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Help please .....Airbrush cleaning and mediums allowed

Discussion in 'Painting Techniques' started by Dolf, Jun 4, 2020.

  1. Dolf Active Member


    I've read (and downloaded the PDF file) Peter's thread "Airbrush practices".

    Very interesting and certainly very helpful for newbies working with Airbrushes.

    As I've just bought one (one of the cheapest ones from Harder & Steenbeck, the Ultra Two in One), which I intend to start using it soon.

    Now, I have a couple of questions, hope some expert(s) will be able to help.

    1- What mediums can be used with Airbrushes? I guess Acrylic paints are ok, and Enamel paints (if/when thinned down with a thinner) too. I assume oil paints cannot be used. Right?

    2- What kind of thinners can be used to dilute Enamel paints (for using with an Airbrush)?

    3- Which thinners, or cleaners, can/should/must be used to clean the Airbrush after using it?

    Many thanks!

  2. theBaron A Fixture

    I have a Paasch VL double-action, siphon-fed brush.

    I thin acrylics with water and with isopropyl, except for my Tamiya acrylics. With Tamiya's acrylics, I use Tamiya's acrylic thinner.
    I thin my acrylics that way for hand-brushing, too.
    I don't use Vallejo's airbrush paints, their Model Air line, but from what I've read, if you use them, you should use all of their products for best results, so, thin with the Model Air thinner, use their retarder, etc. That's one reason that I don't use Vallejo's airbrush paints-I don't need to acquire yet another brand of paint products.

    I thin lacquers with lacquer thinner. Examples are Mr Hobby, Mr Colour, etc, from Japan.

    I thin enamels with mineral spirits. My enamels are mostly Testor's enamels in the little square bottles, and Model Master.

    Depending on what I'm doing, I'll use different solvents to clean the brush.
    During a session using acrylics, I'll use water or isopropyl and blow a small amount through.
    If I'm spraying enamels, then I'll shoot a little mineral spirit or lacquer thinner through. Sometimes I also use SuperClean, an automotive de-greaser.

    For a full cleaning, I'll field-strip the brush and use lacquer thinner to clean away paint build-up.

    As far as oils go, I don't know of anyone who has ever tried using them in an airbrush. In theory, I guess you could, I just don't know of anyone who has tried it.

    Hope that helps!
    samson and Dolf like this.
  3. Ned Ricks Active Member

    Concur with Brad's post above.

    I have used oils through my Iwata double action gravity feed. First I mix my color on my palette, then I transfer paint to a ceramic cup or dish (the sort used by watercolor painters). I thin with odorless mineral spirits or turpentine to the same consistency as I do enamels and put into the airbrush cup.
    theBaron and Dolf like this.
  4. kagemusha A Fixture

    In my personal experience...airbrushing oils is akin to using inks...they don't grip the surface well...and should be sealed between colours to prevent them dissolving when the next colour is applied...which is due to the thinners weakening the dryer/binders.
    This can be a useful way to colour large areas of groundwork...as the colour sinks into plaster/filler type materials used to create such.

    samson, theBaron and Dolf like this.
  5. Dolf Active Member

    Thank you very much for the replies and hints and tips (y)

    Actually, I don't use acrylics (with the exception of "Mr Hobby Mr Primer Surfacer 1000", which I think it's an acrylic, even if apparently different from the commonly used acrylic paints, which can be diluted and cleaned with water; this primer is a pain to clean... only with a Mr Color Rapid Thinner was I able to properly clean my brushes after using it... Guess I'll have to use the same product to clean the Airbrush when using it for airbrushing with the same primer), I still use some old Humbrol enamel paints (either for some base colors on some figures, or for some little parts such as weapons or other tiny little parts, or for entire 1/35 figures or armor or aircraft), and for larger figures and busts, I do use oils.

    I've read somewhere that indeed some people do use oil paints with their Airbrushes, but I don't think I'll do that. Guess I'll stick to the traditional hand brushes for my oils.

    The Airbrush for me it will be mainly for priming larger figures and busts (with the Surface Primer mentioned above, or others of the same kind, or base coating with enamel paints), and in those cases where I do use enamel paints for entire larger surfaces (larger scale aircraft, fair scale military & civilian vehicles, etc). In which case I believe I'll use the traditional thinners I use for enamels, such as white spirit, that kind of stuff.

    Found this site while doing some research on the topic:


    And there's one thing he says that makes perfect sense and matches what you guys also say:

    "the solvent with which you have thinned your paint will also remove it from your airbrush."

    Again many thanks for your help.

  6. Dolf Active Member

    Found these on YT, might be useful for other beginners with Airbrushes like myself:


    David Spencer, MattMcK. and Nap like this.
  7. Nap A Fixture

    Great advice from members here

    Good addition of the videos

    Happy benchtime

  8. theBaron A Fixture

    I should add that while I like my Paasche VL, I'm thinking of upgrading to an Iwata. Some of the guys in our club demo'd theirs, and I like how the various models handled so easily. The VL is a workhorse, rugged, easy to care for. But I want to get a gravity-fed brush with the paint cup mounted centrally. I find it cumbersome to hold my VL brush; I want to hold it like I hold a pencil, but the cup is in the way, whether I dress it to the left or to the right. Also, it can't quite do the fine lines that I'd like to be able to do. I'll still use it, but I'll add another one to the tool box.

    samson and Nap like this.
  9. theBaron A Fixture

    If I'm not mistaken, Mr Primer is a lacquer-based product. I think the formula is similar to Mr Surfacer.

    samson and Dolf like this.
  10. Dolf Active Member

    Thanks a lot Brad!

    I was under the impression it's an acrylic, but that makes sense and might explain why it's so hard to clean the brushes after using it. I've tried with white spirit, turpentine, nothing would clean those brushes. Then another member here recommended this "Mr Color Rapid Thinner" I've been using, and it's the only one that works!

    So it may indeed be lacquer-based! It smells like the old time Tamiya acrylic paints I used once or twice many years ago (which also won't dilute and won't clean with water).

    Thanks again!

    Nap likes this.
  11. grasshopper Well-Known Member

    ...these guys sell and use only H&S. I bought mine from them...
  12. socko47 Active Member

    This is from a collection of videos on airbrushes among other of his videos.
    grasshopper likes this.
  13. Dolf Active Member


    "This is from a collection of videos on airbrushes among other of his videos."

    Yes, I know. Recently, when I started looking for hints on the subject, found his YT channel and added it to my favorites. Have been watching a few of his videos.

    I posted this one in particular above, btw ;)

  14. socko47 Active Member

    I came in at the end of your page and completely missed it! Sorry to be redundant. :sleep:
    Dolf likes this.
  15. samson Well-Known Member

    Just my opinion. Whatever brand of paint you use use the same brand for thinners, flow improver ( especially important when using vallejo paint lines ) I never got along well with home brewed thinners and cleaners while others have noticed this when I first started airbrushing . Also take note even some acrylic paints and cleaners can give off a pretty bad smell so take that into account also I usually have a respiratory handy for the paints that give off smells
    theBaron, grasshopper and Dolf like this.
  16. grasshopper Well-Known Member

    Kagamusha, Ron, always devises caution with home remedy high volatile stuff that can damage the airbrush seals..the new lacquer lines are really nasty ..I hate wearing masks..more than spoils the pleasure..so stick to more benign materials
  17. Dolf Active Member

    Hi Samson,

    Thanks for the tips.

    "Whatever brand of paint you use use the same brand for thinners, flow improver ( especially important when using vallejo paint lines )"

    From what I've been reading, it would seem that the "airbrush flow improver" is used (mainly? or only?) for acrylic paints, because it seems that its main goal is to decrease the fast drying time of acrylic paints (and it seems it also helps to reduce the paint viscosity), which apparently dry quite fast. Correct?
    That is not the case with enamel paints. Yes, they dry faster than oil paints, for instance, but apparently not as fast as acrylic paints.

    As I don't intend to use acrylic paints, but instead use Humbrol enamel paints (for spraying base coats mainly, on top of which I intend to keep using my brushes for hand painting with oils), would you know of a Humbrol made thinner and airbrush flow improver? I've done some research, so far have found none of these.
    It's easy to find the Vallejo one, but I wonder if it works with enamel paints.

    As for the Vallejo thinner, it seems its composition is essentially made of water and alcohol. And water I know it's a no-go with enamel paints. As for alcohol, I never tried it. And of course it depends on the percentage of alcohol that this Vallejo thinner may contain.

    For all the years I've hand painted with Humbrol enamels, I've always used a regular synthetic thinner, and it works fine for the purpose, which is thinning down the viscosity of the paint as it comes from the can. It also mixes well with Humbrol enamels, never had a problem. After all, Humbrol enamels are synthetic enamels, if I got it right.

    Now, I know others do use white spirits, as a thinner for enamels. I do have some, but usually never use it to thin down my Humbrol enamels. As a matter fact I only use it to do a deep clean of the brushes.

    "Also take note even some acrylic paints and cleaners can give off a pretty bad smell"

    Lol... Yes, I realized that the only one or two times I used a Tamiya acrylic red paint for painting a metal motorbike in 1/9 scale many years ago. Wow! The smell was really strong, even painful! Believe it was the main reason why I never used acrylics again :)

    I know the more recent water soluble acrylic paints are different, another generation I guess, but I'm happy with my Humbrol enamels so no reason to change.
    And then more recently, since I joined PF I re-discovered oils, and that's what I've been using for the final hand painting of my figures and busts.

    For other projects, such as the occasional military, or civilian vehicle, or aircraft, or even smaller scale figurines (1/35), I'm still using my Humbrol enamels.
    So I guess I'll use a lot of Humbrol enamels with my airbrush.
    With the exception of the primer I've been using, that "Mr Primer Surfacer", from Mr Hobby (been using the 1000 so far, but may try the 1200 and/or the 1500, either black, or white, or light gray as the 1000), that I mention above, which I thought it was an acrylic primer, but which, according to Brad above is probably a lacquer-based product. And so far, the only cleaner I was able to use successfully, to clean my brushes after priming with that primer is that "Mr Color Rapid Thinner" I also mention above. I haven't used it to thin down the primer yet, as it's not that much viscous and flows pretty well without the need of being thinned down, just as it comes from the jar. Have only used it to clean the brushes so far. So guess it would be the right (and probably the only) product to clean my airbrush after using it to spray some of the same primer.


  18. Dolf Active Member

    "home remedy high volatile stuff"

    What would be an example of that?
    I tend to always stick to the manufacturer's instructions, whatever I'm using/doing.

    "I hate wearing masks.."

    Couldn't agree more! And nowadays we are forced to use them when outdoors, for anything... Post Office, shopping... No mask, one can't enter the supermarket, or the cab, or the bus, or the PO... :mad:


  19. Dolf Active Member

    No problem! ;)

    Thanks for replying and being helpful! (y)

  20. Dolf Active Member

    An interesting video explaining among other things the composition of nowadays acrylic paints:

    And water is one of the components. That is why people can add water to dilute acrylic paints, or use water to clean brushes, and even airbrushes after painting with acrylics.
    That is not possible with synthetic enamel paints.


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