Angelus Deglazer/Preparer but a simple alternative is 70-90% rubbing alcohol or denatured alcohol)
- Microfiber rags (and an applicator pad if available)
- 400 grit sandpaper
- Foam brushes, soft bristle brushes or airbrush/HVLP paint gun
- Heat gun or hair dryer (optional)
Preparing the leather
The first step in the process is to clean the surface. Cleaning and drying your leather between each step is paramount to good, long lasting results. So like... clean it. Apply your chosen cleaner product to a microfiber cloth and scrub with medium pressure in a circular motion. Use a clean rag right behind that to remove any excess cleaning product. Once the area is clean, allow it to dry.
Once the item is dry, apply your deglazer or alcohol to an applicator or rag and scrub the area to be painted in the same manner you did with the cleaner. Think wax on, wax off. The second rag will lift the oils and factory finish off the surface after the deglazer breaks it up. What you'll find here is that the deglazer will pull off some color as well as rubber and asphalt scuffs. The resulting surface will feel sort of sticky or tacky to the touch. This is a good thing, as you've opened up the factory finish to accept the new paints. Again, allow it to dry thoroughly.
Once dry, I like to lightly scuff the surface to be painted using the 600 grit sandpaper. This opens microscopic cuts in the hide and provides a rough surface for the acrylic paints to adhere optimally. If you are recoloring over scuffs and damage, sanding those areas more aggressively will help smooth out rough areas caused by the crash. Be sure not to sand too long and thin the hide. After sanding, give the surface a light cleaning once again to remove any sanding dust and debris.
In final preparation for paint, you can mask the area to be painted using normal painter's tape. Most times I'm using brushes and I simply cut up against the next color with a steady hand.
Applying the paint
Now the fun part! Let's get to coloring. Before we get started, it's helpful to note that if you are applying a light color over a dark color (or fluorescent over scuff damage, for instance) you definitely want to apply a base coat of white before applying color. You'll simply never cover dark colors with lighter ones if you aren't covering with white first.
There are two ways to apply the paint to your gear: a paint brush or an airbrush. You can also use a small HVLP (High Volume, Low Pressure) paint gun. Obviously you'll need an air compressor for the latter, but you'll also need to dilute the paint with thinner in order to put it through the gun. Typically this is a 4:1 (paint to thinner) ratio, however consult the paint manufacturer's instructions to confirm. I personally find that using a soft brush yields results just as good as an airbrush, and the coverage happens more quickly. One final note before you begin applying paint, you can use a product such as Angelus 2-Soft to give the paint a little more flexibility once dry and keep it from cracking in the future.
Whether you're applying the paint by hand or via propellant, the first coat is very important. You do not want to try and recolor the surface with one coat. In fact, the first coat should be applied lightly. This is what is referred to as a "bridge coat", and this base coat provides the bite for everything to follow. Allow this first coat to become tacky before proceeding. You can accelerate the process using a heat gun on low heat very carefully, although my experience is that it is not necessary. From this point, you can apply medium coats until desired coverage is attained (again, allow the paint to set to a tacky or dry state before proceeding to the next coat).
If you are covering damage, take care to blend each coat out a little further than the one prior. This will help hide the repaired area against the factory finish, especially if your color has a little variance against the factory tone.
Special notes regarding black and light colors
Keep in mind crash scuffs on black hide can usually be brought back to life simply by cleaning and conditioning the damaged area. If the scuffs are too deep they may still be noticeable, in which case you'll then go ahead and sand it down and paint lightly.
Lighter colors - especially fluorescents, which are quite semi-opaque by nature - are going to require more prep work (to remove any black asphalt/rubber scuffs) and more coats to cover evenly. Remember to cover any remaining black marks with WHITE paint before proceeding to the application of light colored paint.
Sit back and admire
Once all is said and done, pull your masking tape and admire your handiwork! Congratulations, you've saved some money and you've probably got some paint left over for the next repair job. If you have any slight imperfections (drips, debris) in the top coat you can use your 600 grit paper to very lightly sand them out, then apply a light coat of paint over that area if needed.
Care and longevity
Caring for your finished product will be simple. Treat it as you would any other surface on the suit, using gentle products and soft brushes/mircofiber rags. You must keep in mind that the paint can wear away over time, especially in areas where the gear may come into contact with another surface such as your motorcycle seat or tank. In those cases, simply break out the paint and give it a little refresh.
We hope this article helped answer some of your questions or give you the confidence needed to tackle the job! Still have questions, or want to show off your finished repair/recolor? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Rob Lackey has been a motorcycle gear connoisseur for years, mostly because he crashed a lot there for a while. After spending 20 years in the automotive industry managing service departments with a focus on culture and customer service, Rob decided to combine his passion for making people happy with that of racing and "going fast while staying safe". He founded Bison Track LLC with his wife, Tosha and they now roam the country with their two youngest kids, Edith and Carter, growing The Herd and educating others about the importance of safe riding gear. Every now-and-then he still gets to race.