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What Kind of Paint to Use For Airbrushing and How to Thin it

Airbrushing can be used to paint amazing-looking artworks, for priming or painting items of pretty much any size evenly, and airbrushing can be used for painting details or effects on almost any type of material. But airbrushing is unfortunately not the easiest hobby to get started with mainly because it has a lot of different parts to it, the paint has to be thinned, and there is a wide variety of paint that can be used for airbrushing. I decided to write this comprehensive guide to help beginners who want to get started and might be confused by the sheer amount of new information they seemingly have to know to start airbrushing.

As a whole, a lot of different paints can be used with an Airbrush like enamel paint, acrylic paint, commercial airbrush paint, and latex paint for example. The best paint for beginners is either acrylic paint or commercial airbrush paint. Acrylic paints can easily be thinned with water.

If you are a beginner I highly recommend either using regular acrylic paint that you thin with water until it has the right consistency. Or use commercial airbrush paint that already is in the correct consistency right out of the box.

If you don´t know the right consistency that paint should have for airbrushing or if you want to know how to use other types of paint then read on as I will explain all of these things in the sections below.

What Kind of Paint Can be Used for Airbrushing

It may surprise you but you don´t have to use special airbrush paint for airbrushing. There are a few different kinds of paints that can be used with an airbrush if you prepare the paint properly beforehand.

So let´s take a look at a few types of paint, how to use them for airbrushing and when it makes sense to use them.

Airbrush Paint

The first paint on the list is regular old airbrush paint. Even though I just said that other paints than airbrush paint can be used for airbrushing using airbrush paint is still the easiest and the best choice especially for beginners.

As a whole, airbrush paint usually either already has the right consistency for airbrushing right out of the box or they are easily dilutable by using some water. Airbrush paint is specially made for airbrushing which means little to no danger of clogging and the color of the paint will always be brilliant and saturated.

So if you are a beginner then using airbrush paint is probably one of the best choices for you. Although airbrush paint is generally a little bit more expensive it is still the best choice for beginners in my opinion.

The reasons for that are pretty easy. They are easily dilutable and they tend to have smaller pigments that don´t stick together as easily and thus won´t plug the airbrush as easily as other paints.

This is usually not that much of a problem for most paints but if you just start out then this is one thing that you don´t need to worry about at all.

Airbrush paints are also quite “resistant” to being diluted. What I mean by that is basically that you can freely dilute airbrush paints and they will look and stick to the applied surface just fine when applied even if you diluted them a little bit too much.

Airbrush paints are usually diluted by either using regular water if they are water-based or an airbrush thinner if they are not. You can refer to the packaging of the airbrush paint if you are uncertain.

If you want to use airbrush paint then I would personally recommend either using Createx airbrush paint or airbrush paint from Vallejo. I am a big fan of Vallejo if you want to paint miniatures for example.

You can find Vallejo airbrush paint right here on Amazon.

Alternatively, Createx is always a viable option. They are a little bit harder to properly thin though in my opinion but it is not as bad as thinning enamel paint for airbrushing, for example.

You can buy Createx airbrush paint right here on Amazon.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint has to be the most used paint for crafting on the planet. I personally love using it because of its versatility and ease of use.

As a whole, acrylic paint can be used for airbrushing. The paint has to be thinned with water to the right consistency, however. It is recommended to use medium or high-quality acrylic paint because the pigments in better quality acrylic paint will be less likely to clog the airbrush.

High-quality or high-flow acrylic paints are the best choices for airbrushing.

You should not use your everyday acrylic paint that you still have at home unless these acrylic paints are of high quality. That is because cheap acrylic paint tends to clog your airbrush even if you dilute them properly.

That has to do with the pigments used in cheaper acrylic paints. These pigments tend to be not as fine as pigments in higher-quality acrylic paints.

High-quality acrylic paints also tend to have more pigments in them meaning even if you dilute them they will still be very saturated and they don´t lose their brilliance as much as regular acrylic paint.

If you want to know more about thinning acrylic paints properly then consider reading my article on thinning acrylic paints. Or keep on reading as I will quickly explain how to thin acrylic paints further down in this article.

The best acrylic paint for airbrushing in my opinion is from Vallejo. They can easily be diluted with water, they don´t clog the airbrush as easily as other acrylic paints, and they are not as expensive as other acrylic paints of the same quality.

You can buy Vallejo acrylic paints right here on Amazon or at your local crafts store.

Enamel Paint

Finally, you can also use enamel paint for airbrushing. I personally would not recommend using enamel paints if you are new to airbrushing because it can be really hard to properly thin enamel paint for airbrushing and it is quite cumbersome to clean the airbrush from oil-based paint such as enamel paint.

As a whole, enamel paint can be used for airbrushing but it has to be thinned with Mineral Spirit or White Spirit before the paint can be used in an airbrush. Enamel paint will have a very saturated and even finish once it has dried but cleaning the airbrush after spraying enamel paint can be quite work-intensive.

I absolutely do not recommend using enamel paint for airbrushing unless you really need to.

Enamel paints can have a very nice finish but it is quite hard to thin them properly, they should not be sprayed without wearing a mask, and the paint is quite hard to clean off of the airbrush afterward.

I rarely use enamel paints for airbrushing for these exact reasons. Water-based paint is just so much easier and more convenient to use.

But if you are curious how to thin enamel paint properly then you can read more about that in my article on how to properly thin enamel paints.

How to Thin Airbrush Paint

Paint generally has to be thinned before you can use them for airbrushing. If you don´t thin paint properly before using them in an airbrush it can lead to clogging and you won´t be able to spray the paint in a thin and even manner. In the following section, I will tell you exactly how to thin any type of paint so that you can use it with an airbrush.

As a whole, airbrush paint is water-based, most of the time, so water can be used to easily thin the airbrush paint. Depending on the quality of the airbrush paint it should not be thinned too much or the paint will not cover properly anymore. Higher-quality airbrush paints usually don´t have that issue.

But there are some paints that can be used with an airbrush that is not water-based. In the following sections, I will go over all the most commonly used paints, how to thin them, and when it makes sense to use airbrush thinner as well as common alternatives for airbrush thinners.

Using Airbrush Cleaner to Thin Airbrush Paint

We all know that airbrush supplies can be quite expensive so it is only natural that artists who are new to airbrushing try to find alternatives for the more expensive airbrush thinners.

As a general rule, airbrush cleaners should not be used as thinner because it can lead to bad adhering paint. Airbrush cleaner can cause the paint to lose its ability to adhere properly and it can lead to an uneven finish. It is recommended to use water to thin water-based paints or Mineral-Spirit for oil-based paints.

So I would recommend only using airbrush cleaner to clean the airbrush or surfaces from the paint and not to thin any airbrush paint.

While it can work for some paints in most cases the results will be far worse than thinning the paint properly with either water or Mineral-Spirits.

You can also always use airbrush thinners from the same company that the paint is from if you are uncertain what kind of paint you have.

Using Water to Thin Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is favored by many experienced artists as well as newcomers. It is cheap and easy to use and you can spray it with an airbrush but only if you thinned the paint properly.

As a whole, you can use water to thin acrylic paint for airbrushing but you have to make sure that the paint has a high density of pigments in it to ensure that thinning it won´t make it less opaque. High-quality acrylic paints can usually be thinned with water without any issues.

Most higher-quality acrylic paints have information about their pigment density on the packaging.

Cheaper paints don´t have any information regarding the pigments on them, which can make it hard to know if and how much they can be diluted with water.

Usually, a medium to high density is perfect for airbrushing.

If you don´t know anything about the paint then all you can do is try how well it can be thinned with water. So simply add water to the paint until the paint has a nice thin consistency. Then use a brush to apply some of the diluted paint to a piece of paper.

Now you can see how well the paint covers the white of the paint. If the opacity of the paint is not enough then you either have to buy some high-quality acrylic paint for airbrushing or you have to apply a lot of layers in order to make it work.

I don´t recommend the second option though as it will make it so much more complicated and time-intensive compared to simply using some high-quality acrylic paint.

Using Regular Paint Thinner to Thin Paints for Airbrushing

As a whole, regular paint thinner can be used for airbrushing but only if they are not aggressive solvents. If the thinner is to aggressive it can damage parts of the airbrush. Almost every paint thinner for water-based paint is safe to use but some paint thinners for oil-based paints can be too aggressive.

I personally only ever had one type of paint thinner that was too aggressive for airbrushing and was a special thinner for a enamel paint.

But other than that one instance I never really had any problems using regular paint thinner to thin paints for airbrushing.

The packaging of the thinner usually has information on it that clarify how aggressive it is towards different materials and that usually state with what kinds of materials it can get into contact with without causing any harm.

So refer to the packaging if you are uncertain. If it has no information like that on the packaging then you can usually use it safely.

How Thick Should Paint be for Airbrushing

As a whole, paint should have a viscosity that is slightly thinner than milk for airbrushing. Depending on the kind of paint it may be necessary to thin it a little more to make it spray more evenly. Special effects paint as well as oil-based paint tend to be easier to spray if they are a little thinner.

This is one of the most asked questions I get regarding airbrushing. It also was pretty much the first question I had when I started out.

When the paint is water-based then a viscosity that is slightly thinner than milk is perfect for airbrushing.

If the paint is oil-based, like enamel paint for example, it is generally better to thin the paint a little beyond the viscosity of milk. That is because oil-based paints tend to be more opaque and still work really well even if they are a little thinner.

Special effects paint tends to have bigger pigments in the paint that can possibly clog the airbrush so you should make sure that you can spray them in the first place before trying to thin them for airbrushing.

I had the best results with special effects paint when the paint was a bit thinner than milk.

It is important to strike a good balance between being able to spraying the paint evenly and not thinning the paint too much so that it is still opaque enough to cover the surface properly.

Unfortuneatly, the right viscosity is always a little bit different depending on the exact kind of paint and even the brand of paint that you are using. So I recommend thinning the paint to the viscosity of milk and then go from there.

SImply try how thin the paint has to be in order to spray evenly and still have enough opacity.

Using Airbrush Paint With a Brush

As a whole, airbrush paint can be used with a brush but the paint should not be thinned for the best results. Airbrush paint is mostly just water-based paint that is specially made to be sprayed as well as possible. It can still be applied with a brush without any issues.

There might be some confusion about special airbrush paint and why it is different to regular paint. The truth is, airbrush paint is not as different to regular acrylic paint.

The differences are quite suttle. Airbrush paint usually has more and finer pigments in them, for example, to make them easier to spray while not loosing their opacity even if they are thinned.

There are a few more suttle differences but none of them would make the paint not usable with brushes.

So it doesn´t matter what kind of airbrush paint you are using you can apply them with a brush and the results should be almost the same.

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