Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Leather Coloring 101

Leather Coloring 101

Although there are entire books written on different methods and techniques for coloring veg-tan leather, we thought we’d touch on a few of the basics for the beginning colorist.

For this introduction, we focus on water based coloring products.  They are low-odor, simple to clean up, easy to mix and don’t require solvents to be diluted.  There are also a wider variety of application techniques available and they are available globally.


Water Based Coloring Products:

Our Professional Waterstains, Leather Dyes and the All-In-One Stain & Finishes offer a consistent wash of color whereas Gel Antiques and Hi-Lite Color Stains accent cuts and impressions.  Cova Color acrylic paints sit on top of the leather whereas the other products listed soak in to the leather.  Learn more about the differences and applications on our YouTube channel for more information on Dyeing, Waterstains, and Antiques.


Eco-Flo Professional Waterstain – The waterstains offer vibrant, uniform color. The different stains come in a variety of colors and can be mixed for even more variation of color or thinned with water to reduce the intensity of the color.  These stains are a special water-based, semi-fluid wax that won’t bleed or rub off and can be used on both the grain and flesh sides of vegetable tanned leathers.

Leather Coloring 101

Eco-Flo Leather Dye – These transparent colors are formulated to penetrate the surface of natural veg-tanned tooling leather.  They can also be thinned with water or mixed together for additional hue options.  Let dry completely after application and buff between coats to remove excess color from the surface.

Eco-Flo All-In-One Stain & Finish – Color and finished combined!  These are excellent to use when drying time may be an issue, however they are also great for beginners, kids and groups!  Only one coat is recommended and additional top finish is optional.


Eco-Flo Gel Antique – This gel antique is designed to give your veg-tanned leather a rich aged look.  It will collect in the cuts and impressions of your design to bring out the details of your work.  It can also be used to highlight the natural imperfections in leather, emphasizing the uniqueness of each piece.

Eco-Flo Hi-Lite Color Stains – Similar to Gel Antique, this liquid acts as a light stain that brings out and enhances cuts and impressions.

Leather Coloring 101


Eco-Flo Cova Colors – These acrylic paints were developed specifically for leather.  Whereas the other products listed soak in to the leather, acrylic paint sits on top of the leather.  They are opaque, however can be thinned with water to reduce intensity which can be used as a “wash” to tint areas.

Leather Coloring 101


A few things to know going in:

Shake your dyes, stains and antiques before using each time to make sure that the color is evenly distributed in the liquid.

Each leather will respond to coloring slightly different.  Always test color on a scrap from the same leather you are making your project out of to ensure proper color.   Some dyes dry lighter or darker, so let your sample dry completely to see the end result of the color.  Note that drying time can vary depending on temperature and humidity.

Dyes are excellent coloring organic materials… which can include your clothing and skin.  Be attentive when using dyes and always wear gloves.

Be aware that most coloring is intended for the grain (smooth) side of the leather, not the flesh side (back).  The texture on the rough side of the leather may be too porous and irregular to be sealed properly and can color can rub off even if it is sealed.  To achieve color and smooth texture on both sides of a project, such as a belt, you can sew two separate pieces of leather together so that there will the smooth surface on each side.



Leather Coloring 101

When coloring with dyes and stains, sponges are ideal for application.  For even coloring, you can continue to buff the color in to the leather for about a minute (especially with the more vibrant colors) as it can help spread the pigment evenly.

When coloring with Antiques or Hi-Lite, use a non-fibrous applicator like a buffing towel and color the tooled areas first.

For All-In-One Stain & Finish, sheep wool or a soft cloth is ideal for application.

Daubers are handy for small projects and edging, but not ideal for larger surface areas.

Acrylic paints are painted on with a paint brush.  You can also use a paint brush to apply small amounts of dye for detail work on more intricate designs.

Tip: For even coloring, do not apply dye directly onto leather from the bottle, but rather use one of the applicators listed above.  If dye is applied directly to the leather from the bottle, it may cause over saturation in a single spot and can be difficult to disperse color evenly.

Tip: When dyeing leather, you may want more than one application of color to get an even tone.  Whether applying in  circular motion technique or using an overlapping stroke technique, wait until the project is dry and then go over the entire surface again in the opposite direction.

Leather Coloring 101



When the leather has dried, you will want to buff it with a clean, dry cloth to remove any excess pigment before sealing.  Sealing color is important to make sure that it will not rub off on clothing and other surfaces.

For sealing waterstains, we strongly recommend using our Eco-Flo Professional Finish.  This durable finish was developed specifically for offering an expert finish with our waterstains and comes in high gloss or matte.

Super Shene are Sating Shene are good, all purpose sealants and can be used on any of the materials listed above to provide a water resistant seal.  Super Shene will add a glossy appearance to your finished product whereas Satin Shene will have more of a muted appearance.

Leather Coloring 101

Tip: Super Shene can be used prior to coloring with Antiques and Highlights to prevent coloring in selected areas.  For more information on this technique, watch our video Resisting Techniques!

Note: Some finishes will pick up a small amount of color from water based dyes. To guard against smears on background dyed projects, multi-colored figure or pictorial carved projects, apply finish on dyed area with a brush first to lock-in colors before applying final overall coat with a sponge or soft cloth.


Learn more about dying techniques with George Hurst and Charlie Davenport on our YouTube channel:

Overlay & Inlay Dyeing

Block Dyeing Technique 

Antique Finishing

How to Use the Pro Series Waterstains


Visit our website for books on Coloring:

Coloring Leather by Al Stohlman

Coloring with Eco-Flo (Available In Spanish)