How to Get Started in Custom Airbrushing

Airbrushing is an art form that has a wide variety of uses. It can be applied to t-shirts, cakes, automobiles, helmets, canvas paintings and even on people’s skin using food-safe paints and dyes.

While an airbrush setup can be expensive, it is well worth the investment. Once you’ve got your equipment, learn the basic techniques before moving on to more complex designs.


A beautiful custom paint job not only adds a unique personality to your vehicle, it can also boost the resale value and convey to potential buyers your pride of ownership for your car. Conversely, a poor paint job can have the opposite effect and reflect negatively upon your attention to detail.

An airbrush is a pen-like device that uses an air compressor to spray paint. It is typically used for painting on various types of surfaces for a variety of artistic and hobby purposes. An automotive application of the airbrush is the art of applying a detailed, colorful design to a car.

The automotive airbrush artist is able to create a wide range of designs, from simple single-color designs to intricate patterns and sprayed-on effects. Before the art is applied to the car, the surface must be prepped properly. This includes removing any dirt or dust, and using the proper degreaser for the type of paint being used. (Water-based if using water-based paints like Createx Wicked, or solvent-based for paints that use chemicals such as Custom Creative 700).

An automotive airbrush artist is able to achieve a high level of detail because of the fine atomization of the paint delivered by the gun. Professionals prefer double-action airbrushes, which have a trigger mechanism that allows the user to control both paint and air flow with the same tool. They may also choose to use a gravity feed or siphon-feed paint reservoir.


T-shirts are among the most popular items to airbrush. There are several things that you will need to do to get started with this hobby/career. First you will need a good quality T-shirt that is preshrunk and has no holes or tears in it. You will also need a small to medium size air compressor that is rated for t shirt work. If you will be doing a lot of shirts then the larger commercial type compressors marketed for custom airbrushing are usually better.

Pennant felt is a great material to use as stencil material for this sort of job. It is cheap, easy to cut and it can be re-used over again without needing to be cleaned. If you do not have this material then card board, plastic or even x-ray film can be used as stencil material.

Once you have a stencil made and it is attached to your t-shirt you will need to heat set the design. To do this place the t-shirt on a flat surface and cover it with parchment paper (or ordinary brown craft paper). Next apply your house hold iron to the design for two minutes making sure that you keep the iron moving all the time.

The heat setting process is important because it helps to prevent the painted design from washing off in the wash or cracking as it dries. Many of the paints that are designed specifically for airbrushing on t-shirts require that they be heat set after you apply them to the fabric. One such example is Goldens GAC 900 which can be applied as a clear coat over your designs but must be heat set.

Street Art

Airbrush artists are found working on cars, trucks and motorcycles, on T-shirts, at amusement parks and carnivals, street fairs and festivals and even in some salons where they apply designs to fingernails. They often work freehand and apply different colors in layers with shadowing and highlighting. They can also airbrush portraits and names.

The art form was first developed in the 1890s and is over a century old. It requires considerable skill to master, requiring the ability to create a freehand image on any surface with a steady hand and the ability to blend various colors together in addition to adding shadowing and highlighting. A skilled artist can produce works that rival photographic realism.

Many street artists have used their talent to develop a signature style and have become highly recognizable, such as the rat by Shepard Fairey, or the mosaics by Blek le Rat and Jerome Mesnager. They have also exhibited their works in some of the most prominent contemporary art galleries.

This workshop is designed for smaller groups with a shorter time frame such as primary schools, disability and youth groups or workplace team building. Participants can use stencils provided or have a go at freehand airbrushing. It is a great way for young people to be creative and explore this exciting new medium. Maximum of 16 participants per session.

Fine Retouching

Despite the downturn in its use for photo-retouching, airbrush is still a viable tool for fine touch-up work in the hands of a skilled retouch artist. In fact, with the advent of raster image editors, the skill level needed to produce subtle, invisible changes has increased. This is due to the fact that a human hand cannot replicate the control and subtlety of an airbrushed brush in the same way that a computer can.

For example, when retouching models for fashion photography, it is very easy to overdo the airbrushing and end up with a look that is too “artificial”. A skilled touch-up artist can hide the work by adding subtle wisps of paint here and there, giving the illusion that the model has been naturally enhanced rather than completely retouched.

When retouching photos, it is also important to consider the effect of the background on the subject. If the background is too stark, it will be difficult to see the subject against it and this can detract from the overall image. Using a background that is the same color as the subject can create a more natural effect.