customizationFriday, November 5, 2021

How To Prep And Paint Sneakers With The Shoe Surgeon




The Shoe Surgeon, aka Dominic Ciambrone, is the LA-based cobbler-turned-shoe-creator behind some of the world’s most sought-after bespoke sneakers. In our exclusive series of video tutorials, we give you a unique insight into some of the core techniques used by Dominic and his Surgeon Studios team to create their 1/1 custom sneakers.


In episode 2, Trey, Assistant Director of Schools at Shoe Surgeon, walks us through the basics of how to paint sneakers using the Nike x Sacai Blazer, including how to properly prep them. Watch the full video below and keep reading for more in-depth instructions.


‘Painting was the tool I used to customize some of my first sneakers. The first pair of shoes I customized was an all-white Air Force 1 mid, turned into camouflage print using “model” paint and an airbrush when I was in high school. After that, I was on my journey of quality to find a higher durability paint that was more specific to leather and fabrics.’ Dominic Ciambrone aka The Shoe Surgeon



Farfetch x The Shoe Surgeon: Episode 2 – How To Prep and Paint Sneakers

How To Paint Your Sneakers: Before You Begin


Essential materials:

  • Sneakers

  • Masking tape

  • Craft knife

  • Paint pens

  • Clean cloth

  • Acetone e.g. nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol or paint thinner

  • Heat gun


How to get the exact color match for your paints:

‘I’d suggest you refer to a color wheel when selecting the color you are trying to create,’ says Dominic Ciambrone. ‘Then it’s mainly trial and error, mixing paints until you achieve the color you want.’


What to do if you don’t have any paint pens:

‘You can create fabric/leather paint by mixing acrylic paints with a textile medium. Textile mediums can be found at most arts and crafts stores. The textile medium makes the acrylic paint thinner and more flexible, allowing it to bond with most fabric/leather materials and avoid cracking. Simply mix the textile medium with your acrylic paint until you achieve the desired consistency of your paint.’


Which parts of a sneaker not to paint:

‘Most paints won’t bond as well to hard rubbers and plastics. Paint tends to rub and crack off of these harder surfaces.’


How To Paint Your Sneakers: Surface Preparation


Every sneaker comes out of the box with a factory finish – a clear coating used to protect the color and material of the shoe – but this layer will also prevent your paint from bonding properly with the surface of the uppers. To prevent your paint from cracking or peeling the first time you wear it, you must remove the factory finish first.


  1. Soak your cloth in acetone. Don’t use too much: you don’t want the cloth to be sodden.

  2. Wipe the acetone-soaked cloth on any areas of the shoe that you’ll be painting.

  3. On some shoes, a paste-like residue may form on the surface of the sneaker. Don’t worry – this is just the factory finish coming off.

  4. Keep wiping until the surface of the uppers feels smooth.


TIP: If you don’t have a spare cloth, cotton wool balls will do.


How To Paint Your Sneakers: Masking


Copying a technique used by professional painters, use masking tape to protect the parts of the sneaker you don’t want the paint to touch. 


  1. Start with the sole, as its uniform shape makes it an easy part of the shoe to get used to the process. Leaving a little flap of tape hanging over the top, apply masking tape around the entire surface of the sole. Then, push down and roll over the excess tape to completely protect the upper edge of the sole.

  2. Now, moving on to the surfaces of the upper, use the masking tape to roughly cover each detail (e.g. the Swooshes or lacestays) that you don’t want to paint, ensuring the edges are completely covered.

  3. For each different detail, press the tape down firmly to flatten it and use your nail on the edges to trace an outline of the shape.

  4. Using your craft knife, remove the excess tape by cutting around the outline of the shape, applying a light but firm pressure. Don’t press too hard – just enough to cut the tape – otherwise you risk scratching the material of the uppers.

  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for each component of the uppers.


TIP: Don’t be shy with the tape – the more you use, the better.


How To Paint Your Sneakers: Painting


Now is the time for you to get creative with your paints. Feel free to use a variety of different tools to create camouflage prints, striped patternings, or flat color blockings – anything you can think of. Whether using paint pens, brushes, or an airbrush, the basic technique doesn’t change.


  1. Use light coats to get a more even finish.

  2. Apply multiple layers of paint to help achieve a more solid color. 

  3. Use a heat gun to dry off each layer. 

  4. Keep applying paint until the color is solid and there are no streaks. This should take at least 2-3 layers.


TIP: If you don’t have a heat gun you can use a hairdryer. Alternatively you can let them air dry, but obviously this takes longer.


How to correct any mistakes:

‘Using acetone and cotton buds, or a rag, you can gently wipe away paint mistakes. Make sure the surface is completely dry before attempting to paint it again.’


The differences in technique between airbrushing and hand-painting:

‘Airbrushing is similar to spray paint but in a much more controlled setting. You don’t physically touch the shoe when airbrushing so it’s easier to blend colors or create gradients. With hand painting, you physically brush the paint onto the shoe; this is better for applying fine details, designs, or artwork.’ 


How to use this technique to restore your sneakers:

‘This is a great way to make your sneakers look brand new. All the preparation steps are the same, simply apply paint to the scratches and marks after the shoe has been prepared. Apply small and thin coats until the desired look is achieved.’


How To Paint Your Sneakers: Finishing


If your shoe was properly prepared, the paint should be very durable so it shouldn’t show any cracks or signs of wear unless you physically scratch or try to rub the paint off. But if you want to make the paint even more durable, you can add a clear finisher at the end. There’s a variety of different finishes to choose from (e.g. glossy, semi-gloss, satin, etc.), but we like to use matte to counter the gloss of the paint for a finish that’s closer to the factory coating.


  1. Apply in light, even coats after painting.

  2. Allow to dry completely in-between coats so you can see the full effect the finish has on your paint. 


TIP: Patch test before applying completely. Using too much finish can change the color of your paints – making them slightly darker or lighter than you intended – so be cautious.


Stay tuned for episode three of our five-part video series with The Shoe Surgeon, where the Surgeon Studios team will teach you how to dye your sneaker soles with coffee. Dropping soon...


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