Airbrush Paint: A Complete Guide
An airbrush can spray any liquid as long as it is of a thin, sprayable consistency.
If you are new to airbrushing, we recommend using airbrush-ready liquids. These are liquids that have been formulated specifically for airbrush and are ready to use.
What are the characteristics of ideal sprayable liquids and airbrush ready paints?
- They have the consistency of skim milk, or thinner
- They have finely ground pigments and are strained to be free of chunks that may clog an airbrush
- They contain additives that create “flow” through an airbrush which makes clean up easier and clogs less likely
Some ready-to-use airbrush colors will still need to be thinned for optimal spray ability. White pigments, metallics and other thicker materials have more of a tendency to cause clogging and thinning should be considered. Thinned paints should be skim milk or thinner, well blended, and free of clumps. If you are experiencing trouble spraying a certain brand or color, consider that the consistency of the paint may need to be adjusted and is likely not a malfunction of the airbrush.
Before using your airbrush for the first time, make sure you have plenty of the appropriate airbrush cleaner. Expect to use about 0.5-1oz of cleaner to effectively flush-out the airbrush after use. One of the easiest ways to keep cleaning to a minimum is to make a habit of never letting paint dry inside of your airbrush. When you are ready to set your airbrush down, pour out excess paint and flush it generously with cleaning solvent before it dries. This simple habit will reduce cleaning time.
What is the right cleaner to use?
It depends on what you are spraying. For example, when using water soluble paints and airbrush makeup use Medea Airbrush Cleaner.
For non-water-soluble materials, common cleaners include paint thinner or spray gun/equipment cleaner (use caution as some of these are toxic). Since cleaners vary for different materials, it is always best to check for a recommended cleaning agent on the paint label. If you are still not sure what to use, contact the manufacturer of the material you are spraying for their recommendation.
Createx Colors combine vibrant, heavily saturated pigments with durable, water-based binders to create a universe of color designed for optimum performance on nearly any project. We partner with Createx Colors because they actively listen to creatives and remain focused on developing quality products that solve problems.
To help choose the best Createx product for you, we’ve outlined some of the key attributes for our most popular paint lines:
Wicked Colors are multi-surface airbrush acrylics designed for ultimate versatility. Wicked offers our most extensive color palette, are easily customizable to your project, and are suitable for indoor and outdoor applications.
Illustration Colors offer a large palette including naturalistic and flesh tone colors that dry to a matte finish and spray smoothly over a multitude of surfaces, even with fine tipped airbrushes. Their delayed cure time allows you to rework the paints for up to 48 hours.
candy2O is our specialty line of revolutionary, 100% transparent dyes. They create effortlessly smooth gradients and brilliant, luminous effects when layered over pearls and metallics. Overlay candy2O on your project to see any surface in a whole new light.
Airbrush Colors are pliable for use on textiles and when applied to fabric, are soft to the touch and resist cracking. These full-bodied, heavily pigmented acrylics may be easily thinned to be used for a variety of projects.
Acrylic Colors are excellent for hand painting or screen printing. These full-bodied, archival acrylics have been optimized for permanent artwork.
AutoBorne Sealers are acrylic primers and exhibit superior adhesion to most any hard surface. As they cover quickly and flow out to a beautiful, level finish, AutoBorne Sealers make the perfect starting base layer for any Createx paints.
UVLS Clears are versatile, multi-surface water-based clears with exceptional durability and UV light resistance. UVLS Clears are compatible with all Createx paints and have been optimized for performance as a top coat, mix medium, and clear primer.
Com Art Colours are non-toxic, airbrush-ready water-based acrylic paints made with high quality, finely ground pigments. The colours spray smoothly and resist clogging, making them a great choice for new airbrush users. Com Art colours also work well with a paintbrush and since they are endlessly reworkable, are a popular choice for fine art and illustration. Com-Art is available in both opaque and transparent formulas in a wide range of vibrant colours.
Medea Body Art Temporary Tattoo Paints are non-toxic, airbrush ready, alcohol-based colors with 3-4 day staying power.
Media Nail Art Colors are non-toxic, airbrush-ready water based acrylic colors. To use, apply an enamel base coat, spray Medea Nail Art Colors and seal fingernails with enamel top coat.
Medea Airbrush Cleaner is an effective airbrush cleaning fluid that works well with Acrylics or any water-soluble spray material. It is effective and environmentally safe.
Our Paints, Your Project
With so many great choices, how do you choose what paint to use?
When selecting paint, we start at the surface. Different surfaces and styles of painting have different characteristics. Understanding these will help determine what paints will work best for your application. To help, we’ve taken some popular project types and paired them with our best paint recommendations for the job. Let’s take a look at what you’re working on so we can get to the fun part – picking colors!
Createx Wicked Colors are designed for ultimate versatility, perfect for all your cosplay ideas. These water based acrylics work beautifully on nearly any surface including 3D prints, thermoplastics, EVA foam, leather, metal and fabrics. The large color palette includes vibrant colors, pearlescent colors and earth tones along with specialty paints like Quicksilver and Gold Chrome for true metal effects. Fully customizable for cosplay, Wicked Colors have everything you need to create stunning cosplay builds, props and weapons.
Craft, DIY and Ceramics
Easy to use and highly versatile, our water based Createx Wicked Colors can tackle all the fun DIY projects and craft ideas you can think up. They offer an extensive color palette of heavily pigmented acrylic paints. They cover quickly and work on nearly any surface including fabric, wood, glass, ceramic, plastic and more! When you need one paint that can do it all, Wicked Colors are the best new addition to your arsenal of craft supplies.
Createx Wicked Colors offer a large, water based color range of custom paint for cars which includes vibrant and pearlescent paints along with Wicked Detail Color’s full artist palette for photo-realistic artwork at high detail. In addition, our 100% transparent candy2O dyes create luminous effects when sprayed over or mixed with pearl and metallic basecoats. With the highest transparency of any paint, candy2O dyes create the smoothest blends and softest gradients. Wicked Colors and candy2O are the perfect pair for the custom painter looking for a water based automotive paint that sprays like a solvent.
If you’re looking for an acrylic shoe paint for leather, fabric and rubber surfaces, try our highly versatile Createx Wicked Colors. Water based and heavily pigmented, this vibrant color palette is stocked full of fluorescent and pearlescent colors ready to customize kicks with your wildest designs. Try UVLS Clears for a super durable top coat that will protect your custom shoes for years to come.
Fine Art & Illustration
Both Createx Illustration Colors and Com Art Colours are specifically formulated to excel in fine art and illustration art. Both are quick drying, yet remain workable as they cure. These light bodied formulas with finely ground pigments flow smoothly through precision airbrushes allowing for finesse and extreme detail. They work well on vellum and watercolor paper as well as illustration board and canvas. Archival and lightfast, Createx Illustration Colors are perfect for all types of illustration with a full range of traditional colors as well as two specialty palettes, Bloodline and Lifeline, with naturalistic and flesh tone hues. Each of these colors are made up of a multitude of pigments which can build hyper-realistic layers with a depth of undertones.
Want the best paint for all your lure painting techniques? Versatile and multi-surface, Createx Wicked Colors work beautifully on plastic, metal and wood fishing lures. The large and vibrant color palette covers easily to create striking, realistic fish scale effects with brilliant iridescence and pearlescence. The customizable formula has the ability to be thinned for high detail at small scale.
Finding paints that work well on latex surfaces can be tricky. Our Illustration Bloodline Flexible Adhesion Promoter sticks perfectly to latex and as it’s extremely flexible, won’t crack or peel off the surface. Pair this with our pliable Createx Illustration Colors with a full palette of Bloodline naturalistic hues and Lifeline flesh tones and you’ve got everything you need to paint latex like a pro.
Easy to use and highly versatile, Createx Wicked Colors work on a multitude of model surfaces like metal, plastic, wood and more. With a strong color palette including a wide range of earth tones in the Wicked Detail range and specialty effects like Quicksilver and Gold Chrome, Wicked Colors has everything you need for all types of scale model painting techniques. Whether you’re building a shiny new car or a weathered old train, our easy to use acrylic Wicked Colors brings your project to life.
Scenic Art & Murals
Createx Wicked Colors are designed for ultimate versatility, making them a perfect fit for scenic art and theatrical scenic painting. Good for nearly any surface, these colors are heavily pigmented for quick and easy coverage on large areas and easily customizable for high levels of detail at small scale. This large range includes vibrant colors as well as Wicked Detail Colors for a traditional artist palette and earth tones. Use UVLS Clears over top of Wicked Colors when applying outdoors for full mar and fade resistance for years to come.
Special FX & Props
Createx Illustration Colors work beautifully on a multitude of surfaces and spray smoothly through even the smallest, most precision flow airbrushes. Designed specifically for Special FX, the color palette boasts a full range of traditional colors along with Bloodline naturalistic hues and Lifeline flesh tones. Each of these colors were designed by master of the macabre, Tim Gore, using 6-7 pigments allowing you to build hyper-realistic layers with a depth of undertones. Though they are not intended for use on skin, Createx Illustration Colors are a perfect fit for Special FX masks, prosthetics, and props.
Createx Illustration Colors work well on a multitude of surfaces used in taxidermy replicas including fiberglass, polyester coatings and Styrofoam. The full color palette includes Bloodline naturalistic hues and earth tones which build hyper-realistic layers and undertones. candy2O dyes can be used to enhance reproduction of natural-looking hair and fur when sprayed or brushed on. Illustration Colors and candy2O dyes have a little bit of everything you need to create a multitude of lifelike effects on taxidermy animals, life-like trophies, and mounts.
Airbrush Colors are heavily bodied and loaded with pigment, designed to work perfectly for textile painting on porous surfaces like shirts, hats, canvas totes and other fabrics. With a wide range of vibrant colors including fluorescents and pearls, Airbrush Colors have long been an industry favorite to create fun and exciting textile designs. Simply heat set the paints to seal them in for custom pieces that last for years to come.
Glossary of Paint Terms
Acrylic paints are made from pigments suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion. They tend to be fast drying when compared to oils and urethanes as well as much safer. Our Createx Colors and Medea colors are both acrylics which have been formulated to spray through an airbrush.
Any type of paint that has been specially formulated to spray through an airbrush. Nearly any paint or liquid can be sprayed through an airbrush if it is of the proper consistency (roughly as thin as skim milk), but true airbrush paint is made from finely ground pigments and includes additives to help it spray better. Some paint can be sprayed through just about any airbrush. Other paint is more viscous and should only be used with a large tipped airbrush or even a spray gun for best results.
Another way of saying the paint sticks. The level of adhesion is determined by how well the paint sticks to the surface it’s painted it on. Sometimes paint requires additives in order to adhere to non-absorbent or non-porous materials like metal or plastics.
A product that can be applied either prior to painting or added to paints that will assist in the adhesion of the paint to the surface. These are helpful on surfaces that paint doesn’t stick to well, like bare metal or plastic.
When color from one layer leaks or blends into an another layer causing (usually unwanted) color changes.
A single layer of paint applied to a surface. Airbrushing usually requires multiple coats.
A specialty type of paint that uses completely transparent dyes for the colorant, instead of pigments (as pigments never reach true transparency). Candy colors are usually applied over other illustrious paints like pearls or metallics as well as other surfaces where you would want to see the effect underneath, such as figured wood. When a candy color is applied over these surfaces, it enhances the surface with a lens of color, similar to putting a piece of colorful plexiglass over top. Candy colors are typically concentrated out of the bottle and may be mixed with a clear medium to adjust concentration. The more coats that are applied, the darker a candy color will become.
A clear top-coat applied over top of paint to seal it in and protect it. Clear coats can come in many different sheens or finishes.
Inexpensive paint sold at hobby and craft stores, usually intended for brush work. Craft paints can often be used in an airbrush once the paint is thinned to the proper consistency, but may not give you the best results or adhere the best to all surfaces.
When layers of paint separate from each other or from the surface due to poor adhesion.
A kind of paint (usually but not always oil based) that dries to a hard, glossy finish and generally does not require a top coat. Enamel paints can be used in an airbrush but they must be thinned and cleaned with the proper thinner.
Fabric (or textile) paint
Fabric paints are made specifically for applying color to fabrics. They are typically made with dyes and binding agents. Paints that are labeled as ‘fabric paints’ only work on natural fibers. Acrylic paints, however, can be used on both natural and synthetic materials.
The level of sheen a paint exhibits. Some examples of finish are matte, satin, and gloss.
Fluorescent paints absorb and reflect ultraviolet (black) light. They look neon in normal daylight and glow under black light. Fluorescent colors are not lightfast.
Paints that dry to a glossy finish reflect the most light and have a bright sheen.
Gouche (pronounced ‘gwash’)
A kind of watercolor that is more opaque and dries to a matte finish. Gouche tends to have larger pigments than watercolor but these paints can be used with an airbrush if diluted properly.
Iridescent paints contain mica and other additives. Their colors shift and shimmer in the light, giving a luminous quality when seen from different angles. Think of a beetle’s shell or a soap bubble.
The ability of pigments to not fade when exposed to direct light. Pigments that are lightfast will resist fading when exposed to light and pigments that are not lightfast will fade faster.
Paints that reflect little light and appear “flat” are said to have a matte finish.
Paint that includes metallic flakes or particles to emulate silver, gold or bronze effects.
Oil based paints can be used with an airbrush but must be thinned with turpentine or other spirits. Use extreme caution when using oils. We do not recommend spraying oil based cleaning agents or any flammable material.
When paint is opaque it covers what is underneath. You can’t see through it. In other words, these paints offer great coverage but aren’t the best for blends and gradients or building complex layers of color.
As our technician, Kirk Lybecker, likes to say: paint is just dirt mixed with glue. In other words, pigments or dyes suspended in a binder, or binding agent. Acrylic paints are pigments suspended in a polymer, watercolor is pigment suspended in gum arabic and oil paints are pigments suspended in oil.
Pearlescent paints contain pearl powders. Once dry they have a pearl-like luster.
A primer is used as a first layer before paint is applied. They help to provide an even surface for the paint to stick to, especially on hard and non-porous surfaces like metal or plastic. This helps create a uniform, even look when additional coats are applied.
A smooth finish that has a low sheen.
When a color is mixed with black to make it darker
A way to talk about how much light is reflected by the paint. Some paints are glossy and reflect a lot of light. Other paints are matte and reflect very little.
A paint that does not require a top coat.
When a color is mixed with white to make it lighter.
Paint that you can see through and that reveals the layers underneath. Transparent paints are used to build up layers of color using a series of washes and glazes.
Ultraviolet light stabilizer is a term used to describe top coats that have the ability to provide the pigments underneath with additional protection from fading when exposed to direct light.
Technically speaking, this is the resistance of a paint to flow or pour. This tells you how thick the paint is. A paint with high viscosity (or viscous paint) is thick and has a high resistance to flow. A paint with low viscosity (or less viscous paint) is thin and flows easily.
Watercolors are transparent and are a natural marriage with airbrush since they used to build layers of color with washes and gradients.