How to Use an Airbrush

By Contributor

How to Use an Airbrush. Aerosol spray paints can be used to apply an adequate finish to most modeling projects, but hobbyists who get serious about finishing their projects will want to use an airbrush for the best results.

Use an airbrush when you want to paint thin lines, cover large areas with an even coat, highlight models with subtle changes of tone and mix unique colors.

Make your first airbrush a good-quality, single-action, external-mix unit with a compressor.

Move up to a double-action airbrush, which controls paint volume and air volume with a single lever, as you become more competent.

Learn about air compressors. Diaphragm compressors are inexpensive, but pulses of the diaphragm can sometimes be seen in the paint finish. The best choice is an automatic-reservoir compressor, which does not run constantly but maintains the constant, steady pressure required.

Remember, many expert painters suggest that moisture traps and a gauged, pressure-regulating valve are worthwhile accessories for a beginner's airbrush unit.

Build a simple paint booth with an exhaust fan. Keep a paint respirator handy and use it faithfully.

Be sure the paint you are using is appropriate for the material used in the model's construction. Some plastics require special paint.

Check to see whether a primer is necessary.

Practice with your new airbrush. Use scrap metal and plastic as target materials.

Remember, the key to getting an even finish is to start the airbrush to one side of the target area, spray with an even stroke across it and go past the area before releasing the trigger.

Practice, using scrap materials, other applications such as thin lines and shading from one color to another.

Use white artist's tape, drafting tape or automotive-quality flexible masking tape rather than over-the-counter masking tape, which may leave a residue when removed.

Avoid spraying at an angle or with excessive force along tape-masked border to keep paint from leaking under tape edge.

Clean your airbrush tip by spraying water, with a bit of liquid dishwashing soap added, through it after painting with acrylic paints.

Use common rubbing alcohol to finish the job as necessary.


Practice, practice, practice. Like any creative skill, painting with an airbrush comes easily to those who practice most. Water-based acrylics have become the paint of choice for modelers who use high-quality, major brands. Hobbyists can find premixed paint in authentic colors. Some hobbyists prefer carbon dioxide or nitrogen gas reservoir tanks for a pressure source for airbrushes; however, inert-gas tanks must be refilled.


Wear a paint mask when using an airbrush. Safety goggles are useful as well. Always use an airbrush in a well-ventilated area or in an open area.
Paint particles can overspray and damage other objects.