Published on May 3, 2011 by Sergej Voronko

Advanced Guide to Airbrush Paint

airbrush_paints

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.

1. TYPES

Let’s take a look at color types and how we can categorize them.

Water Colors

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.

Acrylic Colors

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.

Oil 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.

Gouache Colors

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.

Sign 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.

Candy Colors

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

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.

2. BRANDS

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

golden 500x153 Advanced Guide to Airbrush Paint image on AirbrushDOC
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.

Properties:

  • 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.

IWATA MEDEA

iwata medea logo 500x127 Advanced Guide to Airbrush Paint image on AirbrushDOC
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.

AQUAFLOW

 Advanced Guide to Airbrush Paint image on AirbrushDOCAqua 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.

CREATEX COLORS

CXlogo 500x145 Advanced Guide to Airbrush Paint image on AirbrushDOC
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.

Auto Air Graphic 500x128 Advanced Guide to Airbrush Paint image on AirbrushDOC

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

Createx Logo 500x249 Advanced Guide to Airbrush Paint image on AirbrushDOC
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.

BADGER

badgerlogo1 Advanced Guide to Airbrush Paint image on AirbrushDOC

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.

BADGER SPECTRA-TEX

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

house of kolor logo Advanced Guide to Airbrush Paint image on AirbrushDOC

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…

TEMPTU

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

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…

Conclusion

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.

Screenfacebookquestion Advanced Guide to Airbrush Paint image on AirbrushDOC

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:
votes Advanced Guide to Airbrush Paint image on AirbrushDOC

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).

Sources: http://www.createxcolors.com/
http://www.liquitex.com/
http://www.houseofkolor.com
http://www.temptu.com/
http://www.badgerairbrush.com/
http://www.aquaflow.com/
http://www.iwata-medea.com/
http://www.goldenpaints.com/
TheAirbrushForum.com
Airbrush.com
Facebook Fan Page

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  • D_360_D

    Nice Blog.. ;)

    • Anonymous

      Thanks! Your blog looks nice too!

  • Casillase69

    I am trying to airbrush on a dry erase board. What paint should I use. So it can be permamnent. I tried to use the paint for the shirts since that’s the only one I have but it comes off. And I don’t know if I spray clear coat on it. If it will burn the paint or it will help it. Let me know if anyone can answer this. Please. I would really appreciate it. Thank you. Eric

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sergej-Voronko/100002008246176 Sergej Voronko

      Hi Eric,
      Thanks for your question. I have no experience with dry erase board but I have a few ideas. First try to degrease the surface of your board (if you don’t have degreaser try some alcohol or even wash-up liquid). I don’t know much about textile paints (but they have to soak somewhere) so, I don’t think they are good for dry erase board. I would go with Createx or Auto-Air. Just Try first and if it goes off, you probably will have to use sand paper. After all I recommend to clear coat everything because if you don’t it will not look good, especially from the angle. 
      I hope that my answer was somehow helpful.

  • Dejana

    Wow this blog has been mega informative. 

    I am needing to spray my business logo on some accessories I have in my kit (I work in the make-up field). I have an compressor and various guns ( 0.3, 0.5 and a 0.8mm) for various works I do. As I am equip with the gun and logo I want to spray my accessories myself. 

    I need to spray a matte black logo and a gloss black logo on some standard plastic packaging. In your opinion what company would you suggest for me to use to spray a permanent logo on some plastic. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sergej-Voronko/100002008246176 Sergej Voronko

      Thanks for your question Dejana!
      When painting plastic, most important is the right preparation than brand of paint. You have to use “adhesion promoter” before you pain it. And before you apply promoter clean it with dawn dish soap and water right before you scuff it and after you scuff it too. DO NOT use wax or grease remover. (for adhesion promoter ask in your local auto parts shop or paint supplier shop)About the paint. Many people will advice you to use Auto-Air Colors, but generally you can use any Createx (classic, wicked, auto-air), Etac or Autoborne.

      After you done, don’t forget to clear coat. To get matt finish you will probably need to get matting agent for clear coat.   

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Israel-Nazario/1114735708 Israel Nazario

    Hey!!! this is a great greatfull site about airbrush, congrats and thank you for information and adds. 

    • http://airbrushdoc.com Sergej Voronko

      Hey Israel, thank you for your comment. I’m glad you like this site ;)

  • http://www.northshoretowinginc.com/about/contact-us/ eugen

    Coolest sites about airbrush color i’ve ever read. i am looking for more specific details and this post of you gives more knowledge than i ever expected.

    • http://airbrushdoc.com Sergej Voronko

      Thanks Eugen

  • Pricecait

    So question. I have airbrush tattoo paint and it harden in the bottle and i’m trying to figure out how to ‘water it’ back down so i don’t waste so much paint

    • http://airbrushdoc.com Sergej Voronko

      Hey Pricecait,

      If you have proper tattoo paints, it should be ready to spray as it comes about as thin as
      water already. It’s strange that it has harden, did you leave the bottle opened? :)
      Every paint brand is different as well as individual colors within those brands. What kind do you have? Anyway you can try to thin tattoo paint but you want to use 92% alcohol (at least) as you want to add as small amount of water as possible..

      I hope it will help you.

  • dave

    Hello sir Serg,
    Sir i have a question, are createx colors are safe to be on the top of lacquer acrylic or urethane paints base and top coated with clear coats? ex. based with urethane or lacquer acrylic then sprayed with createx colors (for graphics) and clear quoted with urethane or lacquer acrylic.
    Thank very much for your unselfish skills shared to us. i was stunned that only few people are most likely to share their expertise to everyone without a return.. great job keep up the good work.

    • http://airbrushdoc.com/ Sergej Voronko

      Hey Dave,

      Thanks for your appreciation. In general, Createx are so good paints that you can put them on practically any surface without any bad results. It is acrylic base so with acrylic lacquer you shouldn’t have any trouble.

      I’ve had used them on urethane too without any problem just don’t forget to prepare the surface properly for painting. Createx dry fast so before you finish mixing clear coat the graphics will be dry and ready to be sprayed over. I can’t guarantee 100% success with urethane even that I’ve never had any problem but to be sure try to make some sample on a piece of something similar to your working surface (Just to really be 100% sure).

      Thanks again Dave for asking, if you have any questions again don’t hesitate and ask. ;)

      • dave

        Many thanks sir. =)

        • http://airbrushdoc.com/ Sergej Voronko

          no problem

  • bill

    Great info here. I’m new to airbrushing and i have a question about colours. If i acquire several big (30ml) external gravity feed cups for each paint, can i keep the acrylics or inks inside them when i finish working? It would be very convenient if i didn’t have to measure how much paint i want each time and just remove the cup from the airbrush and store the colour away for future use. I mean, are cups properly sealed as to not allow air to dry them up?