The Colors Inside Beige, Taupe and Other Neutrals – Dying Suede Shoes with Acrylic Paint

I mixed acrylic paint with water to create the neutral color of these suede shoes. The original suede was a light pearl gray. Notice how the paint settled after a few days to reveal the amount of identifiable hues in the taupe color. Shaking the jar resulted in the neutral shoe color of these oxfords. See the note below for directions.

Tan, taupe, beige, mushroom, sandstone, putty and stone are just a few of the names for light neutral colors. Think of a neutral color and if you are new to color mixing, you might think of a neutral as brown mixed with white. And you can get a typical version of a neutral from that combination.

But here’s the thing about a neutral color. Neutrals can be the result of a surprising blend of colors. And a “good” neutral, one that works with or complements a wide variety of colors often has some distinct colors as part of the mix.

The photo of the suede shoes with a bottle of paint shows you the neutral paint color I obtained after mixing together a variety of colors then painting them on the suede.  After painting the shoes I saved the remaining color in a bottle. A few days later I was surprised to see how much the colors had separated within the water mixture. Note the small layers of red and gold at the bottom, then the majority of green-brown earth tone with a blue layer topped by a beautiful light bright layer of sky blue.

This example showing the color ingredients behind a neutral paint color is a visual explanation of the mixture of colors that can be present in a lovely neutral. This quality is especially important for neutral wall paint colors as they are exposed to different levels and colors of light throughout the day and their base colors can become more or less prominent depending upon the light quality.


Directions to Color Suede Shoes at Home

Note: Embrace the randomness of this process and hope you like the result (or learn to) as it is PERMANENT. You may get permanent water stains or blossoms (as some watercolorists call them) on your suede item.

You will need:

  • Artists acrylic paints (in the tube or jar)
  • palette knife (for mixing paint)
  • stir stick or kitchen whisk (for mixing it with the water)
  • water
  • painters tape to mask off areas you don’t want to paint (find this in any hardware store)
  • a large soft brush and a fan brush for applying the color (or whichever type of brush you prefer)
  • Note: Acrylic paint colors I used are: White, Cadmium Red Light, Thalo Red, Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre, Quinacridone Gold, Thalo green, Burnt Sienna
  • New (or very clean) light-colored suede item.
  • Hairdryer to dry shoes.

What to do:

  • Use the painters tape to cover and protect any areas of the suede shoes you don’t want to paint. This only works on things like the soles or hardware. The color will bleed under the tape if you try to section off parts of the suede.
  • Mix together a color you like. I began with artists acrylic paint, creating about 3 or 4 tablespoons of color. I mixed the final color with about 20 ounces of water.
  • Note: when mixing the color, keep in your mind the color you are covering as it will effect the outcome. Do a small test if possible.
  • Saturate your brush with the watery color mixture and apply from one end of the suede item to another without stopping (any distractions may ruin the color flow and leave water lines). BE SURE to not be too wet as this may cause watermarks. Too dry and the color won’t be even on the item. Applying the color is tricky. The idea is to not go back and retouch an area, but to get all of the color down the first time and dry it all at the same time.
  • NOTE: The paint MUST be very watery to not negatively effect the texture of the suede. Too little water will result in smoothing out the texture of the suede.

That’s it!! Hope it all works out. I’d love to hear from anyone who tries this.



  1. Kate says:

    This is a great illustration of the colors that make up such a neutral color – love it! I’ve seen something like this before – it might have been in colorA2Z but I’m not sure.

  2. Cortney says:

    Will this make the shoes stiff?

    Can I dye a lighter, or differing color over a dark one?

    I have some dark olive suede boots I want to turn dark blue / purple

    • cristina says:

      The shoes were not stiff. If the paint is too thick the shoes will become stiff. It’s tricky. Maybe you could find suede items at a thrift store to practice on. You have to dye darker than the existing color as the paint mixture has to be thin and transparent to keep the shoes from becoming stiff.

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