How to Airbrush

Airbrushing is a form of painting that uses compressed air to spray liquidized paint onto a surface. This creates a smooth and flawless surface coating of paint.


What will you need?

You will need a stylus, an air compressor, and the desired paint. You will also need some airbrush cleaning solution to use once you have finished airbrushing.

This can be found easily at most craft stores or online. 

How does airbrushing work?

The air compressor sends pressurized air to either a water trap or a pressure regulator. This acts to remove the remaining water pressure from the air. This regulator determines how much air is being sent through to the airbrush. 

This air is then sent via an air hose connected to the air outlet of the water trap and the air inlet of the airbrush. Using a siphon feed or gravity, paint is sent to the needle of the airbrush. This is located inside an airbrush nozzle. These come in a variety of sizes suited to different airbrushing projects. 

When the trigger is pulled on the airbrush the needle is pulled back. This creates an opening in the nozzle that allows the paint to escape. The paint is forced along the needle, out the hole in the nozzle, and to the tip of the needle. 

The air that travels through the nozzle mixes with the paint and is then propelled out the hole in internal mix airbrushes. In external mix airbrushes, the paint mixes with the air outside the tip of the nozzle. This is then pushed forward onto the surface that needs painting.

Gravity or siphon feed

This is the system through which paint is delivered to the airbrush. They can be located on the top, bottom, or side of the airbrush.

Gravity feed airbrushes have a paint cup that is sat on top of the airbrush. They vary in capacity, so be sure to choose one which matches the size of your project.

These cups are made from either plastic or metal. Gravity forces the paint towards the tip of the needle and is primarily used for medium and fine detailed work.

Siphon feed airbrushes have a paint cup located underneath the airbrush. This can be made from glass, metal, or plastic. The passage of air through the airbrush pulls the paint up into the nozzle and out the hole.

These tend to have a much larger paint capacity and are best suited to covering large surfaces, or for rapidly changing colors of paint during one project. 

How to prepare

If you are planning to airbrush something small we suggest covering the area around it with painting tarpaulins or newspapers. This will protect your flooring or countertops from being stained with the excess paint spray that will likely come off of the airbrush. 

Connect the air compressor hose to the stylus. Push one end onto the compressor nozzle and the other end to the base of the stylus. Ensure there is a tight fit or the pressure of the airbrush will be compromised. 

How to airbrush

Thin your paint in a mixing tray before pouring it into the airbrush cup. Dilute with equal concentrations of paint thinner and mix well until it has thinned considerably. 

If you are using acrylic paint, add water instead of paint thinner. If you are using lacquer paint then add lacquer thinner. You may need to adjust the ratios of paint to paint thinner depending on the brand you use. The finished consistency should be the same as that of plain paint thinner.

Add 4-6 drops of paint to the paint cup using a pipette. Do not add too much as this could overload the airbrush. Take great care not to tip the stylus when the paint cup is filled, as this can cause the paint to spill everywhere. 

Turn the air compressor on to 10 PSI. Higher pressures are more likely to cause overspray, but the paint will dry very quickly. The droplets are tiny and therefore less likely to clog the nozzle.

Lower pressures will create a rougher texture on your finished product. They are more suitable for fine details and use less paint. However, lower pressures are likely to increase the number of clogs that develop. 

Hold the airbrush between 1 and 2 inches away from the surface you are painting as if you were holding a pen. Wrap the hose around your arm. For finer details, hold the nozzle closer to the surface. 

Press the trigger to apply paint to the surface. Release the trigger when you are ready to stop painting. The harder you press the trigger, the more paint will come out. 

Allow the paint to dry for at least 24 hours to fully cure correctly. 

How to clean an airbrush

Whenever you finish a project, stop for the day, or are changing colors it is vital to flush out and clean your airbrush. This will prevent paint from drying on the inside and causing blockages inside the nozzle.

This process allows you to use the same airbrush for multiple different colors and varieties of paint. It will also prevent cross-contamination during usage. 

Locate the stylus cap on your airbrush and pour in some airbrush cleaning solution. If you wish, you can dilute it in a 1:1 ratio with some water to prolong the lifespan of your cleaning solution.

Fill the airbrush cap halfway up with the solution and allow it to sit for 10 to 15 seconds to travel into the airbrush and break down any paint remnants. 

Using a cotton bud, wipe it inside the cup to remove any excess paint. If nothing appears to be stuck, you can skip this step. Spray the cleaning solution through the airbrush as if you are painting. For this step, the compressor needs to remain attached. 

Hold the trigger down until the cup has drained completely. Do this at a pressure of 10--15 PSI. Continue this process until the solution runs clear.