The Difference Between Leather Dye and Paint You Should know!

Color is one of the most important checklists when purchasing leather products as most people will want to match their favourite item with another they have seen in a shop. Leather dyes and paints are largely the two main ways a leather craftsman will apply color to leather and although they sound similar they are practically different.

In this article, I carried out research to help you differentiate between leather paint and leather dye.

So, what is the difference between leather dye and paint? The main difference between leather dye and paint is leather dyes penetrate and sits into the pores of the leather creating a chemical bond while leather paints only coat the fiber of the leather creating a physical bond.

From the producers’ point of view, giving leather color is one sure unique way of adding character to the leather items they produce. There are a lot more differences aside from the chemical and physical bond leather colorants create. Keep reading to find out more!

What is Leather Paint?

Leather is like wood or cement and can be painted with a pigment finish or coating. In painting leather, it is very important that you use an acrylic paint that is specifically made for leather.

There will come a time when you will just be bored and tired of your leather handbags, shoes or furniture and may want to change the color to something more refreshing.

Painting leather items is a fairly common activity in most homes today mostly due to the abundance of quality leather paints on the market. So most people do not feel they will destroy their leather items. Painting leather in itself is very easy and fun. It involves a few simple steps;

1. You first prepare your painting tools, materials and the leather item you are going to be painting. This can include leather shoes, wallets, bags etc, brushes, water since acrylic paint is water-soluble, rag, and more importantly acrylic paint. Now choosing the right Leather paint to use is super important and I highly recommend getting this acrylic leather paint from Amazon! You will also want to set up your painting area in a well-ventilated place.

2. Wipe down the leather item with isopropyl alcohol with a rag to remove preliminary coatings, oils, waxes on the surface of the leather. By doing this, it gives the paint a good ground to adhere very well to the leather. If you’re interested, you can find this isopropyl alcohol over here on Amazon!

3. Sand off the leather items with a 100-200 grit sandpaper to remove shiny portions and use a damp cloth to remove any sort of debris.

4. Next up is to apply a generous amount of leather preparer deglazer. It is an alcohol-based substance that helps the paint to adhere to the leather. You can find my personal choice of leather preparer deglazer here on Amazon!

5. Apply the leather acrylic paint to the leather. You can dilute the acrylic paint with water at the ratio of 1 part of water to 1 part of acrylic paint. You will have to apply the paint in coats or layers and allow each layer of paint you apply to dry before applying another layer of paint.

It may take up to 3 to 5 paint layers but feel free to repeat the application till you get the color effect you want and leave to dry for at least 24 hours.

My best leather paint recommendation is the angelus range of leather acrylic paint. If you’re interested, you can check them out here on Amazon to get more information about their product and prices. Cheers!

6. The final step is to apply an acrylic finisher to your painting and leave to dry for another 24 hours. Applying a finisher will help to give the paint a protective layer while maintaining a nice looking finish. Your leather item should be looking great now in its new color(s).

If you’re interested, you can check out this leather acrylic finisher here on Amazon! There is a high gloss finisher and matte finisher.

Pro Tips for Leather Paint:

  • Always start your leather painting with a black base. Meaning you should paint your leather black first, before painting whatever color you would want. This will ensure that in case the top layer paint comes off, the black paint will show, creating an antique look.
  • If you want your leather paint to adhere and possibly penetrate into the pores as a dye would apply a very thin layer of leather paint and gradually apply 4 -5 coats.

What is Leather Dye?

A leather dye is a mixture of substances and when used on leather creates a chemical bond with the fibers of the leather. Although you can make your own leather dyes, most leather dyes are premade and are for sale at good prices and high quality.

Over the years I have tried and tested a lot of dyes on my projects and I have found that this leather dye by angelus is pretty much what I will always go for because it dyes the leather just the way you want and is easy to control. You can find it over here on Amazon!

Raw leather in itself comes with some kind of color depending on the tanning technique used on the leather. In the initial stages when leather tanning began, the vegetable tanning method was predominant and the color of leather basically depended on the type of wood used in the tanning process:

The Sandalwood resulted in reddish leather color, while the camping wood was reddish-brown leather color and the punch wood gave off a reddish-yellow leather color.

Today, there are few other tanning methods that have been discovered and also result in unique colors. Here are a few examples of leather tanning techniques and the color that may result aside from the vegetable tanning;

Tanning Method Resulting Color
Chrome tanning bluish-greyish
Oil tanning yellowish
Alum tanning whitish

After tanning, leather can still be re-dyed to suit the demand of customers. The dying process in itself is very simple and is done in very few steps of just soaking the leather into a solution of leather dyes and allowing the fibers to absorb the coloring solution.

The tanning industry has made a lot of advancements and as such most tanneries are now introducing a lot more synthetic dyes to create a diverse leather finish that satisfies the ever-changing fashion taste of professional designers and consumers.

Similarities Between Leather Dye and Paint

Although very different, leather dyes and paints share a few similarities. Some the similarities are;

  • Both are leather coloring agents.
  • Both can be water-soluble.
  • Both share the use of similar tools like brushes, sponges, rag etc.
  • Both are applied on the grain side of the leather. 😀

Differences Between Leather Dye and Paint – Summary

Leather Dye Leather Paint
1. Leather dye is prone to fading
with time
1. Leather paint adheres and
stays on without fading
2. Leather dye is prone to dye
transference from leather items
to cloths especially if it is aniline
or semi-aniline
2. Leather paint retains color
and doesn’t stain
3. Leather dye sits deep in the
pores of the leather
3. Leather paint stays on
the surface of the leather
4. You cannot use leather dye to
give leather a lighter color
4. Leather paint is more versatile
and can cover a wide range of
colors even to lighter tints of every
5. Leather dye cannot achieve
a water-resistant finish in itself
because it still maintains its
5. Leather paint can give your
leather item good water-resistance
6. When you use leather dye the
leather retains its breathability,
natural textures, and grains.
6. Leather paint, when used
mostly, clogs the pores of the
leather making it less breathable
7. Your leather items will still
have beautiful patina with time
7. Leather won’t be able to
develop a patina
8. You cannot use leather dyes
on vegan leathers
8. Leather paint can be applied to
all types of leather both natural
and vegan

Related Questions

Can you use fabric paint on leather? Yes, although fabric paint will be able to adhere to the grains and fibers of leather it is best to use paint like acrylic paint purposely made for leather because the wrong combination of substances on leather can cause the leather to grow mold, mildew, or crack.

Can you use ink to dye leather? Yes, but the result of the dye effect may not be as expected. You will also need to seal off the ink on the leather to avoid the ink from coming off or transferring to items. It is best to use regular leather dyes as they are even cheaper compared to ink.

Related Articles:

  1. Leather Finishes and Finishing Techniques: A Complete Guide!
  2. Leatherwork For Beginners: Ultimate Guide With All You Need to Know!
  3. 15 Reasons Why Leather is Good!
  4. Why does leather peel?


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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