How to Emboss & Paint on Leather

    by Mackenzie Wright

    About the Author

    Mackenzie Wright has been freelancing since 2002 in the realms of writing, painting, photography, crafts and teaching the arts. Her writing has been featured in publications such as the "Saint Petersburg Times," "South Florida Parenting Magazine" and "Home Education Magazine." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and education.


    Embossing and painting are great ways to spruce up inexpensive leather articles or to make show pieces out of leather bargain items you find. When you emboss, you create raised designs on the surface of leather, and doing it properly gives the leather a beautiful, professional-looking finish. Painting leather can also really jazz it up by adding color. Doing either requires special techniques, because working with leather is not like working with fabric.

    Things You'll Need

    • Leather garment
    • Metal templates
    • Wood scraps
    • Nails
    • Rubber mallet
    • 1/4 inch thick Styrofoam
    • Weights
    • Towel
    • Iron
    • Rags
    • Craft paint brushes
    • Acrylic paints
    • Sand paper
    • Water
    • Old toothbrushes
    • Rubbing alcohol

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    Embossing Leather

    Choose a soft or tooling leather to emboss. These leathers are more pliable and easier to work with than weightier, heavier materials.

    Choose a template with the design you want to emboss. If you are using several templates, such as lettering, you may need to do one at a time.

    Lay the leather on a table. Dip some rags into a bowl of water, wring them slightly to keep them wet while avoiding excessive dripping, and lay them out on the leather. Leave them there for 15 minutes or so to wet the leather.

    Turn the template upside-down and lay it on a wooden board. Nail it in place so that it won't move around.

    Remove the rags from the leather and wipe off the excess moisture. Place a towel over the leather and iron it with the setting on high steam. The water and heat will help soften the leather.

    Lay the leather on the template with its front side facing down and the back facing upwards towards you. Arrange it so that the design will come out exactly where you want it.

    Put a thin piece of rigid polystyrene foam on top of the leather. Apply weights on top of the foam, such as heavy books or bricks. Allow it to sit for six hours. Do not move it during this time.

    Remove the weights and the foam without moving the leather. You should be able to see the template design pressed into the leather. The edges should be fairly pronounced. If they aren't, tap firmly on them with a rubber mallet.

    Remove the leather from the template. If you want to emboss more designs, start again, being careful not to disturb the embossed design you just created. When you're done, allow the leather to dry.

    Painting on Leather

    Clean the leather well with some water and a cloth. If it is shiny, it has probably been waxed. Use a fine grit sand paper and rub the surface gently to remove the shine from the areas you want to paint. Wipe it with a damp cloth again.

    Clean the area you plan to paint more by dipping an old toothbrush in rubbing alcohol and brushing the leather with it. This removes oils and coatings that might prevent the paint from adhering.

    Mix one part water-based acrylic paint with one part water. Paint it on the leather using craft brushes. Apply one coat and allow it to soak into the leather. You can apply a second diluted coat if you like.

    Apply more coats of paint, this time undiluted, onto the area you have just painted in order to make it darker or brighter. You can apply several coats, but only apply one thin coating at a time, giving it a few minutes to dry in between coats. When you are satisfied with the intensity of the color, you don't need to apply any more coats.

    Carefully flex and pull the leather from the edges as the paint dries so that it retains flexibility and cracks less. Be careful to avoid contact between areas with fresh paint and other areas.

    Allow the paint to thoroughly dry.

    • Practice on pieces of scrap leather or old leather before working on expensive garments. Leather work requires a bit of practice.