Airbrush tips and tricks

Woodduck31

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I know we have a lot of airbrush artist on here and I think it would be good to have a little collaboration here that we can eventually add to the stickies in the how to section.

I get lots of questions about airbrush, what to get, what kind of paint to use, etc.

Feel free to share some of your own experience and maybe we can all learn something.

There are a lot of choices when it comes to airbrush brands, I only have experience with paasche and badger. I started using a badger single action 41 years ago. It was powered by a small craftsman tankless air compressor. That little compressor was like sitting by a hammer mill.

What brands do you use?

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Woodduck31

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I've used a lot of different kinds of paint, mostly in my taxidermy days. Hydromist, a water base airbrush ready paint worked well in the humidity of southeast Kansas, but the low humidity didn't like my paasche here in Idaho, so I switched to lacquer and used it even after I started painting decoys. I've had a few of my decoys from as far back as 2008 show up in the shop this year and the paint is surprisingly good. That was back in the days I was hand painting for the most part with acrylics and shading and highlighting with the airbrush, they worked well together. I only switched to oil based enamels when I started flocking decoys to remain compatible with the rustoleum paint I was using as a glue.

While I'm fully committed to how well flocked decoys work where we duck hunt, I'd be flocking my decoys even if it made no difference because it works well within my painting format. A lot of us were initially exposed to low quality factory flocking that didn't hold up and I think that scares a lot of folks away from flocking. The way that most of us home flocking guys do it, it enhances the strength of the paint job above and beyond a just painted decoy.

Another nice benefit is when you airbrush over flocking you can use all gloss oil based enamels, which is tougher than paint with flatteners added. Using gloss paint works better through the airbrush because it has a longer drying time and tends to not plug up the tip of the airbrush so quickly. I was running flat black through my airbrush yesterday painting a couple dozen mallard shells and the brush was plugging nearly every two decoys. When I switched to gloss it never clogged again through the rest of the painting session. Being able to use gloss paint is a real plus since most color choices in rustoleum oil based enamels are gloss.
 

Woodduck31

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Color mixing is another hurdle to overcome. While there are lots of choices of airbrush paint, water based and lacquer based, there isn't much in oil based enamels that I use. I'm basically working with primary colors, red, blue, and yellow. I can add rustoleum green to that list but that still needs a bit of yellow added to get the green I want for a mallard head. Other than black, white, yellow, red, royal blue, and hunter green, you are out of luck unless you learn to mix.

I've been painting for 52 years, so mixing is more or less second nature at this point. Learning to mentally divide a color into it's primary parts is a good skill to learn. I was also given a Pantone color guide book so that I could give factories the correct colors for things like wigeon flanks which is a hard color to figure out sometimes. With the pantone book you can match the color you want to the swatch in the book and it will show your the percentages of primary colors to get to that color, it's a pretty good tool, but expensive. If you want a color mix, just shoot me a message and I'll see what percentages of primary colors you will need to get what you want. The pantone book I have costs about $200, so it might be better to just shoot me a note.

Another little trick is using Krylon short cuts, little 2 oz bottles with a bigger variety of colors available, they are also oil based enamels. Royal blue rustoleum isn't always the blue I want and you can get a blue in the short cuts to help get you where you need to be. When you start painting over black trying to get the look right on a wood duck head or bufflehead, you can use combinations of straight up red over straight up blue to get purple. If you mix the two in order to run them through an airbrush you get the color "mud". This way of creating purple is the only way with rustoleum.
 

Woodduck31

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Here is a little more information on using a double action airbrush. Lots of people will assume that a single action is easier to operate. I see them as incredibly limiting. For example if I were to make a reproduction of this brown trout we caught last year and try to paint it with a single action brush, I'd have to stop and adjust it for nearly every size of spot to get a nice clean spot painted. With a double action you can adjust the size on the fly with a spot as tiny as a 1/16 inch to 1 inch just with the control you have with the button. With a double action you push down for air and then pull back to increase paint flow.

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Woodduck31

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one of the best uses of an airbrush is for blending and shading. You can create a 3D look on decoys that are actually flat smooth surfaces just by following the rule of 3. The rule of 3 is using three colors or three shades of color to create the three dimensional look. I don't like adding a bunch of weight to the back of my carved foam decoys with mediums like apoxie sculpt. This pair of pintails have very little sculpted feather detail, they are virtually smooth other than the edge of the flank, any layering of feathers is done with airbrush shading.





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Woodduck31

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Trouble shooting. There can be quite a bit of difference between airbrush brands and designs. Get familiar with how yours is put together. You are going to have to take it apart at some point to clean it and be able to reassemble it properly. I have to clean the head assembly on mine if I haven't used it the previous day when using oil based enamel. Lacquer thinner works well for cleaning along with a Q tip.

The needle will get coated and restrict the paint flow, the tip will get a coating inside and restrict the paint flow. The end cap on the head assembly needs to have clearance around the tip for air to flow through. You can get paint build up there that will make the brush paint to the side or up or down. If the head assembly isn't wrenched down snug it can cause intermittent spattering or a stop and start flow. The channel where the needle goes through the brush can get sticky with dried paint and keep the needle from moving back and forth. You can loosen the needle with lacquer thinner and may even need to twist it with a pair of pliers to break it loose. I frequently have to completely remove the needle and clean it to get it to move smoothly.

I run my airbrush at about 40 psi. It works well with the medium flow material I use with oil based enamels. Lacquer paint is much thinner and is in some ways self cleaning. If you leave your compressor on with higher pressure, you'll risk blowing out the tiny hose that goes to your airbrush, been there, done that. I've put a shut off valve in line with my airbrush so I can keep it from being exposed to pressure all the time. I also installed a three way manifold so I can run more than one airbrush when doing production work. It's really handy to have two or three colors when painting a decoy, it saves a lot of time picking up and putting down decoys.

I can get bottles for my paasche on amazon, the paasche specific vl bottles are expensive, about $10. You have to make sure to get the right ones, a 30 degree angle for the vl. I found similar Master Airbrush bottles on amazon for $2 each that work just fine on my old worn out brushes. They are a bit tight on the newer vl brush, but that's better than the loose paasche bottles that tend to want to fall out of the friction fit, requiring a roll of masking tape close by to hold it in place. when doing production painting it's good to have a 3 oz bottle of paint. I do not like the gravity feed type brushes that hold paint on top, having the syphon feed from a bottle under the brush is a better option. I do on occasion use the color cup if I'm doing something that doesn't require much of a mixed color.

you are going to want to get paint filters. If I haven't painted in awhile I always have to start with getting the airbrush working and getting the paint back to it's proper thinning. Most bottles of color you have will end up with a dry layer over the top of the paint that has to be removed from the bottle. You will end up with particles that will clog your brush unless you pour it through a paint filter, they are inexpensive on amazon. One thing I know about those filters is they are a good indicator of flow. If your paint doesn't want to go freely through the filter, it's probably still too thick. The little Redi caps that go on the bottles work fairly well to prolong the life of the paint. Save all your glass pickle jars, etc. they are great for mixing a volume of various colors. When I'm painting a hundred mallards it's not good to run out of that beige color on the back behind the head and have to mix more.
 

Woodduck31

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In these tough financial days lots of people need a side hustle just to get by. Painting or flocking and painting decoys is a pretty good way to make a little pocket money. Learning how to use an airbrush is not that difficult and saves a lot of time and expense. It's kind of like using a rattle can with control, but also the paint is much cheaper. Simple paint jobs are quick and easy once you get the hang of things. I've watched Caleb paint a mallard hen in 5 minutes, me, I'm not so fast. There are still a lot of people needing or wanting their decoys flocked and painted and it could be a way to help pay bills or earn the money to buy that new shotgun or fly rod.


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Woodduck31

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I'm going to straight up make a confession here. I bought my first airbrush in 1980, a single action badger. I tried to figure it out for a couple of days and threw it back in the box, frustrated. I didn't bring it back out for a year after that, but determined to make it work. It seemed tough to get things under control. After a few weeks of messing with around it just started to click. I got my first double action 31 years ago and wished I had started out with it instead of a single action, it was much easier to use.
 

Kumduck

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Golden information. Thanks for taking the time to post it. Please comment on Rust-Oleum/mineral spirits dilution rate. Also, what size tip/needle are you using when applying this mixture ( Paasche VL Series)?
 

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