My 15 Basic Airbrush Rules

Our readers who have painted a few pieces on their own are probably not that interested in reading any poems because most of their mistakes were already made and probably fixed too and they know how to deal with it next time as they found the solution to every wrong step by themselves.

Why do I write this article then? Well, many of airbrush beginners have not heard the evil HISS of compressed air and didn’t get the edgy scent of spilled reducer yet. So, while just starting out, they may avoid many of most common mistakes that could be made in airbrushing, just by reading this article.

Our dear newbies, I hope you have already made choice on airbrush gunair compressor and you have read the airbrush color guide. Now it is time to get to know some basic airbrush rules that you have to follow while working with airbrush. Many of this rules have different tendency and some are more important and some less. I tried to arrange them as best as I could and I hope nobody will get lost while reading it.

Airbrush and Safety

Usually with paints like urethane or lacquer need to wear a mask with proper filter. Water colors are not that dangerous and you’ll be fine with dust mask. But remember this:

Any paint is dangerous to breathe, even if it says non-toxic. I would compare it to smoking.

Passive smoking is more dangerous than smoking itself, now imagine that you inhale the spray dust every time your airbrush is atomizing and all that stuff lands in your lungs!

Make sure the pigments are NOT poisonous i.e. contain lead of cadmium or zinc… It could be very dangerous. Well I heard that some of them can kill you very quickly if you inhale them… but I can’t confirm that.

Urethane, lacquers and automotive paints could be dangerous for your skin and sometimes cause allergic reaction. So, from safety point come our first two rules:

1. Wear Respirator
2. Wear Protective Clothing

Airbrush and Paint Properties

What paints you are going to use depends on surface. Acrylic does air dry very quick and you have to work with the tip dry as you spray, making sure you constantly clean your tip.

Watercolor is very transparent and works better on paper. Acrylic paint seems to be more solid and is better on canvas. The thing is that canvas doesn’t soak the Watercolor in.

If you bought an acrylic paint then you need reducer for acrylic paint, that simple. Sometimes you can thin acrylic paints with water. The third rule:

3. Use Proper Reducer

Starting Airbrushing

So, you have your airbrush ready and turned on the compressor and…STOP… DO NOT pour the paint in yet! First you have to apply first coat or basic coat to be exact. It is the good stuff that helps paint to stick to surface and even to tape your stencils on it. Which type of coat you are going to use depends on surface as well. I use auto coat especially when working with Nitros on plastic or metal surface.

Of course you don’t have to use coat. Sometimes you can just add a bit of Butanol to the paint apart from reducer. Be careful, too much of butanol can “devour” polystyrene surfaces very easy.

After applying the coat leave it to dry out. The time here depends on the type of coat and can be in range from 1 to 24 hours. Only after it dries out you can start painting. I recommend to use very thin paint.

4. Thinner paint – smaller atomization flame – better covering quality.
5. If your airbrush is spitting the paint, clogging or stops spraying – paint is too thick.

If you want to get opaque finish (it depends on size of the particulates of paint layer), it could be made just by adding a special powder “Flat base” to the paint. But it does not guarantee the quality finish and can lead into nozzle clogging.

There is other solution to this problem. You can get this effect with thicker paint and lower pressure. However as I mentioned working with thick paint isn’t very good so I recommend to experiment with the pressure and find the optimal one that suits you best.

6. More thick paint creates more opaque finish, but too thick can lead to rough surface and gouts.

If you have some limits with the pressure range you can get opaque finish just by changing the distance from surface.

Well, this is all good, you say, but what if you use more colors and every paint acts differently, how to get same level of opacity with more colors? Here is only one advice. Do not care about opacity right now too much. After you finish the painting you will have to cover it with clear coat anyway. Here you will get the opacity you want. There are even opaque clear coats you can buy.

7. The best angle to hold airbrush according to surface is 90 degree (perpendicular to surface).

If you hold airbrush in acute angle it will result in rough surface and cause other side effects.

8. DO NOT hold airbrush at one point! it has to move all the time it atomizes. Otherwise you will have paint drips or paint runs.
9. Always start with bright colors. Covering black with white is a pain in the butt. Sometimes it is the other way around (difficult to cover white as well)

If you want to paint bright object on dark background through the stencil (such as yellow object on green background) blow some white first, otherwise your object will be brown.

Work with Airbrush

Any airbrush is high quality product and you have to be careful with it if you want to get best results. Good thing is to get to know all the parts of your airbrush and how it’s build. This knowledge will help you with cleaning and with maintenance too.

10. DO NOT start any repairing if you are not sure that you can finish it.

Here are some recommendations:

Trigger – All airbrushes work as Single-Action or Double-Action. Double-Action can be regulated or independent. In independent double action you can regulate the flow of air and paint independently (more push down – more air, more pull back – more paint). The most of the special effects typical for airbrushing is made with independent double action airbrush. Optimal quality could be earned by practice only. The learning process with regulated double action is much faster. First you have to push trigger down and open air channel and only then you can pull the trigger and regulate the paint flow.

Air Pressure – The higher the pressure the more effective the atomization but at some pressure level it becomes too difficult to be controlled. Too low pressure won’t guarantee quality atomization and results in bad finish. Try to find right consistency of paint if you can’t regulate the pressure.

Paint – I recommend to dilute the paint with reducer until it has milk consistency, and beginners, make it even thinner and start your experimenting with water based paints.
I think it is time to mention one of the most important rules that use to be called “Golden Rule of Airbrushing”

11. Start with Air, Finish with Air.

This is very important for everyone who works with independent double action. If you first pull the trigger the paint will collect at the tip of the nozzle and then when you push trigger down it will spit all the paint from the tip at ones and will make a blot on your art-work. The regulated double action won’t allow you to pull the trigger until you push it down.

12. A lot of troubles start after the cleaning, if you don’t do it right.

Bad atomization and clogged nozzle are usually a result of bad or irregular cleaning. The airbrush has to be cleaned at least with water during any change of color or if you work with special paints use special reducer. Leave paint inside airbrush reservoir only for short time. While using paints with pigments (i.e. acrylic), some of them are gathering on the needle and on the inside of nozzle cap. These two parts are meant to be cleaned very often.

13. When you finish your work, NEVER leave airbrush without cleaning.

While servicing your tool yourself, for the first time, have a schema of airbrush (usually it comes with airbrush). When changing nozzle use only special key that comes with airbrush. Be careful not to tight it too hard or you can break the treads. If it happens you will have to buy new nozzle.

Sometimes we use lubricants for airbrush gun and I would advice you to use only the one that comes with airbrush or, if you don’t have any, use glycerin.

14. NEVER use WD-40!!! This lubricant attacks and destroys any kind of paint and o-ring seal.

That’s it at the moment. The last one is maybe not that common, but from my experience so I’m listing it as I think it matters.

15. Try not to drop airbrush out of your hand. It can result into bent needle or deform the nozzle (two most important parts of any airbrush)


Everything you just have read will be probably forgotten as in every situation you’re going to work off yourself, so just plug-in the compressor and start to practice. Your own experience is the best teacher. Without experience you never become a master even if you read tons of magazines.

If you have more ideas that I forgot to mention, please leave a comment and do me a favor, spread the word by sharing this post in your social networks, if you can.

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