FAQ: How do you paint old suitcases?

Now that I’ve realized that I can add a decorative design on the painted suitcases; I foresee a FLURRY of them.  And if one person wants to know ‘how I do it’; a lot more probably want to know too!  Here’s how “I” paint the old suitcases:

FIRST: Select the suitcase you plan to paint wisely!  DO NOT try to paint a canvas or cloth-covered suitcase.  It will just soak up the paint like a sponge!.  Avoid shiny vinyl or patent leather too.  If you plan to add a design, look for a case that has a fairly flat top or bottom.  IF you plan on actually USING the suitcase for anything other than just decorative purposes, don’t forget to check the INSIDE to be sure it’s clean and not ‘stinky’.  (sometimes old stuff gets VERY smelly! )

SECOND:  CLEAN it with a good degreasing soap and let dry overnight.


If you  just want it a different color and don’t plan on painting or stenciling on a design, spray paint is fine.  Read this post to see several that I spray painted in the past.

As you can see in all these pictures, I just PAINT RIGHT OVER all the locks and hinges when I paint.  they always still work just fine afterward.  Sometimes though I DO need to run a blade along the rim between the top and bottom before I can open it for the first time, as the paint has caused a ‘seal’.  IF you want to avoid that possibility you can put painters tape along the rim before you paint, and cover your locks with painters tape if you don’t want them to be painted over.  Another option is to SAND OFF the paint from the locks afterwards.

If you want a color that does not come in a spray can, you can use latex wall paint or acrylic craft paint.  BUT FIRST you will need to PRIME IT.  The easiest way to prime is with a spray on primer. I use KILZ brand.  Just spray on a quick light coat and let dry.

Then start painting.  It will take a good 2 coats to get full coverage and you’ll have to paint it ‘in sections’.  I usually paint a suitcase over the course of a day, and just leave it on my work table.  Going back to it to paint more now and then throughout the day; in between other craft projects or house work.  Be very sure an area is DRY before you flip it to paint the other side.

Once completely dry, you can add your decorative element, stencil, stamp or freehand paint.  You could even decoupage on a design.  Once your design is done and dry, you can use a spray on varnish if  desired.


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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great, informative post, Thank you so much for sharing.
    Warm Hugs,

  2. Does the paint interfere with how the latches and locks will work? Does the paint come off in these areas if you try to open the suitcase?

    • I have been ale to open and re-close all the suitcases that I’ve painted without any problem. Sometimes I’ve had to run a knife along the ‘seam’ where the top and bottom come together to ‘break the seal’ that paint has created. Probably, with a lot of repeated use, the paint WILL chip/wear off the latches. I’ve not gotten to that point. But HEY, it would just ADD to the shabby look! Taping off those parts is certainly an option for those who want to do the extra work and preserve maximum functionality.


  3. Have you had the problem that the painted suitcase gets “glue” to itself or whatever surface is on. I painted mine and it seems to glue itself to everything. I also had the problem where lid and bottom seal itself and i fix it by sanding a bit the edges.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  4. What kind of paint did you use? (Not the spray paint)

  5. i have a suitcase in my garage that i bought at auction, sitting,waiting for me to paint. it’s not in the best of shape( should have checked it out more closely) so i’ve been a little intimidated to get started. ive been following you for a few years,just signed up today though. words can’t express my admiration and graditude for all your info, inspiration, and ideas! think i will tackle that suitcase soon!

  6. Where did you find the word Paris and the design underneath?

    • I have stencils that I use for that.


  7. is there some where i can purchase the stencils like that ?

  8. I have several on-line sources that I buy my stencils from. I cannot specifically tell you which one I bought where; but I do share my stencil suppliers here on my blog. You’ll need to use the search button and may need to dig a little to find them though.


  9. I have tried to redo several of these suitcases, and i problem i keep running into is the handle being sticky. The handles are made of like….a hard rubber??? I am guessing thats what it is…so i was curious if you had a problem with this and also the rubber trim as well?? I know this is an old post so i hope someone helps please i am desperate….thanks and have a great day ♡

    • Keri, I have not run into that problem, so I’m not sure what to tell you. I suppose the BEST remedy is to not buy old suitcases that have sticky handles in the first place. PRE-cycling (carefully picking and choosing the items you re-do)is an important aspect of upcycling. You can try cleaning the handles with a GOOD de-greaser, then using a good primer (like KILZ) on the handle before you paint it. aj

  10. The inside of my old suitcase is vinyl-like fabric; it is blue ; we’re shooting for purple. So should I prime it and use purple acrylic; or fabric paint (though it feels more like vinyl). The outside will be great just as you instructed but feel insecure about the inside!

    • I have never painted the insides of a suitcase, so I really cannot advise you in this regard. Is there a ‘not very visible’ area that you can test paint before you do the whole inside? But! A good primer ‘should’ prep just about ANY surface for painting with acrylic paint. As far as I know though, fabric paint is ONLY for painting fabric. Please let me know how this works out for you!1 aj

  11. I have just spray painted three vintage cases that are the faux looking blue leather (I think everyone had them at some point), and while the paint seems to be dry, it’s still very tacky and it’s been close to 24 hours since I sprayed them. Any suggestions on what I may need to do differently?

    • It sounds to me like maybe there was some oily residue on the suitcases and the spray paint is ‘activating’ it. Sorry, but I have no idea how to remedy something like this. All you can really do is give it more time or remove the sprayed on paint.


  12. Another way to avoid painting the hinges, latches and/or handle instead of painters tape is to first paint them with rubber cement. Just peel it off when the paint has “set” but not dried.

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