How to customise and paint leather jackets

customise leather jacket

Learn how to paint leather jackets with spray paint or acrylic, paint stencils on jackets, and how to customise them with studs and spikes. Sweet.

It’s likely you will be in possession of a black leather jacket. For a long time a staple ‘statement’ garment, we embrace their tough and rebellious image. However, they’ve seeped into the mainstream and are now seen on everyone from metalheads to airheads. How to make your leather jacket echo your unique personality and stand head and leather-clad shoulders above the crowd?

What are the best paint pens for leather jackets?

First things first – a reader came to us with an AMAZING problem. They had won VIP backstage tickets to a Metallica concert and didn’t want any autographs to smudge. Which pens would work best on a leather jacket? See for yourself with her pics below – and we asked some experts for their advice too!

metallica leather jacket

Which pens will work best on this Metallica leather jacket? Acrylic paints or sharpies? Let’s find out…

metallic sharpies on leather jacket

First, get a cheap second-hand leather jacket to practise on.

You can also test different acrylics and paints on the inner lining of the jacket.

sharpies fabric markers on leather

DO NOT use fabric marker sharpies on black leather! The clue is in the name – they are fabric markers.

Our reader tested them and said:

“The sharpies that were made for fabric did not even show up. My black sharpie didn’t show up. Neither did the red sharpie or blue sharpie – none of them showed up bright enough on the black leather jacket.”

metallic sharpies on leather

How about these metallic sharpies?

metallic sharpies best pens for metallic leather


The metallic sharpies were the best pens to paint on a black leather jacket.

Our reader said: “The copper and silver and gold sharpies were really great.”

acrylic paint on black leather jacket

How about acrylic paint on a leather jacket?

Take a look at the heart above. Our reader used a white DecoFabric marker and said:

“It worked but the acrylic paint pen dripped all over the place and it took a long time to dry.”

More tips for customising leather jackets with pens and pain

  • You can get paint sticks, the ones that rattle, in silver, gold and white either from art shops or bike and motor shops where they are sold as “tyre pens”.
  • A drawback with these metallic paint sticks is they are prone to shedding their particulates. You won’t have this problem further down the line if you go with a white pen.
  • These types of pen are solvent-based. That means if you’re using them on top of an existing paint design (e.g. if you were getting a painted leather jacket signed by a band) there’s a risk of the pens reacting with the paint. If possible, keep the pens and paintwork separate.
  • You can use a sealant on top to make the paint hold over time.


More leather jacket design ideas…

Painting on jackets was popular in the late 1970s punk movement, when they were plastered in band names and studs. That’s arguably where leather jacket customisation got its roots (and, obviously, the Hell’s Angels had much to do with it, as they painted their chapter’s insignia onto their leather jackets for all the world to see – and tremble at – as they rode). You can customise leather jackets in more ways than sticking to band names and studs, so let’s look at a few more methods that might reflect your interests, artistic capabilities, imagination and style.

How to paint a leather jacket – the all-over paint job

  • Spray paint (all health and safety precautions to be taken)
  • Acrylic paints – there are some made specifically for painting on leather
  • Leather dyes
  • I just used plain old poster paint, the kind you finger painted with at nursery. The only problem is that it gives a matte finish, and over a long time will wear faster than acrylic.

Colour is the new black! Paint the whole jacket in a bright colour like red, purple, yellow, green, or even rainbow colours! On a black jacket, for a really bright colour apply a coat of white first, without this the colour will be more muted. For a scruffy, grungy look leave parts of the original colour exposed to give it a worn-out look. If your not quite sure you want the whole jacket painted, try painting just a few bits, on a black jacket, purple or red cuffs or shoulders fading into black would look great, or just paint a few sections. Maybe try metallic paint, silver, metallic black, blue, green……or even better, sparkly!

How to paint leather jackets with stencils / art details

Rather than (or as well as) fully painting your jacket you can customise it with detailed designs. If you are artistically gifted, great – let your imagination run wild like a proud horse on the savannah, and set to work creating a wearable work of art. If you are, err… not so much gifted as enthusiastic, there are simpler ways to customise leather jackets than by freehand artistry. For instance:

  • Tattoo designs can be copied
  • Band names and lyrics can be scrawled on the back, the sleeve, the lining or all over.
  • Graffiti stencils can be used
  • Abstract graffiti using a few cans of spray paint.

How to hand paint stencils onto jackets

For painting stencils or design details, you can use the paints listed above. You can also use Tippex. If you’re writing words, white is a good contrasting colour, and tippex is easy to write with and very cheap. And it’s nodding back to the punk heritage.

To hand paint a stencil, you can simply tape your stencil design into place on the leather jacket and carefully paint into it – it helps if the stencil’s on a thick bit of cardboard and if the stencil design itself has clean, defined edges.

Here’s a handy alternate method for transferring stencils from paper to jacket:

Online art stencils & tutorials

Do you know how to make stencils? If so, these handy resources offer free stencils for you to download, and also plenty of stencil tutorials.

How to spray paint a stencil on your leather jacket

No, we won’t leave you in the lurch! If you’ve got your hands on an airbrush kit (lucky you) that’s a bit more complicated than the procedure above. So here’s how to do it:

First, acquire a stencil design. Next, spread newspaper or an opened up bin liner on your work surface to prevent spillage and stains. You’re working with messy paints, after all. Lay the jacket out flat on your worksurface so the bit you wish to spray is facing you. Place your stencil design in position, and tape it temporarily into place so it doesn’t shift (duct tape is good. Duct tape is good for nearly everything). Tape more newspaper around the stencil so you don’t get spray marks on your jacket. Insert a tube of spray-friendly paint into your airbrush kit, plug it in, hold the airbrush gun close to the stencil’s surface (about an inch away) and fill the stencil with paint. Do it till the stencil’s done! Then remove the stencil and leave the jacket where it is to dry for a couple of hours.

How to put spikes or studs on a leather jacket

As well as going for traditional placements, you can experiment with the positioning of studs ans spikes. Heart/lightning motifs? Ohm symbols? Well, why not? Make sure you place your studs in areas so the jacket will still be comfortable to wear. Once you know how to apply studs and spikes, you can customise old leather belts, bags… all sorts of things.

The guy in this video recommends getting screws and studs/spikes online and going with the screw stud method. He also recommends getting them at an online shop called… ta-dah…

Of course, it doesn’’t have to end with only customising leather jackets. A little handcrafted love has more beauty than sweatshop laboured ‘perfection’.