Airbrush Basics

Airbrush basics for those new to airbrushing here is some essential information to help you get started in the right direction making your experiance a lot less frustrating.

by Kevin Mayes

For some time now, airbrush artists have had to gather their knowledge from any source available. Fortunately, there have been a number of very good books published in recent years. One that I highly recommend is by Radu Vero, titled “Airbrush: The Complete Studio Guide”. This is an excellent book for all levels of study. It is my hope that this newsletter will also be, or at least become, that kind of source for helpful, intelligent information on the art of airbrushing.

What I hope to achieve with this newsletter is to impart the knowledge and experiences that I have had and to relate the experiences of those who wish to share the same by writing me. This is intended to be a platform for the exchange of knowledge, experiences and practical information concerning the airbrush. It is in this context that I encourage you to participate in this exchange and thereby enhance the growth and enjoyment of this art form.

When I first began my work with the airbrush, there was literally no one from whom to to learn the ins and outs of the medium. I learned from trial and error (often there was more error than trial) and from studying samples from magazines and posters. Trying to imitate the work in those samples was frustrating at best. Fortunately, I was able to find an air brush illustrator years later who was kind enough to share his knowledge and skills with me. Thanks to him, I was able to achieve my goals and reach the level that I now enjoy. Thank you, Dave Willardson, for your honesty, direction and inspiration. I am very grateful.


self portrait by kevin

Above is a ‘self portrait’ by airbrush artist, artist Kevin Mayers. I would like to thank Kevin for letting me reprint this news letter series here on How To Airbrush. I think you find them very informative.

My advice…………..don’t hesitate to contact an illustrator artist you admire for advice or infor- mation. Most, I have found, are more than willing to help new talent. You can do so on our airbrush artist forum at Airbrush Technique.Com


Airbrush Basic Maintenance 

Proper care of the airbrush is essential to insure a positive experience

First of all, clean your airbrush often! It’s a good idea to rinse the brush with clear water frequently during your work sessions. This will help reduce the build-up of pigment around the needle at the head assembly. Some build-up of pigment is bound to happen regardless and the easiest solution to this is to clense the brush with a cleaning solution. You can use a cleaner purchased from your local art store or you can make your own using the following formula.




Although this is an effective formula, it is moderate in strength. I do not reccomend using more than a 30% ammonia/ 70% water mix. Anything stonger could damage your airbrush!


A number of people have asked what to do to keep the paint flowing instead of clogging and spattering. Often it is simply a matter of keeping the tip of the needle moist. Periodically, during your work, it is helpful to simply apply a drop of water to the tip of your needle. Remember that you are blowing air along with the paint! Air dries paint, and under the right atmospheric conditions, it can dry it as it comes out of the nozzle!



All too often, people will be intimidated by an airbrush to the point that it ceases to be fun.

Remember, the airbrush is only a tool! It is not the be-all and end-all in art! This simple tool can, when used on its own or in combination with any other medium, be pleasurable and just plain fun to work with.

Everyone, including me, gets frustrated with this darn contraption from time to time. When this happens, take a moment and let patience be your guide. Patience is one virtue that is needed when airbrushing. Sometimes it tests your patience, but you can win out over it. Ask yourself where you went wrong, or if the instrument is acting up; ask yourself what is it doing and where could it be coming from? Do a little trouble-shooting and calmly remedy the situation. If needed, set the project aside for an hour then go back and start again with a fresh out look. Should that not work, and then set it aside over night before trying again. If you are still puzzled then contact someone with airbrush experience and enlist their help with the problem. The trick is to not let the medium defeat you.

No matter what medium you work in, such as airbrush or watercolor or oils, there will be days that are problematic and you learn to work through them. Look at it this way: With every problem or glitch you encounter, you gain knowledge. Knowledge is what we seek. And with knowledge comes skill. Your work will only improve with each thing you learn.

So, don’t take things too seriously and HAVE FUN


Airbrush Fundamentals  

To be or become proficient with any art form, there are certain fundamental things you must do to achieve your goals. First and foremost,you should draw as often as possible. As I learned early in my career, you will never be able to paint better than you can draw. So, draw whenever you can. Secondly, practice the elementary exercises found in most airbrush books. Those annoying little circles, squares, dots and gradations are invaluable to improving your skills. These exercises are also a great way to ‘warm up’ before painting. Third, be observant. Observing things and people around you can be a great source for inspiration and reference.

I hope that you have enjoyed this premier issue and that you will look forward to the next.

Kevin has a great DVD series on airbrushing pin up art be sure to check it out on his web site

Airbrush Baseball Helmet Rips And Tears Design

I have seen a few inquiries requesting a step by step doing rips and tears and did a quickie today on a baseball helmet and thought it may help some folks. This was done on the back of a catcher helmet. Hope it helps someone. TABG

draw the design

1) Drew out a pattern on a low tack vinyl masking material.


cut the design out

2) Cut out the inner portion that will be painted with what is “breaking” through the helmet. Save this portion as you will need it later.


airbrush white into the design

3) Apply the mask and begin painting the inner portion (a baseball) as needed.


start airbrushing color

4) Continuing the inner painting.


start airbrushing detail

5) More detail on the inner portion, threads or seam on the baseball.

airbrushing drop shadows

6) Finished the inner portion. At this stage, keeping in mind of where your light is coming from, spray in some drop shadows which the torn portions will cast on the ball (or whatever you are doing in this portion). This part will give a nice depth to your design when finished.


airbrushing folds

7) With the inner portion completed, remove the “fold back” portions of the tears. This part will give the illusion that the surface is folding back or curving back. This part really gives the 3-D look and gives some nice depth.


masking inside the design

8) Replace the inner portion that was cut our in step 2. Spray in the color on the fold back portion remembering light source, using highlights and shadows to give illusion of the material “folding” over.


adding to drop shadows

9) Remove the masking over the inner area. Then go back over the drop shadows to darken as needed. At this time also check all of the edges where the masking may not have lined up properly. On the left of the image you will see some white where the mask was misaligned. Spray in some shadows to cover up any of those ugly “lines” that may be left.


design completed

10) Remove all masking and make any touch ups needed to eliminate any lines that may still exist. All that’s left is to apply a clear coat.
The most important step is #9 as this eliminates the ugly separations that show where the masking was. Blending is the key to have a somewhat realistic 3-D look.
Keep in mind that this was done on a small area,(about 4 inches) so the level of detail is limited. The larger the area that you are working with, the more detail you will be able to achieve.
Good luck and have fun.

Airbrush A Star


Airbrush a star tutorial we’ll be airbrushing a simple star and practicing airbrush dagger or rat tail strokes.These are the ame stars you see in a lot of airbrush t shirt designs. How simple can you get you ask? Well before you can create that great masterpiece, paint the hottest bike on the planet or the meanest low rider on earth you have to master these very basic airbrushing skills and the dagger stroke is one of the most important. I’ve had several requests for a airbrush how to article along these lines, airbrushing stars so here is a short version I hope you find helpful. This type of star you see on airbrush t-shirts all the time and is used just to add some bling to the t-shirt design.

Airbrush Supplies Required:

Double action airbrush, news print, Golden Airbrush Colors or Createx Illustration Paint black, easel.


We’ll start out with what we’ll call a t-shirt star, as this technique for creating stars is very popular for t-shirt designs but can be used in on verity of other surfaces also. This technique will test if you’ve been practicing the dagger strokes as outlined in Airbrush Lesson #1 on this site.




airbrush dagger stroke 1

Step #1) Make a dragger stoke up your painting surface, mine is about 4 inches long. Please keep in mind thru this entire article I’m using newsprint which is not a white surface so the colors will not be that bright.


airbrush dagger stroke 2

Step #2) Now airbrush dagger strokes going down and to the left and right as pictured above.


airbrushing a dagger stroke 3

Step #3) Airbrush four more dagger strokes, one between each of the dagger strokes you added in step 2.


airbrush a dagger stroke step 4

Step #4) Now backing your airbrush back away from your painting surface several inches airbrush a circle around the star as pictured above. Moving your airbrush back in closer to the painting surface airbrush dots as pictured above.



airbrush dagger stroke step 5

Step #5) Now airbrush some white highlights as pictured above and you have just created your first t-shirt design star. Change the colors, add more dagger strokes, vary the length of the dagger strokes the possibilities are endless with this so have some fun. Post your results on the airbrush forum here I’d love to check them out.

Below is my short video covering this airbrush lesson. I hope you find it helpful.

Air Sources for Airbrushing

Air source’s for airbrushing tutorial covers overview of the different types of airbrush source’s you can use in airbrushing.  Paint is propelled through and out the airbrush tip in a controlled manner by compressed air, your air source. The higher the viscosity of the paint (the thicker in simple terms) the higher PSI will be required to get the job done. An illustration type airbrush paint like Doc PH Martins or Golden Airbrush Colors, Createx Illustration paint all of which we would call low viscosity paints would require 10 to 30 PSI with a 0.18 to 0.35 nozzle / needle to give you good results. Where as Createx (a textile paint) being a higher viscosity paint would require 40 to 60 PSI to give you good results.

Any compressor or CO2 tank will work for airbrushing. Pictures below is the typical set up for compressor and airbrush. (pictured provided by KB Kustoms, thanks Kevin).


airbrush compressor
airbrush compressor set up


CANNED AIR (Propellants) — Most expensive type of air source and not very effective. I do not recommend buying this as it will not give you a good feel for what airbrushing is all about.

ELECTRIC COMPRESSORS –Come in all shapes and sizes. Please research what will be required as far as PSI for the type of airbrushing you will be doing. Will you be using a high viscosity paint for airbrushing t-shirts or will you be doing illustrations with a low viscosity paint? These are some of the things you should consider before buying a compressor.

Electric compressors can be piston driven or diaphragm , oil lubricated or non- oil lubricated, have a air storage tank or none. I suggest staying away from diaphragm type compressors for anything other than using very low viscosity type airbrush paints.

Diaphragm Compressors – Very inexpensive type compressor. For about the same amount of money these days you can buy an oil less mini piston compressor like the Phantom 100, much better deal for the money. Diaphragm compressors use a reciprocating diaphragm to pump air to your airbrush. One of the big draw backs to this type of compressor is pulsing effect created by these types of compressors. One airbrush at a time can be used.

Piston Driven Compressors – Pretty simple an electric motor turns a piston that pumps air usually into a storage tank than to the airbrush. With a large enough storage tank several airbrushes can generally be used at one time with this type compressor. Well suited in most cases for spraying high viscosity type paints. These compressors are often pretty loud so try and hear it while it runs before you buy one. There are silent compressors made for airbrushing but are general much more expensive than a compressor like you can buy at Home Depot, hard ware stores.

Air pressure regulators, moisture traps / filters should be used on any type compressor used for airbrushing. An air pressure regulator controls the air pressure at which the paint is sprayed. Moisture trap / filter captures the moisture created by the flow of the hot air cooling in the air storage tank or airbrush hose.** For oil lubricated compressors a oil filter should be used to capture any oil from the compressor before it gets into your airbrush.

COMPRESSED CO2 TANKS – Perfect for airbrushing in many cases if the size of your projects are not huge. No need for a moisture trap or oil filter are needed for CO2, just a regulator. For a regulator you should use a welding type regulator which screws on top of the tank.

Air Lines / Hoses– The best kind is rubber covered by braided nylon which generally comes in 10 ft. lengths. The compressor end of the hose will screw right on to the out let side connection of your regulator.

Learning How To Airbrush

Learning how to airbrush will show just how important the simple dot is, airbrushing is all about the dot in fact. 🙂

No doubt you found your way here to this article because you are interested in learning how to airbrush, kustom paint. I hear most often from folks who are brand to airbrushing or those who at some point bought airbrush equipment found it to frustrating trying to learn and the equipment was stuff into the closet. Either way I’m here to provide you with a bit of guidance to finding your way thru what can be the maze of information about airbrushing. I’m sure I can get you up and airbrushing, kustom painting just like the thousands of others I have helped over the last fifteen plus years.

No matter what it is you want to airbrush, custom paint the steps you must go thru to learn how to use your airbrush are the same. No matter the type of paint you are using water based, solvent based, no matter the type of airbrush; single action or double action learning the basic fundamentals of how to get your airbrush and mind (creative side) in sync are the same.


dots and lines


I’m not going to try and mislead you here learning the fundamentals can be a bit on the boring side but as I’m about to show you it’s a chance to let your creative side take over.

I have to give a big thank you to T Shirt guru Rene Romero for providing the images for this article. Rene is one of the best T Shirt airbrush artist on the planet in my book and I’m honored to have his help for this article.

Other tutorials on this web site cover airbrush equipment and basic airbrush lessons #1 thru #5 so here I want to cover the some examples of what could be referred to as the most basic of all airbrush strokes; dots, lines and dagger strokes. In lesson #1 will go thru in detail just how to go about getting your airbrush to create these airbrush strokes here I want to try and convey just how important they are and why you need to take the time to practice, learn them.


airbrush dots


not like this

Pictured above you see a picture of airbrushed dots and lines; the top picture is of the simple dot done correctly the bottom picture is of course the dot not done correctly. In the bottom picture too much paint was applied causing the paint to spider web which is cool if that’s the effect we where looking to create but in this case we where looking to make perfect dots. The dot as simple as it might look is the beginning of most of the basic airbrush strokes you’ll need to learn in order to master the airbrush. If you where to magnify any airbrush painting you’d see it actually is made of thousands and thousands of tiny, tiny dots which are produced as the paint is atomized via your airbrush. For that matter if you where to magnify the dot you just airbrushed you’d see the same thing tiny, tiny dots of paint making up your dot. So as you can see the dot is fundamental in rendering any and all airbrush art work taking the time to learn how to create perfect dots is fundamental to your learning to unleash your creativity using your airbrush.

When I asked Rene to provide you with an example of just how powerful the dot can be and how you can turn practicing airbrushing a simple dot into some fun below is what he came up with. I think you’ll agree from the simple dot some very amazing art work can be created. (click on small image to see bigger view).

clint eastwood painting


clint eastwood 2


eastwood painting step 3


clint eastwood step 4

Hopefully you now have a new appreciation for the simple dot and how important it is to your mastering the airbrush. by Don Johnson with art work by Rene Romero