Any paint, ink or dye with the proper viscosity should flow nicely through the airbrush.  An airbrush user has the option to use a fluid paint and add an appropriate additive until it atomizes correctly or to use a premixed ready-to-spray airbrush color. Today there are plenty of ready-to-spray options available and companies like Createx Colors are constantly inventing new lines of paint that cater to specific applications and techniques. Yes, it’s never been a better time to be in the market for some airbrush paint. However, if you want to make an informed decision you should first learn some basics.

Paint formulas can be very complicated. Without getting too deep into the chemistry, there are three primary parts to all paints: the diluent, the binder and the coloring agent.

The Diluent – Also known as the base, the diluent allows the paint to flow and determines the viscosity. Once the paint has dried and set the diluent has evaporated from the paint. It also determines what the paint can be thinned with. For instance a water-based acrylic uses water as a diluent and therefore can be thinned with water. Where as a solvent-based paint must me thinned with solvent and so on.

The Binder – This is what holds the paint together and allows it to adhere a surface. The binder will also determine the sheen, durability and flexibility of the paint.

The Coloring Agent – The pigment or dye that provides the desired color for the paint. The quality and purity of the pigments will contribute to the paint’s permanence.

Here are some things to consider when looking into a line of paint:

Toxicity
Safety is of the utmost importance when airbrushing. Solvent based paints are very toxic especially when sprayed. Breathing the fumes and vapors can cause irritation to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract resulting in headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Long term exposure can cause serious health problems. Always use a respirator and have proper ventilation when using these paints. Water-based paints paints are typically safe to use but its still a good idea to have some decent ventilation in place or use a paper mask so that you’re not breathing in over-spray. When applying paint to skin always make sure the paint is non-toxic, or better yet, FDA approved.

Viscosity
Paints come in a variety of thicknesses. Airbrush paints and inks come “airbrush ready”, however, if you’re using a smaller tip size (under .5mm), the paint may need to be reduced before it’s ready to spray. The recommended tip size will vary from product to product. Typically paints marketed to illustrators will come ready to spray through a small tip at low pressure, while T-shirt paints will be designed for a larger tip size and work at a higher PSI.

Adhesion and Durability
Obviously, you want to use a paint that will adhere to the surface that you’re painting. Furthermore, consider how durable you need it to be. Additives and clear coats can also make the paint more durable.

Permanence
This is the light-fastness of the paint. Or rather how well the paint pigment holds up to the element of light. Colors that fade more rapidly are called fugitive. Florescent colors, for example, are very fugitive. There is an ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) grade for measuring levels of light-fastness. Manufacturer Standards are another way of measuring light-fastness. Either one or both of these should be displayed on the label of each color.

We’ve broken colors down into four categories:

Water-Based

Solvent-Based

Makeup and Body-Paint

Dyes

Airbrush Paint Quick Reference Chart

Art and Illustration Paints
Paint Line Base Finish Spray Ready PSI Tip Size Non-

Toxic

Opacity #Colors
Createx Colors Acylic Flat Yes 40-50 psi .5mm ≥ Yes Trns/Opq. 72
Wicked Water w/Solvent Semi-Gloss Yes 30-50 psi .35mm ≥ No Trns/Opq. 55
Wicked Details Water w/Solvent Flat Yes 20-40 psi .2mm ≥ No Transparent 52
Createx Illustration Water w/Solvent Flat Yes 15-30 psi .15mm ≥ No Transparent 16
Bloodline Colors Water w/Solvent Flat Yes 15-30 psi .15mm ≥ No Transparent 15
Jacquard Airbrush Acylic Semi-Gloss Yes 30-50 psi .5mm ≥ No Trans/Opq 48
Golden High Flow Acylic Semi-Gloss Yes 25-50 psi .2mm ≥ No Transparent 47
Holbein Aeroflash Acylic Flat Yes 15-30 psi .15mm ≥ Yes Trans/Opq 86
Dr.Ph.Martin’s Hydrus Watercolor Flat Yes 15-30 psi .15mm ≥ Yes Transparent 36
Auto and Hobby Paints
Auto-Air Water w/Solvent Semi-Gloss Yes 30-50 psi .5mm ≥ No Trans/Opq 162
Inspire Urethane Semi-Gloss Yes 20-35 psi .3mm ≥ No Trans/Opq 37
1 Shot Oil-Enamel Gloss No 30-40 psi .5mm ≥ No Opaque 56
Testors Enamel Gloss No 25-40 psi .5mm ≥ No Opaque 44
Minitaire Acrylic Gloss Yes 25-30 psi .35mm ≥ Yes Opaque 50
FW Acrylic(pigment) Satin Yes 25-30 psi .2mm ≥ No Transparent 44
Higgins Waterproof Water(dye) Satin Yes 15-25 psi .15mm ≥ No Transparent 16
Winsor Newton Drawing Water(dye) Satin Yes 15-25 psi .15mm ≥ No Transparent 26
Pinata Alcohol(dye) Flat Yes 15-25 psi .15mm ≥ No Transparent 17
Temptu Dura Alcohol Satin Yes 15-25 psi .35mm ≥ Yes Opaque 33
Temptu SB Silcone Semi-Gloss Yes 15-25 psi .35mm ≥ Yes Opaque 81
Mehron Lux Water Flat Yes 20-30 psi .35mm ≥ Yes Opaque 18
Mehron Liquid Makeup Water Satin No 20-30 psi .5mm ≥ Yes Opaque 10
ProAiir Hybrid Water/Alcohol Satin Yes 15-30 psi .3mm ≥ Yes Opaque 35
EBA Endura Alcohol Satin Yes 15-30 psi .35mm ≥ Yes Opaque 40
Paasche Temp. Tattoo Alcohol Satin Yes 15-30 psi .35mm ≥ Yes Opaque 13
Artool Body of Art Alcohol Satin Yes 15-30 psi .35mm ≥ Yes Opaque 14

Base: The base and or binder (vehicle) of the paint. Finish: The sheen of the paint once dry (how shiny it is.) Spray Ready: Whether or not the paint is ready to be sprayed through an airbrush. PSI: The recommended pressure (Pounds Per Square Inch) for the paint to be sprayed through an airbrush. Tip Size: The recommended nozzle size for the paint to be used strait out of the bottle. (Or in the case or non airbrush ready paints, once mixed.) Opacity: How opaque or transparent the paint is. #Colors: Number of colors available in the paint line.