One of the most annoying things when starting a project is realizing you don't have everything you need to finish. Well, worry no more - here are the 45 essentials that will get you through any shoe customizing project! Each number is color coded (some are dual-coded) with what projects (any, canvas, leather, cleats/ plastic, and mesh) you may need these items for. We'll not only tell you what you might need, we'll also tell you which brands to buy and where to purchase. One note, these items do not cover restorations or sole/ material swaps.
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1. Desk lamp. $19.99 on Amazon. Having good lighting is key for viewing your work and doing detail touch-ups.
2. Paper towels. Costco, Target, Walmart, etc. There will be a lot of messes. I also use paper towels to wipe my brushes and make sure the previous color is off of it before dipping into a new color. Can also be used as shoe stuffing or with tape to mask off large areas prior to airbrushing.
3. Cotton pads or balls. Target, Walmart, Walgreens, etc. I use these with deglazer or acetone (19) to remove the factory finish. You can also use a rag or cloth instead of cotton.
4. Precise cotton swabs. Target, Walmart, Walgreens, etc. Get the ones with the precise tips so that you can get into small crevices and corners. I use these during every degalzing/ acetone (19) to get in the detail areas. I also use them to clean my airbrush (45).
5. Tape. Masking tape, $6 painter's tape at Just1 Shoes, $8.95 vinyl tape at Angelus, and duct tape at Home Depot, Lowe's, etc. I couldn't find a good place to buy no-residue see through masking tape, so we're looking into sourcing our own. Masking tape is used for areas where you need to cut around a shape (such as a swoosh) but is a bit more expensive. Painter's tape is your cheapest option and should be used by default anywhere. Vinyl tape is stretchy and sticky and is best for taping soles and sock liners. Duct tape I have found is very good for sock liners, but does leave a residue if left on for too long.
6. Cutting mat. $10.68 on Amazon. Perfect surface for cutting out shapes to make stencils or cutting your vinyl sheets (40) or transfer paper (39) from the roll.
8. Heat gun. $19.98 on Amazon. A must for paints that need to be heat set on canvas or mesh. Also will help reduce dry times between coats. Be careful when using a heat gun because it can burn the paint or deform your vinyl stencils very easily.
9. Hair dryer. Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc. This is my go-to for drying between coats. It doesn't have heat that can burn paint like the heat gun and it has more air velocity.
10. Detail sander. $39.97 at Home Depot. You can get away with a much cheaper (~$20) detail or palm sander, but I chose this one because it was a lot smaller and I trust Ryobi. Use this during the preparation phase while working on cleats. First deglaze with a scuff pad, then sand with 400-600, then 800, then 1400-1600 grit with your sander. Deglaze again to remove debris. Mask areas and 2 coats of adhesion promoter (13) and you're ready for paint. Bonus: video by DeJesus Custom Footwear.
11. Finisher. $4.07 Acrylic Finisher by Angelus, $10.67 Krylon Matte Finish Spray at Amazon, $3 DecoArt Matte Medium, $5.95 Water & Stain Repellent by Angelus (not pictured). Angelus acrylic finisher is a paint-on solution and is best on leather (can be used on canvas). Krylon spray finisher or Angelus water & stain repellent are best on canvas, mesh, and suede, but can be used on anything. DecoArt matte medium is a budget-minded finisher for canvas projects.
12. Gesso. $5 at Just1 Shoes. Used to prime canvas if using acrylic paints.
13. Adhesion promoter. $15.97 SEM Sand Free on Amazon, $24.16 Bulldog Adhesion Promoter on Amazon. Used on plastic parts or cleats. After deglazing/ acetone and sanding, use 1-2 coats of adhesion promoter immediately prior to painting so that the paint will stick better.
14. Jacquard airbrush paints. $5.75 at King of Sneakers. My go-to for airbrushing. Can be used on all materials. Cleats and plastic must be prepped by sanding first. Must be heat-set after painting. Bonus: check out our Angelus vs Jacquard vs Generic Paints article.
15. Acrylic paints. $15 12 color paint set at Just1 Shoes. Lots of colors and .75oz per color means this set will last you multiple projects. Used on canvas and must be primed with gesso (12) prior to painting.
16. Shoe cleaner. $14.85 Angelus Shoe Cleaner, $12.98 Reshovn8r (not pictured), and $16 Jason Markk (not pictured). We trust these brands but anything you buy will probably work just fine. I only work on new shoes so I don't use this very much.
17. Cup for water. Costco, Target, Walmart, etc. I actually have a glass jar I like to use but I lost it. You'll need some water to rinse your brushes.
18. Revolving cake stand. $9.95 on Amazon. Great for easily spinning the shoes you want to paint. I use it mostly for airbrushing and taking boomerangs of my finished work for Instagram.
19. Acetone/ deglazer. $3.95 Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer, ~$6 acetone at Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc. Use acetone or deglazer with cotton balls/pads/swabs or a rag to remove factory coating on leather and cleats/plastic. Once the surface is sticky/tacky, you're ready to paint.
20. 2-thin. $2.95 at Angelus. Use at 1:4 ratio with normal Angelus paints (26) when airbrushing.
21. GAC-200 or 2-hard. $12.86 gac-200 at Amazon, $4.10 2-hard at Angelus. Mixed at 1:1 ratio with normal Angelus paints when painting on plastic or other hard surfaces (no need to mix for cleats though) that are flexible. 3:1 2-hard:paint for rigid surfaces.
22. GAC-900 or 2-soft. $12.13 gac-900 at Amazon, $4.10 2-soft at Angelus. Mixed at 1:1 ratio with normal Angelus paints for canvas or mesh. If you are airbrushing canvas or mesh, you can add 2-soft and you don't need 2-thin.
23. Jacquard textile paints. $32.99 for 8-pack textile neons on Amazon . Use for canvas. Other Jacquard lines are Dye-Na-Flow line for canvas, sock liner, suede, or mesh, Neopaque or Lumiere lines for leather, canvas, plastic, or rubber, and the Airbrush Color line for, you guessed it: airbrush.
24. Angelus Leather Dye. $3.95 at Angelus. Used on suede or mixed with Sole Bright (25) to dye icy or clear soles. There are a lot of other products out there, so do your research. I just haven't used any of the other ones.
26. Angelus leather paints. $2.95 at Angelus. If you're just getting started, we recommend purchasing one or more of their kits. Best colors in the business and adaptability to work on any shoe surface. Bonus: check out our Angelus vs Jacquard vs Generic Paints article.
27. 1oz mixing jars. $12.99 16-pack on Amazon. Perfect for mixing colors or adapting paint with 2-thin, 2-soft, or 2-hard and then sealing so it won't dry out. Can be easily washed and re-used.
28. Popsicle sticks. Amazon, Michael's, Walmart, Target, etc. Used for mixing paints and during masking to get tape in areas your fingers won't fit.
29. Craft Knife Set. $17.99 on Amazon. X-acto knife used for cutting tape, stencils, stitching, and whatever else needs something very sharp.
30. Palette. $6 at Just1 Shoes. For mixing paints. Can be washed and used again.
31. Fingertip Craft Knife. $3.97 on Amazon. Very handy for those detail cuts.
32. Cutting Machine. $194 Silhouette Cameo 3 on Amazon. Another good cutter is the $212.94 Cricut Explore Air 2. This is the home machine for creating stencils. Bonus: view our Complete Guide to Using Stencils for more detail on stencils.
33. Pencil and eraser. Amazon, Target, Walmart, Walgreens, etc. Used to lightly sketch artwork.
34. Rulers. $2.69 tape ruler on Amazon, $5.95 6" and 12" clear rulers on Amazon. I use the tape ruler around edges and to determine the size to make my stencils. Clear rulers are better than wood or metal ones because you can see the lines you made underneath it.
35. Weeding tool kit. $12.29 on Amazon. Used to weed your stencils. I use the flattening tool a LOT to make sure stencils are completely flush onto the shoe and to put the vinyl (40) onto the transfer paper (39). Bonus: view our Complete Guide to Using Stencils for more detail on stencils.
37. Foam stipplers. $7.20 on Amazon or any art store (such as Michael's). Used for applying paint over stencils or applying paint to mesh faster than a brush (on large areas).
38. Painting mask respirator. $18.24 on Amazon. A must have for airbrushing and using any airborne or harsh chemicals. Even though you don't see paint on yourself or your clothing, small bits are getting in your lungs. An absolute must for when using adhesion promoter (13) or spray on finisher (11) (and it's best you do these two things outside). You should also wear a mask when using acetone. Disposable face masks won't do in the long run - go buy this!
39. Transfer paper. $15.99 for 50' roll at Amazon. When you make a stencil that has thin sections or parts that need to be kept spaced relative to each other, you need to first transfer the vinyl onto transfer paper. Bonus: view our Complete Guide to Using Stencils for more detail on stencils.
40. Vinyl. $7.96 12"x10' Oracal 651 Vinyl at Amazon. Oracal 651 has the perfect tackiness and thickness for shoe customizing stencils. Bonus: view our Complete Guide to Using Stencils for more detail on stencils.
41. Scissors. $8.00 2-pack on Amazon. You will be cutting a lot of tape and vinyl stencils.
42. Airbrush cleaner. $6.60 on Amazon. Used to clean the paint out of your airbrush between colors or after use.
43. Airbrush clean pot. $13.90 3-in-1 Cleaning Pot on Amazon. Between colors or after use, add cleaner and spray excess into the pot. This is how you "rinse" your airbrush.
44. Airbrush holder. $10.50 on Amazon. Holds your airbrush and clamps onto the edge of your table.
45. Airbrush + compressor. $137.18 Iwata Eclipse on Amazon, $96.99 Pointzero Airbrush Compressor on Amazon. The Eclipse gives very good control over pressure (press down on trigger) and how much paint comes out (pull back on trigger) at an affordable price. A lot of customizers I've talked to have waited until 40-50% off one item coupons from Michael's or other big art stores. You may also want to consider bottom feed airbrushes for quicker paint container swaps.
46. Latex (or butyl) gloves (not pictured). Latex gloves 100 pack $13.99 size S, $13.98 size M, $8.70 size L on Amazon. $28.87 butyl gloves on Amazon. I added gloves to my list after I got a comment about using acetone. Yes, it is a hazardous compound that can cause skin and eye irritation and headaches, nausea, dizziness, and even unconsciousness if inhaled. But, it is not a carcinogen, as some may believe. Read more here. Because of the dangers, we recommend using latex (NOT nitrile) gloves for no longer than 10 minutes before throwing them out and using a new pair. To be extra safe, use butyl gloves and rinse after use and check there are no holes after each use. The butyl gloves are thick and hard to use, so you probably will want to use a cloth instead of cotton balls to apply the acetone. Also, be sure to use a respirator (38) if you have one whenever handling acetone.
I hope everyone enjoyed this overview of my shoe customizing work bench! Actually, that reminds me, I'm using just a simple 6' fold up table ($48.18 at Walmart), plastic table lining ($18.99 Hoffmaster plastic table roll at Amazon), and carpet plastic protector ($34.99 at Amazon). Please comment below with your feedback and any other items or brands that you use!