The Internet is filled with tutorials for fixing scratches on leather chairs and sofas- I know because I read at least a half-dozen of them when I adopted my leather Broyhill armchair from Craigslist. In excellent condition other than surface scratches, this find from the free section of Craigslist was well worth the short drive out to one of Seattle’s swankier suburbs. More comfortable and sturdier than the budget furniture in most stores, this Broyhill armchair was perfect – except for the scratches.
While rehabbing this chair, I first tried one or two tutorials I found for refreshing the dye. Tested on inconspicuous spots, I wasn’t impressed with the results. The problem is, when you add a new coat of dye, you dye not only the scratches but also the surrounding area darker – so scratches aren’t removed so much as they are just darker scratches on a darker surface. After two attempts at failing with re-dying, I began experimenting.
Most of us are familiar with those markers and crayons designed to hide blemishes on wood furniture, I wondered if a marker that had a similar makeup to the formulas used in leather dye could make it possible to color only the scratch. With a precision application, could it be possible to make only the scratches darker, evening the tone overall and helping them blend into the backdrop invisibly? I set out to try.
Leather dye is generally alcohol-based, so any alcohol marker with a wide range of brown tones available would be the best candidate for substituting a marker for leather dye. Thankfully, I had my case of art markers nearby and decided to give them a shot. Although it took a bit of testing to match my chair’s leather color to a brown in the Copic color line, Color E57 and E59 were a PERFECT match to the original finish on my armchair (portions of my chair where the distressed leather was a bit darker need the slightly darker marker color). Here’s how I did it:
Supplies I used:
Picking a Color
First, and the hardest part, was matching colors. This method works great but totally depends on getting an accurate- or very close to accurate- color match. Copic markers aren’t cheap to experiment with, however, the wide range of various tones and shades of tan and brown make it a great choice for this repair project- and a small fraction of the price of having the leather professionally repaired.
Thankfully, there’s an excellent Copic color charts online that should help you narrow down which color would be best. You can find most colors with free shipping here. When in doubt, go a little bit darker on the marker shade – you can always dilute the pigment with rubbing alcohol but it’s very difficult to make a darker (a second coat can make a small difference, but not much.)
Copic also has the materials available to make a custom color marker- if you are trying to repair a sofa with a custom shade of leather such as dark red or purple, you can try mixing reds/purples and browns to create your own custom scratch-coverup marker.
One marker should be enough to do a badly scratched armchair, but if you are repairing a couch or a couch, loveseat, and chair set you may need to order an ink refill to keep the dye flowing from the marker into the porous leather.
Fixing the Scatches
Second, the actual coloring in of the scratches is super-easy: Just use the fine tip end of the marker to color in scratches, avoiding getting ink on the undamaged leather.
Take time to go slowly. You’ll want to hold the marker against the scratch for a few seconds at a time. Simply wiping the marker across the surface will make a visible difference, but for best results, you want to let the ink flow and transfer deeply into the leather pores. This ensures that as the couch or chair is used and as clothing acts as a slight abrasive, the scratches will remain dark-colored and invisible and the repair permanent.
Work one section at a time, Over time, you will probably notice that you need to pause a bit longer as you go, to get enough ink to flow. This is normal, you can either refill the marker with fresh ink, give the project a break in order to let the ink flow into the nib, or slow down and mark slowly enough that the marker flow can keep up.
Here, you can see the before and after of my favorite armchair. Unlike repair tutorials that require surface prep, protective gear, and sealants, this simple repair requires just a marker and a little bit of time. I think you can see clearly from the photos it creates an impressive result- with every evidence in my home that the fix will last for years.
Fair warning: This repair works GREAT, but isn’t fast. It requires coloring in each scratch by hand, so if you are working with a well-worn piece or a large sofa, it’s going to be a longer project. I haven’t quite finished my chair yet, but I work on it a bit at a time, instead of a craft project while watching TV. I’ll be sure to post the final result when it’s complete!
Lindsayanne is a professional artist, writer, and serial-DIY-er with a knack for solving problems creatively at home, in the studio, out in the garden, and even online. Learn more about Lindsay, her training, and her background here.