Paint Overview and General Advice


Gravity Guru
Hi all,

So I've been doing a relatively small bit of painting where I can and wanted to ask your advice. Lots of threads here ask about paints for various tasks / surfaces / etc.

However, I have some more general questions. I've had a bit of a look around, but cant seem to find concise answers, from people who actually airbrush, so here goes:

Firstly, background:
I am a total newbie.
I paint when I can inbetween doing up a deralict house I should not have bought. :thumbsdown:
I paint into an Art sketchbook, (~250GSM, fairly absorbent, not massively smooth, but ok surface) although I have bought/tried a few different types of paper, (higher GSM, softer/smoother surface, printer photo paper, etc)

1) Surface - As explained above, I paint on paper. I have it, can get a hold of more easily, and its cheap. I am not painting on metal / cars/bikes yet, so it's easy, can sit on a shelf and I don't prepare it in any way before painting! However, I my fine lines do blur whilst drying which I guess is the paint drying/absorbing into the paper, which metal / non-porous materials wouldn't do.
Should I be buying a particular paper / surface that is best to learn to paint on / do my paintings?
Do you recommend I prepare the paper / recommended surface in some way before painting on it?

2) Is there a difference between paint brands (all other things being equal / optimal). E.g. I use Golden. it is all I can buy in person in a shop, so as for finding colours, etc, that is the easiest. There is SM designs about 2-3h up the road, and they deliver for like £8, which is ok if I'm buying a lot, but not if I just want to try a few bottles of paints.

3) What is the craic / difference between all the mediums / additives? Golden seem to use different names as far as I can see for some of them.
I am particularly interested in finding out a bir more about the differences between reducer and retarder?
Also, Top-coat vs inter-coat? Are they interchangeable? Is this different from clear-coat?
Also, Illustration base vs Transparent base vs opaque base. When would I use a base?
I use either a Golden High Flow Paint, but seem to get tip dry very quickly. If I use the acrylic and mix it with the airbrush medium (which is a white liquid of milk-like consistency, but seems to dry clear) then I get easier painting, less tip dry, and can pick the runnyness of the paint. It seems to have very little effect on the High Flow paints, and generally makes them too runny. (Also, on a side note, its a pain in the **** reducing white paint, as everything is white, so I normally just have to mix more than I would usually to make sure it is evenly mixed!!)

4) Clearcoat. What is that? I assume it is the clear varnish-like coating on the PP12 I received from @twood . The paint shop I go to does not do it as something to apply with an airbrush, only in a rattle can, here:
I also bought this Clear Polymer Varnish, which I push through the airbrush after diluting with water as directed but it's nasty stuff, stinks, and quickly fills the room with a fine dust.

I'm just trying to get an idea what other people are using and if it's worth persisting with Golden, if other paint brands make a difference at this stage in my painting, or should I bite the bullet and place a sizable order with SM Designs?

Sorry for the long post, but I dont have anyone to ask, as I dont think anyone in Dublin actually airbrushes, so the advice is really limited to "Read the bottle", which sucks!

Thanks in advance. :)

Hope not to offend and help out but realistically a lot of those questions will be discussed in length around these forums. Try using the search function as what your asking is very very broad, and many threads may hold full discussions on these aspects so hard to kinda tell it all at once briefly.

1) paper is fine for practice but not all paper is made equal. If using paper you will get bleeding (Fuzzy lines) its purely to do with the capillary action of the fibres. In essence like painting on TShirts, unless the Tshirt is sealed it will bleed but to seal paper is actually quite hard Water color paper is good to paint on and can be presoaked and stretched. Tighter the weave on the paper, tighter the lines will be but there are super cheap alternatives to paper that will give better results..(Unless your using top end synthetics)..Prepped MDF board or poster board, though poster board being it is just essentially paper will also bleed a bit but not as bad as a thinner paper will..But if its just practice, most dnt care what they're using...

2) yes..I will like paint you won't, you'll probably like paint I dont.Paint is very personal, but to say that many of us want the cheapest and still want results. Cheap sometimes doesn't come with good results..The better paint you can afford go for it..The pigments are different, grinds are different, consistency so on and on..

3) Number 3 needs a book to answer LOL..It may help n some of those to do a direct Google search as there are so many brands and additives these days. Many paint brands are simply overcomplicating it though calling products by their own terms or sumfin diff to the same product in a different range..Essentially if using a retarder it will slow the drying of the paint. A reducer reduces simply adjusts its thickness, (Less pigment molecules suspended in the solution because more solution is added.) its not often unless you live in a very hot and dry environment that you may want to use a retarder but it can help with tip dry if thats a huge issue..Water based compared to uros will have different types of reducers needed or retarders or other additives you can add but rarely can you use say a retarder made for water based in a uro application..
An intercoat you will find is different simply due to the hardness of the coat.A top clear is designed to protect the paint for a long term, intercoat doesn't need to be as hard or applied in the same fashion, its purely just to protect work you may sit for awhile and not get back to for a bit or to lock down a coat so you know later work or cleaning wnt damage the job. Intercoat is also essentially clear base, same stuff different day and can be also used essentially as a reducer of saturation in a paint..IE Just adds clear molecules into the mix rather than say a water or reducer doing the same, gives the paint better body so isnt to thin and spider issues occur.

4) Answered above, essentially though its a skill in itself.A bad clear can ruin a perfectly good work so be wary of clearing if not sure.Watch some vids and the like if you plan to do so otherwise take the painting down to your local panel sprayer and he may chuck it in on the next job. You'll get a much better clear but whilst painting on paper its probably not really a concernWorry about clear when you plan to paint cars or solid base work..Many artists may never use the stuff.

Good luck.Lots I skipped over others may help ya out on but most of the info your chasin can be found very easily.
Wow, that is a full answer and really quick too, great help, thanks.

Yeah I'd done quite a few searches, and depending on the location (US vs Europe) reducer/thinner definitions seemed to have flipped. Also, people seemed to be asking about specific scenarios. e.g. "i'm painting a car, what paint should I use?" or something similar. I figured my questions were a lot more general, but also probably a lot more opinion based and not so black and white.

I saw people had asked about MDF, and various other surfaces, and saying that if you coat it, you are painting on a coat not the material, so the material basically becomes irrelevant unless you want the texture showing through. I suppose I was asking what you guys paint on when you are just playing/practicing. I'd not really thought of using MDF as its bulky and heavy, and needs sealing, as you mentioned.

Regarding the paint one, there are lots of in depth discussions on the forum as you mentioned, but really I was just looking for some guidance as to if it would be worth ordering a few bottles of Wickid/Createx, which from what you said I guess would be something interesting to try, so I will do that.

The reducer/retarder/thinner stuff really did have me stumped, as people seem to use the names interchangeably. I had seen that reducer is a subset of thinner, and retarder slowed dry times, but nothing anywhere as detailed as your post. I did read somewhere that technically, one is for urothanes, the other not. had me a bit confused. I dont know if Acrylic is urothane, so thought it best to ask.

Finally, Golden do stuff called airbrush medium. I guess, from the results I am seeing when I paint, it is basically a thinner, with a bit of retarder in it, and a intercoat / clear base, as its milky. However, that is a guess from what I currently know, which could be way off...
It's just weird as I'd not seen it with any other make.

Thanks again for all your help. Definitely still lots left for me to learn, and there doesn't seem to be a standard setup for a beginner to use.
(E.g. Brush, paint, surface, pressure, reduction etc.) Just throw some paint in the brush, make it milky consistency, throw it on something, then start changing things one by one until you find it works for you. haha.

I'm tempted to maybe do a painting course as I am just grabbing in the dark, with digital guidance.

Still... I'm enjoying the journey. Mostly because I'm stubborn, else i'd have probably given up! ha.
Rebel has you covered.
You're right there is no 'beginner' set (despite what some companies will try and sell you) you need to look/read/ adjust to your situation, learning the basics then asking questions if 'search' doesn't provide to resolution.
Once you think you've got a handle on it the seasons change and you'll find you need to adjust whatever formula was working.. all part of the learning process.
Frustrating - yes. But once you understand there is no perfect solution it somehow makes it easier o_O
Pick one brand of paint, grab a primary set and the recommended additives. Learn it.
Switching paint when learning can lead to extra frustration you don't need. If after giving the paint system a good chance and it's not working for you by the time you've emptied the bottles then change brands.
I found E'tac Efx good when starting out, others didn't. All personal preference like Rebel says.

Don't be afraid to get confirmation of your thought process, sometimes the written word can be interpreted multiple ways :thumbsup:
There's no standard set up, because there is nothing standard. For example two people, using the same brushes, same paint, same surface, will have different conditions such as weather/humidity, (assuming they are not in the same room), they will have different styles of painting, work at different sizes, have different preferences/requirements of paint coverage, feel more comfortable at different air pressures, may be using different colours, which although are the same brand have different amount of pigment, so need different reduction. When you start adding different airbrushes, nozzle sizes, surfaces, paint brands, etc, the combination of variables gets even more complicated.

The skimmed milk consistency, is just a very vague starting point. It just gives you a place to start, then you need to experiment, get to know your paint well, and dial it in. It can be pretty frustrating at first, and its during this time that nozzles get blocked, which doesn't help. Make sure the nozzle is spotless, and don't assume its clean just because you cleaned it (we've all been burned by that lol) . When you think your paint is good, add another drop of reducer just in case you can make it even better. You'll soon find what works best for you.
i'd suggest if you really want to improve your skill base, work with metal panels in the early days and there is a good reason why, paper can be to forgiving and the more open say the weave sometimes the lazier we can treat the brush as you'll know it will go fuzzy and prob dont care LOL, but then people want to make a jump from a softer surface to a harder surface and struggle because you cant be lazy, as Squish mentioned above shiz needs to be dialed in to that particular use and many times that only comes through practice but practising say on Tshirts if you want to paint bikes wont help a lot so better practice methods do result in faster learning or better results in the long run and you'll just introduce a new learning curve and if bad habits have developed out of that earlier laziness, you will struggle..

So in that sense I like suggesting metal as a practice surface and for a few other reasons too..Teaches you better control, better understanding of pressure and reduction, cleaner smoother lines possible, can clear it easy etc etc and if you stuff up, get out the thinners, wipe it clean and its ready for tomorrows practice session.but really, really depends what you want to do, if you only ever to plan to paint canvas style works.ignore what I just said LOL.

You are right, most searches will apply to this other need or that other need but in most cases its just an art need and that art need will likely relate across various mediums of which Airbrushing is just our niche or love..But most of those searches will also likely be able to be applied...All the info I know about clearcoating for example comes out of years of researching Roddin style sites or professional auto painter style sites and then having a go...and then just try to understand that info in my use or if I could add it to other methods I already know.One problem many beginners do make is to want to much info all at once LOL..Practice, perfect then move to the next lesson..

BUT Airbrushing or any artform comes down to one thing....Experimentation..its the ONLY way anyone will learn EG Who knows, mixing a uro "thinner" in a water based paint may create a very interesting effect you may want to utilize some day, done that a few times LOL, has a habit of melting paint but that melt can look awesome on say a rocky landscape...playing around is the fun bit and when its all said and done the only way to get it figured out as many know you can be told not to do something a hundred times but until you do it and know its a bad idea, you don't really know but normally tempted to find out LOL
Thanks all for your time and your detailed replies.

One thing about this hobby which seems easy to get stuck in is learning theory to try and prevent mistakes/frustrations.
Probably because it is so difficult, there are so many variables, and because results a lot with small changes. I guess I find I am tempted to try and learn the theory so I can avoid the screw-ups.
But like many of you are saying, it is a hobby where the journey of getting it right (the screw-ups) are as much fun as the resulting artwork.

This weekend I'm going to do no reading, only painting, and just trying different stuff out. Maybe grab some different surfaces to paint on, and just have a play instead of try be told the best settings/setup to go straight into making an "art piece".

I'll do a few different things and post my results up next week.

And as @RebelAir has said, maybe my paper is too forgiving and hiding/compensating for many of the tweaks/changes I have been making, as I seem to get pretty consistent results with my paint now, over a fairly wide viscosity range. Metal seems like a lot of prep-work, and I dont really have any laying about that I can paint on. (I've loads of old copper pipe, but that's a pretty bad painting surface for practising dagger strokes and dots. ha.)
One thing I did see on Airbrush Tutor on youtube was painting on glass. Dead easy to clean, can copy a template through the glass, and its completely non-absorbant too, so I guess viscosity, and air-pressure will be key to preventing spidering! I'll see if I can find a sheet somewhere and give that a go and see how much that changes things.

Thanks again for all your help guys and girls. Speaking to you really does change the direction of what i'm trying to achieve when I pick up my airbrush. I've wanted to paint a fox for weeks, (and that was my original plan for PaintPal) but I just wasn't getting results.

Any other suggestions for things to play with are greatly appreciated.

Many thanks,

Dots and daggers certainly are a great thing to learn so you know how to control your brush, BUT it's also great to jump in feet first and see what happens.
What's the worst thing that can happen ? A bit of wasted time and paint... kittens won't die and you won't be hit by lightening so go right ahead, throw some paint in that brush, find a kids colouring in book or print a kids coloring in picture from the web stick it under a piece of glass and do some blends, curves, lines, dots and diamonds. Vary your reductions, pressure, learn what happens when you do.
Theory is great and worth knowing but there's no law that says you can't learn some theory as you discover the wonders of producing art.

Geeze.... sorry about that ! That was a long post to just say 'go forth and conquer' lollol
Tell me again about "kittens won't die" lol
Dots and daggers certainly are a great thing to learn so you know how to control your brush, BUT it's also great to jump in feet first and see what happens.
What's the worst thing that can happen ? A bit of wasted time and paint... kittens won't die and you won't be hit by lightening so go right ahead, throw some paint in that brush, find a kids colouring in book or print a kids coloring in picture from the web stick it under a piece of glass and do some blends, curves, lines, dots and diamonds. Vary your reductions, pressure, learn what happens when you do.
Theory is great and worth knowing but there's no law that says you can't learn some theory as you discover the wonders of producing art.

Geeze.... sorry about that ! That was a long post to just say 'go forth and conquer' lollol
Videos, advice, books atc are all good ways of soaking up info, but nothing beats getting the airbrush in your hand and putting paint through it. There are no mistakes at this stage, just things you learned not to do, or things you discovered that you didn't intend, and that you can use on purpose for effect another time. You can't beat experience. It's also the best way to get to know your paint, and get it dialled in to suit how you want to paint. Keep this in the front of your mind as you go - am I sure my nozzle is clean? Trying different things is possible going to make it more likely to get blockages, and affect performance.

After you've had a play post the pics here, it could help other newbies, plus people may be able to give tips on how to improve or different techniques to try along the way! Go for it, and enjoy.
Metal seems like a lot of prep-work

Nah.Find an old washing machine or whitegood panel, old computer panel side thats silver, black or white..lightly buff it up with an old scourer from the dish cupboard and panels ready to go..Buying raw metal is a bit more of an issue to prep for sure but pre-based panels are everywhere and you'll likely get them for free down the local tip or salvage yard..Glass is also a great practice surface as AB likely mentions in he's vid...It really does help hone control, especially in reduction and pressure which after learning your basics lines and dot techniques is generally the next step in learning.Once control is gained after those basic foundations and control is gained, onto understanding layering and color theory, get those two mastered as well and Airbrushing wnt be a challenge LOL. I'm just so thankful that things ain't that easy to master, would be boring otherwise
Hey all, So after all your advice and the reassurance that kittens wont die, I setup my painting space for an endurance session, and did a whole load of playing around, and It was very interesting!!

Firstly, Gesso is a LOT less forgiving than the artists sketchbook I have been using!
I also played around with preparing the paper with varnishes prior and post painting, which was a very interesting exercise too.

Anyway, I have a couple of questions in particular, which I will explain with an image.

NB: I am using an Iwata HP-C Plus, standard, with the needle cap removed, Golden Acrylic paint, reduced with Airbrush Medium.

First Q) Snapping off when finishing a line (particularly a dagger stroke) seems to cause a higher density/volume of paint to be released from the airbrush. It is almost like the snapping off is causing any paint in the nozzle to be forced out, and onto the artwork. This is preventing me from getting a nice clearly tapered and distinct end to my dagger strokes or fine lines!
See pic below: (on Gesso board, center right, end of coils, and short lines to their right)

Secondly) Speckled lines and dotty/broken lines. This is working with an older paint (~1yr), but that has been stored the same as my others.
It was reduced the same way I normally reduce paint, with Golden Airbrush Medium, and at a wide range of pressures. If I increased the flow of paint, and moved faster, i could get around the issue, but it made painting very difficult, as I am not yet good enough to work that fast!! ha.
Has the paint gone bad? Do I need a wider nozzle/paint to work with a smaller nozzle?

I have several other questions, but these two were the ones which I think are the biggest issues I am facing.

You can see the rest of the album I've uploaded here if you are interested. I was mostly just having a play around, and getting more used to using the AB, aiming it, and controlling the paint flow.

Anyway, thanks in advance.

Hi @delalio the bit of paint when you shut off sounds like you are shutting off air a split second before paint. I can't be 100% sure but that's the usual reason and is a very common thing when anyone is learning. Try moving slowly starting with air then gently pull back for paint, move a little push forward with paint to shut off then stop the air a second later. See what happens. Let us know if it stops. If not we can look further. The second issue looks like the paint is a little too thick. Try some reducer and try again. See if it changes the pattern.

As Jord001 has stated, its common when starting. the two 'rules' I worked by when starting were:
1) move : air on : paint on: Paint off: air off : stop moving.
2) Reduced paint= reduced PSI - as you progress you get a feel what PSI suits the reduction you have (which changes often)

There's so much to think about when starting this, (a bit like learning to drive a manual car) I knew it coming in but it didn't make it any less frustrating LOL. The ritual will be second nature before you know it, speed comes with confidence which also helps straighten up the lines. Doing all these practise sheets will help reinforce what movements you need to do and you see what effect those movements have..

As far as the 2nd issue I agree it seems like either the paint is to thick or your pressure to low for the thickness of paint. Remember that if you thin/reduce your paint the pressure needs to be decreased accordingly.
A dirty needle or nozzle can cause a spot of paint at the end of your stroke. If you're 110% sure the gun is clean then it may be as simple as inexperience as well which will go away the more you practice.
For me straight lines came from moving faster but make sure you'rr doing everything correctly first then try to move faster and faster.

If your getting bored try doing some hair as that's great line/dagger practice and it helps pass time if your doing an actual project, "cameron" is a great project for hair, shading and overall control.
A dirty needle or nozzle can cause a spot of paint at the end of your stroke. If you're 110% sure the gun is clean then it may be as simple as inexperience as well which will go away the more you practice.
For me straight lines came from moving faster but make sure you'rr doing everything correctly first then try to move faster and faster.

If your getting bored try doing some hair as that's great line/dagger practice and it helps pass time if your doing an actual project, "cameron" is a great project for hair, shading and overall control.

Agree cleaning could be an issue, always worth checking.
I highly recommend 'Cameron' for practising. Airbrush Tutor has it as a free download.
hey guys, thanks again for all your advice.
For some reason I never got any notifications about your messages and I've just finished a decent painting session this eve, and been trying a load of things out.
I've been keeping to the habit of having the air on anytime I'm painting and never shutting it off when the needle is pulled back. (unless I want spatters for effect, which I don't in this case.)
Turns out problem 1 was as @Lt4-396 and @JackEb said.
I actually did a full breakdown of my nozzle and airbrush head earlier this eve and managed to remove a good few lumps of crap from deep inside the tiny nozzle. The paint doesn't splat at the end of the stroke now, which is great news!
It's also solved another problem I had which was that there seemed to be a bit of a delay (fraction of a second, but enough to throw off the start of a line by a few mm-cm depending on hand movement speed.) when starting a line. This is now fixed! :)

As for the second issue, I've setup a few pressure gauges and been paying a lot more attention to the pressure on the airbrush line. I've been playing between 10 and 45 psi this eve, (0.7-2.4 bar), and also been through all my paints, and reduced them all in varying amounts too.
This may sound like a cop-out, but I think it's the pigment size in the paint. After a lot of testing, at their best sprays, the yellow and red spray much better than black, green and blue, which I'm guessing need a stronger / thicker / bigger pigment.
I've tried pretty much everything I can find on this form and online about paint, pressure, amount pulling back on the needle, hand speed, and reducer, thinner, cleaner, etc. etc. etc.

If anyone has any other suggestions I'm all ears. Else I'm going to try contacting Golden, or test a different brand of paint which is hopefully more airbrush friendly.

I'd also downloaded all the tutorial templates and have been working on the hair and skin wrinkles one this eve, to try something different. Was good fun. Will upload pictures in the morning! :) More practice tomorrow!

thanks again. And happy painting! D
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One day you will suddenly realise that you are no longer thinking about the moving/air/paint thing, it just happens. Then the kittens purr, you smile and all is good with the world. You will also develop a feel for the trigger that will seem sticky which is 'telling' you when the nozzle probably needs a good clean out, some paints are worse than others, the greater the reduction the less the gunk seems to build up.

In theory.... Note the use of the word THEORY. . . there shouldn't be any difference in the pigment of different colours within the same set of paint. But for some reason there are colours that just don't behave like the others. it is trial and error unfortunately. sometimes you can get a sample from a manufacturer, it doesn't hurt to ask - they can only say no.
when setting your PSI make sure you have the air on at the brush, (trigger depressed) as there can be a significant drop depending on what sort of compressor you are running.
if you are mixing paint and reducer in the brush put the reducer in first, then paint, then backflush (away from artwork - or remember to put the lid on - - don't ask how I know that :eek: or stir with a toothpick / cocktail stick.

I can almost guarantee that at one point or another you'll have an issue and someone will post an answer and you do the 'facepalm, I remember reading that before' moment, there is so much to take in, some info gets buried :laugh:
excrementty paint, strain it reduce it much more and move faster. My shortest post of the day hehe :)

Get onto primed mdf or something after you practice the crap outta it on paper, paint looks too thick atm.