Let’s assume that you have all the equipment that is required for airbrushing. You’ve got airbrush gun and compressor. You also know what you are going to paint and what surface are you going to paint. The only thing missing is proper paint. When you’re starting out you can experiment but I think if you knew something about all the paints available on the market you could save some time and frustration as well. This article is a compilation and consists of three parts. You don’t have to read all of it, that’s why I included these links:
In the first part we’re going to take a look at the types of paints, the differences and their use. In second part we’re going to have a look at brands and the third part is going to be a collection of advices as I did in my previous articles.
Airbrushing as art requires special paints but that does not mean that you have to use paints dedicated only for airbrushing. To present day there is a lot of art stores (shops) or automotive suppliers that have all these paints in their catalogue.
If you know everything about types of colors just jump to paragraph numbered 2.
Let’s take a look at color types and how we can categorize them.
Well I think that you can get from the name that these are water based (it means that you can thin this color with water). If you get dirty you can simply wash it off with water too. Very important property of these colors – they are transparent. They belong to low viscosity (thin) colors, so if you’re going to use these in gravity feed airbrush you should have a lid on the cup.
Very common in airbrushing and many companies make these specially for airbrushing. They can be easily washed or thinned with water or special reducer from manufacturer. These colors are long lasting colors and to be permanent they require heat set (I will cover this in another article later). They are high viscosity (thick) colors.
IMPORTANT: Don’t let these colors to dry in your airbrush gun, clean right after use!!!
Note: Textile Colors, they are actually subcategory of Acrylic Colors.
These are oil (solvent) based colors which mean they can be thinned and cleaned with turpentine or minerals spirits. Depending on how much you thin them they can become transparent or opaque. With these colors you don’t have to worry that they will dry out in your airbrush as they have very long drying time.
Also water based colors. They are very similar to water colors but with added white pigment to make them more opaque. Using this color requires some skills as it is harder to use them in airbrush than water colors.
Solvent based colors. That’s probably everything that I could find about this type. Honestly, I’ve never had to use them and probably never will. One more thing to this type is an alert notice:
Be very careful when using these colors as they are a bit dangerous. Don’t forget to follow the instructions from manufacturer as it’s very important.
Are used as a base coat color and they are dye-based. They will have a tact-like feel even after they have cured. They are sensitive and cannot be manipulated as easily as the other colors. If you’re going to leave your paint-job alone for some longer time before clear coating, you need to apply a clear coat to protect the colors from picking up dust and dirt.
!!! The Candy Colors will not look good until the clear coat is applied. The clear gloss will bring the Candy Colors to life.
These colors are more difficult to spray as they are very thin. You’ll often need 8 or more coats to achieve the desired color. Allow the first coat about 15 minutes to flash before putting on the next coat.
Tip: Heating the surface before the Candy Colors are applied will prevent any crawling or spidering. The Candy Colors are highly reflective.
These colors are very popular in automotive airbrushing, so if you’re planning on doing airbrush on bikes and cars you may have a look at this type.
Urethane colors at the present day are standard colors in the automotive industry. For the past couple of decades they have almost replaced acrylic colors as car airbrushists preferred choice (I hope I didn’t mix up too much as I couldn’t find what exactly term like “Urethane Candy” mean, probably urethane based candy color). There is many different opinions on comparing urethane and acrylic and many automotive artist argue that urethane provides a nicer-looking finish. Biggest plus for urethane colors is that they are extremely durable, and resist chipping when right maintained. One coat of urethane color will outlast most acrylic paints.
In terms of application, urethane colors are easier to apply and provide better coverage than acrylic paints. (Usually urethane color is reduced in ratio 2:1, but in case of airbrush we can use ratio 1:1)
Urethane colors are activated by hardeners, it means that once mixed they must be used or the product is wasted.
Benefit is that applied urethane dries quickly, so it cuts down on time that you spend waiting between coat applications. Usually in common practice it’s two coats. Base-coat urethane followed with a clear coat. It is also recommended to wet-sand urethane before applying a clear coat.
Urethane paints are toxic and should be used with caution. Because they contain isocyanines, airborne compounds that enter the lungs or skin, investigating proper precautions and aerating techniques are important when working with urethane.
I will mention, in my opinion, only the most popular brands on the market. If I missed some, please let me know.
GOLDEN ARTIST COLORS
Very popular brand that makes Opaque and Transparent lines espessially for airbrushing.
Opaque – made from a 100% water-based acrylic emulsion and they claim that it’s incorporating only the most lightfast pigments available, what results in exceptional permanency and performance.
- Viscosity – ready to use (no dilution required)
- Permanency – use of lightfast, durable pigments
- Minimal clogging – results in less time cleaning the airbrush
- Compatibility with other GOLDEN Acrylic products (Fluids, Heavy Body, Matte, High Loads)
Transparent – made from a safe and archival 100% water-based acrylic emulsion which has the same permanency and performance properties. * Transparency – the entire line of Transparents is very good balanced to ensure that all colors are equally transparent.
- Viscosity – ready to use (no dilution required)
- Permanency and minimal clogging same as Opaques.
- Compatibility with other GOLDEN Acrylic products (Opaque Airbrush Colors, Fluids, Heavy Body, Matte, High Loads).
They easily spray through the smallest nozzles available for airbrushes. They can be recoated immediately. Cleanup is easy and requires only water and a mild soap.
Comart Colors by Medea website is considered to be one of the finest and most versatile professional airbrush colors in the world (can’t confirm that as I’ve never used it, if someone does please leave a comment). Because of a common hydro-carbon base binder, Com-Art transparent and opaque colors can be used together without bleeding between colors. It’s non-toxic, ready to use color specifically made for airbrushing. Also heavily pigmented and light fast, allowing for accurate 4 color separations. It provides smooth spraying, and dries instantly.
Textile colors Medea Textile Colors by Jürek. For spraying on a variety of surfaces, including leather, wood, canvas, textiles, silk and found objects. Now even sprays well on hard surfaces such as license plate tags, metals, plastics and more! After work Medea recommends to use Medea topcoat (water-based polyurethane) for a final durable finish. The “Lube” provides an exclusive wetting agent and a flow enhancer that allow four hours of hassle-free spraying. Additionally, the flow enhancer breaks down the surface tension and results in better fabric absorption (when applied to textiles) for greater wash-ability and wear.
Aqua Flow colors contain premium acrylic binders that provide durability and stability. They claim that they select materials that are environmentally sound and are as safe as possible, making your work Earth friendly. It is a flexible acrylic color used for textiles, illustration, auto tags, wall murals, and many other types of art media.
This brand manufactures IllumaAir, Lacquerol and BodyAir airbrush colors.
IllumaAir Colors are high gloss hard colors that have good exterior light-fastness. They can be used in permanent as well as temporary applications, they are removable using their special eraser gel. You can use these colors on cars and months later remove them, also they are great for signs and vinyl.
Lacquerol is alcohol based airbrush paint for removable automotive surfaces as well as outdoor graphics. This color has the ability to be wet sanded and it can be buffed and polished to a glamor gloss finish. The colors are flammable due to their alcohol content, they use ethyl alcohol that is not toxic as methyl alcohol. You can not use water with this product; it must be thinned with ADA-31 Reducer (they provide this as well). The nice thing about these colors is if you goof-up simply wipe away and start again.
Lacquerol alcohol colors could be ideal to be used on cars as they will last for years and can be easily removed at any time with their remover or a pressure washer. Well I don’t know how exactly it works, I have never tried anything like this. If anyone has any experience with these colors (positive or negative), please leave a comment.
BodyAir is designed for temporary body tattoos, skin coloring, and extended life waterproof make. They also manufacture ink jet coatings for paper and plastics. These products are available in clear, opaque white and mat and finish. One of their names for ink jet coating is Bubblegum 10.
This brand is probably the number one colors brand for airbrushes (my own subjective look). For airbrush they make a few lines like, Opaque, Transparent, Fluoroscent, Pearlized and Iridiscent.
Opaque – Opaque Colors are solid colors intended to cover underlying colors and surfaces with 2 – 3 coats. Opaque Colors make excellent base colors. For many projects, starting with either Opaque White or Black works best; other color types will cover quicker with vivid, brighter effects compared to applying colors. Opaque colors work best with larger tip-sized airbrushes operated at higher PSI settings.
Transparent - Bright, vibrant colors which do not have fillers for opacity. Transparent Colors most often work best over a bright surface or base color such as Opaque White. Transparent Colors should be used for fine-lined detail operated at lower PSI settings through smaller tip-sizes. For 0.2mm tip-sizes, reduce Transparent Colors with 5608 Illustration Base, Wicked W100 Reducer or Auto Air 4011 Flash Reducer. Transparent Colors are the most common graphic paint used by artists after the base color has been achieved. This line is probably most colorful (available in 35 color shades).
Fluoroscent - Neon colors which emit a glow. Work best over a white base color such Opaque White. Fluorescent colors are NOT lightfast. The color’s fluorescence is due to the pigment being in a rapid state of decay. These colors are not intended for permanent finishes.
Pearlized – Vivid pearl base colors with a shimmering effect especially when viewed in direct light. Work best over Opaque White or Opaque Black.
Iridiscent – Luster pearl colors similar to Pearlized Colors but with an added hue shift apparent on contours and angles of light. Iridescent Colors have a shift from a lighter hue on direct views to a darker hue on side-cast views. Work best over Opaque White or Opaque Black.
WICKED COLORS from Createx
All Wicked Colors are highly pigmented, transparent colors, which cover semi-opaque right out of the bottle, perfect for full color saturation with virtually no tip-dry. They work with all airbrush tip-sizes and air dry incredibly fast.
Createx colors can be used for wood, fabric, glass, plaster, canvass, aluminium, leather, ceramic, poster boards, bricks, plastic … So as you can see any surface is good to go. Requires heat air drying which results in Self-cross linking (combination of polymers or oligomers with a high acid content to upgrade the resistance properties):
- Hardness and scratch resistance
- Anti-blocking (for stacking recently coated substrates)
- Resistance against household chemicals and grease
- Outdoor durability and UV resistance
- Flexibility and toughness
These properties tell us that Createx are made with ‘exterior grade’ pigments. This kind of color is usually called Automotive Color. They don’t require dilution and work out of the bottle. For nozzle 0.5mm you need compressor 40-50 PSI and for smaller sizes of nozzle you’ll be fine with lower PSI.
AUTO-AIR COLORS from Createx
Auto Air Colors are premium water-based custom paints and work well for graphics over existing finishes and for complete paint jobs. Colors are inter-mixable for a limitless palette of colors & effects.
Pigment Candy Full Color Paint are ready to spray out of the bottle without the need for mixing a catalyst or reducer. Colors may be thinned with Auto Air Reducer to achieve a lower viscosity when spraying with an airbrush. Auto Air Colors do not have a limited shelf life during use and their storage life exceeds 2 years. They may be top-coated with a urethane clear at any time after they’ve cured no matter how long the time past between painting and clearing. Auto-Air Colors are compatible with all urethane clears. They are lightfast and durable and contain less than 0.1% V.O.C. These Colors have been tested according to industry-wide accepted standards for fade resistance and durability.
TOTALLY TATTOO from BADGER
Body art and temporary tattoos are a wild and interesting art form with growing popularity. Badger’s Totally Tattoo paints are water resistant, safe to use, and non-toxic. They are alcohol-based for extended durability. Totally Tattoo Body Paints can be applied with an airbrush or with mini applicators. Can last 24 to 72 hours. It will not wash off in a pool and easily removed with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. One 1 oz. bottle covers approximately the whole of one person’s back depending upon how thick the paint is applied. Not recommended for face painting.
Spectra-Tex Airbrush Colors™ are highly pigmented and ready to use. Spectra-Tex Colors can be used on a variety of surfaces including: fabric, wood, canvas, paper, clay etc with permanent results. All Spectra-Tex Airbrush Colors™ are water-based, non-toxic and meet ASTM D-4236 standards. Spectra-Tex Colors offers 72 unique colors in a number of finishes including Transparent, Opaque High Hiding, Neon Fluorescent, and Metallic.
- Highly Concentrated – No need for additional pigments to be added
- Ready to Spray – Low viscosity, no dilution or additional additives needed. Outstanding flow characteristics – Smooth flowing, virtually eliminates tip drying.
- Water-based- Low odor. Does not contain harmful solvents.
HOUSE OF KOLOR
This brand does many things beside colors (stencils, reducers, etc…). Actually they have probably everything that artist doing automotive job will need. Even Craig Fraser recommends this brand as best brand for automotive (maybe he has contract with them – I don’t know). I didn’t want to say that they are bad, NOT at all; I just got that feeling at first. Well this guy just gave an example of brand you can use (if you have it in your local shop or can buy it online).
They make colors that are urethane based or polyurethane, so they can be a good choice for car, bike or helmet.
These colors may be applied to the existing finish, bare steel, aluminum, fiberglass, galvanized surfaces, and various plastics. It may be a good choice for a long lasting custom paint job.
House of Kolor also makes very good transparent Candy colors…
Artool ‘Body of Art’ 0.5 oz. airbrush Body-Of-Art alcohol based colors are safe to use and are made with FDA approved ingredients. Colors are blend-able and water proof. Easily applied and easily removed. Choose from a selection of 15 different colors. Used for temporary tattoos and makeups.
LIQUITEX Professional Acrylic Ink
This is a range of extremely fluid acrylic that uses super-fine pigments in a state-of-the-art acrylic emulsion. They dry quickly, are permanent, water resistant and non-clogging, which makes them ideal for a variety of techniques from watercolor effects to stamping.
This all I have found, but I think it’s enough.
E’TAC offers very well-behaved paints, although they are pricier than many other brands. They also offer a variety of stuff you can mix with the paints to modify their qualities (reducers, flow enhancers, hardeners, etc.) which is nice.
This brand offers 4 lines of colors to choose from:
- Private Stock (simply use as is, straight from the bottle).
- Edwards FX Series (re-soluble solution for special effects, erase-back and re-wetting properties such as that used in photo-realistic rendering).
- E’Daptables (This line is actually very interesting as I got from description it allows you to mix between Edwards FX Series and Private Stock line).
- TNT (Those who are using TNT tells that it’s one of the best textile paint yet to be found on the market with exotic range of color options to choose from. So if textiles and tags is your art, this could be your answer).
- You can find E’tac paints at USA Airbrush , although for more info, I would visit their old website at ETAC Airbrush.
3. Pro Advices
And here are some advices from Pro’s…
No. It’s not ok to use Createx for tattoo. Yeah it’s nontoxic, but it doesn’t allow the skin to breath, and it’s too thick. There are a number of temp tattoo paints available….totally tattoo, temptu..
Badger Totally Tattoo – After purchasing and trying 5 different types of body paint (stores from Florida all the way to Australia), I found that these Badger Totally Tattoo paints are the best. I conducted many tests and these proved to last the longest. Too bad there aren’t bigger bottles.
Badger Totally Tattoo – These paints do what they say they do (stay on the skin). If you use a brush and alcohol as a thinner it is similar to using very fast drying gauche. The pigments mostly come from aluminum oxides (food coloring) carried with alcohol, Castor oil and some other ingredients that I could find very little information on. These are considered “safe” but I doubt that they are very gentle on the skin. I haven’t had any reports of problems from the people I have painted on but I intend to only use these paints when more gentle cosmetics will not do the trick.
AUTO-AIR – I think I am switching to other paint! Auto-air is driving me nuts. Have to be so careful with it. What is everybody using for paint that isn’t water based? Custom shop or House of color? I need the inside scoop on what line has the best paint and colors.
AUTO-AIR – Love the Auto Air Paints! Basecoating, graphics, Fine detail airbrushing are a breeze!
AUTO-AIR – this is the paint that I give the best percentage in quality and beautiful colors, I recommend this paint for all and that I was using a while earlier European paints, it’s also very good quality but this is the one that I like so, I recommend…
I’ve been using water based ever since I started (30 yrs. ago), started with createx, now it’s all auto air!!! Really it is easy to work with, love to do stuff with a lot of layers, I really like the Wicked line too…
Have been using auto air for 25 years. I airbrush and hand paint with it on all types of vehicles. Love the paint… Murals are all I do.
Autobourne – Autoborne airbrushes better than auto air so I would start with that and have a play and see what results you get. I use it pretty much 1:1 with reducer, this gives a nice transparent which is opaque enough for detail, and can also build color quickly.
I still use my Wicked Colors and will continue to use them but House of Kolor just simply outperforms them hands down…
There are things to consider when using waterbase or waterborne as compared to using uros (urethane). Yeah there’s the lay-down techniques, that’s different. Instead of flash time, you heat set the paint. Because Auto-Air is an acrylic you have to use a physical key instead of a chemical bond so yeah there are a couple different steps for that as well. Does that mean that Auto-Air is crap? Nope! Just DIFFERENT!
I’m not ready to deal with the toxicity issues involved with Uros, plus, I like being in the house. So I prefer Createx..
Having used solvent based paint and used Auto-Air / Wicked I am definitely sticking with water based, from the cleanup alone it’s so much better. With a drop or 2 of glycerol it flows a lot better.
Autoborne has done a lot to bridge the gap between Auto-Air and Uros, also there are other makes of water bourne paint to try.
Isn’t the Autoborne the stuff that is 200 times the price of wicked and the exact same thing? Yes, it’s the same, but you can’t get wicked in 4oz size …… yet at least, and the color palette is different, except for some basics. They are the same as in the regular wicked line. The detail line of the wicked is ground finer than either and it’s basically what I use on everything.
Golden airbrush colors are one of my favorite airbrush paints. Why? Because they’re: easily accessible as most craft stores have them fairly inexpensive and great quality.
My experience with the whole spectrum of airbrush paints is limited, but I am impressed with E’TAC so far. They flow great straight out of the bottle. I’ve ordered from them before, and they ship almost as quickly as you respond to email.
Well there is many more brands that make airbrush colors, I just brought some most famous. BTW I could not find any description about Autobourne or DuPont (these are very expensive). And there is many local paints in Germany, Russia … but they are not popular in US for example. So I leave it on world market. I personally use Createx Classic Colors and I’m happy with them. Of course for automotive I will recommend to try House of Kolor or Auto-Air. Some of them are not that expensive so you can give a try to everyone and see for yourself which best suits you. At last I placed the questionnaire on my Facebook fan page, about preferred pains. I got only 24 responses so I do not recommend following only this result because it is not really objective.
I think that first of all you should choose color by purpose of use and then to choose the brand won’t be that difficult.
Here are some results I got by collecting votes on this blog:
If you have any suggestion or notes about colors that you use please share it with us. Maybe I’ve missed some big brand or some specific color types so don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send me an e-mail. As usual don’t forget to share this article in your social network (of course if you like it).
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