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Which Airbrush Paint Should You Be Using?

Caution: Anything that is you breathe into your lungs besides fresh air is detrimental to your health.


PaintsWater based and solvent based are the two main types of paints used in airbrush art.
All good paints should contain a minimum of 3 key ingredients, a:

  • Diluent
  • Pigment &
  • Binder


A diluent is a diluting agent and can be referred to as the vehicle. This is the product in the paint that allows you to 'thin it out'. For example; to dilute a water based paint, one must add water - therefore it is commonly referred to as the base.

Pigments are tiny granules incorporated into paint, which give a paint it's color.
It is important to know that pigments are insoluble.
They can either be natural or synthetic. The alternative to pigments are dyes, which on the contrary are water soluble and much smaller than granules.

The binder is also commonly referred to as the vehicle. This is the component of paint that causes a film to form once the diluents have evaporated.
The binder is what groups the pigments together and promotes adhesion to the substrate.
When you hear of paints having to cure, it is referring to the binder's 'drying' or polymerization time.

Aren't paints just so exciting! (insert bored face here)

Water based airbrush paint

golden airbrush paints

As explained already, water is the diluent of water based paints and these can be thinned by adding water. The advantages of using water based paints in airbrushing is that they are the least toxic of paints and are considered safe.
The cleaning is easy and they can be used on a large variety of substrates. The disadvantages of water based paints is that they are quite temperamental, especially when it comes to finer detail airbrushes.
Pigments can group together and get stuck in the tip of the airbrush causing it to spit, and it is common for the pigment to stick to the very end of the needle causing a temporary irregular paint flow.

Solvent based paint for airbrushing

Caution: Whenever using solvent based paints, be sure to wear a standards compliant respirator.

solvent based paint

For the sake of anyone who's not a paint lover, we'll keep this short and stick to only automotive solvent based paints.

The pigments of automotive paints are much finer than those of water based paints and are also softened due to the presence of thinners. The advantages of using automotive paints is that they flow much more smoothly, have a cleaner spray pattern and can be used at lower air pressures. They are much easier to air brush with and you get fewer problems.
The disadvantages are that these paints are extremely toxic to inhale and the cleaning must be done with an appropriate thinner, which is also highly toxic.
Always follow the cautions displayed when using such paint products.

The best airbrush paint for beginners?

I would recommend either of the following three paints for best results with illustration airbrushing:

1. Etac EFX (or Marissa) Paints
Etac Efx Paints

2. Com-art
Com-art Paints

3. Createx Illustration Paints
Createx Illustration Paints