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:
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 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.
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.
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:
Airbrush Paint Quick Reference Chart
Temptu DuraAlcoholSatinYes15-25 psi.35mm ≥YesOpaque33
Art and Illustration Paints
|Paint Line||Base||Finish||Spray Ready||PSI||Tip Size||Non-
|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|
Face/Body Paint and Makeup
|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.