Sneaker Customization: My Step-By-Step Process

Something i've been thinking about doing for a little while..mainly because often I tend to get questions from people such as "how do you design your shoes?". People have asked me if I use magic markers, if I airbrush, or my favorite..."do you spray paint your shoes?" (I actually have a little cousin who thinks I spray paint my shoes..for some reason I thought it was funny). Also, some people think that customization is merely grabbing some paint and putting it on a shoe, when there is a lot more to the process (any customizer who's been doing it for a while can attest to that). So for those who are not familiar with the sneaker customization process, I figured i'd give a little insight to how I design sneakers:

1. First, I need a shoe to work with. I chose to use this Nike Dunk shoe to use for this particular project. I decided that i'll do something simple just to show people the basic procedure behind doing customs.

2. The items I need for readying and painting the shoes: acetone, various sizes of brushes, cotton balls, some alcohol (if needed), and of course, my formulated-for-leather acrylic paint mixes needed for the project.

3. Before the shoes can be painted, they must first be prepared for painting. For this step, you need acetone, which is a product that is used in nail polish remover (you can find acetone in places like home depot & some beauty not use nail polish remover as it is not as strong as pure acetone). This step is crucial in the sneaker process. Leather shoes have a protective factory finish that is applied at the factory and acetone is needed to remove the finish. This prevents the paint from cracking as it allows the paint to adhere properly to the shoes.
Apply acetone to a cotton ball (you will need a few), paper towel, or rag and wipe the areas that will be painted. You may notice that when you wipe the shoe that some of the color may come off..this is normal so don't panic. Sometimes the color doesn't come off (may vary on the quality of the leather), but if you look at the cotton ball you'll see a pasty build up on it. That pasty build up is the factory finish being removed (a good way to know you're doing it properly). I recommend wearing latex gloves when doing this step to keep the acetone from getting on your hands. Remember, the shoes must be prepped THOROUGHLY in order for the paint to bond with the shoe (expect to spend at least 30 min. on this step, maybe longer depending on how detailed you work will be).

(some pics of the shoes after preparation)

4. Being as though I plan to paint a lighter color over a darker color, I first apply a white basecoat (so that I don't have to spend all night applying enough layers to cover the green). This is needed when painting light colors over dark surfaces.

5. After applying the basecoat, I start applying my main color (in this case Silver). Often I tend to keep the gloves on when I paint, although at this point it's not necessary...I mainly do it so I don't have to constantly stop to wash paint off my hands in case of spillage.

6. Here i'm applying that same silver to the toebox of the shoe. Here I didn't need to apply the white basecoat since the toe area was already white to begin with, so I was able to go right in with the silver paint. On average, I usually apply at least 3 coats of each color that i'm using..sometimes more, but usually 3 (apply as many coats as needed to even the paint out on your shoes). Also, never use thick coats. Thinner coats will make sure there are no brush strokes showing in your work, which is important if you want your work to have a straight out the factory look.

(the shoe after 2 coats of silver. My silver is very opaque so not as many coats were needed)

(my shoes after 3 coats of red)

7. I decided to add a line pattern just to jazz it up a little. Here i'm using a small detail brush for the line work. Different size brushes are needed for different areas of the shoes and/or different designs.

8. Here i'm filling in the swoosh on the side with a medium sized brush (sidenote: always use good quality brushes. Quality brushes = cleaner paint job..of course knowing what you're doing helps too!)

9. Adding in a black pattern over the white lines (I used about 2-3 brushes just for that alone to get different size lines).

10. Sometimes I will use a dryer to blow dry the shoes after all the layers are done just to speed up the drying process. After the shoes are dry, I usually apply a finish coat to protect the paint job (sorry I forgot to photograph that step). You can use a matte or gloss acrylic medium (check any art store). I prefer to use a spray finish made for acrylics since it takes less time to apply and still gives good results. Use whatever works best for you.

And now...the finished product:

And there you have it. Also I should note, the entire process from start to finish can take hours to do (sometimes even days) depending on the amount of detail going into the design. I've spent anywhere between 8-9 hours to a week working on a project. To be a sneaker customizer, you have to have a good amount of patience, be attentive to detail, and most importantly, a certain dedication and passion for the art (and of course the natural talent). I consider it to be one of those things you really have to love, as certain aspects of it can get tedious at times (although it doesn't really bother me, but then again it's what I have a passion for so I understand having to put in the long hours/days to complete a project...but I suppose that's the case with any profession).

That's why I have so much respect for fellow artists who are dedicated to their fields..whether they be fellow sneaker customizers, other visual artists, musicians, photographers, designers, etc. They don't mind putting in the work and dedication to express their creativity and push their craft to the next level. I have a deep love & respect for the art culture and sneaker customizing (and of course sneakers!) and love to see appreciation and support for all of the arts.

Anyway, i've rambled on long enough. Hope you enjoyed my step-by-step!


  1. That is so cool... Keep working, great job! I honestly appreciate your time that you have put to write this post.


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