Welcome to our 14th year of AirbrushTalkÂ©
is for airbrushers all disciplines, all levels. You will find
articles on airbrush techniques, supplies, tools and applications. For
beginners there is a 12-part basic airbrush lesson on how to use an
airbrush. There are pages of info for illustrators, fine artists and
craftspeople that include fine art painting, custom auto graphics,
temporary tattoos, figure and pinup art, body art and makeup
applications including tanning. Discover how to work on a variety of
surfaces: paper, artist canvas, board, fiberglass, metal, T-shirts,
shoes, automobiles, motorcycles, cakes, license plates and more. Read
about history, news, museums, workshops, galleries, schools, retailers,
wholesalers, competitions, exhibitions and new books and products in the
marketplace. Learn about the use of compressors, spray guns, stencils,
frisket film, brushes, airbrush color and airbrush paint (ink,
watercolor, acrylic, gouache, lacquer, enamel, epoxy, etc.) and other
airbrush equipment, supplies and materials in the design and creation of
artist paintings, crafts, pottery, landscapes, portraits, sculpture and
other artworks. Lists of art material manufacturers and retail supply
stores help you find airbrush and art supplies for your studio.
Know Your Airbrush Terms
In the realm of airbrushing, there are many words or phrases
used that may be unfamiliar to a person who is just learning or
investigating the technique. To help you fully understand
explanations/instructions, following is a discussion of basic terms:
Single action refers to an airbrush in which the air and paint
are turned on simultaneously by just depressing the trigger. A set
amount of paint is sprayed.
Dual action (also called double action) refers to an airbrush
where the artist first depresses the trigger for air and, while the
trigger is depressed, pulls back on it to release paint. This type
of triggering provides the most versatility because you can regulate
the amount of paint sprayed by manipulating the trigger.
External mix refers to the type of airbrush where the air and
paint are mixed together outside the airbrush tip or externally,
resulting in a spray that is coarse in appearance.
Internal mix refers to the type of airbrush where paint is
mixed with air inside the tip of the airbrush, which results in the
appearance of a soft spray.
Gravity feed refers to the type of airbrush where paint is
drawn down and flows into the airbrush from a color cup that is
mounted on top of the tool.
Side feed refers to the type of airbrush where paint is drawn
into it from a color cup that is mounted on the side of the tool.
Bottom feed refers to an airbrush where paint is drawn up into
it from a jar or color cup mounted on the bottom of the tool.
Air source is a device or unit capable of producing
pressurized air, e.g. compressor, CO2 tank, or propellant
can. It is the air provided by the air source that sprays the paint.
Psi or pounds per square inch is a measurement of air
pressure. An airbrush is operated at a certain psi depending on the
material being sprayed, the viscosity of the material and the
Cfm or cubic feet per minute is the volume of air that an air
source is capable of producing. As a rule of thumb, an airbrush
usually uses 1/2 cfm at 30 psi to spray properly.
Air Regulator is a device that is attached to an air
compressor or other air source that allows the user to regulate the
psi flow of air to the airbrush.
Frisket film is a transparent self-adhering stencil material
with a peel-off backing that is used to create individual stencils
directly on the surface of artwork.
Airbrush templates are usually reusable manufactured stencils
of a pre-cut design (not self-adhering) that are used to develop
images in airbrush technique.
Overspray is the sprayed paint that drifts above and below the
intended area in which the airbrush is directed.
Dagger stroke is a sprayed line used in freehand airbrushing
that goes from narrow to wide to narrow in one pass. It is used
commonly in lettering, T-shirt design, automotive graphics and
freehand portraiture, etc.
Stippling is a technique that is the controlled spraying of
large simultaneous dots that results in a textural appearance. This
is usually achieved by lowering the pressure on the regulator to 1
or 2 psi, which in turn causes the airbrush to spray larger than
It's important to understand these key terms when learning
airbrush technique. See
www.airbrushtalk.com for more helpful hints.
Spray Guns in the Studio—Numerous Art Applications
A spray gun can be simply described as a large
airbrush that can be used in the artist’s studio to apply a variety
of paints, varnishes, gesso, ceramic glaze and metal patinas for
sculpture. It also can be used for painting murals, automotive and
metal surfaces, signs and large canvases. Once you’ve used a spray
gun, its many possibilities will soon become obvious.
You can find a variety of spray guns in your local
art supply store, and two types are usually carried—the conventional
spray gun and the HVLP (High Volume Low Pressure) spray gun. The
HVLP spray gun is fairly new to the market and was developed to
allow the user to spray volumes of paint with a minimum amount of
The artist should be familiar with two terms when
purchasing a spray gun: psi (pounds per square inch), which
refers to the amount of air pressure that is delivered to the gun by
the air source (normally an air compressor); and cfm (cubic
feet per minute), which is the volume of air that is consumed by the
spray gun. Both of these settings are regulated by the air source.
The psi is adjusted with the air regulator, whereas the volume of
cfm is determined by the size of the air compressor. Higher horse
power equals higher cfm.
Depending on the gun used, a compressor with high
horse power will propel either a large or a small spray gun.
However, a small compressor is designed to propel only an airbrush.
conventional spray gun delivers paint at a high air pressure. This
results in more overspray (the amount of medium that drifts into the
environment), which can be a health and environmental hazard, and
can inadvertently coat objects in the studio, so it’s best to keep
the psi as low as possible. The HVLP spray gun is the opposite of a
conventional spray gun in that it doesn’t work at a high psi. Ten
psi is its maximum, but it consumes a much higher cfm than the
conventional gun. A minimum 2-1/2 HP compressor is required to
develop the cfm required to propel an HVLP spray gun. Because you
are spraying at such a low psi, the HVLP transfers 80% of the paint
onto the surface. This saves on the amount of paint used and also
reduces the overspray. The HVLP produces a silky smooth, highly
atomized finish that is perfectly suited for custom automotive
painting or working on metal surfaces, e.g., sculpture.
Spray guns are available in different sizes from
mini—such as the Iwata RG-2—to large production guns—such as the
Century Series W-200/LPH-200 Siphon-Feed Spray Gun. Like
airbrushes, styles include side feed, bottom feed and gravity feed.
All spray guns can be attached to external pressure pots for very
Maintaining the spray gun is basically identical to
that of the airbrush—flush between color changes and clean
thoroughly before storing.
Airbrush History Trivia
—Abner Peeler, of Webster City, IA, invented
the airbrush in 1878. Imagine, over 130 years
ago! Abner, a professional inventor who tinkered with
things such as screw machines, bicycles and typewriters,
developed this painting tool—originally called a “paint
distributor”—specifically for photographic retouching. The
paint distributor, which was similar to today’s oscillating
internal-mix airbrush, had a wooden handle with metal parts and
sold for the incredible price of $10. The first such
airbrush was sold to S. M. Thomas, and we know that the first
painting completed with this paint distributor was a
self-portrait of Peeler himself done by his wife on an enlarged
—The painter Man Ray (1890-1977) is probably the
first fine artist to exhibit paintings done exclusively with the
airbrush. Ray, considered the only American Dadaist,
learned to use the airbrush while working in an ad agency in New
York City between 1917 and 1919. His fine art airbrush
renderings were shown in NYC galleries and called “aerographs.”
Looking at them with today’s standards of what we consider
airbrush painting, these works of art would be considered
simplistic—but at that time, totally new. They consisted
of images developed by airbrushing around found objects, such as
paper cutouts, tools and paper clips that were used simply as
stencils. Man Ray worked flat on a table, allowing gravity
to hold the stencils in place, and sprayed around them with
black ink. He repeated these images in both opaque and
transparent ink and the end products lent themselves to the look
of cubism. .
It is said that Man Ray was primarily interested
in producing paintings with a smooth machine-like finish.
And because the ink was airbrushed onto the surface, there were
no brush strokes in the artwork, which imparted an industrial
appearance. An excellent collection of his works is held
by and exhibited at The Art Institute of Chicago; and even
viewed today, their simplicity is astoundingly modern.
Airbrushing on Location
One-stop painting on location has arrived with the
Iwata Studio Series Maxx Jet portable airbrush station (Item
#15-1000). Previously, the airbrush artist needed to gather
all required equipment and materials in various containers to lug
around to onsite airbrush jobs or assignments. Today the Maxx
Jet provides you with a self-contained unit with a powerful 1/6 HP
compressor built in a case that has wheels for easy portability, a
retractable handle for convenient moving, all necessary gauges and
moisture traps and airbrush hoses—all built into a strong,
protective traveling case that can be either wheeled around or
This type of portability is highly important today
because there are myriad types of airbrush applications in demand
with the common denominator that you must take the airbrush to the
consumer. Simply by having access to various paints for a
variety of applications, the airbrush artist can be outfitted to
provide spray tanning, T-shirt painting, temporary tattoos,
body art, face painting and makeup, among others—all from the
convenience of one Maxx Jet unit.
This opens up a whole new arena for airbrushing.
Working either alone or with event planners, airbrushing is being
utilized for unique “entertainment” (see above) at a variety of
social functions such as birthday parties, bar/bat mitzvahs, makeup
parties, bachelorette parties, graduation parties, anniversary
celebrations, family reunions, showers and more. Either
independently or using the event planner as your agent, you can
secure bookings far in advance and show up with your Maxx Jet in tow
to perform your “magic show.”
The protective Maxx Jet travel case has sufficient
storage space for airbrushes, spray guns, a variety of paints,
frisket film, stencils and accessories, and the case can be locked
for security. Have airbrush, will travel—and earn cash in the
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Airbrush Painting on Gessobord
The airbrush artist is always searching for the ideal surface on
which to paint. Depending on the size of the painting, Ampersand's Gessobord is
one of the ideal surfaces on which to airbrush (maximum size available is 24" x
36"). Manufactured by the same company that gave you Claybord, Gessobord is
comprised of a tempered hard board that is coated with high-quality gesso.
The hard board is unique; rather than being impregnated with the
thick tempering oils normally used in hard board manufacturing, Gessobord
contains a plant resin. The hard board is sealed with two applications of
acrylic emulsion, coated with gesso, and then sanded to an even surface with a
light tooth that is suitable for all types of painting techniques. Gessobord is
durable and long lasting and, because of the plant resin, it eliminates the
leaching and adhesive problems associated with traditional tempered hard board
such as Masonite.
Although Gessobord is ready to use, some artists may elect to
re-gesso the surface for their own particular purpose--high impasto, eggshell
smoothness, etc. Unlike brush painting, the airbrush artist must work on a
surface that is durable enough to hold up to repeated masking with self-adhering
stencil materials such as frisket film and drafting or masking tape. When the
masking material is removed from the surface, you don't want the adhesion to
lift or pick the surface as is common when working on paper.
Unlike paper, Gessobord does not buckle with the application of
wet paint. It will not tear or crease, although--as durable as it is--you would
not want to drop it and damage an edge or corner. Gessobord has a neutral pH and
will not yellow and gives extremely good adhesion for paint applications with
acrylics, oils, and tempera or casein artist colors. The surface can be worked
back into (scumbling), scratched through (scratchboard) and erased without
A finished painting on Gessobord can be varnished or clear-coated
for both oils and acrylics. And the end product is easy to frame, since it is
available in several standard sizes. If collage is incorporated into the
artwork, the board surface is receptive to gluing. Gessobord is easy to store
because it is thin and flat, which also makes it convenient to ship artwork.
See your retailer and try airbrushing on Ampersand Gessobord.
You'll find it to be a suitable and reliable surface for airbrush painting.
for more information.
Basic Handling and Care of the Airbrush
To most artists, airbrush maintenance basically means
keeping the airbrush clean so that paint flow is uninterrupted. But
another aspect of maintaining the airbrush deals with proper handling
and care to prevent damaging the components of this highly sensitive
tool. This can occur when the airbrush is dropped, mishandled, or
sometimes lent to a friend. Let's look at the parts of the airbrush and
how they apply to its proper performance.
All internal mix airbrushes have needles that run
through the body to control the flow of paint. These are honed to an
extremely sharp elongated tip that, if bent, will result in an
undesirable spray pattern. The harder the material of which the needle
is made, the harder it is to bend the tip. (The most durable needles are
made of stainless steel.) Damage can occur to the needle during the
cleaning process when it is removed from the airbrush. Upon replacement,
it can accidentally press against metal parts, thereby "hooking" the
very fine tip. This may be remedied by rolling it between two flat metal
objects, gently twisting the needle to straighten it. Be aware that if
straightened too many times, the result will be tip breakage and
replacement will be necessary.
If this part which controls the atomization of the
spray becomes dented, the performance of the airbrush will be
compromised. This can occur if dropped onto a hard surface (and this
will bend the needle, too). If dented, it must be replaced, and the
parts are readily available at art supply stores. When the head assembly
is replaced, it must be seated properly and tightly. Years ago airbrush
tips were sealed with beeswax, and then they were sealed with metal "O"
rings and after that with PTFE "O" rings; and today there are
self-seating tips and head assemblies. No matter which type is being
replaced, it must be seated tightly so that there is no air leak;
otherwise, the airbrush will have a pulsating spray. However, be careful
not to over-tighten a head assembly or the threads might break off
inside the body of the airbrush. This would necessitate the tool being
sent back to the manufacturer for repair.
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On some airbrush models, when the needle is removed for
cleaning, the trigger is susceptible to falling out of the body, and the
small spring-loaded return mechanism located behind the trigger can fall
out or drop down into the body of the airbrush. This can be a real
nuisance, but everyone who has ever owned an airbrush has been faced
with this problem and been successful in replacing the parts. Once the
mechanism is back in place and the needle is reinserted, be sure that
the trigger and back lever are aligned properly so that the needle can
slide through without the tip being bent.
Anywhere that objects are threaded together on the
airbrush you must be cautious of cross threading, e.g., where the air
hose attaches to the airbrush and where the head assembly screws into
the body of the airbrush. Otherwise, an air leak may occur.
There are a number of types of airbrush handles, and in
many instances artists work with the handles removed. These were
designed to cover and protect the needle and the inner-workings of the
airbrush. If you work with one of the new handles in which the needle
can be removed from the back of the handle or if you work with the
handle removed, there is a strong possibility that at some point you
will hit the back of the needle against something and either wedge the
needle or split the airbrush tip. Because of this, it is best to work
with handles that cover the needle completely.
The airbrush is a durable, precision instrument. But, as
with any precision instrument, it is susceptible to damage if handled
improperly, so handle it with care.