How to Customize Your Own Pair of Sneakers

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Choose Your Sneakers

Nubikk Noah Lace Sneaker Kalbsleder white BY 2.0

Your sneakers are your canvas. It is up to you to decide what style of shoe best fits the image you want to create.

White sneakers are the simplest to customize. Choose a sneaker made of either leather or vinyl. A canvas sneaker may also be used but could prove to be a much trickier surface for a beginner. Unless you are familiar with the many different types of paints and how they are applied to different surfaces, steer clear of canvas for now. Here we will be using white leather sneakers as pictured above.

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Make a Sketch

Low Section Of Woman Drawing While Sitting On Grassy Field
Duaa Awchi / EyeEm/Getty Images

Before you do anything with those soon-to-be-customized kicks, it is best you devise a rough sketch of your plan. Draw an example of what you want to create on paper or use a computer program like Photoshop or Illustrator. This will help you to better visualize your sneaker masterpiece before you start working with permanent paints.

Creating a rough sketch is extremely important because you are working with a pair of shoes as your canvas. You want to make sure both shoes are designed to look identical for them to be a successful pair of custom kicks.

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Get Your Paints

Portrait of cheerful woman choosing markers for drawing
JackF/Getty Images

Now that you have an idea of the image you want to create and the colors you need, it's time to pick your paints.

Paint markers are usually a very good option for customized sneaker projects. These can be found at your local art supply store or online. If you go to an art supply shop you can usually test the paint markers before you buy them.

Some paint markers release very weak paint and some are extremely watery. These types do not work well for sneaker art. Make sure the markers you choose have the thickest consistency for the best results.

Paint markers are available in various tip sizes: fat to skinny. Based on your sketch, choose the proper tip sizes for your image. You want to be able to control lines, fill space and define curves. The thinner the tip, the easier it will be to draw details and get to those hard-to-reach spaces. The thicker the tip, the more paint you can spread to large areas.

Spray paint can also be used. However, if you use spray paint as a base, make sure you get skinny caps to keep the aerosol from covering detail you want to show. Spray cans are harder to control and best used on large canvases. Beginners are advised against using spray paint for their custom sneaker project. Take our advice and stick to paint markers if perfection is what you seek.

Lastly, you may want to pick up a can of clearcoat. This is entirely optional but may be useful in extending the life of your artwork. It can provide a barrier against the potential cracking that can occur if the customized sneakers are worn too much.

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Create an Outline

Dino Mayorga designs a pair of Visions.
Image Courtesy of Blue Panther

If you'd like to apply a helpful material prior to outlining your sneaker, Krylon makes a product called Workable Fixative. This spray allows you to create your outline utilizing a pencil. If you mess up while creating your outline, you can easily erase your mistake and move forward.

Carefully create an outline of your design on your sneakers. Make sure the outline on one sneaker matches the other. It is OK to use a very slim fine brush to outline if you have steady hands. Otherwise, you should be using use a fine tip marker for this step. A permanent marker, such as a Sharpie, works well for outlining.

Once you have your outline, place your sneakers side by side. Do the outer back heels, the inner sides of the sneaker and the front toes all look well defined and symmetrical? Once everything looks OK with your outlined artwork you can move on to color.

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Fill in the Colors

Painted Shoes, feathered cable, painted and speckled
Debra Roby/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

This is the fun part! Let your creative juices flow as you take control of your canvas. Utilizing the colors you selected for your paint markers, begin coloring in your piece. As a beginner, we hope you selected a very simple design for the first time around. If not, then save the darkest colors for last so you can cover any bleeds or flaws towards the end.

Once you are through painting, it is recommended that you allow a significant period of time for drying. There is much argument in the sneaker customization world about how long you should let your sneaker artwork dry. Usually, three to four days is an adequate amount of time to allow for the paint to bond and cure properly. Make sure the area you place your sneakers in during this time is at room temperature and free of humidity.

If you purchased a can of aerosol clearcoat, apply that to your sneaker on the second day of the drying process. Use a very light coating when spraying onto each sneaker. You don't want to create any drips.

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Show Them Off

KringWEAR 4 Painted Shoes
Shannon Kringen/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

What is the point of creating a masterpiece if you don't show anybody? There are countless sneaker forums online that cater to sneaker art enthusiasts and thousands of sneakerheads dying to see what you've created. Some people will even offer to buy them! So go ahead and show off your concepts and you'll be amazed at the response. I truly believe there's a buyer for every piece of art but they won't know about you and your kicks if you leave them at home in the dark.