How to airbrush with acrylic paints

Written by rosemarie martindale
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How to airbrush with acrylic paints
Bright colours (colourful paint tubes image by FrankU from

Acrylic paint is a versatile and user-friendly medium to airbrush with. Airbrush artists use acrylics on everything from models and T-shirts to canvas. In spite of a tendency to clog airbrushes, acrylic paint has its advantages. Acrylic dries fast, cleans up easily and is colour-fast. Airbrushing with acrylic paint mixed by hand means nearly unlimited colours and consistencies to experiment with.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Respirator with filters
  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Apron or old T-shirt
  • Double action airbrush
  • Airbrush cups
  • Air compressor
  • Three glass airbrush bottles
  • Acrylic paints (artist grade tube paints)
  • Water
  • Acrylic thinner
  • Acrylic surface sealant
  • Acrylic varnish (gloss, satin or matt)
  • Small funnel
  • Spray booth
  • Small acrylic paintbrush
  • Permanent marker pen
  • Masking tape
  • Rags
  • Scrap board
  • Canvas or other painting surface
  • Two covered containers
  • Putty
  • Paper
  • Fine sandpaper

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  1. 1

    Prepare paints and solutions. Squeeze small blobs of acrylic paint in a row onto palette. Pour acrylic thinner or water into cups. Fill half way. Mix paint into thinner until consistency of ink. Arrange cup-ready paints in covered container. Place damp rag with palette in separate covered container. Pour sealant through funnel into glass airbrush jar. Rinse funnel. Pour varnish into second jar. Pour water into third jar. Screw lids on. Label jars, writing with marker on pieces of masking tape.

    How to airbrush with acrylic paints
    Palette (Palette with oil paints image by petercoupe from
  2. 2

    Wash and dry fabric before applying acrylic paints. Prepare all other surfaces by filling, sanding and spraying on acrylic sealant. Fill depressions with putty. Let dry. Sand the surface. Clean and dry thoroughly.

    How to airbrush with acrylic paints
    Sanding (sanding the stone image by sumos from
  3. 3

    Set up scrap board in front of spray booth. Turn on compressor and spray booth fan. Attach jar of sealant to airbrush. Unscrew airbrush nozzle for broad coverage. Test spray on scrap board.

    Place object to be painted within reach, in front of booth. Spray thin layer of acrylic sealant over entire surface, painting with long, back-and-forth strokes. Let dry. Remove jar from airbrush.

    Attach jar of water. Shoot water through airbrush. Remove jar. Point tip down, spraying until airbrush is emptied.

    How to airbrush with acrylic paints
    Air compressor close-up (zoom sur gonfleur électrique image by Unclesam from
  4. 4

    Paint background colours or images. Attach cup of acrylic paint. Open nozzle for desired width. Test on scrap board. Spray thin layer of paint. Let dry.

    Airbrush details. Attach cup of acrylic paint. Close nozzle to smallest opening. Practice "drawing" fine lines on scrap board. "Draw" details with quick, short strokes. Remove cup. Repeat with other colours as needed. Shoot water through airbrush after changing cups until water runs clear.

    How to airbrush with acrylic paints
    Idea for image (flower design on grungy background image by dip from
  5. 5

    Apply acrylic varnish (unless working on fabric). Attach jar of acrylic varnish. Open airbrush nozzle for broad coverage. Test on scrap board. Spray thin layer over entire acrylic painting. Let dry. Spray final coat, overlapping strokes (wet into wet) for consistent finish. Let dry, checking for drips. Remove jar.

    Shoot water through airbrush.

  6. 6

    Clean up airbrush and cups. Scrub paint from cups with paintbrush under warm, running water. Take airbrush apart. Carefully scrub parts with small paintbrush under warm running water. Wipe dry with soft, clean rag. Reassemble.

    How to airbrush with acrylic paints
    Running water (modern faucet and sink detail with running water image by nextrecord from

Tips and warnings

  • Confirm all airbrush parts are clean and properly assembled before use.
  • Apply paint in thin layers. Thick application of paint becomes messy.
  • Acrylic pigment tends to settle. Stir paint in cups often with paintbrush.
  • Freeze palette in covered container if job cannot be completed in one session. Thaw before use.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area and wear respirator. Acrylic particles, though less toxic than oils, are small enough to be dangerous in the lungs.
  • Do not shake bottle. This creates air bubbles, causing airbrush to spit.
  • Airbrush will clog. When this occurs, flick off excess dried paint from tip and blow water through it. If airbrush remains blocked, take apart, clean with water and dry.

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