How Do You Thin Acrylic Paint for Airbrushing Models?

acrylic paint can be used in an airbursh

Airbrushing is an art form in its own right, and just like any other artistic endeavor, the quality of your work is only as good as the supplies you’re using.

This is especially true when it comes to choosing the paint.

If you’re using cheap, watery paint, your airbrush work will look cheap and watery.

But your work will look fantastic if you use high-quality, suitably thinned paint that is not too thick or watery.

In this today’s article, I will give you a detailed explanation of what paints are best to use for airbrushes, why I think acrylic is the most suitable paint, and how to thin acrylic paint for airbrushing models, along with the types of mediums you can use for thinning.

So, let’s get started with the basic question first…

Can Regular Acrylic Paint be Used in an Airbrush?

Choosing the paint for airbrushing is tricky, as you will have to find a happy medium between the paint being too thick and it being too thin.

If the paint is too thick, it will clog your airbrush, and if it’s too thin, it won’t adhere to the surface properly.

The best way to avoid this problem is to use paint specifically designed for airbrushing, such as acrylic paint.

Acrylic paint is, in fact, the first preferred choice for most modelers and miniaturists.

It is because acrylic paints are water-based, non-toxic, and easy to clean. They also have a fast drying time, which is about 15 minutes.

Flaxart suggests picking the acrylic paints labeled “Airbrush Paint.” These are typically fluid acrylic specially designed for airbrushing use.

And are also the best choice for beginners just learning how to use an airbrush.

But again, you should remember that consistency of the paint is vital when working with airbrushes. Let’s see the process of thinning acrylic paint for airbrushing models correctly.

Thinning Acrylic Paint for Airbrushing- The Right Way

To avoid any problems while airbrushing, I would recommend using distilled water or an artist’s reducer.

Typically, you should aim to achieve the consistency of the paint that’s similar to milk. But let me be frank, the process will not be as easy!

You will need to consider certain essential things to get the desired consistency. These include:

  • The type of airbrush you will be using
  • The air pressure you will use
  • The size of the liquid nozzle and the needle

These factors are important to check so your airbrush atomizes the color correctly.

Especially for the size of the liquid nozzle, you will find that the 0.5 mm nozzle will spray thicker than a 0.2 mm nozzle, owing to the thickening effect of volume.

The best way to figure it out will be to check the instructions on the airbrush you have.

For instance, if your airbrush is a double-action airbrush with a 0.5 mm nozzle, it will likely require a 15-20% thinner medium.

A word of caution- when using a medium to reduce your airbrush paint, make sure you don’t use too much of it as it will result in weakening the paint’s adhesive quality.

A bit of experimentation will be required to get a perfect consistency.

Once you have perfect consistency, it will allow you to practice your airbrushing skills without any risk of clogging.

Best Acrylic Paint Thinner Mediums to Use for Airbrush

There are numerous brands of thinners available in the market which can be used to reduce the consistency of your airbrush acrylic paint.

But I have been using Liquitex Professional Airbrush Thinner for quite a while, and I find it very good.

It is because Liquitex Professional Airbrush Thinner is formulated to reduce the viscosity of heavy body and high viscosity acrylics for airbrush application.

Moreover, this thinner will not change the paint’s color, opacity, or durability. You can use it with any airbrush and get satisfactory results.

A few other airbrush acrylic mediums also include:

  • Golden Artist Colors (GAC) Medium
  • VALLEJO Airbrush Thinner
  • CREATEX COLORS High-Performance Reducer

These ready-to-use pouring medium products will reduce the consistency of your airbrush paint and improve its flow.

You can find them easily in any good art supply store near you or online at stores like Amazon.

It helps if you choose the same brand of thinner or reducer as your paint to avoid any compatibility issues later.

Most brands will have a dedicated acrylic binder or reducer for their airbrush paints.

Homemade Airbrush Thinner

If, for some reason, you do not want to use the expensively manufactured reducers available on the market, you can make your homemade airbrush reducer cleaner at home.

Just use one of these recipes that use distilled water as a primary component…

Method 1:

Add one cup of Fantastik All-Purpose Cleaner to three cups of distilled water in a lidded container or bowl.

Mix them well and use the mixture with acrylic paint in a 1:2 ratio.

This 1:2 ratio rule for thinning acrylic paint is simple yet effective in getting the paint to the perfect consistency.

Method 2:

Add one cup of Fantastik All-Purpose Cleaner to four cups of distilled water in a lidded container or bowl.

Then add one cup of rubbing alcohol and four to five drops of glycerin.

Generally, you should add one drop of glycerin to every 50 ml of paint you use.

Mix all these ingredients well and use the mixture with acrylic paint in a 1:2 ratio.

Method 3:

Add equal parts of distilled water and acrylic paint to a bowl or container. Mix them all thoroughly until you get a homogenous mixture.

Remember that this method will use only water, so it’s not as effective as the other recipes above.

But this will work fine in a pinch, especially for beginners if you have a relatively new airbrush and the paint is not too old.

You can also use other cleaning solutions like window cleaner, etc., in place of Fantastik.

But I have found that Fantastik works the best as an airbrush thinner for acrylic paint.

In all three methods, never use plain tap water as it contains minerals that can clog your airbrush over time. Always use distilled water to make the paint thinner.

You can also use this method to clean your airbrush. Simply flush the cleaner through your airbrush after each use, and it will keep your airbrush in good condition for a long time.

Tips and Warnings:

When thinning and mixing acrylic paint for the airbrush, always use a container that is tightly sealed with a lid.

Add all the ingredients (along with the paint) and shake it vigorously until the paint has reduced to your desired consistency.

If using an alcohol-based solvent for thinning the acrylics, always work in a well-ventilated area, as the fumes emitted can be harmful to your health.

Once you have mixed the thinner, use a paper towel or cheesecloth to strain it.

This will remove any foreign particles that might have been introduced while mixing the ingredients.

Acrylic paint is water-based, so it is always best to clean your airbrush immediately after you have used it to paint your models and miniatures.

If the paint dries in the airbrush, it will be complicated to clean and even damage the internal parts of your airbrush.

homemade airbrush thinner

What Will Happen if You Do Not Thin Your Airbrush Paint?

While certain brands of acrylics allow airbrushing without having to thin the paint, it is still not advisable.

The main reason for this is that acrylics that come in a ready-to-use state are usually too thick to be used in an airbrush.

If you plan to use them, you will probably have to use a higher PSI (pounds per square inch) to get a proper spray pattern.

In worst scenarios, you will find that your airbrush will clog up very quickly.

In general, if you use the acrylic paint in its original form (straight from the tube), it could:

  • Provide inconsistent spray patterns
  • Clog or malfunction your airbrush sprayer

So, before using it, I would recommend reducing the acrylic paint to the proper viscosity with a suitable medium.

Related FAQs

Will the thinning ratios impact the finish I achieve?

The finish of your project will not be impacted by the thinning ratios as long as you maintain a consistent ratio throughout the project.

However, thinning the paint too much will result in a loss of color density and may affect the overall coverage.

That said, there is a variety of paint colors ranging from opaque, candy, and pearl to transparent.

Transparent paints allow light to pass through the paint and usually require less reducer than the other colors like opaque (that doesn’t allow the light to pass through).

Is the paint extender the same as the airbrush thinner?

No, they are not the same but different. Paint extenders help to make the paint more transparent, while airbrush thinners thin out the paint.

A flow improver can also be used to increase the flow of the paint and help avoid the tip drying out.

If you want, you can also use airbrush cleaners as an alternative to thinner and reducers.

Many brands will have their line of cleaners that can be used with their specific type of paint. So, it shouldn’t be a problem.

How can I thin solvent-based paint to use in my airbrush?

Solvent-based paint or oil-based paint should not be reduced with water. You should use the reducer that’s formulated for that specific type of paint.

For example, if you use lacquer-based paint, use lacquer thinner to thin it out.

It’s good to check the ingredients of the paint to see what the recommended thinner is.

You can also check with the paint manufacturer.

Some airbrush-specific brands will have reducers that can be used with water- and oil-based paints. Check the labels to see if it is suitable for your paint.

The bottom line

Acrylic paints are perfect for airbrushing models, mini sculptures, or miniatures. But to get the best results, you need to thin the paint properly.

The type and ratio of thinner you use will depend on the paint brand and your project.

You can generally use water to thin water-based acrylics, but alcohol-based thinner can also be used.

If unsure, always check the paint label or manufacturer’s instructions. Or experiment a bit with the ratios until you get the desired consistency.

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