Airbrush Paints & Airbrush Painting

There are many kinds of paints that can be used with Airbrushes.. Basically, if its thin enough, fine enough, & smooth enough, then you can use it in your airbrush.. a good way to think of it, is that an airbrush sprays Milk, and anything you spray should have the look, feel & viscosity of milk.

The best paints to use are ones which are healthier for yourself and those in your home, have less fumes, don’t require heavy ventilation and special breathing masks, and are better for the environment… this means water-soluble paints.

The Main Water-soluble Paints you can Use are:

  • Acrylic Art Paint
  • Acrylic Inks & Washes
  • Acrylic Squeeze-bottle paints (partially thinned)
  • Acrylic Model Paints
  • Dye Powders
  • Mica Powders
  • Color Cakes
  • Watercolors
  • Food Coloring
  • Edible Paints & Pigments
  • Water-Soluble Face-paints
  • Water-Soluble Body Paints
  • Water Soluble Cosmetics
  • Water-Soluble Stage Makeup
  • Acrylic House Paints
  • Acrylic Latex
  • Acrylic Latex Enamel, Interior Satin Finish – Wall & Trim
  • Water-based Polyurethane
  • Water-based Polycrylic
  • Water-Based Krylon Matte Finish

For Airbrushing Acrylics, you should set up the following items:

  • One or More Airbrushes, either Bottom-fed Siphon-Bottle Airbrushes or Gravity-Fed Top-Cup/Side-Cup Airbrushes
    • With Siphon Airbrushes, get as many extra bottles as you will need colors. You can never have too many extra bottle, Each bottle should have its own siphon cap, with metal nozzle on top and plastic tube reaching the bottom of the bottle, cut on the bias so as not to get stuck siphoning the bottom of the bottle
    • Get an additional flat-top air-tight cap for each bottle, with a rubber seal on the inside of the cap, for storing extra paint mixes for your next use
    • Small, tight-fitting rubber caps can also be placed on the upper nozzle on the siphon caps
  • Airbrush Hoses with Fixed-End Attachments, be sure the ends dont move in and out at all.. use adapters if using more than one airbrush
  • Oil-less Air Compressor with Variable PSI that can hold steady at pressures between 5-40 psi, and which has a Water Trap & a Separate Air Tank
  • Attach the standard Female Connector to the End near the Water Trap, with a standard male connector on a long piece of the spiral air hose, and at the other end, another standard Female Connector – then at the end of your airbrush hose, get the step up adapter to a threaded insert with a male end connector on that to snap into the spiral hose
  • Air-Brush Holder for as many Airbrushes as you will use
  • Acrylic Paint of choice
  • Acrylic Retarder (Acrylic paint dries much faster than other paints, and when it dries, its very hard to clean off, so its best to use an acrylic retarder)
  • Acrylic Thinner
  • Small Bucket of Hot Soapy Water
  • Small Ceramic, Glass, or Plastic Bowls for color mixing & thinning
  • A small Crock-pot with heated Hot soapy Water, with a dipping Cup
  • A rubbish bin lined with a plastic bag, or a small bucket with some water in it for paint waste & clearing
  • Cotton Swabs
  • T-shirt Cloth Rags
  • Squeeze Bottle with Rubbing Alcohol
  • Squeeze Bottle with Windex or Window/ Windshield Liquid
  • Squeeze Bottle with Distilled or Purified Water (Tap water will leave deposits that can clog up your airgun or cause splattering)
  • Airbrush Clearing Pot or Small Bucket with a little water in it for clearing Airbrush into & Dumping extra paint
  • Panty Hose / Nylon Stockings
  • Elastic Band
  • Small Cappuccino Whisk (IKEA has these, Starbucks may as well)
  • A Drop Cloth to protect the floor
  • Some Newspapers or old towels
  • Ultrasonic Bath Cleaner (optional), available at Jusco or Jewelry-Supply places
  • For portable Airbrushing, use a tank filled with CO2
    Airbrush Paints & Airbrush Painting

To use Most Acrylic:

  • Mix up to 30%-50% Acrylic Retarder with Acrylic Art Paint
  • Add Acrylic thinner to thin the mixture out to about Heavy Cream or a bit thicker
  • Thin that mixture out with Windex, Window Cleaner, or Automobile Windshield Fluid, until its approximately the consistency of milk.. cleaner without Ammonia is best
  • Using the Acrylic Thinner is optional, you can skip it and go straight to the windex/ windshield washer fluid, or use less Acrylic Thinner, more Windex, etc…
  • You can also thin with 80% distilled water, 20% Alcohol, and a bit of liquid soap
    100% distilled water will also work for thinning swirl it around in the cup, and see that it coats the sides and slides down, like milk does
  • Generally, its 20%-40% thinner…
  • For Acrylic Latex Enamel, Interior Satin Finish, thin with about 40% Windex/ Windshield Washer Fluid
  • Another Homemade Windex is: 4oz of .5% ammonia, & 16oz rubbing alcohol – dilute to 1 gallon total volume with distilled water
  • If spraying on clothing, add your Acrylic Fabric-Setter to the paint before adding the retarder and thinner

Airbrushing Process:

  • Set up your drop cloth on the ground beneath your project
  • Lay the newspapers or old towels out and set your airbrush, airbrush bottles, small bowls, etc, on it.
  • Mix Paint & Retarder together in small bowl, then add thinner, mix with the Cappuccino Whisk
  • Filter the Paint
    • Put a piece of Panty Hose over the Cup or Siphon Bottle
    • Push your finger into the nylon through the mouth of the bottle so the nylon is inside about 1/2- 1 inch
    • If using a built-in cup, filter the pint into a separate bottle before pouring it into the cup
    • Secure it over the top with an elastic band
    • Pour the paint through the nylon stocking bit by bit
    • Rub the Paint through the Nylon Stocking with a Q-Tip/ Cotton Swab
  • After Painting:
    • Dump the extra paint out of the small bowls and into the rubbish bin
    • If you want to save it, remove the lid, wrap it with plastic wrap, and put the lid back on it, or just put an elastic on it, or use air-tight lids, if you have them
    • With a Built-in cup, pour the paint back into the bottle you used for filtering. cover air-tight and store for later use
  • Put the small bowls into the bucket of hot soapy water to soak, for cleaning
  • Begin to Spray your project
  • Stop every now and then and wipe the tip with a cotton swab soaked with alcohol.
  • Keep a separate bottle full of Alcohol or Windex for clearing the gun if you start to get splatter, in longer projects
  • To change Colors:
    • Dump out Excess Paint from airbrush paint cup or siphon bottle
    • Squirt some Alcohol into the cup, then dump it out into the rubbish bin, then refill it (if using a a siphon bottle fill an extra bottle with alcohol and attach it… put the bottle containing the paint into hot soapy water after dumping out excess paint, for soaking & cleaning)
    • Spray all the alcohol through the gun into the clearing pot, rubbish can, or small bucket with a little water in it
    • Wipe out the cup with a rag, and fill with Clean Hot Soapy water from the crock-pot, and then spray all the hot water through the airbrush as well
    • Dip a cotton swab into the clean hot soapy water from the crock pot, and clean the airbrush tip and other areas of the airbrush where paint is
    • Re-spray some Alcohol through the brush
    • Wash everything that you put in the bucket of hot soapy water, dry it with a rag, and turn it upside down on the newspapers or old towels to finish air drying
  • Remix the next color as before, and repeat..
  • After use, dismantle the entire gun and clean all parts in an alcohol bath , then into an ultra-sonic cleaner, if available, be very careful with the needle, which bends very easily.
    • For a quick Clean:
      • Unscrew the tip ends and soak them in alcohol or windex solution
      • Dip a Cotton Swab into Alcohol and carefully brush off the needle tip edges, very softy & lightly
      • Use a soft dental brush-pick to clean the center of the nozzle
      • Cotton swab (dipped in alcohol) around the Nozzle Tips
      • Cotton swab (dipped in alcohol) inside and around the Siphon Tube
  • The #1 rule to painting with acrylics is to clean paint off of everything as you go, once the paint dries, it is very difficult to remove
  • If you have dried paint, try soaking it in windex or alcohol, then cleaning it with a soft-bristle toothbrush, t-shirt rag, & cotton swabs.
  • If you have an Ultrasonic Bath Cleaner, fill it with the solution, or with window cleaner, and it will clean all parts of you airbrush perfectly clean.
  • Clean the bottles mixing dishes, etc..
  • Discard any extra paints you mixed that you don’t want into the rubbish, since thinned paints wont hold well.
    • If using paints again later, they will need to be re-mixed, & re-filtered into new bottles
  • When finished, throw your rubbish bin out.. and dump your bucket out into the larger rubbish bin by your home.. Never dispose of paints down through your drain, as your paint will pollute rivers and oceans..

For Homemade Body Paints:

  • 2 cups baking soda
  • 4 cups vinegar
  • 4 cups corn starch
  • 1/2 c glycerin
  • 1 cup water or less
  • Storage jars with Air-tight Lids


  • Combine baking soda & vinegar, let sit.. a couple minutes to thicken up..
  • Add cornstarch & glycerin after a few minutes, mix until very smooth..
  • Add water slowly to desired consistency
  • Divide into jars…
  • Add the food coloring drop by drop until reaching the shade and color you desire.
  • Store with air-tight lids
  • Cover your work with hairspray on the models body after painting to set it

The paint will have a watercolor effect in thinner consistencies and an acrylic-paint effect in thicker consistencies

For more delicate stage makeup, add actual makeup pigments, such as a jar of concealer to one container, or mica powder to another for eyes and lips. etc

For Cakes & Pastries:

  • Use a separate Airbrush & Hose for Cake Decorating, and use an 80+ proof clear alcohol like vodka to mix with your food coloring or for thinning your edible paints or pigments (alcohol will evaporate, leaving no alcohol on the cake)