Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is an airbrush?
A: An airbrush is a small, air-operated tool that sprays fluid (paint, ink, dye, stain, glaze, etc.). It resembles, and is held like, a pen. It applies paint through a process known as atomization.
Q: What's atomization?
A: An airbrush takes a fluid and turns it into a directed airborne mist. You can think of it as a sophisticated perfume atomizer or as a controllable spray paint can.
Q: How does an airbrush work?
A: The airbrush must be attached to an air source to spray. Airbrushes have two systems that must work together to function properly. The air system provides energy for the atomization of the fluid. The fluid system delivers the paint to the tip of the airbrush to be atomized and sprayed onto a surface.
Q: What type of airbrush is best for me?
A: This depends on your desired application. Most airbrush users today use single- or dual-action, internal mix airbrushes because they offer the most control and the finest of sprays. However, single-action, external mix airbrushes are very popular for hobby and craft applications, the spraying of ceramic glazes or high viscosity materials, or where cost is a factor. (They are generally less expensive.)
Q: What is the difference between internal-mix and external-mix?
A: In an internal-mix airbrush, the air and paint mix inside the paint tip. This produces a thorough atomization or mixing, which results in a very soft, fine spray pattern. In an external-mix airbrush, the air and paint mix outside the tip, producing a coarse spray pattern.
Q: Why are there different size tips for the airbrush?
A: Nozzle sizes are differentiated by tenths and sometimes hundredths of millimeters. The different sizes allow for finer or coarser paint (how finely the paint pigment is ground up) while trading off between finer and coarser lines and spray patterns. The line sizes are relative within the Iwata product line. A practiced hand and deft touch can accomplish some amazing lines and effects with a .5mm nozzle on the Eclipse or Revolution series airbrushes.
Q: What types of surfaces can be worked on?
A: All surfaces can be airbrushed, paper, canvas, plastic, metal, glass, wood, leather, skin, etc. The key is to insure the proper preparation of the surface prior to spraying and its compatibility with the sprayed material.
Q: What kinds of paint can I use with the airbrush?
A: All paints, oils, acrylics, watercolors, automotive paints, enamels, alkyds, etc., are sprayable as long as they are thinned to a consistency, like light cream, that enables them to flow easily through the airbrush. However, if you're just learning how to paint with an airbrush consider buying airbrush ready paints Â„ then you can focus on improving your technique rather than worrying about whether or not your paint is going to clog the airbrush.
Airbrush Maintenance & Cleaning
Q: Why should I use SuperLube?
A: When you're using a substance to lubricate your airbrush needle you run the danger of some of that substance getting into the spray and onto your project (that's why you only need a little bit). The question is what will happen when that greasy substance reacts with your paint. SuperLube doesn't like to react with oil-based or water-based paints - that's why we recommend it - we know what it will do. If you use an oil-based lube it might react with your acrylic paints (it'll mix like oil and water).
Q: Why do I need to lubricate the needle?
A: The needle doesn't really need the lube rather the needle in turn lubricates a little o-ring deep in the body of the brush that prevents blowback. It's really rather small so it doesn't need much lube and it only needs to be lubed every now and then.
Q: Are airbrushes hard to keep clean?
A: No, it's quite a simple task, though it might be difficult at first. Develop a regular maintenance habit of rinsing the airbrush with the appropriate cleaning agent for the material being sprayed between color changes. Thoroughly clean your airbrush at the end of the workday. Check out the appropriate cleaning guide for your brush here.
Q: How do I rinse my airbrush?
A: To rinse out the airbrush, simply flush it with the appropriate paint cleaning agent - Medea Airbrush Cleaner for water-based paints and paint thinner for oil-based paints. Never immerse or soak an entire airbrush. When using flammable cleaners never flush the airbrush near an open flame or lose electrical wiring and always flush the cleaner into an appropriate container to deal with these materials.
Q: How often should I rinse my airbrush?
A: You should rinse out the airbrush generally in-between color changes, before taking a break, and at the end of the day. Here's why - wet materials clean up easier than dry materials. Rinse it while it's wet and you won't have to do a thorough cleaning as often when it's dry. Rinsing between color changes is a maybe. If you're blending colors and working from light to dark then chances are good that you won't have to rinse. If you need a pure color then you will have to rinse out your airbrush.
Q: How often should I thoroughly clean my airbrush?
A: It's easy to say that you should clean your airbrush at the end of each workday; however, you should thoroughly clean the airbrush when the inevitable buildup of dried paint begins to interfere with normal operation. For some people this is once a week, for others, it's once a day. It should be noted that regular and timely rinsing of wet paint with the appropriate cleaner will lengthen the amount of time between thorough cleanings. In short, rinsing more means cleaning less.
Q: When I'm thoroughly cleaning out my airbrush why should I use a solvent?
A: Solvents quickly break up the molecular bonds paint forms when it dries. We recommend acetone or lacquer thinner as solvents, but stay away from paint thinner - paint thinner, in our experience, doesn't seem to work well cleaning airbrushes. Do not soak your airbrush in a solvent. There are parts and greases in other areas of the airbrush that don't take kindly to it. With that said, you should generally use only as much solvent as can be held in a cotton swab or in a pipe-cleaner. WARNING: DO NOT SPRAY SOLVENTS THROUGH THE AIRBRUSH. Bad idea, here's why.
Q: What about Medea Airbrush Cleaner? Can I use it to clean out my airbrush instead of solvent?
A: There's a saying-"the right tool for the right job". Medea Airbrush Cleaner is great stuff and it works really well on wet paints and materials. Paint is a suspension of pigment in an adhesive substance. When the adhesive is wet you can wash it off with soapy water-when it is dry, you need something to dissolve the molecular bonds the adhesive creates. This is where solvents such as acetone or lacquer thinner come into play.
Q: Why should I buy the expensive pipe cleaners?
A: For the price of 50 cents you too can keep your sanity during a thorough airbrush cleaning, but wait, there's a noticeable lack of detached cotton fibers that will plug up your brush at odd moments. And last, but not the least, you too can keep those pipe cleaners from breaking in the most inopportune of places. That, and we here in the tech support department have a small fortune invested in the pipe cleaner industry. We really would like to see some returns on those investments. The cost of keeping your sanity at your location may vary. The real reason we say "expensive" pipe cleaners is to keep you from buying the craft items, the colored stuff that children make fuzzy reindeer ornaments out of during the holiday season. Craft items might melt in solvent.
Q: Could I use a small brush instead of pipe cleaners?
A: Yes! In fact that's a great thing to do. You can use an interdental brush in many of the places that you regularly use pipe cleaners. However, there are still times when you'll need a pipe cleaner, so you can't eliminate the need for them entirely. Incidentally, we know that Oral-B interdental brushes don't melt in lacquer thinner.
Q: Why do the cleaning and maintenance guides exist?
A: Most of the problems we encounter here in the customer service and technical support department deal with poor cleaning and maintenance. The whole point is that we're trying to help as many people as efficiently as possible. Cleaning is the biggest problem that most airbrush users have to deal with; it's also the biggest reason why many new airbrush users give up.
Air Sources and Compressors
Q: What types of air sources are available?
A: Three different types of air sources may be used with the airbrush. First is an airbrush compressor; next is a carbonic gas tank (CO2 or N2); and third is a propellant can, for limited applications.
Q: How much air is necessary to operate an airbrush?
A: 0.5 cubic feet of air per minute (cfm) at 30 pounds per square inch (psi) will propel an airbrush. You can work at lower or higher pressures, depending on the materials sprayed and the effects desired, but the cfm requirement generally remains the same.
Q: What is the best air pressure to airbrush at?
A: This simple question has a complex answer that can only be answered after you know what surfaces you will be spraying and what kinds of paint you will be spraying through the airbrush. These are starting points for different surfaces.
* Artwork 25 psi (pounds per square inch)
* T-shirts art 55-65 psi
* Automotive painting 30-65
* Spray tattoo <20 psi
* Nail art with Medea paint 20-25 psi
* Make-up <20 psi
There are other variables to consider. The colors you're using (in general white needs more air pressure-blue and purple need less) and even the brand. The material you're spraying-for t-shirts and canvas the paint needs to get embedded in the fibers so more energy is required to push the paint into those fibers. The body and the face need very little pressure-start around 15-20 psi for the body and the face, being more sensitive, should be around 10-15 psi.
Q: What is carbonic gas?
A: Carbonic gas is Carbon Dioxide or (CO2). It, along with Nitrogen (N2) can be used as a propellant for your airbrush. The use of these air sources requires a regulator capable of handling the high pressure.
Q: Why are airbrush compressors so expensive?
A: The difference between airbrush compressors and compressors purchased from your local building supply store is noise. Airbrush compressors run silent - well a submariner would take issue with that statement. With our compressor running, you should be able to carry on a normal conversation with someone arms length away with the compressor in between the two of you.
Q: What good is a tank on my compressor?
A: Tanks do five things:
1. Tanks provide a reservoir of pressurized air that you can draw from while you're spraying.
2. You can draw air at a regulated pressure from the tank instead of the average pressure of the piston cylinders.
3. Because you're drawing air from the tank you're eliminating the tiny pulsation in the air supply caused by the physical motion of pistons pressurizing air.
4. The life of the compressor engine increases because it pumps air as the tank needs it instead of always being on.
5. Tanks are great first line moisture traps.
Q: Which compressor should I purchase?
A: Like so many other questions, one answer won't do. The right compressor or air system for you is dependant on your needs and budget. You might have an industrial application and need to tie into the in-house system (or you could be looking at purchasing an in-house system for everyone to tie into). You might be doing a little spray tanning and need a twin engine system or a lot and need something with a tank. You could be doing nail and body art and you won't need a tank. You could be working in places where noise is or is not an issue.
Q: How do I operate an airbrush?
Operating an airbrush depends on the trigger mechanism.
* Single Action: Depressing the trigger starts the air. Control the amount of fluid being released by adjusting the fluid adjustment knob open or closed.
* Double Action: Depressing the trigger starts the air. Control the amount of fluid being released by moving the trigger backward for more fluid and forward for less. Note: You need air to make the airbrush spray the fluid - hold down the trigger while manipulating it back and forth.
* Trigger Action: Pulling back on the trigger starts the air. Pulling further back controls the amount of fluid being sprayed. This system is used on spray guns.
Q: When is it appropriate for me to use an airbrush in my own work?
Anytime, but particularly when you want to achieve a soft look with no visible brush strokes. It can be used in conjunction with other media as well. Airbrushes make a nice addition to watercolor, acrylics, pastels, etc.
Q: Are there instructional books and videotapes available on the airbrush and spraying techniques?
There are many books on airbrush technique, particularly those that discuss basics, as well as an assortment of videotapes and DVDs. Iwata-Medea offers a full array of instructional videos, DVDs and books. Check your local art materials supply store for availability. A basic introductory course in airbrush technique is online at www.airbrushtalk.com
Q: Can I control the amount of air to the airbrush using the trigger?
You shouldn't. The proper method of controlling the amount of air to the airbrush is to use a pressure regulator. A lot of people with in-house air systems will hook a regulator up to the bottom of their airbrush or spray gun and control the pressure from there. Airbrush users also tend to like having a pressure regulator near where they work (MAC Valves on Custom Microns and Hi Line brushes serve this purpose too).