Beginners Airbrush Basic Info

Beginners airbrush basic info answers some of the more basic questions that a newcomer to airbrushing may have.

My name is JoAnne Kenne, also known as “heartless”. I live/work in Central Wisconsin, USA. I started my airbrush journey in 2005, but don’t get to play/spray as much as I would like to.

Anyway, I hope to help with some of the more basic questions that a newcomer to airbrushing may have. First off, I want to say that the “Airbrush Products Reviews section of can be very helpful in trying to decide what to get. There are many helpful reviews on everything from airbrushes to paint posted there.

The first, and most common question is “What kind of airbrush do I get?” That is kind of like asking which do you prefer – Ford, Chevy, Dodge…you get the idea. What I can tell you is to stay away from the cheap knock-off’s – they are not well built and often chase off new airbrushers because they don’t work well and the newbie thinks it is them, not the airbrush, that is the problem. Save your money, and a lot of headaches, and don’t buy them.Best advice I can give, is do your research and get the best airbrush that you can afford.

Badger and Paasche both make very affordable brushes that are great for beginners.

Once you get your airbrush – take the time to become familiar with all of it’s parts by taking it apart and putting it back together again a few times. Having a parts diagram – a “blown apart” picture showing all the parts – is very helpful for this. You may get a parts diagram with your airbrush, but if not, they can usually be found online at the manufacturers website (some online retailers also have them available) Pay close attention to how everything fits together, and where – and be careful not to lose anything! There are little tiny parts in there! An example of a Parts Diagram: This happens to be for a Badger 200 Single Action. (I own one of these, which is why I have this particular diagram.)

Badger model 200 airbrush



Airbrush Compressor


Next question is usually “what kind of compressor should I get?” Again, kind of hard to say specifically, but “where” you will be painting can help you decide. If you are in an apartment, or going to be painting in a house where noise would be a factor, then you will probably want to get a “silent” type compressor. There are several brands on the market, or if you are the handy type, you could build one yourself (directions for this project can be found elsewhere).

If noise is not a big concern for you, a regular home garage type compressor works great. A compressor with an air storage tank is best, the compressor wont need to run as often. Whichever type of compressor you get, you will want to add a second moisture filter to the system. Compressing air creates heat, as the air cools, it condenses, or creates moisture, and that moisture needs to be removed before the air reaches the airbrush.

Yeah, yeah, I know, there is a moisture filter built right on to the compressor, right? Well, guess what, it is too close to the source of the heat to do any good at all. You need to give the air time, and distance, to cool off. Adding at least 8 feet of line and then a moisture trap will remove MUCH more moisture than the trap that is right on the compressor. You should be able to purchase a second moisture trap/filter from the same place you get the compressor. You may also need to purchase some additional fittings/adapters to get everything put together. Also, it is recommended to “seal” the threads on all fittings with either teflon tape, or beeswax to prevent leaks – just be careful to not get it in the air passages.

Here is a pic of my “indoor” compressor with the second moisture trap installed. The coiled hose that runs between the compressor and the trap is about 8 feet long and came with the compressor.


airbrush compressor

A word or two about air pressure settings… Most “newbie’s” make the mistake of not setting the pressure high enough because they are afraid of damaging their brush. A good place to start is a “working pressure” of around 35-40 psi. Working pressure is set by pressing the trigger of the airbrush and checking the pressure gauge on the compressor. Adjust the knob to get the pressure around the 35-40 psi mark while air is blowing thru the airbrush. You may need to adjust up or down from that point depending on what you are painting and the type of paint being used, but this is generally a good starting point.

Another question that comes up frequently is “What kind of paint?” Here again, it is more a matter of choice – and what you plan to paint on. There are two basic types – acrylic paints (water based), and solvent based paints (urethanes, or “uros”). For most projects there is an acrylic paint available that will do the job, and for a beginner – acrylics are probably the best way to go.

That being said, for the beginner needing a cheap “practice paint” there are a couple of very economical options. One is food coloring & water – super cheap and easy to get. The other is “India Ink” – not quite as cheap as food coloring, but still very reasonable. It also has a little more “substance” to it than food coloring/water, making it a very good choice for practicing with – a bit more like “real” paint.

Don’t go buying the cheap craft paints at Wal-Mart or Hobby Lobby and think they will work in your airbrush – they don’t work very well at all. The pigment in these paints is not ground fine enough for airbrush use, even when thinned down, and will cause you more frustration than anything. Save your money and get paints that are intended for airbrush use, there are plenty of them out there. Figure out what you want to be painting on – T-shirts, autos/motorcycles, fine art (canvas or illustration board) and purchase the appropriate type of paint for that surface.

A few other tips… Where ever you plan on painting, take the time to protect the walls and floor against paint spills and over spray if needed – and take my word for it – there will be spills and over spray! A basement or garage it may not be needed, but a spare bedroom – you may want to use a drop cloth or two.

Keep your painting area well ventilated – we want you to stay healthy! An open window with a box fan blowing out will help keep the air clear.

Get a good respirator – a cheap dust mask is NOT enough!! Breathing paint fumes and over spray is not a good thing! Again, we want you to stay healthy!!

And most of all – Have FUN!! Sure, practicing the basics is important, but you can have fun with those basic strokes, too!

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