These are the most common types of paints used for airbrushing. They are generally safe to use and low in toxicity. Some product lines are actually certified non-toxic. The base of these paints is water, making them water soluble. However, water is not always the best reducer.
Acrylics – This is a water-based product that uses an acrylic resin as a binder. Traditional artists’ acrylics can be converted into airbrush paint using an airbrush medium. However it is highly recommended to only use fluid (aka soft body) acrylics. Heavy body acrylics cannot be thinned enough without loosing too much of their pigmentation and binder properties.
A better option is to choose from a variety of pre-made airbrush paints including Aquaflow, Holbein Aeroflash, and Createx Colors. These colors can be reduced with water as well as mixed with specific mediums to suit your need. Applications include porous materials such as textiles, canvas, paper, wood etc. Createx also makes several lines of water-based acrylic airbrush paint that contain a solvent vehicle. These products (Wicked Colors, Auto-Air Colors, Createx Illustration Colors) are extra durable and work on a variety of surfaces including plastic and metal. Because they are made with solvents these lines should be thinned with a special reducer instead of water.
Watercolors – Traditional watercolors can be thinned a run through an airbrush with ease. Such a technique was used by classic illustrators like pinup master Alberto Vargas. Nowadays watercolors are available in a premixed ready-to-spray variety (i.e. Dr PH Martins Hydrus) which is a convenient option. Watercolors are transparent in nature and can be airbrushed using layering techniques. They are also “re-wettable” meaning after being applied they have the the ability to be reactivated by adding water. These paints are far less durable then acrylics and have light-fastness issues. Therefore, they are primarily used for illustration or fine art.
Gouache – Similar to watercolors, gouache colors can be reduced with water and run through an airbrush and are also rewettable. The key difference between these and watercolors is that they are opaque rather than transparent. They dry to a nice flat finish and are a favorite among illustrators.
Popular Water-Based Airbrush Color Brands