Vans have been around since the 1960s and have enjoyed several periods in which they were fire and all the rage 🔥. They have been worn by skateboarders, surfers, BMX bikers, and other active types for decades. But in the age of social media, everyone wants to be unique. Store-bought Vans Slip-Ons may no longer cut it for some. That’s why custom painted Vans have gained a lot of popularity in recent years. There are literally thousands of talented artists that specialize in hand making unique Vans for their customers.
That’s why we created The complete guide to buying custom Vans shoes. We gathered resources and a few key questions you should ask yourself or the artist before purchasing your very first pair of handmade Vans online.
What materials are being used for custom Vans?
Of course, artists have the choice of what materials they’d like to use, and every artist is different. But most of the time, artists use certain materials because of the characteristics that make them easy to work with.
Material of the shoe
If you’ll be purchasing custom Vans slip ons, chances are the material is going to be canvas. The reason hand painting slip ons specifically are so common is because canvas is by far the easiest and most broad material to work with. This is because with a material like leather, the manufacturer usually puts a clear varnish over the leather that makes paint really difficult to stick to. But with canvas shoes, the paint glides right onto the material and lasts much longer. It’s still possible to buy personalized leather shoes, the artist just has to go through a bit of a more tedious process when preparing the shoes for paint.
Type of paint
Depending on the type of shoe, leather paint, acrylic paint, spray paint, and paint markers are all options artists can use to design their customized shoes. Some artists even use Sharpie to make their designs! For custom slip ons, acrylic paint is typically used because it is absorbed by the fabric the best and is very durable. Acrylic paint also comes in a variety of different colors, including glitter, which makes it a great option to work with when creating unique, handmade shoes. In the future, we will be doing an article that really dives into this topic, but for now, those are the basis you should know before buying your custom shoes!
Hand painted or printed?
There are essentially two different ways artists can customize your Vans. The first way is hand painted, where the artist themself hand paints the design on the shoe with paint, markers, or other artistic medium. If using acrylic paint, the artist usually preps the shoe with a primer so that there’s a thin layer between the shoe and the paint to prevent cracking. Check out this video to see this artist’s process when hand painting their shoes!
The second way is printed, where you submit a design of your choice to the artist and they print it onto the shoe. This method is popular when customers want designs from tv shows, musicians, and other artists. Although the original design may be originally from an artist, whenever you purchase a pair of printed Vans sneakers, the artwork was placed on the shoe via a mechanical or advanced process.
Usually printed Vans are less expensive than hand painted ones since they are cheaper to produce. That said, this is not always the case. for example, sometimes Vans will produce limited edition prints. These can get real expensive. The artist may also sign the pair, in which case the shoe becomes very pricey.
If you want a design that is more of an artwork style, hand painted is probably the way to go. However, if you’re looking for a very specific design from a movie, tv show, etc, having it printed will be the easiest method. Check out the list of artists down below to see examples of these different methods of customization!
Do your homework before you buy
Just a couple brief notes worth addressing before diving in. Since custom painted Vans shoes are not cheap, you’ll want to spend some time doing a bit of homework.
After you determine the style of shoe, the artist or look you like, and the material you think fits your personal style, you need to do one final thing. That is to ensure you are buying authentic Vans. There are so many ways that knock-offs can be passed off as Vans, so take some time to look at the inside of the shoe for manufacturer’s markings. Examine the soles of the shoes for marks that indicate authentic Vans, and ask the seller or artist for proof of authenticity.
But it’s not just knock-offs! Many times artists use other shoes, not Vans. They look similar, feel similar, but should be priced much lower. Keep this in mind when purchasing. It’s not that these are bad or worse, but if I were buying a pair, I surely wouldn’t want to pay more for an “off brand” pair of shoes.
Don’t forget to check the reviews on the seller and product to make sure you’re purchasing from a reliable source. If there are any reviews that claim the product they received was a knockoff, its best to keep looking! Be sure to check their ratings and see how they have handled negative feedback. Was the customer’s issue resolved? Did they ignore the feedback? These things are important to take into consideration before buying your shoes. Also, if there are negative reviews, is there something consistent people are seeing such as paint chipping, wrong design, or unprofessional customer service? If there is a consistent theme, be sure to message the seller and make sure they can address these issues and ensure you that you won’t have to deal with them.
How much are your custom Vans going to cost?
Back in 2015, the trend for custom Vans shoes had already exploded, and The New York Times did an in-depth report on the industry. Noting that what had started as a novelty had boomed into a “$29 billion market in the U.S. alone.” Stating that consumers were starting to develop an affinity for “one of a kind goods,” it also noted that buyers enjoyed more choice in purchasing. Makers like B Street Shoes, they said, had an average cost of $200 per pair, but they also noted that “artist and designer Dan Gamache started Mache Custom Kicks…[with] a five- to six-month wait for his custom shoes, which range in price from about $300 to $1,000.”
Are these prices still accurate? Current industry figures put the price at $175 to $300 for the average pair, but experts also say prices can still soar into the thousands. Prices often depend on the complexity and whether they are hand-painted. Naturally, a famous artist known for custom Vans shoes will also have a higher price tag.
Where can you buy a pair of custom or hand painted Vans?
If you’re looking for your next pair of hand painted slip ons, you’ll want to find an artist whose style resonates with you. Because there are so many different artists out there, it can be difficult to know where to start. Luckily, we’ve done all the heavy lifting for you and have found some of our favorite designs and most popular artists that you can buy a pair of customs shoes from.
Lucky for you, there are so many different places you can buy your handmade Vans. We’ve broken up the list into three categories: marketplaces and independent websites.
Vans Customs has hundreds of collabs and custom one-off kicks. They call it Vans Customs, and it allows you to customize a wide range of footwear and create “personal and unique designs.” There is a recent spike in demand for these custom Vans, here are just a few:
- Jen Stark – Promoted by Vans, she creates psychedelic inspired kicks customized to the buyer’s needs using the iconic Slip-on and Sk8 Hi models.
- Neck Face – As a California-based artist known for graffiti, his custom Vans use icons from his art against solid backgrounds to create iconic looks. His Sk8 Hi SI vans in black and orange are eye-catching and unforgettable.
- John Van Hamersveld – He has designed for the Vault by Vans line and uses his pop-art inspired style to create boldly colored styles with Andy Warhol inspired looks, including the gorgeous Sunrise/Thundercloud
Marketplaces and social networks are great for a number of reasons. Many marketplaces have review systems and customer service lines that give you assurance that your purchase is safe or if there are any issues with your order that your seller cannot resolve, and social networks have signaling like followers, comments, and sometimes even reviews. These buyer protections, along with the wide variety of styles to choose from, make for a great place to browse and purchase shoes. However, most marketplaces and social networks (like Instagram) charge sellers a percentage of what they make per order, which can be discouraging because the artists don’t get their full income for the pair.
Independent websites and artists are great because you get the professionalism of a website but also get to engage with the artist directly. Independent artists usually take the time to really understand what it is you want and make an effort to work with you and hopefully have you be a returning customer! However, as always, be sure to do your research because not all independent websites are trustworthy.
Is there any benefit to one over the other? Really, the pros and cons are basic and boil down to:
- Choice – If you want an authentic world of choices, you might be better scouring the marketplaces. They are full of artists who create their own designs and who might also create your custom looks. The named sites sell original designs but are often limited to a specific style.
- Buyer protection – A marketplace has less protection for you if you are unhappy with the transaction. There will usually be a process to follow, and it can boil down to a sort of “he said/she said” debate if you want a refund or return. Individual sellers, however, usually have clear-cut policies they follow.
Marketplaces and social network
Here are some of our favorite marketplaces and social networks to purchase custom shoes:
Etsy is an online marketplace where sellers from around the world are able to showcase their work and sell their products in one place. The products sold on Etsy include anything you can think of, including home decor, jewelry, candles, and most importantly, custom shoes!
Some of our printed style favorites here on Etsy include shoes from The Best Custom Kicks, based in Los Angeles, California. They have a unique style, specializing in hand painting famous actors, tv shows, and film on slip on Vans. They also don’t just customize Vans, they work with many other styles of shoes as well! These pairs cost about $125.
Definitely one of our favorite sites for custom painted Vans. They have such a diverse selection of shoes that really allow artists to showcase their designs! They also offer a buyer protection program that can give customers peace of mind when purchasing their shoes.
One of the artists we found here, DarylShoesCustom, is from Maryland and has a very colorful and carefree style, including designs such as butterflies, florals, and neons. Check out these custom pink and blue butterfly slip ons that are one of their bestsellers. He also restores various types of shoes, so keep that in mind as well!
Tony is also an amazing artist all the way from Israel who provides amazing designer patterns for your Vans. Tony’s style is centered around designer patterns like Chanel and Louis Vuitton, so if you’re looking to add a little luxury to your style, definitely check him out! This is another artist who also customizes all different types of shoes, and his collection of designs is very extensive.
Although you can’t buy off of pinterest yet, it’s great for seeing artists designs and getting ideas! Pinterest is a great way to find inspiration for your next pair of custom shoes.
Artby_peaches is based in New Mexico and has extremely detailed designs! She specializes in customizing slip on Vans, so if you’re in the market for slip ons, be sure to check her out!
Customshoes.uk sells custom shoes on her Instagram and her Depop account. She has beautiful, simple yet expensive looking designs with a variety of shoe styles!
Sko.kicks is an artist that is based in Tennessee and has great reviews on their stories! Their designs have beautiful colors, pastels and brights, that are a great expression of style and personality.
Artfire has a similar vibe to Etsy as they are an online handmade marketplace. They have different shops and boutiques for different categories of products! We really only found one big seller of customized shoes on here, WenArtWork, but we thought they were worth mentioning because they have a super wide selection that you should definitely check out!
Independent artists and websites
Another great source of handmade shoes are independent websites. A few of them are:
Chad Can’t Color is a website run by someone named Chad who is an extremely talented artist. He offers a wide variety of shoe styles as well as designs! These rose tattoo Vans retail for $235 and are one of my personal favorites.
B Street Shoes is a company run by 4 male artists from california. They offer over 200 unique designs, with a variety of different shoe styles to choose from. These pastel ombre gradient shoes are absolutely stunning, I might even buy them myself!
Alepel Hand Painted Shoes is a women’s only brand that unfortunately doesn’t offer the Vans brand, but they do offer hand painted slip ons. This brand was founded in 2014 and offers a more sophisticated style of shoe. Check out these adorable mule style “Love” slip ons!
NykeriaShoes offers a wide selection of slip ons that are inspired by cartoons! These Simpsons inspired shoes have amazing detail and vibrancy to the design. This artist also treats all their shoes with an additional sealant coating that makes them waterproof and dirt resistant.
My Painted Shoes offers hand painted canvas slip ons with new designs every month! They offer slip on, high top, and low top sneakers. They also have a special section just for anime sneakers, so if you’re an anime lover, definitely check it out!
Those are just a few of the amazing designers and artists out there, but there are hundreds more than we don’t have time to go in depth about, including:
Make your own customs!
An alternative to buying from marketplaces or independent sellers is simply to create your own. Whether you have a natural artistic talent or are looking to practice, creating your own customs can be a fun and productive hobby. If you’re planning on painting your shoes, all you really need is acrylic paint. We have personally found that the DecoArt Americana type of paint is the best when working with canvas shoes. The Craft Smart acrylic paint option also has very good reviews while still being an affordable option.
How to care for your custom shoes
Now that you’ve taken the leap and bought your first pair, how do you take care of them and keep your painted sneakers clean?? If the rubber part or canvas is dirty, simply take a small toothbrush and some warm, soapy water and gently scrub the dirt away. You can also purchase a liquid sealer such as the Vans water and stain shield to prevent different unwanted substances from staining your shoes. You can also check out this article for a little more information about sealing shoes.
Good luck out there!
Now that you’ve reached the end of the article, we hope all of your custom Vans buying questions were answered. Don’t forget to look out for future articles on our website that discuss this topic further!