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Spraying –

The key factors in properly spraying an airbrush are operating air pressure, amount of material being released by the airbrush, and the distance the airbrush is being held from the surface being sprayed.


For fine lines the airbrush should be held as close as possible to the surface with a small amount of material being released, for broader spray coverage the airbrush should be held 4” to 6” from the surface being sprayed with a larger volume of material being released.  


NOTE: The airbrush will produce overspray.  This is the “fuzz” of dots that sprays outside of or around the spray’s desired focal point.  If a sharp edge is desired, a masking medium (stencil, frisket, low-tac masking tape, spray shield, etc.) must be utilized when airbrushing.


There are some simple learning exercises that can be practiced to help develop skill, comfort, and confidence in using the airbrush: creating a grid of dots (on a blank sheet) with your airbrush – then going back and connecting the dots, drawing figure eights, and/or simply writing your name with the airbrush.  These are all basic, but effective, airbrushing exercises.  To practice airbrush technique on three dimensional objects, paint items such as scratch plastic/metal, pop cans, shampoo bottles, or other contoured items that are of little or no value.  


Cleaning –

Step one: The key to keeping an airbrush clean is to not let material set up (dry) in it.  This can be done by spraying the appropriate cleaning agent through the airbrush with reasonable frequency (when changing colour and when setting the airbrush to rest for any period of time).  Two important things to remember: 1. Material dries as fast in an airbrush as it does on the surface it is being sprayed on to.  2. Anything you think will take 2 seconds will take 2 minutes, and anything you think will take 2 minutes will usually take at least 20 – so spray the cleaner.


Step two: Should material set up (dry) in the airbrush, it may be necessary to back flush the airbrush.  This is done by suffocating the air flow of the airbrush at the nozzle by carefully “pinching” a soft cloth or paper towel over the nozzle’s end.  This will deflect the air back into the airbrush chamber and loosen any dried material, sending it into the cleaning bottle.  If done correctly, the cleaner will bubble during back flushing.  It is advisable to spray fresh cleaner through the airbrush after you have back flushed it.


Step three: On what should be rare occasions it may be necessary to disassemble some parts of the airbrush for more thorough cleaning.  This should only be done if the user has neglected to do step one of regularly spraying cleaner through the airbrush, and/or step two of back flushing is unsuccessful in getting the airbrush to spray properly again.  If disassembly is required, it should be only of parts that come in contact with the sprayed material; from the material’s point of entry into the airbrush and forward.  The included parts for disassembly are the nozzle assembly and the needle.  To thoroughly clean the nozzle assembly, use an ultrasonic cleaner or denture cleaner (yes, denture cleaner – follow the directions on the package).  The needle should simply be wiped down with a soft cloth saturated with the appropriate cleaning agent.  If residue on the needle is still apparent it may be removed by gently rubbing a fine steel wool over the residual deposit area.  While the needle and nozzle are removed from the airbrush it is OK to run a pipe cleaner saturated with cleaning agent through the chamber of the airbrush, following the same path as sprayed material, and out the airbrush front.  For bottom feed airbrushes that is up the stem and out the front, for gravity feed airbrushes it is down the colour cup and out the front.  Only do this when the needle and nozzle are removed as forcing anything through the nozzle will damage it.  After using the pipe cleaner, blow out the airbrush to remove any pipe cleaner “fuzz”.  After all nozzle/needle cleaning steps are complete the airbrush can be reassembled and will be ready for use.  This disassembly process should be rarely necessary if steps one and two are followed, but it is recommended if storing your airbrush for an extended period of time.



Air Sources –


COMPRESSORS -  A unit that generates at least 30 PSI is recommended to start airbrushing.  Some applications, such as T-shirt painting or other fabric painting, may be more efficiently done at higher pressures (up to 65 psi).  Other applications, such as finger nail art and illustration may be more effectively done at lower pressures (as low as 10 psi).  For applications requiring higher and lower pressure it is recommended to use a regulator (described below).



CO2 (or other inert pressurized gas) -  A pressurized tank of inert gas can be used to operate an airbrush.  A CO2 regulator is required to connect the air hose and moderate the air pressure.


AIR TANK -  A compressor filled air tank (or spare tire of a car) can be used for short term project oriented airbrush applications.


PROPEL -  A can of air that enables one to spray an airbrush for 5 to 15 minutes (dependent on can size) can also be used to operate an airbrush.  This is best for beginners and those not certain they will continue airbrushing after trying it.  Rule of thumb – if you pay for ten cans of Propel you have paid for half of a compressor – start looking for one!


Air Hoses –


BRAIDED air hoses are the most common and most durable type of airbrush hose.  A braided air hose can handle over 100 psi (more than enough for any airbrush application).  Braided air hoses are available with in-line moisture traps and quick disconnects.




CLEAR air hoses are best for airbrushing in environments where in-line moisture or contaminates may be a concern, because the user can see any material passing through the hose before it reaches the airbrush.  A clear air hose can handle up to 50 psi and airbrush applications performed up to that pressure. Clear air hoses are available with moisture traps.


RECOIL air hoses are best for small work area airbrushing, because they stay out of the way.  Recoil air hoses handle up to 60 psi and can be used in airbrush applications performed up to that pressure.



VINYL air hoses handle up to 40 psi and are primarily for use with propel.  Vinyl air hoses are not recommended for compressors.




Regulators and Moisture Traps (attachable to air compressors) –


AIR REGULATORS WITH A GAUGE allow the airbrush user to set air pressure to exact psi levels with a dial setting.


AIR REGULATORS WITHOUT A GAUGE allow the airbrush user to adjust air pressure based on a “trial and error” setting process.


MOISTURE TRAPS capture moisture produced by a compressor when air cools.  They are desirable in high humidity areas to prevent moisture from flowing through the air hose and out the airbrush on to a work surface.


AIR REGULATORS WITH A GAUGE AND MOISTURE TRAP combine the two items described above.


Accessories –


A stencil cutting knife is used to cut custom stencil designs in stencil film (described below) and acetate.


Airbrush needle lubricant helps prevent paint from drying on the nozzle/needle tip, reducing related airbrush clogging.


An airbrush holder provides a much needed a place to set your airbrush when you’re not using it.  That need is usually realized when your holding your paint filled airbrush looking for a place to set it down.


FastBlast jar adaptors connect the jar to a bottom feed airbrush.  The FastBlast one piece siphon tube design is much easier to clean and is available in a variety of jar mouth sizes.  Many professional artists put an adaptor on each color they’re using.


Siphon filters slide over the jar adaptor siphon tube, preventing un-sprayable particles from entering and clogging the airbrush.


A paint mixer should be used to properly prepare and mix paint for airbrushing.  It is always best for paint consistency to mix it rather than shake it, or better said “stirred not shaken”.


Color mixing kits, which consist of a small cup and stir sticks, can be used to mix colors, creating new colors.


Masking Mediums –


STENCILS are pre-cut design masks used to aid in the creation of an image.  Stencils make airbrushing easier for beginners, and are an excellent tool for producing recurring designs time and cost effectively.  They are available with and without adhesive backing.


FRISKET FILM is a low tack adhesive backed film used to cut and mask designs or cover a specific area of an airbrush image to prevent sprayed material from going on to it.  Frisket film is available in gloss or matte finish.  The matte finish enables the artist to draw on the frisket film. There is also “liquid” frisket for easier masking off of contoured shapes.


STENCIL FILM, an uncut (usually non-adhesive backed mylar) film used to create custom masking designs for airbrushing.


Paints - The rule of thumb for preparing paints (or other materials) for airbrushing is to reduce them to the approximate visual viscosity of 2% milk.  Varying paint types and materials, including proper viscosity acrylics, lacquers, enamels, urethanes, inks, water colours, dyes, stains, cosmetics, and food colors can be applied with an airbrush.  And airbrushing can be done on canvas, paper, textiles, plastics, metals, wood, etc.  Even the human body (skin/nails) can be airbrushed.


Learning Aids – Books/DVDs on general usage and/or specific technique provide excellent instruction for the aspiring airbrush artist.




SA=single action,  DA=dual action,  IM=internal mix,  EM=external mix,  BF=bottom feed,  GF=gravity feed, SF=side feed

APPLICATION                                                                                BEST TYPE OF AIRBRUSH

 AUTOMOTIVE/HARD SURFACE CUSTOM FINISHING                                    DA, IM, GF (or SF)

 AUTO NICK & SCRATCH TOUCH-UP                                                               SA, IM, BF

 T-SHIRT/TEXTILE PAINTING                                                                             DA, IM, BF

 GENERAL HOBBY FINISHING                                                                            SA, IM, BF

 FINE SCALE DETAIL MODEL FINISHING                                                          DA, IM, GF (or SF)

 FINE ART                                                                                                             DA, IM, BF

 COMMERCIAL ART/ILLUSTRATION                                                                 DA, IM, GF (or SF)

 DECORATIVE PAINTING                                                                                     DA, IM, BF

 SCRAP BOOKING and STENCILING                                                                  SA, IM, BF


 HOME AND SMALL BAKERY CAKE DECORATING                                         DA, IM, GF

 PRODUCTION BAKERY DECORATING                                                              DA, IM, BF

 FINGERNAIL ART                                                                                                DA, IM, GF

 AIRBRUSH TANNING                                                                                           DA, IM, BF

 COSMETIC/MAKE-UP                                                                                          DA, IM, GF

 BODY ART                                                                                                             DA, IM, BF

 SIGN PAINTING                                                                                                    DA, IM, BF

 WOODWORK FINISHING & ANTIQUING                                                             DA, IM, BF

 TAXIDERMY BASECOAT APPLICATIONS                                                        SA, EM, BF

 TAXIDERMY DETAILING                                                                                     DA, IM, GF (or SF)

 FISHING LURE PAINTING                                                                                    SA, IM, BF

 SMALL SCALE PRODUCTION APPLICATIONS                                                SA, IM, BF

 VOLUME SPRAY PRODUCTION APPLICATIONS                                             SA, EM, BF


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