How to Paint Nike Air Force Ones

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You can paint your Nike Air Force Ones.
Image Credit: Westend61/Westend61/GettyImages

With their classic, sporty design and countless color options, Nike Air Force 1s have been popular for decades. They are also a great choice for artistic sneaker fans who want to create their own painted Air Force 1s for a truly unique look. The project is relatively easy even for those with only basic painting skills, but it takes some time, care and planning to achieve good-looking, long-lasting results. You also need to use the correct products, including acrylic paint designed specifically for use on leather.

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Plan Your Design on Paper

For the best results, start with the all-white version of Nike Air Force 1s. To plan your design, look for inspiration on the internet and check out Nike's customization option on its Air Force 1 product page (you can use it without buying the shoes). Draw a rough sketch on paper, optionally tracing onto paper the outlines of the shoe's distinct sections and swoosh symbol. Color the paper version with markers or colored pencils to help you envision it, and make any desired design changes before moving on to the shoes.

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Prepare the Shoes for Painting

Nike Air Force 1s have an all-leather upper, which is treated with a waxy protective coating when new. You need to remove the coating before painting the shoes, otherwise it will prevent the paint from penetrating the leather. Use a leather preparer or deglazer and apply it following the manufacturer's instructions, which will generally tell you to rub the product all over the shoes with a soft cloth. If you're painting older shoes, it's still a good idea to use the product to clean and prepare the shoes.

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Alternatively, you can use acetone or isopropyl alcohol to remove the protective coating in a similar manner. Only work with these caustic products in a well-ventilated area and wear protective gloves and eyewear.

Paint the Shoes

Use only acrylic leather paint, not regular acrylic paint, along with paintbrushes or sponge brushes of a suitable size for your design. Most custom-painted Air Force 1s start with a color-block design to take advantage of the shoes' distinct sections that are divided by stitching. Apply one layer of paint at a time, letting it dry before moving on to the next. It is better to apply multiple thinner layers of paint than fewer thicker layers, so take your time.

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Use painters' tape to tape off the sections you are not currently painting or use tape to create straight-line designs if you desire. You might also consider using stencils, stamps and other artistic tools. Practice on paper first.

Protect Your Painted Air Force 1s

To keep your painted Air Force 1s looking their best for as long as possible, finish the shoes with an acrylic sealant. These products are available in spray-on or brush-on formulas and come in regular, matte, satin and gloss finishes. Wait at least 24 hours after painting the shoes to apply the sealant following the manufacturer's instructions. Next, wait another 24 hours before wearing your custom-painted shoes.

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