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"Airbrush Quick Tips"


Use Care—Don’t Dent Your Air Cap- The tip of the airbrush, called the air cap, is extremely important in producing the perfect spray.  If this becomes damaged, the airbrush won’t spray properly.  Damage can be caused by mishandling, such as dropping the brush or knocking it against something.  It’s virtually impossible to repair a dented air cap, but it is easy to replace.  On the other hand, the needle that protrudes from the front of the airbrush can be straightened if bent—but not too many times.  It’s the alignment of the straight needle and the unmarred air cap that give you that round, soft spray that you expect from your airbrush. 

Tips on Tips - The condition of the airbrush tip is of critical importance in achieving optimal quality of spray.  The paint tip is but one part of the spray regulator that is also comprised of the air cap and the head, which attaches the spray regulator to the body of the airbrush.  If the tip is damaged or out of sync, the airbrush will not produce the round spray that is expected.  (Note that some airbrush manufacturers have different names for the spray regulator, e.g., head assembly or nozzle.)

The paint tip is available in sizes from 1mm to about 6mm.  The larger sizes accommodate thicker paints and heavier volumes.  A long, tapered needle matching the size of the paint tip controls the volume of paint that’s sprayed.  When the needle is completely forward, the paint flow is shut off.  As the needle is drawn back from the tip (with the trigger), paint is released to flow.  Most airbrush manufacturers have multiple spray regulator/needle combinations to accommodate different types and viscosities of materials for spraying.

Spray regulators are manufactured from various metals, from brass to steel alloy.  Steel airbrushes are the most durable and their needles are less likely to bend.

The spray regulator and its components can be damaged in several ways.  If the regulator is over tightened into the airbrush body it can break off.  An easy way to damage the paint tip is by jamming the needle into it during the cleaning process.  This will split the tip and, in turn, destroy the roundness of the spray.  Another common way to damage the spray regulator is by dropping the brush, which results in a bent air cap and will also affect the shape of the spray. 

Always use caution to prevent damage to the spray regulator by heeding common practices:  Keep it clean by using a stiff brush to wash the air cap.  Also, the spray regulator can be removed completely and soaked in a cleaning agent.  Replace it with a snug seal, but do not over-tighten it. And always hang the airbrush up securely so that it doesn’t accidentally drop onto the floor.

 Tips for Airbrushing Chocolate - It seems like everywhere you look today you see or read about people utilizing the airbrush in the culinary arts—on cakes or sugar or chocolate.  And, like in all the arts, artists sometimes tend to keep those “secret tips” to themselves.   However, the more information that is available, the better it is for everyone involved.  So following are a few recommendations for airbrushing chocolate:

—Chocolate melts at normal body temperature, so when airbrushing color onto chocolate the color cannot be too warm or it will melt the chocolate.

—The ideal room temperature in which to work is between 65-70 degrees F. with humidity that does not exceed 50%. (Chocolate and water don’t “mix.”)

—A moisture trap on your air source (compressor) is necessary to prevent droplets of condensation from mixing with the air that’s propelling the colorant.

—Cocoa butter is one of the most utilized colorants for airbrushing on chocolate.  It should be kept at approximately 90 degrees F. for proper spraying.  This is achieved by using a heat gun to warm the metal tip of the airbrush as well as the paint reservoir (bottle, side-feed funnel or the top attached color cup on a gravity feed airbrush).  It will likely take a lot of practice and patience to master this!

—When airbrushing into a candy mold for the top decoration of a confection such as a bonbon, you must think in terms of reverse painting (such as that done on glass). The design to appear on top of the confection is sprayed into the mold first.  Depending on the colors used, this design is backed by several sprayed coats of white to provide contrast for the design.  The candy shell is then made with chocolate, the filling is inserted (tap the mold to eliminate air bubbles), and the candy is then backed with chocolate.

—When spraying colorant for candy or cakes, the same technique is used as with other airbrush applications.  Use on/off triggering as you make a pass with the airbrush.  Be wary of “barbells” at the beginning and end of spraying; keep your hand moving and avoid hesitation.

Some of the most popular airbrushes for spraying chocolate are constructed of metal and are dual-action triggered.  A side-feed airbrush that contains a color cup provides for quick color changes and is available for both right- and left-handed persons.  However, if you are spraying broad areas, a pistol-triggered style airbrush such as the Iwata Revolution HP TR1 is recommended for ease of operation.  See your retailer and visit www.iwata-medea.com.


Airbrush Intimidation Relieved – For some people who have never used an airbrush, the tool can seem intimidating.  Recently at a consumer trade show, the Iwata-Medea Corp. incorporated an airbrush station in their booth to teach a “3-Minute Airbrush Workshop.”  The idea was that in three minutes the instructor could teach a novice how to manipulate the airbrush and relieve any existing intimidation.  People lined up, and by showing them three easy procedures, they all succeeded in spraying the airbrush with some control.

The first procedure taught how to hold the airbrush.  Many people, no matter if they are right- or left-handed, hold the brush in an improper manner.  It is designed to be held like a pen or pencil with the thumb and middle finger on the stem where the air hose is attached and the forefinger placed on the trigger. 

Secondly, participants were shown how to trigger the airbrush.  The dual-action airbrush has two motions in triggering, one for air and the other for paint.  First press straight down on the trigger with the index finger for air; and then draw back on the trigger to release paint.  A slot in the top of the airbrush allows the trigger to move back, and the further back you pull, the more paint is released. 

The third factor is control of the spray—how much paint is coming out and how close you are to the work surface.  Pull back just a touch to get a small amount of paint; or pull back further for a larger amount.  An airbrush held close to the work surface with a small amount of paint results in a fine line; on the other hand, an airbrush held close to the surface with a large volume of paint released results in a mistake.

By following these three basic instructions, it became quickly apparent to the participants just how simple the airbrush is to use.  A satisfying result of this 3-minute workshop was the “light bulbs” that could be seen going off and reflected in the students’ demeanor.  And it prepared them to feel comfortable in taking a complete airbrush class.

Prevent Blowback – The head assembly on the tip of the airbrush must be tightly seated against the body of the brush.  Sometimes when a painter cleans the brush he/she removes the head assembly for soaking in a cleaning agent.  Upon replacement, it is very important to insure that it fits snugly. This is the purpose of the wrench that comes with the airbrush.  However, do not over-tighten the head assembly because, if broken, a major repair is involved. 

In addition, airbrushes from most manufacturers have an “O” ring seal.  Be sure it is still present when replacing the head assembly.  If this is not properly seated, it will become instantly apparent—not only will the airbrush not spray, but there will be a blowback of air that enters the paint reservoir.  In the case of bottom feed airbrushes that use jars, a geyser of paint will shoot through the air hole in the top of the bottle adapter.  Also be sure that this tiny hole is always kept clear.  If it becomes plugged, the airbrush won’t spray because air cannot enter the jar.

 Thinning Artist Acrylic Colors – Most airbrush artists who work on canvas prefer artist acrylic colors.  These dry quickly and are low in toxicity and easy to clean from the airbrush.  One of the challenges of working with acrylics is reducing them to a consistency that is sprayable—equivalent to that of heavy cream. 

Acrylics are available in several forms:  tube color, which is normally pretty thick; jar color, which is of a creamier and more flowable consistency; and extremely thin acrylics that depending on the manufacturer are sometimes designed specifically for airbrush work.  In all these various consistencies, acrylic paints still must be further manipulated to spray with reliability. 

Not only are the three forms of differing thicknesses, but different colors are, too.  For example, white paint is usually quite thick, whereas yellow can be very thin.  To manipulate acrylic colors to your particular preference, it is recommended that you use a thinning solution made from combining acrylic gloss medium and water in a 50/50 mixture.  Pour these into a jar, shake thoroughly and then add this mixture to the acrylics.  Note that when thinned acrylics are stored, they may tend to separate, so be sure to shake them well prior to spraying.




Liquid Masking Material – This is also known as liquid frisket and is used in airbrush technique as well as watercolor technique to block areas where paint is not desired. In most cases you are retaining the white of the paper for highlights such as on an eye or a droplet of water. This material is similar in consistency and appearance to rubber cement and is usually applied with a paint brush or a liquid frisket applicator. It is left to dry before painting over. Once the rendering is complete, you remove the dried frisket by rubbing with a finger or using a rubber cement removal pad. The bright white paper shows through to produce the highlight.

If you apply liquid frisket with a paint brush, use an old one. It can be removed with soap and water—quickly before it dries in the brush. Otherwise, it is virtually impossible to remove. Depending upon the manufacturer, liquid frisket is available in different colors for ease of identification on the work surface.


Air Quick Tips: Accessories for the Airbrush

Some airbrushes today come with pre-set adjustable handles. These are also available separately to update older airbrushes that came with conventional handles. Each individual airbrush manufacturer has a specific upgraded handle to fit their airbrushes exclusively. Why use a pre-set handle? For one, it is great for adjusting the airbrush to that perfect spray width desired by the artist. And it limits the amount of needle travel (how far back the trigger can be pulled), which gives more control of the airbrush. For beginning students, this allows them to set the airbrush so the dual-action brush will work similar to the single-action brush. The adjustment screw at the back of the handle is usually finely threaded so that the airbrusher can have precise fine-tuned control.

Depending on the manufacturer, there are a variety of different air caps available for different effects. One from Iwata-Medea is called the crown cap. Because of its shorter length, it allows for finer detail work while still protecting the needle tip; and because of its construction, it decreases the paint buildup on the airbrush needle and inside the nozzle cap, which helps to eliminate spitting.

And, to help the inner workings of the airbrush move smoothly, Medea Super Lube—a natural and non-toxic lubricant--can be used on all moving parts of the airbrush—the main lever, the needle packing and the valve piston packing. It can also be applied to the needle cap and along the needle itself to enhance paint flow and to prevent paint from drying on the tip.

A must for any airbrush user is the airbrush holder. And this has come a long way from the simple holders of yesteryear. Iwata’s, made of high impact-resistant plastic and nickel-plated brass, can accommodate two airbrushes. The holder easily attaches to the work station no matter if it’s an easel, drafting table or table top. Each comes with a bracket that will accommodate most air filters and regulators so that air adjustments are quickly accomplished and always within reach.

See your retailer and visit www.iwata-medea.com.


Magnetized Drawing Surface — Years ago when airbrushed photo retouching and technical illustration were in their heyday, airbrush artists were constantly coming up with new and more inventive ways of doing their work. One such method was the use of magnets to hold non-self-adhering stencils in place. This system worked in two different ways. Artists would purchase a rubberized/magnetized cover for the drafting table, available at art supply stores in the commercial art departments. Thin strips of metal of various shapes were set on top of the stencils (that were most likely cut from 5 mil acetate) to hold them in place when airbrushing. The thinnest strips were best, since they would not block airbrush spray.

The second method was just the opposite. The work surface was a sheet of metal, and small magnets of varying shapes/sizes were used to hold stencils in place. There were advantages to this: The artist could work quickly; since non-self-adhering stencils were used, no adhesive residue was left on the surface of the photo or illustration; and since stencils were cut from acetate that was reusable, they could be saved for future use in case the job had to be reworked.

The system of using magnets with acetate templates is well suited for painting on any metallic surface, such as in kustom automotive work, sign painting or sculpture.


 "Airbrush Quick Tips Archives"

AirbrushTalk will post new "Airbrush Quick Tips" on AirbrushTalk.com. An announcement of the tips will be e-mailed to subscribers with hyperlinks to pages on which the tips appear. This new e-blast will go out six times a year, alternating with the AirbrushTalk e-newsletter. "Airbrush Quick Tips" are appropriate for beginning, intermediate and advanced airbrush users.


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