The easiest way to customize a pair of kicks is to use the panels of the sneaker like a coloring book. The outer edge of each stitched panel is like the “lines” of the coloring book. Just paint each panel a different color.
But if you’re only painting panels solid colors, you’re really not straying too far from the shoes that sneaker companies make. For example, the Nike Air Force 1 and Converse All Star high tops are now sold in hundreds of different color combinations, straight from the factory.
For those of you who want sneakers that are a little more original, here are some tips and tricks for tackling more intricate custom paint jobs.
Ask any true craftsman — good tools make all the difference. If you’re taking the time to custom paint a pair of sneakers, you can’t be using brushes from the dollar store. You need brushes with soft, supple bristles, and you need brushes with the proper brush angle and diameter for the job.
We suggest picking up the basic 5-brush shoe paintbrush set from Angelus. This set offers quality synthetic bristle brushes in a variety of sizes and brush angles.
If you intend to work with a lot of colors in one paint job, you might want to upgrade to the complete 14-brush professional set. The larger brush set includes more fine-diameter brush heads for small detail work. And with more brushes, you won’t be constantly losing time rinsing brushes so you can change paint colors.
A good set of brushes will last you years under proper care, so investing in quality brushes will pay dividends down the road. You can’t go wrong with either one of these Angelus sets.
2. Never start with the paint brush.
The key to complex detail on sneakers is precision. And very few shoe painters are precise enough to pick up a brush and paint a perfect design by free hand on the first try.
Instead, start with masking tape, or a pencil to draw temporary lines that you will paint over later.
If you need to draw a straight line, masking tape works especially well. Blue painter’s tape is perfect because won’t penetrate through its waxy surface. The adhesive on painter’s tape allows it to be repositioned easily.
If your design involves more twists, turns, and free hand shapes, use a good old fashioned pencil. Use the pencil to lightly sketch shapes on the sneaker. If you make a mistake with the pencil, you can erase it.
After you have your design penciled in, you can paint inside the lines just like a coloring book.
3. Use stencils and stickers to get clean lines.
Once you have masked any straight lines and sketched more complex details by pencil, it’s time to apply stencils, shapes, and lettering.
Stencils can be used with aerosol products like Plasti-Dip for temporary customizations. You can also use stencils to guide your pencil sketches.
Stickers and decals can provide a useful masking effect, as well. Pre-made vinyl stickers are sold in various letters, shapes, and designs. Or you can design your own by cutting small shapes out of painter’s tape or masking tape.
Another option is to design your own text or shapes on computer, and print them to Avery Removable Label Sheets. After you print the design, cut out the sticker. Remove the backing paper, and stick your custom decal to the shoe.
For those of you who are really serious about painting custom sneakers, consider investing in a vinyl sticker printer. The Silhouette Cameo printer electronically cuts elaborate designs into adhesive vinyl, with laser-like accuracy. This little machine can save you a lot of time if you plan to use extensive custom stenciling.
Remember that if you paint over a sticker, you should let the paint set a bit before removing the sticker. If you try to remove a sticker with wet paint coating it, it’s likely to drag across the surface of the sneaker and ruin your crisp lines.
If you let the paint dry completely, you may want to use a scalpel or exacto knife to score the outer lines of your sticker. Then, gently lift the sticker and peel it off. The paint should tear at the scored lines, leaving you with clean, crisp lines of paint.
4. Practice makes perfect.
Painting a sophisticated design well on the very first try is hard. But most of us have an old pair of sneakers lying around — probably one we no longer wear anyway.
Before you experiment with a new design on a brand new pair, go through the motions on an old pair of shoes. Sure, you’ll use up a little time and a little paint in the process. But actually practicing your customization process on old shoes can show you the potential pitfalls you might encounter.
Try it out. Experiment. And make note of ways you can fix errors and streamline the process.
Once you have tested your method on an old pair of kicks, you’ll have a better plan of attack. And when you finally touch your brush to that brand new pair of sneakers, you’ll execute perfectly.