Airbrushing – Take Your Painting To The Next Level

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I’ve decided to create a series of articles dedicated to helping the average hobbyist get into, or at least consider whether airbrushing can be used to enhance the hobby and any other projects you may want to complete. In this first article, I’ll go over the two main kinds of airbrush designs as well as a couple compressor options.

If you all like this idea and would like to see more articles in this airbrush series, leave a comment below. 🙂

Before I begin, I’ll give you a little bit of a background and show you some of the work I’ve completed using an airbrush. Hopefully my examples will demonstrate the versatility of the airbrush and maybe get some of you interested in how you too can get the effect you desire while utilizing an amazing tool like an airbrush.

While most of my work has been done on a positive surface, or should I say, painting on the outside of an opaque surface, airbrushing can just as easily be used for painting on the reverse side of a translucent surface like an RC body. I’m sure there are some of you out there that have much more experience than me painting RC bodies and I hope you will join in through the comments below. There’s a whole other aspect of painting that can be opened up with an airbrush.

I had been creating artwork through drawing and painting since a child and usually got pleasing results. As I entered my 20’s I began painting wall murals and canvas paintings for friends, family, and the occasional hire.

One day I was walking through our local mall and saw an airbrush store. You know, the guy that paints T-shirts. I watched him for a moment and decided I was going to buy an airbrush. My first two real airbrushes were Pasche single action and Pasche double action airbrushes. We’ll get into the difference in a moment.

T-shirts quickly evolved into mail boxes, motorcycles, trucks, wall murals, and all types of other things. I absolutely love the versatility of using an airbrush. I could achieve fine lines or gradual fades with the same airbrush. It was awesome!

Here are a few examples of my artwork created primarily with airbrushes.

Here is a tire cover I created using double action Pasche and Iwata airbrushes. This type of material called for a flexible paint, so I used Createx colors and clear. A standard air compressor was used.

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Unfortunately most of my RC bodies somehow avoided a photo session. I guess I was too eager to run them to take pictures of them. Here are a couple early photos of RC bodies. the Revo is painted from the underside and the Tamiya was surface painted. I used Pactra paint and double action airbrush on the Revo and Automotive HOK base, candy, and clear on the Tamiya.

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I guess I need to throw in a couple T-shirts since I mentioned it earlier. These were created with Createx paint and double action airbrush. The last picture is of my some dressed like a clone trooper several years back. I used an airbrush to darken all the seams, giving it an aged look. I also added other battle scars and burn marks with a double action airbrush.

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This wall mural was painted using a combination of brushes, rollers, automotive spray guns, and airbrushes. The paint I used was regular interior wall paint which I had diluted with a mixture of water and glass cleaner. This is one of several murals painted on the interior walls of a local leather store. I didn’t need to paint in a window as a hole cut out and a one-way window was inserted so they could see the store front from the office. A standard air compressor was used by night and a silent by day.

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These two stage props were created for two different banquets held locally honoring senior citizens. The first prop is of a 57 chevy. It was painted on flat corrugated plastic sheet. There are two separate sheets used in this prop. The first sheet makes up the rear of the vehicle, while the second sheet makes up the windshield and dash. The sheets were then placed 3-4 feet apart and two chairs were set between them for an all inclusive effect. I used a mixture of paints ranging from Createx to Urethane automotive paint. This is almost entirely done using a double action airbrush. This is a good example of how you can create three dimensions out of two using proper shading, highlights, and angles. There is no way I could have made this prop as believable without an airbrush. A standard air compressor was used.

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This second stage prop was created a year or two later for the same yearly banquet. As you can see in the picture, I first created a wooden frame and then painted it to look like a giant television. This prop was created using a combination of roller, brushes, and airbrushes. The paint used was interior wall house paint and createx paints. This too is a good example of how you can make something flat appear to be three dimensional. A standard air compressor was used.

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For this next stage prop, a local school hired me to create a castle entrance way for their senior prom that year. They also used it the following year for homecoming. The draw bridges were repurposed to allow it to fit properly on the trailer. This prop was gigantic and was also created using a flat plywood/2×4 base. Like the other stage props, I used a combination of paints, brushes, rollers, and airbrushes. Because of its size, I also used automotive spray guns to cover large areas quickly. A standard compressor was used.

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The following automotive artwork was done by following proper auto paint industry standards using primers, base coat, mid coat clear, and clear. Mid coat clear was only used to protect completed stages of work before laying down more graphics and colors. The two main base coats I used were SEM and House of Kolor. As far as clear goes, some of them I used House of Kolor and other I used Xtreme clear, but all of them I used an airbrush. There is now possible way I could have gotten these effects without an airbrush. The main airbrush I used was the Iwata but I also used a $30 Chinese knock off, and it worked just fine. Unfortunately I can no longer find the Chinese airbrush for sale that cheap, but there are others out there that will do what you need them to do without breaking the bank. A standard compressor was used.

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This last picture is an example of painting furniture with an airbrush. You can do all types of faux finishes from antique to marbleizing like this wooden dresser that was converted into a vanity. This dresser started off as a typical dresser found in about any furniture store, except this one was old and had a worn out finish. The customer wanted me to make it look like marble, so I printed off a couple of marble photos and got to work. I treated this dresser as an automobile paint job. I used multiple layers of epoxy primer sanding between each coat. This allowed me to get rid of the wood grain look. I then applied SEM black base coat with a spray gun and followed it up with the airbrushed white. Later coating the entire job with multiple layers of Imron high gloss clear by Dupont. A standard compressor was used.

Vanity-before-prep airbrushed_marblevanity-marble-lft-copy

I hope you can see by now that airbrushes are amazing tools that can be used for many different applications, including RC. The great thing about an airbrush is that once you have one, you’ll want to use it on everything!

I think I’ve shown you everything BUT and RC car shell, but we’ll get into that in a later article in the airbrush 101 series. For now, lets talk about the two different types of airbrushes mentioned earlier. Below are examples of single action and double action airbrushes.

Single Action:
A single action airbrush means the button on the top of the airbrush does on thing and one thing only. When the top button is pressed, it allows air to flow through the airbrush. As this air flows over the top of the (angled) needle, it sucks paint from the holding kind of like a syphon. There may be a height adjustment dial at the base of the button which allows you to adjust button travel resulting in adjustable air flow.

Paint flow is also adjustable on a single action airbrush, it just doesn’t use the button to do so. An adjustable cone screws on over the needle allowing you to restrict the amount of paint flow. Tightening the cone down (not completely) creates a fine line and loosening the cone creates a large spraying area. As you can see, a single action airbrush is still a versatile tool and there are many who prefer them. Though they can be used as a primary airbrush, I find them most useful for painting a line or fade of consistent size, whether it be fine or large. The close up picture shows the adjustment screw available in some single stage airbrushes.

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Double Action:
A double action airbrush controls the airflow by pressing down on the button and paint flow by pulling back on the button. A single button literally controls the paint and paint flow independently. Generally when your ready to paint with a double action airbrush, you hold down the button (airflow) and pull back (paint flow) as needed. The more you pull back, the more the paint will come out. For example, if you want to create a fine line, You’ll press the button and pull back very slightly while holding the airbrush close to the painting surface. If you want to create a thick heavy line, push down on the button and pull back on the button generously while holding the airbrush further back from the painting surface. This is of course a very crude explanation of how to lay down paint, but it gives you an idea of how the double stage button works, and more importantly, the difference between single and double action airbrushes. The main advantage the double action airbrush has over the single stage airbrush is its ease of creating gradual transitions and fades.

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There are many variations of these two types of airbrushes which may include extra control knobs and levers, but these are the two basic types of airbrushes most others are stemmed from. In a later article we’ll talk about needle sizes and different techniques one can use to achieve a multitude of results.

The next thing we’ll talk about is compressors. The main thing here is noise level and adjustability. A regular old compressor will work fine for airbrushing as long as you can control PSI and attach a moisture trap.
PSI (pounds per square inch), or pressure adjustability is very important to airbrushing. Certain paints and even certain colors of the same paint require different levels of pressure. As a general rule of thumb, the thinner the paint, the less pressure needed. The paints tendency to dry also plays a role in this but we’ll get into this in greater depth in a later article.

The other thing we mentioned was the noise level. If noise is a big issue, there are some options out there. When I was painting automotive or stage props, noise didn’t matter. When I painted murals however, that Hitachi compressor was unacceptably loud! They make small diaphragm compressors for studio use that are very quiet and still offer plenty of PSI to power an airbrush. I purchased an inexpensive Sparmax diaphragm compressor that still produces 80PSI, which is more than enough for what I need.

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Moisture traps were mentioned a necessary addition to any compressor used for airbrushing, and for good reason. Air compressors naturally create moisture which travels down the hose into your airbrush. This can create many different problems with all paint mediums. The water is released onto you beautiful paint surface as soon as the air button is pressed, it doesn’t wait for the paint to flow as it comes from the air source. This results in a nasty blob of water right where you want to paint, so instead of painting on a nice clean surface, you’re trying to paint through a puddle of water. Needless to say, you end up with a less than perfect paint job. Water traps can be found at local hardware or home improvement stores and are fairly inexpensive. I usually run the air through a small water trap and then through an inline filter the make sure I get dry air. Now there are obviously many other styles of compressors and air-drying systems out there, but for this series we’re going to keep it simple as this isn’t intended for the professional car painter or airbrush artist. This series of articles is designed to help the average hobbyist get started in, or at least think about, the wonderful art of airbrushing.

In the next article I’ll show you how to hold the airbrush, how to create fine lines, and large lines using both single and double action airbrushes. We’ll also go over simple fades and transitions.

In future articles, once we’ve gotten through all the basics like line width, flow, fades, dots, and shapes, we’ll get into stencils, creating graphics, and start applying this to the RC hobby.

Let me know in the comments if this sounds interesting to you and wether you may be interested in taking your painting to the next level.

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About Author

I built my 1st real RC vehicle in 1986 and have enjoyed this hobby ever since. I like all RCs, cars, trucks, boats, planes, helis, etc. I think every RC vehicle has its place, whether it be toy grade or hobby grade. They're all fun to me, but the best part about this hobby is the people I've met and friendships I've made. But hey, enough about me. Share your background in the comment section of this article.

3 Comments

  1. Hey Matt
    I think this is a great idea. I have always thought about getting an airbrush but really did not know where to start and never had the time to figure it all out by myself. I am anxious to read your next article.
    JJ

  2. Pingback: Airbrushing-Basic lines and Dots

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