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A Technical Guide to Airbrushes

Q: How can I airbrush tan someone?

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Summary

  1. Point the airbrush at the (semi) naked person

  2. Spray until completely covered in solution

  3. Clean the airbrush out after you're done

But it can't be that easy! Right?!  Well, it's not 'quite' that easy.  There are a few more steps in between and knowledge generally transforms okay tans into  good tans.  Add practice and and a dose of really good knowledge and transform your good tans into great tans!

Doing It


By now, you should already have your equipment and a place to spray so I won't go into those pieces of the puzzle.

Spray tanning is the easiest thing you can do with an airbrush.  You won't use their full capability, you don't need their full capability.  Easy to do, doesn't mean easy to make look natural.  You'll have to practice a lot to spray a "natural looking" tan.

  1. Get Suited Up...or Down

     
    If you're tanning someone you'll want to be fully clothed, preferably with a washable smock of some kind.  You'll also need your dust mask.  Unless you have amazing ventilation, WEAR YOUR DUST MASK!
     
    If you're being tanned it's time to strip down and put on the hair cover.  Whatever you've got left on will determine where your tan lines are.  This is also the time to exfoliate unless you've already done that at home.
  2. Ventilation On

     
    Get the air moving, but remember there's a naked or semi-naked person there too.  You don't want your ventilation blowing on them.  You want your ventilation to pull the fumes out.
     
    If you've got a cloud of tanning fumes then you'll need turn down your air pressure and increase the amount of air flowing through the room.
  3. Compressor On

     
    It's always best to have your compressor in a different room since tanning solution has a nasty habit of shortening the compressor's lifespan.  Just a word of wisdom from someone who's seen almost everything...
     
    You'll also want to make sure the pressure is between 15 and 25 while the airbrush is spraying.  You're always trying to spray people with the lowest pressure possible while avoiding clogging problems and grainy spray.
     
    • Higher pressure = finer spray = more fumes to inhale
    • Lower pressure = coarser spray = fewer fumes to inhale
  4. Pre-Rinse Check, All System Go!

     
    Spray some water or cleaning solution through the airbrush first.  

    I'm the paranoid repair technician who used to deal with your problems over the phone with that naked person in the next room.  In fact, it's actually better to do this step before the person even walks into the room.  You want to look professional right?
     
    What you're doing here is making sure the equipment functions properly BEFORE you actually try using it.
  5. Fill a Bottle with Solution

     
    Heavier tans and bigger people will need more solution than lighter tans on smaller people.  2oz is a good round number to figure on until you've got more experience.
     
    There might actually be a few more steps here depending on the brand of solution you use.  I know some manufacturers have you mix it up on the spot or add the bronzer in or whatever.  This is the time to follow their directions for any kind of additives or solution mixing instructions.
  6. Spray the Client

     
    • Hold the airbrush roughly 8-12 inches away
    • Spray in overlapping lines or circles

      Whichever you choose, stick to that method for the entire tan.
    • Spray as dry as you can
       
      Airbrush spray shouldn't look slick, nor should it glisten.  It should look dry, maybe a little glisteny the very moment it hits the person, but you don't want it to stay that way.  The person should be dry to the touch--but you don't want to touch them--that'll ruin their new finish!
       
      If you spray dry you'll never have to worry about runs.
    • If an area starts to glisten stop spraying solution and only spray air.  This will help dry off that area quicker.
    • Don't spray your compressor
    "But, but, but, what about actually telling me how to do it?" you ask.

    Oh!  You want me expound upon this process hmm?  Well, I scoured the web for a good airbrush tanning demonstration video.   They are using a big spray gun so they can move faster.
  7. Rinse your airbrush immediately after you're done spraying

     
    DO NOT WAIT, rinse your airbrush now!  Tanning solution is sticky, gunky stuff.  It clogs airbrushes without hesitation.  If you develop this habit you probably won't have to ever worry about deep cleaning your airbrush more than once every year or two.
     
    The day you forget this and leave solution in your airbrush overnight is the day you will have to deep clean your airbrush.
  8. Finishing up

     
    The client needs to dry off a bit and then wear loose clothing.  No showers or hard exercise for the solution manufacturer's recommended amount of time (usually 6-8 hours)

Conclusion

Voila!  You've done it!  It's really not hard, but with some practice you'll become an expert capable of varying the degrees of darkness someone wants and even making the tan slightly uneven to make it appear more natural.  You've gotta have something to work towards after all!