Airbrush Paint Buyer’s Guide

Airbrushing is a fun and artistic way that you can express yourself using many types of paints on an endless number of surfaces. While it may seem overwhelming now, once you start airbrushing it will become more apparent what paints work best for each type of surface and how to use the perfect technique to take the picture that has formed inside your mind and put it on the surface that you are working with. Since specific paints work best on certain surfaces, it is best to have a basic understanding of the pros and cons of each type of paint and the surfaces they work best on.

Types of Paint

There are about five different types of paint, inks, dyes, oils, urethanes, and watercolors. Each paint works a little differently and leaves a different type of mark on the surface of your choice. Some things about the paint you will learn here, but other things you may have to discover on your own such as the type of finish you will get from each paint on the surface of your choice. Since the most paints are dependent on specific surfaces to avoid running and excessive blending that can make your project unattractive to the eye, or displeasing to you as the artist, it is important to understand the mediums that you choose.


Acrylic paints are extremely versatile and are the easiest paints to use as they work great for surfaces such as fabric, canvas, and acetate. While they will work on just about any surface you choose, they also have the shortest dry times of any other medium which allows you to continue working your airbrush without waiting long between coats of paint. You can also achieve a transparent style effect simply by thinning the paint properly. Some acrylic paints are pre-mixed allowing you to create the transparent effect without worrying about mixing the paint too thinly or not thick enough for the effect you are attempting to achieve.


If you work with acrylic paints enough, you will notice that once they are dry they are very strong. This allows the paint to stand up to just about anything, including water, however the one major exception is alcohol which will weaken the paint. This is because the pigment in the acrylic paint is bound with plastic allowing the color to take a decent amount of abuse.


Before you use your acrylic paints, be sure to shake them thoroughly as they tend to separate. When you set your psi for acrylic paints, it is highly recommended that you set your airbrush to 40 to 60 psi to effectively force the paint into fabrics, allowing them to set better on the surface. Another technique that is recommended by the pros is to heat-set your fabrics after you paint as to ensure you are getting the most out of this choice of medium. The pros also suggest one other tip, since acrylics are hard to clean out of your airbrush, they suggest that you should clean your equipment right after painting to ensure your equipment stays effective longer.

Recommended for:

  • hobby work, paper, illustration board, canvas, wood, and acrylic nails – Badger Air-Opaque Water Based Acrylic Paint, Set of 7, Badger Spectra-Tex Airbrush Ready Water Based Acrylic Paint, Neon, 2-Ounce Each, Set of 6.

Inks and Dyes

Inks and Dyes are generally classed together because they work very similarly to one another. Since this medium is so thin, be sure to set your airbrush to a lower psi because they are so much easier to spray. Inks and dyes are a popular choice by most commercial illustrators due to their brilliant color on both paper and illustration boards. When you work with this medium on paper, you will want to ensure that the paper you choose is of a fine grain since textures show more easily through your paint. One of the major downfalls of using inks and dyes is that your color choices are very limited, however they mix rather easily allowing you to create custom colors for your art work.

When you open your inks and dyes you may notice they come with an eyedropper, this is so you can fine tune your color mixes and easily calculate how much you have used to create your color of choice. Beware, light causes fading with this medium and even though the colors may be vibrant, exposure to light can fade the vibrancy from them rather quickly. When you use your inks and dyes you will want to shake them before each use to avoid separation of the colors and clean your equipment right after use as they are had to clean up if you wait too long. A tip from the pros is that you will want to avoid touching your art work with your hands as the oils from your hands can ruin your work, wearing cotton gloves can help you avoid this type of artistic tragedy.

Recommended for:

  • temporary tattoos – Custom Body Art -6 Color Kit
  • silk, cotton, canvas, rayon, polyester, and nylon – Jacquard Products Lumiere/Neopaque Pack, 9-Color


Oils are an amazing paint to work with as they provide your work with intense as well as durable color. They can be a little tricky to work with, but if you are up to the challenge they can be a lot of fun. To use oils properly you will need to thin them out a little and set the psi for your airbrush at 60/40. This is because oils were not designed with airbrushing in mind as they predate the invention of the airbrush. You can easily thin your oils with mineral spirits, turpentine, or linseed oil.


This choice of medium dries very slowly, and linseed oil will slow the drying process even more, which makes them hard to work with. You must wait for the paint to dry completely between coats, however the process of thinning the paint helps to speed up the process. Like any other paint it is recommended that you clean your airbrush immediately after using as they can be harder to clean if you wait too long.


Urethanes are an extremely durable paint type and are often used on cars, motorcycles, boats, and other metal surfaces. This is because they can withstand the elements and the abuse if properly applied. You must keep in mind that Urethanes require a clear coat to protect the colors from damage and loss of vibrancy. It is also best to understand that urethanes require a catalyst to dry properly so they are as strong as possible as they don’t dry based on water evaporation like most paints. These paints do take longer to dry and you can sand and polish them as soon as they are dry to ensure smooth application. When using urethanes you will want to ensure that you clean your equipment immediately after use and be sure to use a respirator in a well-ventilated area due to the fumes.


Watercolors are perfect for use with an airbrush because they spray evenly and easily, however they lack the durability of other paint types. They don’t hold up to moisture or exposure to the elements and are generally reserved for use when creating fine art. These paints spray on rather transparently and should be applied in coats to get the desired effect. It can be difficult to work with water colors as they allow the previous layers to show through and mistakes are hard to hide and cover.

This type of paint can be bought in tubes or cakes or in pre-mixed and ready to use bottles. To thin the paint, just use distilled water on cakes or tubes and they are ready to use with your airbrush. Keep in mind that water colors will crack when bent and are very hard to keep looking nice, so be sure to keep your surface as ridged as possible. One of the best things about watercolors is that they dry quickly, so there is no wait time between coats and they are extremely easy to clean up. Just soak your equipment in water and they practically melt off.

Recommended for:

  • textile, canvass, leather, wood, ceramic, glass – Createx Colors 2-Ounce AB Airbrush Set, Fluorescent.
  • white or beige paper or canvas, wood – Iwata-Medea Com-Art Color Kit

For beginners:

Check out this great starter airbrush colour kit – Createx Super Starter Kit  (16 Colors, How-to Airbrush Book, Color Chart of All 80 Colors, and a Free Color Wheel)

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