Costuming is Not Just About Sewing: A Primer on Airbrushing
by, Robert Cruse
The Airbrush. So, you’ve seen them, you might even know someone who has one, but chances are you’re like most people and the thought of one TERRIFIES you. Don’t be silly, it’s just an airbrush. And in the world of costuming, it is another tool in your arsenal for making costumes, props, and even body painting.
I’ll provide a basic breakdown and overview of airbrushes, so let’s call it a primer on airbrushing.
First, there are so many types it can be confusing. And I’m not talking the brands as there are different types.
Manufacturers: Iwata, Paasche, Badger, Aztec, other knockoffs.
Single action/double action: control of mixing air/paint. A single action refers to when you depress the trigger the airflow and paint flow start. It’s pretty much point and shoot. Double action means that when you depress the trigger the airflow starts, and when you pull it back, the needle slides back and allows the paint to mix with the airflow. There’s more control with a double action airbrush.
External mix/Internal mix: where mix of air/paint occurs in brush action. An internal mix refers to where the air and paint meet. Internal happens inside the airbrush and the resulting mix is shot out of the cap. External means the air and paint mix outside the brush. For these options the Internal Mix allows more control and less mess.
Feed: bottom, top, side – where the paint is stored in relation to its position on the brush. It is either in a cup, or a bottle. You might hear words like siphon (pulling paint from a container located under the brush) or gravity (paint is stored “above” the brush and flows into the airbrush).
Needle Size: smaller = finer lines (with control) and more headaches as well. .35 or .50 standard is generally all one will need.
Propellants: don’t bother with a can, get a decent compressor that is compatible for your needs. When dealing with compressors, well, there are a number of factors in my book: NOISE and COMPATABILITY.
Noise: You can jury-rig up a regular old pancake compressor from Wal-Mart, Sears, etc. to run your airbrush on. However, they are extremely hard on the ears. So that leaves you with the “studio” compressors made by each individual company.
Compatability: With any compressor, you can buy adapters to fit a Paasche airbrush to the hose from a Badger Compressor for example. It’s all a matter of finding one you like and can work with – and then making sure you have all the correct parts. MicroArt, Paasche, Badger and Iwata all make compressors for many different tasks. Another feature to look for is auto shut-off to make sure you don’t overheat and ruin your compressor. Gravity feed airbrushes don’t have to take as much PSI to run, but a siphon feed takes just a bit more… Remember, you will have to find out how much PSI (pounds per square inch) that your paint for your project will need to be run at. Tshirt/fabric paints generally have a much higher PSI than say an acrylic you’re using to paint some skin on your model.
Parts: learn how to disassemble your airbrush and keep that parts schematic handy! Each brush should come with one to help with re-ordering parts. Always store it in a safe place, such as a Ziploc baggie with the brush.
Protection: protect your work surfaces and your lungs! Use well ventilated areas, and at least wear a re-breather if you’re doing chemical solvent-based paints (enamels and lacquers).
Cleaning and care: keep your investment working longer and better with proper cleaning and care of all parts.
Other tools of the trade: cups, stirrers, masking mediums, blades, cutters, cleaning brushes, hangers, etc.
And then we have to get into the whole issue of paint… but that’s a topic best left for another time.
However I will say that with the internet, there is a ton of information out there just waiting for you to find it. If you’re going to be doing a specific project, do some research, see what others in your same position have done in the past. Using someone else’s experience might not only save you time, but having to redo your entire project. Maybe you have a friend who has one, ask them to give you some time and tips.
Just like the first time you tackled your sewing machine, it’s not any different than learning to use an airbrush. A little research, some patience, and you’ll be rocking and rolling just fine.