Choose The Right Airbrush Paint - Airbrush Guru

Choose The Right Airbrush Paint

Paint is paint is paint right?  Wrong!

Paint is formulated for specific purposes.  For instance painting the side of your house, or painting metal, or paper.  The glue needs to stick to the substrate (the surface to be painted).

Use a paint that meets your specific purpose if at all possible.  Otherwise, you get to do like my instructor taught me.  Buy a small bottle and test it out on a piece that doesn’t matter, or in a place no one will see.  Then see what happens!

Beginners Should Stick to “Airbrush Ready” Paints

There are three reasons for this.

  1. Your own sanity

    Airbrushing is hard enough even with airbrush ready paint to make you want to pull your hair out a crush innocent, cute-eyed puppies beneath your boot clad foot in a fit of rage.  Why add the extra paint hassles when you don’t have to? For experienced people who have mastered the airbrush, you can play with creating your own paint.  You’ve put in the time, you have a good idea of the kind of pigments to use and the kind of runniness and stickiness you need out of your paint for it to spray well.  Beginners should take heed of my warning.  It really is for your own good.

  2. Airbrushes want paint of a certain consistency or thinner.

    This means the binder, the glue portion of the paint, has to be reduced enough to flow and spray easily without being over reduced so much that it doesn’t stick.

  3. Airbrushes want pigments of a certain size or smaller.

    The pigments need to be very, very finely ground up.  Pigment is simply dirt of the same color.  The dirt likes to form clods in your paint.  The finer the grind the less likely the globs will stick together.  And also the more likely the pigment globs will break up while being sprayed.

Once you’ve mastered the airbrush, if you still feel like mixing your own paint, by all means, knock yourself out.  Until you HAVE mastered it, stick with the more expensive, airbrush ready paint.

Best Airbrush Paints

Here are top 10 airbrush paints from well known manufaturers

  1. Golden High Flow Acrylic, Assorted 10 Color Set – Ready to use airbrush paint
  2. Createx Airbrush Colors – vibrant transparent, opaque, pearlized and iridescent
  3. Badger Spectra Tex Airbrush Paint
  4. E’TAC Private Stock Series
  5. Iwata-Medea Com-Art – Transparent and opaque color
  6. Auto AIR Colors from Createx – Candy Pigment Colors
  7. House of Kolor Airbrush ready paint
  8. Wicked Colors from Createx – Primary airbrush set
  9. Vallejo Model Air Color set – for painting models and miniatures
  10. Golden Airbrush Medium – Excellent airbrush paint thinner

Types of Paints

Water Colors

As the name states these are water based colors well suited for use in an airbrush. Available in pre reduced form, airbrush ready or in tubes. Water colors can be reduced in most cases with distilled water and are very transparent type paint.


Also sells under the name Tempera is water based but with a white pigment added to make it more opaque. Because of the white pigment added, you might find it a little harder to use in an airbrush than water colors. Gouache, like water colors, can be reduced with distilled water.

Acrylics Colors

These come in both opaque and transparent colors. There are many manufactures but you will find it much easier to use these if you stick with a brand made for use in an airbrush.

Usually can be thinned with water or if the manufacture makes a reducer that should be used. Acrylics can be cleaned up with water or a cleaning agent. Long lasting on just about any surface, be sure to read the manufactures tech sheet on surface prep, best uses before you use them. Do not allow these to dry in your airbrush, clean right after use.

One category of Acrylic paints is textile paints made for use of course on textile products like T Shirts, jackets, sweat shirts. Most require heat setting to be permanent again please read the manufactures tech sheet as to use for best results.

Oil Paints

A solvent based paint can be thinned with turpentine, minerals spirits and cleaned up with same products. Oils can be either opaque or transparent depending on how much you thin them. Oil paints have a very slow drying time.

Sign Paints

Be very careful using these products, use in a well ventilated area, wear a mask. Again a solvent based product. There are other manufactures of these products. Care should be taken with these products to follow the manufactures tech sheets.

So Which Paint Should I Choose?


The paint should be tailored to your purpose, or at the very least very close to your intended purpose.

For instance,

  • Automotive paint can be used for anything that has hard, non-porous surface.
  • Sign paint can be used similarly to automotive paint, since they’re both made to stand up under harsh weather conditions.
  • Acrylics can be used for most porous surfaces, though you might want to clear the work afterward if it’s in a high traffic or weather exposed area.
  • Makeup can be used for the body, though body paint might not be legally acceptable for airbrush makeup.
  • When spraying plastic you’ll probably want a lacquer or an acrylic.

Use Airbrush Paint

You’ll still have to play with it.  Just because it says airbrush ready doesn’t mean you can use it out of the bottle.  Your darker colors like violet and blue can probably be used out of the bottle, while lighter colors like yellow and white will probably need to be thinned down.


Hobbyists can generally ignore this section, however, professionals MUST consider the legal ramifications of the coatings they spray.  The problem is that I can only give you directions to think about since every state, county, and city has different issues.

  • Do you need to be licensed to spray that? This actually covers far more than I thought it would.  For instance Lead-Paint is illegal for everyone to use…except the government while painting the road.  Urethane paints are getting phased out because of environmental impact in favor of acrylic paints.  Spray tanners in Oregon must be licensed beauticians.  Most beauty professionals must be licensed in the state they work in.
  • Are there environmental restrictions? Hobbyists in California can spray up to a gallon of urethane-based paint without worry.  Go over that amount and if caught you’ll face hefty fines with the possibility of prison.

Airbrush Paint terms – what they mean

Opaque is impervious to the passage of light. To enhance airbrush colors use white first as its very opaque , like when airbrushing on any dark surface, black t-shirt. for example

Transparent will transmit light so that the colors beneath can be seen. Combined with opaques will create beautiful pastels.

Fluorescent colors will fully cover any white or light colored surface. Gives you that neon look or hot look.

Pearlescent covers both dark and light colored surfaces , creates satin-like sheen and shimmer.

Metallic covers both light and dark colored surfaces,creates metallic like sheen, reflective properties.

Iridescent is permanent, light fast capable of producing an array of rainbow colors, covers dark surfaces without base coating white first.

Chameleon magically changes color with reflected light for maximum effects use it on dark surfaces.

Using Createx Colors – Surface Preparation


Including 100% cotton, 50/50 blends, denim, sweatshirts, and most natural fibers.

  1. For best results, wash item first to remove sizing and mill finishes.
  2. Airbrush the design onto fabric avoiding thick buildup of paint and excessive paint layering.
  3. Allow colors to dry, or a heat gun may be used to accelerate drying time. Drying time varies depending on application.
  4. Heat set fabric for permanence by one of the following methods: a) Iron for 2 minutes at 300º F use a protective cloth, keep iron moving. b) Turn item inside out and put in clothes dryer for 40 minutes at highest heat.


  1. Clean leather by wiping with mineral spirits or rubbing alcohol.
  2. For best results, lightly spray mist a base coat of Opaque White on areas to be sprayed.
  3. Apply color, avoiding over saturation and excessive paint layering.
  4. Allow colors to dry thoroughly before heat setting. 5) Iron for 30 seconds at 225°using a protective cloth, or use a hot air gun at highest level for five minutes.
  5. Heat Press – 300 degress for 10 to 15 seconds

Paper and Canvas

  1. Apply Color, avoiding thick buildup.
  2. When using high tack frisket, dilute colors 25% with water. Colors are permanent when dry.


  1. Prepare surface by lightly sanding, wipe clean.
  2. Apply color, avoiding thick buildup of paint. Allow colors to dry for 24 hours before applying clear finish.

Ceramics and Clay

  1. Apply color in thin even coats, avoid thick buildup.
  2. Do not exceed temperatures of 300°F when baking. Colors are permanent for example water based airbrush paint for crafts, textile paint handling after 24 hrs.

Next step is to choosing the right airbrush