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