Nike Air Force 1s are one of the most famous and trendy shoes ever created. Initially gaining popularity for their stylish designs, they are a long-lasting brand because of their durability, excellent material, and comfort. It’s no wonder that we’re drawn to them and sometimes feel like every one of our friends has at least one pair. That’s why we want to discuss a handful of ways on how to customize and hand paint your Nike Air Force 1s (AF1s).
With everyone on the street or the mall or any place out wearing the same shoes, it can be hard to make yours stand out or look unique, right? Not anymore! There are tons of customization techniques out there now, and you can pick any depending on the look you’re going for or whatever art style you like more. In this post, we’ll be introducing you to some of the more well-known, comfortable, and versatile customization methods, and you can decide for yourself which one you like best.
Brief side note: Customizing Vans, Converse, or Adidas instead?
If you’re looking to customize your Vans, Converse, or Adidas, we have a few recent articles we’ve written just for this:
- How to customize Vans slip-ons
- How to hand paint your Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars
- How to customize Adidas Sneaks
Getting the AF1 shoes
Before we move on to the different methods of giving your shoes that personal flair or that funky look, it’s vital to get the shoes of your choice first since you’ll be spending time and effort on them along with some money. So, you mustn’t regret your shoe choice later and get something you really like. In the Air Force 1’s there are three main options:
- Low-top: This is a classic AF1 design, which is a must-have for any sneaker lover. They’re simple and go with anything you’re wearing, especially when your attire is everyday wear or casual.
- Mid-top: Mid-tops come with a connected strap and provide an extra grip to your feet. They’re great for a chic and casual look, which also has some added street style and punk to it.
- High-top: A relatively new design of the Air Force 1 line, they’re the perfect shoes not just for sports but also for customization! They provide a larger, blank canvas on which you can work and pour out your imagination. The large space also makes it easier for any design you draw to be visible.
You can find all these designs at Nike’s online store and order from there. The best thing about these models is that if you don’t feel like doing any customization yourself, you can get it done at Nike By You. You can choose ‘edit design’, after which you’ll be given a bunch of options, select anyone, follow the steps and see a live update of your design on your shoes. Once you’re done, your customized shoes will be delivered at your doorstep in a few weeks.
All the different ways to personally tailor your shoes
Once you’ve decided on your AF1s, it’s time to move on to the main part, discovering the different ways you can customize that shoe and then start working on it as soon as you’re sure of what you want to do.
There are several other things you could try, you just have to consider the final vibe you want from your shoes. A semi-formal look? A decorative look? An artistic look or something funky? For each of these styles, there’s a method that you could apply and we’re here to introduce you to some of those amazing ideas.
Do you like painting? The feel of a paintbrush? The satisfaction when the strokes are just right and even? If yes, keep reading! And if not, read our post on buying custom sneakers. It gives you complete control over each and every line and dot on your shoe, the design you draw, a character or some landscape, and most importantly, the possibilities with it are endless.
- Different sized paint brushes
- Prep solution (Use Angelus Leather prepper and deglazer or 100% Acetone nail paint remover)
- Painters tape
- Acrylic Leather paints
- Acrylic Finisher
- Duller (optional)
- A sharp blade (to cut stencils, tape, etc.)
- Heat gun/ Blow Dryer
Cover the parts of your shoes you don’t want any paint over (like the soles) with tape. After this, draw or stencil out your design using either tape (covering in tape and then gradually removing parts you want to paint) or graphite paper. Take your colors and apply thin, even coats of your paints on your shoe. You’ll need 4-5 layers at least, and you need to dry each layer with a heat gun or blow dryer before moving on to the next. In the end, just apply your 1-2 coats of the finisher to prevent the paint from chipping, and you’re done!
You can paint your favorite cartoon or anime character over your shoes and add a unique item to your merchandise like this:
Or if you lean more towards nature drawings or traditional art, you could paint that! And you’ll find tons of videos with detailed tutorials on what to do. You could also go for more groovy designs and mix up a bunch of things.
For a detailed and easy to follow tutorial, check out Angelus Shoe Polish’s video in which John from wreck creation does a fabulous job of explaining the process.
So maybe you’re not that good at detailed painting or applying smooth strokes, but you still want an intricate design with proper attention to detail. Or maybe you want a gradual fade design with a subtle mixing of the colors, nothing too harsh or defined. What do you do then? Airbrushing of course! It’s pretty fun and straightforward to do and requires just a little, one-time investment in an airbrush.
- Acrylic paints
- Prep solution to remove factory finish (Angelus leather prepper and deglazer or 100% acetone nail paint remover)
- Angelus 2-thin
- Brush cleaner solution (to clean your airbrush at the end or when switching colors)
- Masking tape
- Matte-Acrylic Finisher
Except for the areas that you want to airbrush over, cover the rest with masking tape and stencil out any areas or defined borders inside of which you’d like to paint. For airbrushing, your paint’s consistency must be just right, not too thick but not too thin either, closer to milk’s consistency. You can use Pour this in your airbrush and start spraying over your shoes. Don’t rush it; go slowly and try to be as precise as possible. Once the paint dries, remove the tape and apply 1-2 coats of your finisher to bind it all together. Enjoy your new Air Force One kicks!
Airbrushing is usually used when a smooth blending of colors is required, like painting the colors of the sunset, the cosmos, or the ocean.
However, with the proper stenciling, you can even draw on characters or more complicated designs. DeJesus Custom Footwear explains the complete airbrushing and stenciling process in a video with Angelus Shoe Polish which could help you a lot when you start airbrushing your shoes.
If you’re not looking for any specific design and just want a funky pop of some completely random colors or maybe a few colors whose combination you like, hydro dipping is the way to go! It’s easy, fun, takes very little time, and the results are amazing
- Making or electrical tape
- Acrylic spray paints
- A tub of water
- A blade to cut the tape
- All surface primer
- Acrylic varnish spray
In hydro dipping, you’ll be completely submerging your shoes in the water with paint, so you must cover the soles, edges, etc. completely with the tape. After that, spray some primer over it, which will help the paint stick on the sneaker’s surface better. Now fill a tub with water and spray your acrylic spray paints on top in a random fashion. Once a nice, even layer forms, dip your shoes upside-down into the water. Dip them slowly and keep them underwater for a while. Once you take them out, remove the excess paint, let them dry, and then remove the tape. At the end spray your varnish over the shoes to give them a finishing touch.
Sam Alxr’s video on this topic is both fun and easy and worth the watch.
You can use hydro dipping to develop a cool theme on your shoes, like representing ocean waves or a forest.
Or you could go for some completely random, mismatched colors. The results would still be pretty stunning.
Lots of us are used to holding a pen, I mean we’ve been using it to write since we were what 3 or 4? Moreover, who hasn’t done some casual doodling every now and then? Maybe in some boring class or just when you were free and had a pen and paper nearby. Wouldn’t it be great if you could do that on shoes too? Well, now you can! By using sharpies, you could very easily draw anything you want, it can be some little crazy patterns or a proper sketch, whatever you want.
- Paint based sharpie
You can either start by drawing a rough sketch of your design over your shoes using a lead pencil, or you can move straight to the sharpies and start drawing your pattern. Either way, you just have to color over your shoes using a sharpie, and since they’re waterproof, you don’t have to worry about the color bleeding or washing off!
Many people use sharpies to make proper, organized patterns and are particularly useful for tie and dye looks or swirl designs.
However, sharpies are most useful when it comes to making some funky doodles as Shrimpy does in his youtube video.
Crystal on AF1s
Shiny, sparkly things are always attractive and with the glitter trends in the past few years, adding some bling to your everyday wear has become quite popular. So if you want to bedazzle your shoes with some rhinestones or Swarovski crystals, read on.
- Rhinestones, Swarovski crystals, or fake mini diamonds (You can order these online)
- E6000 glue or any strong industrial glue
On your shoes, roughly mark out the area you want crystals over using a pencil. After this, start applying glue to small sections and carefully place your crystals or diamonds on top using the tweezers. It’s important to apply the glue in small patches and not over the entire area at once, or else it might dry and your crystals won’t stick properly. Let the glue dry completely and your shoes are ready to wear!
You can follow Sophiesophss’s YouTube video to see the simple pattern she makes or you could decide on your own pattern and use crystals of different shapes, sizes, and colors to form a unique and personal pattern for yourself.
A drip pattern using crystals looks pretty cool too.
Studs, although not as famous as they once were, are still a favorite of our emo and more punk style people. So let’s dive straight into how you could customize your AF1s with studs.
- Metal toothpicks (one thin and one slightly thicker)
- Match stick
- Spikes (7x10mm)
- Metal studs
Light up your candle and heat the tip of the thinner toothpick over it. Now use this heated toothpick to poke through the holes in the front of your AF1s, you have to thoroughly go through them and widen them a bit. After this use the thicker toothpick to widen the holes further. Once you’ve done this take your studs and pass them through the holes (from the inside out), and twist your spikes around these metal studs until they’re firmly in position and don’t budge. Repeat this process for all the holes and then rock on your now studded AF1’s. For a better understanding of the process do check out SamAlxr’s video explaining just this process.
Studs are spiky, cool, and give you a badass star-studded look, what’s not to like?
But if you’re not big on spikes and want something mild and more on the cute side, these star-studded iconic Nikes are just for you.
What should you do now?
Now that you have the know-how of different customization techniques and materials required, as well as a general idea of the amount of effort or time different customizations take, you should pick out which style interests you the most and get on with making your personalized shoes. You can also combine different techniques e.g. you could airbrush some night sky colors on your shoes and then add some scarce crystals on top. The possibilities are endless!
Also, keep in mind that you should properly clean your new customized Nike Air Force 1 sneakers to get the most out of it and enjoy them for more time!