Airbrushing 101

Let’s start airbrushing. Well I wish it were that simple. Before any creative process can begin there are many things that must be addressed first.

Drawing talent is the basis for a great airbrush artist but a well trained hobbyist will produce a complete picture before the amazingly talented illustrator who does not know the “ways” of the airbrush. Its need for in depth knowledge of its ways is something that must so seriously be addressed before you begin that it is something you must be ready amerce yourself with the airbrush emotionally, financially, and knowing its ways. Emotionally to project our ideas, emotions and feelings onto the paper. Financially because it is definitely an expensive lifestyle.

The first thing to be addressed is your equipment and maintenance. This is so because of the tendencies for pricey airbrushes that have extremely low life spans that can add up $$$ quick. This is the number one thing we need to know of it “ways”. You can save your airbrush and money by keeping it clean! This is so simple but can so easily be ignored. As the airbrush sits the paint can build up and over several uses, a poorly cleaned airbrush will clog! Airbrushes have small openings and it takes the smallest amount of built up paint to compromise your spray quality. And we do not want that! There are a few simple motions to go through to keep your airbrush in top shape. Keep more than enough water in bottles around with squirt tops. You can use a bucket as a drop off for your water squirts and paint changes if you have leftovers. You can easily squirt out a color from your cup, spray the water clean and then add a new color with no residue. Squirt the cup clean. Fill it with water and do a full spray several times and repeat until you know its clean (very important, like every other step).

After the water you can add your other color and do this step as many times as you like. Ample airbrush cleaner is important for the end of airbrush time as you need to make 100% sure your airbrush is clean. Any residue left here can set and be almost impossible to remove even with pure asitone in a glass cup siting for 2 weeks. So if you want to stop airbrushing for 2 weeks at a time don’t bother this step. Start with the water squirter and squirt the cup clean as you would before adding another color but instead add cleaner and do a full spray several times. I actually may do the cleaner step a couple times to make sure and then repeat water squirt step to remove the cleaner in case of chemicals and then dry your brush. Staying on maintenance and equipment.

To avoid clogs you need to get familiar with the opening sizes on the airbrush. There are fine openings for the paint for detail work and larger openings to cover area or general use. This is important to be aware of because if you are doing something like lets say t-shirts. A common paint to use is createx but it is a bit thicker than other paints and will clog very quickly in a small sized opening detail paintbrush. It is possible to work with but for someone getting familiar with airbrushing, you want to minimize your room for error as it will just frustrate you. Certain things will help ease your paint flow problems. Larger size opening airbrush. Golden airbrush color. It is more of an ink than a paint and has a much less tendency to build up. A gravity airbrush is more efficient than a bottom or side feed airbrush as the top feed is gravity supported and the distance from the paint cup to the opening is usually shorter giving the airbrush less room to clog and we like that. Now that you have a clean airbrush with a big opening and thin paints then we are off to a good start. Next you need to make sure your compressor situation is sound. And this must be sound. You can get an airbrush compressor with no tank. I recommend finding one with a 1/4 inch connection with a connected moisture trap and a pressure regulator. These of course are important like every single step here.

Moisture and pressure and your concerns now. To get a nice spray you need to be over 25 pounds of pressure. You can set this to the pressure you want at a low pressure for a dull spray and more pressure for a finer mist. The airbrush compressor auto stops once it reaches the pressure you want. If your compressor kicks back on frequently then you need to secure your connections with the white air hose tape. Its not sticky but just a plastic lining over the grooves in your connections to stop the air from leaking. You can compare the frequency of it kicking on compared to no connections and plugging the main opening. You will see it takes a while to kick back on if there is no leak. Major importance is moisture build up.

Do you want to be airbrushing a picture for 15 minutes and have a lot of nice detail going on your work and all of a sudden your airbrush sprays water all over it and melts all your work that was in the way in a 2 inch radius? I didn’t think so. So this is what you need to do. Besides the moisture trap connected to your compressor you should get an inline moisture trap made by iwata and what is called an inline Desiccant dryer. Once I got the dryer I never saw another drop of water out of my airbrush. They also make moisture traps that connect to the bottom of your airbrush and is the next item on my airbrush list. The next thing to consider is user fault.

For detailed airbrush work you will use a double action airbrush. This is the kind you push the button down for air and pull it back for more paint flow. An easy way to get paint backed up into your airbrush is to pull the trigger back without giving it air. It is a tight fit and the smallest amount of backup is not acceptable as it is extremely hard to remove paint from the air only section of your brush. The only time that button moves is after it is steadily held down with airflow and the button is not released until the button has returned to its forward position stopping any paint flow. Your spray quality will also be compromised by an old needle tip. This is such a fine tool we are using any of the slightest contact can bend or dull your tip and a bent tip means an uneven spray. You can get a grinding stone and with the needle removed you can roll the needle over it straitening out your needle then you can secure it back in place.

The next thing to consider is old paint. It suck but airbrush paint can be like food and go bad. You need to be careful of pulling out an old createx bottle of white and finding out the kinda thick paint is kinda thicker now and now I can’t spray for more than 5 seconds at a time. Now that we have addressed some basics we can start painting. Remove the first of the 2 covers on the airbrush that exposes the needle tip. This lets you get your lines closer to the paper and finer and also lets you take any build up off of your tip but this can sometimes be avoided by doing a quick full spray. Now for your surface. Paper is great for detail compared to t-shirts because shirts are more porous. This makes cotton more forgiving as it sucks the paint in as paper doesn’t and you can spider much easier. Although Golden airbrush paint is not for clothing I recommend using it on t-shirts. You will need to get familiar with paper but to get your hand in shape and get familiar with the feel for it you should use it on cotton for its forgiveness. Its hard to learn how to use something if your spydering on paper the whole time. The cotton lets you see your limits and hides a lot of mistakes while you are learning and training your hand. Next you need to practice a lot. You may draw a lot or paint or whatever but like every sport you use different muscles and believe me you will know you are using your airbrush muscles.


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