Airbrush 101

by Vanessa Lopez

Airbrush 101 (1)

Airbrushing can be very overwhelming to first timers, but once you learn about your airbrush system, and the best ways to use it, it can become your favorite way to create beautiful art! In this simple blog I will cover the basics of airbrushing and the tools needed. Before you know it you will be airbrushing in no time!


First and most important is your compressor!

What's the difference between compressors?
What’s the difference between compressors?

Compressors are used as an airsource for your airbrush machine. They come in different models and sizes, and cheaper isn’t always better. When determining which compressor to get we need to ask ourselves the most important question of all- is it worth the investment? If you want a compressor to last a 6 hour gig and not burn your skin when you touch it, you need a GOOD Compressor. Trust me I know this first hand, or should I say first degree burn . Iwata Smart Jet Pro is my personal favorite. It is quiet, light weight, and durable. One of the main differences between the Iwata Smart Jet and an industrial compressor from say Harbor freight is that the Iwata is silent, has an auto motor shut off and is designed with an aritst in mind. The covering is nice and professional, the auto motor shut off keeps it from over heating, and the silent motor is os helpful when I am airbrushing at a Bar Mitzvah and dont want to sound like a dentist drill. :)

When I body paint for hours on end it is my sidekick and a life saver! I have bought smaller cheaper compressors and they always die after a few months or they aren’t powerful enough to pick up our highly pigmented face and body paint and flow it through the gun. In the long run I lost money buying a new one every so often, and it was never as powerful as my larger one. And  tip of advice: if you are just starting out The Dinair System is best for personal useits never a bad idea to start with a larger compressor like the Smart Jet the best par tis you can grow into the compressor and keep on adding guns to it where the smaller compressors are usually best for one gun only. The smaller compressors are good for personal use or makeup gigs. Don’t buy a small one thinking you can airbrush a full body- chances are it will over heat and not work well within its first couple uses. Also, a lot of the smaller compressor models do not have an automatic shut off, which is definitely something you want so it doesn’t run constantly. As for proper compressor care, make sure to release your water/ humidity trap after every gig and ALWAYS keep your compressor upright. Don’t be shy- ask around the airbrush community for best practices on extending the life of your compressor.


Another air source option is CO2. By connecting your airbrushes to a CO2 tank it will replace the need for a compressor. A CO2 tank is ideal when working outdoor events and when electricity is a problem. Since I work a lot of outdoor events I find CO2 very practical because then I am not struggling to run an extension cord or share an outlet with several others. CO2 is a preferred gas because its affordable, easy to find, and keeps consistent pressure all the way to the bottom of the tank. CO2 is non flammable and you do not need a license to carry a tank, unlike Oxygen. Oxygen is highly flammable and not recommended. For a step by step instructional breakdown of compressors, CO2 tanks, regulators and everything you want to know about Airbrushing I highly recommend checking out the Airbrush section on FABAtv.For $29.99 you can access a GREAT variety of airbrush classes to help you cover all the basics, learn about AB face painting, body art, t shirts, free hand lettering and maintenance. Its truly the best investment you can make prior to buying a system.  :)

PSI “Pressure per Square Inch”

Know Your PSI so your clients are happy and comfortable
Know Your PSI so your clients are happy and comfortable

PSI is simple all you need to remember is this, test the pressure on your own face and hand first. If it stings, burns or the “blast” aka pressure is too strong on yourself its going to feel the same way to your client. When you are airbrushing around the eyes and sensitive areas like under the nose you will want to lower the pressure on your compressor or CO2 tank to make it comfortable for your client. When you are airbrushing on clothing you want to be working at a higher PSI like 30-40  because the t shirt paint dries faster on the tip of your brush. As a rule of thumb you want to be working around :

18-25 Max PSI for face  and 25-50 PSI for Body



Braided vs. Non Braided.

The Dinair System is best for personal use (1)


Some compressors come with a hose which work well, but most prefer a braided hose instead. Braided hoses tangle less, but since they are made of nylon usually, they tend to absorb extra air moisture which is why its important for your compressor to have a moisture trap to catch any extra humidity so that it doesn’t clog up your lines. Hoses come with different connections so do your research before you buy one online or at the store. Most standard hoses have 2 ends one connects to your airbrush (smaller end usually 1/8″) and the other connects to either a manifold, compressor or CO2 tank (Typically 1/4″) If you purchase an airbrush and one end does not connect to your compressor you can add a piece called a bushing to make it fit they can be purchased at Home Depot.

What is a Manifold?



A manifold allows you to hook up multiple guns and hoses to one compressor or CO2 tank. It requires a special hose  doubled ended 1/4′ hose to connect the manifold to the compressor/ co2 , and it can only be The Dinair System is best for personal use (2)used with a powerful compressor such as the Iwata Smart Jet Pro or CO2 tank. A manifold essentially splits the air up into different guns, allowing you to work with multiple guns from one compressor or CO2 tank simultaneously. Most manifolds are made with pneumatic fittings which means they are self sealing and if nothing is plugged into the fitting they are “closed” so if you hook up a 6 port manifold and only want to use 1 gun the other spots will stay “closed”. Try to avoid manifolds that are made of plastic they typically leak. I recommend wrapping all your fittings (see image) with plumbers tape and then connecting to your hoses to avoid rust and for a nice leak proof seal.


What does Quick Disconnect mean? 


Most fittings are quick disconnects, which means  once you screw them on your hoses you do not have to unscrew them you can simply connect them to your manifold and then quickly pop them out when its time to wrap up.


Airbrush Guns

The Dinair System is best for personal use (3)

Gravity fed Vs. Bottom Fed

When it comes to guns it’s really personal preference. Some artist swear by Gravity Fed (cup on top to feed paint), while others only use Bottom Fed (requires Blast cap and Bottle). Here are some pros and cons of each type of gun, it’s up to you to determine what works best for what you are trying to create.

Gravity Fed

  • Great for glamour make up because you can add make up little by little less waste
  • Easy to clean
  • Good for details and changing colors with blending them
  • Not the best option to cover large areas
  • Can spill while bending down so be carful
  • If you don’t use paint fast enough it can dry out because the paint is exposed in the cup


Bottom Fed

  • Requires Blast Cap and Bottle to function ( require additional cleaning)
  • Great option to cover large areas
  • Ideal to be used for Airbrush tattoo set up and Airbrush face Painting Set up with multiple colors
  • Blast caps most of the time Fit on 2oz Airbrush paint bottles ( do your research)
  • Does require additional cleaning and Maintenance

Cleaning Your Guns

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

This is the most important process to ensure your guns work at their best .Please keep in mind not all guns are the same, different models have different pieces which are a different size.

Items you will need

  • 91% alcohol
  • Paper towel
  • Shallow bowl or Tupperware
  • Small Pipe cleaner set
  • Patience
  • Optional and Ultrasonic cleaner

This will get tedious but don’t worry, when your gun flows smoothly you will be happy you cleaned it!

How to clean your gun by hand

  • Take apart your gun (remove needle and tip ) LEAVE TRIGGER ALONE !
  • Place gun flat in a shallow bowl
  • Soak in alcohol (only alcohol)
  • Remove from alcohol and use pipe cleaner to clean the tough areas
  • Use a paper towel and alcohol to clean alcohol that is left behind and polish
  • Let it air dry on a paper towel
  • Once it is dry, put back together
  • Add 2 drops of AIRBRUSH LUBE in trigger area (pull back trigger first )

Here’s a helpful video on how to clean your airbrush —–> Click Here

Or How to clean your guns and stencils with an ultrasonic cleaner 

  • Take apart your guns and put the small pieces in a small tupperware container
  • fill your ultrasonic cleaner with water
  • fill your tupperware with 91% alcohol
  • place the tupperware in the ultrasonic cleaner allow it to float around
  • turn on ultrasonic cleaner and let it shake your guns and stencils clean

I highly recommend an ultrasonic cleaner. They will save you SO much time cleaning your guns and stencils. Silly Farm carries an ultrasonic cleaner that is a good large size to clean up to 12 guns and stencils at the same time. You wont want to buy a super small one because if you can only clean one gun at a time its kind of pointless.

Tips for trouble shooting your airbrush system- Clogging Happens, but don’t worry there is always a way to fix it

  • Never use baby wipes because they will work against you and make your paint clunk up !
  • Use a paper towel to clean
  • You can always run alcohol through your gun to help loosen up and paint that might be stuck inside (use high psi for this )
  • Softly hold the tip with your finger or paper towel and run air as you would normally, and the air will go back and clean out any small stuck clumps of paint- do this very gently or the pressure can build and work against you
  • Remove needle and clean it then put back
  • Remove tip and clean any paint that might be stuck
  • And sometimes you just have to clean your gun when all else fails (soak it)
  • Water is your enemy when using alcohol based and Hybrid paint- don’t use it to clean your guns!


Last but not least- Airbrush Paints



There are several different paints and make up that can be used in an airbrush- so here is an overview of the different kinds available. Don’t feel overwhelmed- with knowledge comes power and soon you will be on your way to an Amazing Airbrush Journey!


Water based Paint

Vibe – is pre mixed and ready to be sprayed through an airbrush .03 and higher

Mehron liquid makeup – some color need to be thinned using Mixing liquid to achieve proper consistency to flow through an airbrush

Kryolan liquid Makeup – can be thinned with  mixing liquid or Liquiset by Ben Nye (to ensure durability) and to achieve proper consistency to flow through an airbrush

*( To remove Water based paints use wipes, makeup remover, or soap and water )


Our good friend and Skin Wars seaoson 2 contestant Fernello kicks butt with Hybrid body apint
Our good friend and Skin Wars seaoson 2 contestant Fernello kicks butt with Hybrid body apint

Hybrid Paints (my favorite )- a mixture of silicone, alcohol and water

*Because Hybrids are pre mixed the can not be thinned with mixing liquid or water or you will ruin them

Proaiir– is formulated for airbrush no need to thin with anything, long lasting and water resistant

FAB Hybrid– Formulated for Airbrush work, no need to thin long lasting and water resistant

Graftobian– Silicone Based Hybrid Formulated for airbrush Long Lasting and water resistant

*will withstand most sweat and activity

*safe for face and body

*removes easily with soap and water or makeup remover

*I advise to apply liquid body soap first let set in then use water to remove

Alcohol Based Paints- waterproof

Pro Aiir ink­ – Formulated for airbrush (can be thinned with 91% alcohol if needed) long lasting great for tattoos and long lasting Body Paint and FX.

Endura– Formulated for airbrush (can be thinned with 91% alcohol if needed) Long lasting great for tattoos and long lasting body paint and FX.

*must be removed it 91% alcohol or baby oil

*will last approx 3-5 days

*NOT RECOMMENDED for children’s airbrush face painting

* Not recommended on Face unless used for FX and client agrees


Last but NOT least knowledge is the most powerful tool you can posses. Take the time to learn about airbrushing, take a class, subscribe to fabatv and learn your supplies.It will save you money, time and stress. If you dont want to spend an hour learning about a system then chances are you wont want to spend the time to clean your system.


Well everyone I hope you are ready to invest in your first Airbrush system! Please keep in mind to ALWAYS buy your products from a reputable company that you know will give you the best quality for the price. If you have any questions on something I might have forgotten to cover please email me or call 954-472-5000 and I will be more than happy to help you out on your Airbrush Journey! Ready… set …Paint ! Money is in the AIR !!! 


Vanessa Lopez

Sweet Cheeks Artistry

 FB- Vanessa FABAtv

IG- Sweet_cheeks_artistry

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