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How to mimic the distressed or mottled look of leather or vinyl?

The mottled or distressed leather look is mostly a matter of technique. The trick is not so much how you apply Rub ‘n Restore® Color, but how you disperse it. You can also thin or strip some of your work, if needed. This video demonstrates.

Video contents:

  • 00:21 – Choosing a print color
  • 01:00 – Preparing your sponge
  • 01:50 – Mixing a diluted glaze
  • 02:16 – Spritz water for chaos and flow
  • 02:50 – Dab and disperse the glaze
  • 04:00 – Erasing (if necessary)
  • 05:00 – Takeaway tips
  • 05:17 – Other techniques for the adventurous!
  • 05:54 – The next afternoon; the matching sofa
  • 06:29 – Rethinking the print color
  • 06:56 – Swiping-dispersing method
  • 07:29 – The following weekend wrap-up
  • 07:55 – Stripping some of my first experimental sections
  • 09:35 – Leather can take a beating and still looks great!

Heidi beautifully demonstrates a sponge and rag technique at minute 3:26 here:

Some tips:

  • Dilute the color with Clear Prep+Finish™ to make a more translucent glaze, especially for greater shade disparities (i.e. printing a dark brown over a light tan).
  • Spritz the surface with a little water to allow the print color to flow and give you more working time.
  • Use one sponge or other tool to apply; a second to disperse and blend. Leave some areas thin or even untouched.
  • Disperse and blend the color before it dries to avoid any harsh lines or marks.
  • Periodically step back and assess the appearance from afar to ensure you’re not overworking any area and getting too monochromatic (solid appearance).
  • Come back with a dirty sponge (but not much glaze) for missed nooks and crannies.
  • For a very defined print over the base color, use a paintbrush to apply Rub ‘n Restore® or the glaze to your sponge. This results in a cleaner, finer print. Saturating the sponge will lay the color on too heavily and therefore obscure more of the base color.
  • For a burnished appearance, concentrate the color along seams, piping / welting, or tufted buttons, and blend outward. 
  • The color will erase more easily from non-absorbent, finished leathers. Try a rag with water or rubbing alcohol. You can also dry or wet sand with 500 grit sandpaper or a ScotchBrite® pad.

Reader Interactions


  1. Brian Noisom says

    I purchased some of your products 30th September 2017. #15036. Just now decided to get started. It’s been unopened. Does it have a shelf life? Can I still use it?

    • lesandre says

      Here’s information about shelf-life. It is a bit old, the mineral pigments will have created a sludge at the bottom, but hopefully you still have your stir stick. Thoroughly stir it to re-grind the pigment, and it should work just fine.

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The Knowledge Hub is a library of articles and videos complied to help our customers complete their DIY leather and vinyl restoration projects.