Printing on Leather
  • I am interested in printing on leather. Has anyone tried screen printing on leather? What dyes/inks are best for this purpose? How do I make the color stick to the leather? Do I need a glaze/sealor?
    Hope someone can help.
  • I do quite a bit of leather crafting and just recently started with some fabric dyeing.
    There are many types of leather, not just the critter it came from but how it was tanned.
    Most leather that crafters use is veg tanned--vegetable tanned. This is the sort used for tooling and dyeing.
    Chrome tanned leather is often dyed at the factory. It can be dyed over to some degree with the usual alcohol based leather dyes. Even though the 'experts' told me it can't be done, I have done so. But these dyes like Fiebings, Angelus, the Tandy brands, are notorious for fading and bleeding/lifting if not sealed very carefully.
    And the acrylic based leather paints don't have the quality colors of fabric or artist grade acrylics. And some stick just as well as the official leather paints. And the clear acrylic bases of any of these can be colored with many sorts of dyes, pigments, micas, glitter to suit your taste.
    A lot of inks will also work on leather depending on the type of leather. You may need to use acetone or alcohol to clean off any sealer and help them stick.
    I've not done any screen printing but I think most of those inks are acrylic based for the binder. I've used stencils with alcohol inks and spraying the dye on but usually get some bleeding. I will be trying next adding in some some sodium alginate fabric dye thickener the next time I do so. Ink like felt tip pens often bleed a bit and will migrate further into the leather over time.
    I have found that the colorhue instant set silk/wool dyes work on leather. And the fiber reactive dyes will also work. Acid dyes on chrome leather can work and be heat set but that won't work well with veg tan as it will shrink and become hard as a rock. The soda ash set method has also worked.
    It would be a good idea to use a sealer. There are acrylic based leather sealers but that might lift your ink as the solvent in it may be too close to the one in the ink. I have gotten around that when I've painted something I didn't want to shift by using a spray acrylic sealer.
    What sort of leather and item do you want to print? Will it get a lot of friction like a wallet or belt?
    That may affect what sort of dye/ink you use as well as sealer.
    You might want to find a Tandy store to visit with the leather if you already have it. There should be someone there who can identify the type of leather and give you some tips on how to do what you want. Or join a leather forum such as leatherworker.net and ask there. But both places will probably not suggest what I have found works better for me. I'm a contrarian by nature. :)
    I've also found that alkyd oil paints stick fine to leather, are very flexible and giving me a depth of color and translucency I've not achieved any other way. I mix them with automotive and cosmetic pigments--both are similar to pearl ex micas and watercolor/paint pigments.
    If the leather has a very slick finish, you might want to scuff slightly with fine sandpaper.
    Any questions, let me know.
  • @tiara This is a really good overview of some of the methods that work on leather. Thank you very much. Keep in mind that some of our paints work very well on leather. Dye na Flow on porous leather looks great and sinks into the pores of the leather. It works similarly to the alcohol based leather dyes, but it does not fade in the same way as it is archival. It looks especially nice on suede.

    Custom Sneaker painters are using our neopaque, Lumiere, and especially our airbrush paint on leather to great effect. It sticks well and is flexible. Removing the glazes and protecting layers is a must as tiara mentioned. Alcohol and acetone for tougher ones work best.

    @mangkooray You can absolutely use the JSI Jacquard Professional Screen Ink on leather. It self-cures in 72 hours so no need to heat set which preserves the leather. It sticks great to leather and other surfaces too. Plastic, glass, and metal can all be screened with the JSI.