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

A marbled or distressed appearance is easily mimicked with a damp sponge and a spray bottle of water. You can work with one color or two. Most folks simply play up the difference between the original stained or faded color and the new color by applying one thin coat to the entire piece and then printing or stippling additional coats on 80-90% of the surface.

The trick is not so much how you apply a new finish, 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!

Some tips:

  • Dilute Color with Clear Prep+Finish™ to make a glaze. This makes the color more transparent and easier to blend, especially with noticeably different colors (i.e. printing a dark brown over a light tan).
  • Spritz the surface with a little water to allow the color or glaze to follow a natural chaos. It also increases your working time before the color begins to dry.
  • Use one sponge to apply; use 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 the color or 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.

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

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  1. 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?

    • 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.

  2. Can I use a turquoise color/turquoise glaze to change a color and then go over it with a splotchy black glaze to create an antiqued finish or in specific areas or would the black glaze cover the turquoise? Trying to acheive a look like how some chesterfields have a blacked buttons/seems but an underlying color throughout the main body. Basically are there any instruction of creating a marbled/antique look using two non-browns and might have more contrast between them than brown? Any instructions on blending if doing tuft/seem work? I’m debating whether to order midnight blue and do a solid or turquois with black marbling/seem antiquing because I think that will darken the turquoise’s brightness

    • Yes, you can do almost anything you want. If you don’t want the black to obscure the turquoise then use your sponge to do a printed appearance or concentrate it on tufting and buttons, seams, or piping to create a burnished look.

    • The second video on this page (Heidi from BabeCave TV) shows a Stone base with a Slate printing over the top. If you don’t want a color as dark as Slate, just modify the Stone with a little Slate (for a cooler grey) or Espresso (for a warmer grey).

  3. Hi Lesandre. I put a re-coloring balm on a non-absorbent leather couch. It quickly rubbed off (on my light haired dog). Do I need to use a specific type of re-coloring balm or can I lightly scuff it up. I did try and sand the matching chair with very fine sand paper and it seems to be holding up much better, but the dog hasn’t gone on that one so I don’t know if it’s just that it gets less use.

    • If your leather is non-absorbent, it is finished leather, and a balm is not going to penetrate. But a new finish (like ours) will correct the issue. Dog claws are more like 220 grit sandpaper, and will damage a finish over time, such that they’ll require touch-up, which is easy. See here about matching color.


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