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May 23, 2019, 04:27 PM
Registered User
Thread OP

painting foamies with an airbrush

in order to avoid issues with spray can propellants and the inefficiency of spray cans, etc, I thought I might use canned paint and deliver it via airbrush. Problem is I've never done that before. For example, what's an easy way to switch between colors? I've seen t-shirt shops do this quickly and easily but I didn't pay close enough attention to HOW they did that (and it's been a LONG time since I've been in a t-shirt shop).

Perhaps the most important question: apart from startup cost, am I overlooking some obvious reason why I would NOT want to airbrush instead of spray from can?
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May 23, 2019, 04:37 PM
Space Coast USA
hoppy's Avatar
I've used Apple Barrel latex paints thinned with water. They are available at Walmart for one.

Switching colors requires cleaning the gun with water between colors.
May 23, 2019, 05:07 PM
Registered User
Captain Dunsel's Avatar
Be forewarned that not all Apple Barrel paints have the same pigment 'grind'. Some thin (Windex is good for this) and spay well, but others don't.

I have found that samples from Lowes, etc., are consistent and spray well (thinned about 1:1 with clear Windex). They are thicker and do take longer to dry.

May 23, 2019, 07:08 PM
Registered User
Squall's Avatar
Start out with a cheapie Harbor Freight airbrush. $20, less 20%. Or you can get a compressor, hose and airbrush for $88, less 20%. Buys some extra bottles, shop around for the best price. Use Walmart Apple Barrel paints mixed with 50% Windex.

Changing colors is easy, take the bottle off, submerse the airbrush underwater and spray away. Take it out of the water, spray to get the water out of it, put on the next color bottle and spray away.

Clean up is easy, dump out the leftover paint, put the bottles and lids under water and use the airbrush pressure to clean them.

If you think you really want to get into some serious airbrushing later, then but a good airbrush.
May 23, 2019, 10:51 PM
Registered User
Thread OP
Originally Posted by Squall
Use Walmart Apple Barrel paints mixed with 50% Windex.
But windex contains ammonia. Won't that eat foam? And won't it foam or suds up when sprayed?
May 24, 2019, 07:26 AM
Danish? Don't U eat that??
DKChris's Avatar
Acetone will eat polystyrene foam, if that's what you are thinking about. Ammonia is not a problem for PS foam, as long as it is not too highly concentrated. It might affect DTFB paper glue, though, but I'm not sure. We don't have DTFB over here, so I've never tried.

But here's a list of some common chemicals that affect polystyrene and some that doesn't:

Squall's suggestion sounds like a nice cheap setup. It'll probably not be ideal for very fine detail airbrush work, but It'll likely be just fine for learning.
As squall mentions, a nice thing about the purpose made bottles is that you can more easily swap between paints during painting, compared to an airbrush with an attached cup. Just detach and cap the bottle of one paint, clean out just the airbrush in water as described, blow out remaining water from the brush, and attach another bottle. Spray a little through to get the paint into the brush, and paint on. Just dont leave paint in the bottles for prolonged time, they are not airtight and the paint will dry out and be quite difficult if not impossible to clean out. The bottles also holds more paint than most attached cups, so its better for coverage work.

For a bit of general info on how to tame one of these lil' critters, I'd take a look here:
His approach is more along the lines of learning to do artwork than surface coverage, but it's all 100% usable and very straight forward.

My own 2 cents worth:
The most tricky thing with combining a certain paint with a certain airbrush is thinning paints to the right consistency, if you are not using prethinned readymade airbrush paints - you are looking for a consistency somewhere around whole milk, but it depends on the paint. If it's not thin enough it'll clog the nozzle and needle surroundings, if its too thin there's too little "glue" left in it to keep the pigment sticking on the surface. Luckily Squall may have done the homework for you.

Next most tricky part is the size of the pigment particles vs. the nozzle diameter. I have a very nice old sprite aerograph one with a 0.2mm nozzle; I can completely forget using that with anything but inks and paints specifically intended for airbrush use, as It'll clog up in a couple of minutes. But an airbrush with, say a 0.35-0.5mm nozzle should work fairly ok with the coarser ground pigments of typical art paints, which I would assume the mentioned Apple Barrel paints fall under.

Premixed airbrush paints are easier to use and usually gives a better result, and i've been quite surprised how far they go, due the the high content of very fine pigment....but they do admittedly cost more.

By the way, windex is also good for cleaning the airbrush if you have left it lying with (acrylic) paint in it long enough for it to gum up a bit or it is clogged up, as it helps dissolve the gummed up paint a bit. So consider having windex in one of the small bottles. But always clean out the second you are done spraying. If the paint actually dries, windex won't help. If you use solvent based paint, it naturally won't work either, but that shouldn't be a surprise.
Last edited by DKChris; May 24, 2019 at 08:08 AM.
May 24, 2019, 08:01 AM
Registered User
Thread OP
Originally Posted by Captain Dunsel
Be forewarned that not all Apple Barrel paints have the same pigment 'grind'. Some thin (Windex is good for this) and spay well, but others don't.

I have found that samples from Lowes, etc., are consistent and spray well (thinned about 1:1 with clear Windex). They are thicker and do take longer to dry.

Noted, thanks. And Commodore Wesley sends his regards...
May 24, 2019, 08:08 AM
Registered User
stillbents's Avatar


I have a 40 year old Badger airbrush and compressor and am currently using paint samples from Home Depot or Lowes. I pour the paint in my spray bottle and thin with water. My F-22 used three small bottle fillings for the red and two for the belly. Hundreds of color choices.
May 24, 2019, 08:58 AM
Registered User
Thread OP
thank you all for the great info. I think the Harbor Freight cheapo starter special will be MORE than adequate to begin with. It's not like I'm doing museum quality or even t-shirt quality art. I think this will be a fun experiment.
May 24, 2019, 09:24 AM
The Junk Man
The big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes can literally make any color you want. Take them a color chip and they will computer generate a sample jar for you of that exact color.

I have a bunch of airbrushes. An Iwata I paid a LOT of money for (as my wife sometimes reminds me), Paasche Type-H, three Binks WREN's (my favorites for years, including a rare Model A) and a cheapo Harbor Freight. This one, the other cheapo model they have sucks big time:

For a beginner, i would recommend the Harbor Freight for a first go. And this compressor:

That will get you set up for less than a C-note and is WAY more capable than many people would think.

The external mix gun is easy to clean and although not a "fine detail" gun, it works a treat on larger surfaces and will be a real workhorse for you. As embarrassing as it is to say, I hardly ever use the Iwata (don't tell my wife) because my "go to" brushes are the Binks... but the Harbor Freight gets the nod nowadays WAY more than the others for model painting.

I think all the models in my build threads have been painted with the HF cheapo for example.

Some hints: I found Wally World craft paints to be pretty mush crap. Pigment grinds the size of driveway gravel and terrible coverage characteristics.

I use the big box latex samples. Here is my latex spraying methods:

All examples are with Lowe's or Home Depot's latex house paint custom mixed in pint size sample jars for about 3 bucks a pop. All use an airbrush, that is important. Cheap HF airbrush and compressor already described above. Doculam (laminating film) covering needs to be completely free of handling oils from your skin. They are there even if you can't see actual fingerprints. I use naphtha first, then a wipedown with white vinegar. Do not go postal with the naphtha as it might lift seams if you soak it in. Vinegar won't bother the seams.

Paint covering desired:

1. Full opaque, can't see through it. Looks like, well, paint. Very useful on models that look like they are wood or metal covered. However, it looks inappropriate on models that want the "stick and tissue" look.

Paint thinned with tap water ABOUT 50/50 to milk consistency. One DROP (no more!) of Floetrol added to each airbrush jar AFTER THE FIRST COAT. Don't use it on the first coat. If you do not have Floetrol (available at all big box stores) then use a drop of Jet-Dry dishwasher "spot remover" liquid.

Spray very thin first coat. This is important. I found this really helps adhesion in the long run too. The fast drying first coat really binds to the film.

Other coats are light to the point that they will not even think about running. Continue coating until desired opacity is achieved. You can put coats on top of each other about every 5 to 10 minutes or even less. I find that 4 to 5 quick coats are usually plenty.

2. Medium opacity. Can see through if held up to light. Used when the model needs to stay light but a fairly opaque finish is desired.

Paint thinned as above with tap water. No Floetrol or other agents added.

Again, very thin first coat. All other coats thin. Normally no more than 3 needed.

3. Low opacity. Looks like tissue. Light can come through easily. So much so that people are usually fooled into thinking it IS tissue. It even has a "texture" feel to it when you rub it with your fingers. See my DH6 build for a example although that was not the lightest you can go by any means.

Paint thinned as above with tap water. No additives. VERY thin fist coat. All following coats VERY thin until coverage desired is achieved. 2 to 3 coats are usually max for me.

And one last VERY IMPORTANT step. Over the decades I found the biggest problem with newbies and airbrushes is that they DON'T STRAIN THE PAINT. Every drop you put through an airbrush should be strained and problems magically go away. Use the cheap HF strainers here if you can't afford better:

That's it. Not rocket science, just paint.

I do not use Windex or automotive windshield wiper fluid at all. I just use tap water. If I want flow control, I use Floetrol so I can be the one determining how much.

And if you want to read what a real pro can do with latex paint, read the attached PDF. Roy is a Nationals winner and uses latex house paint.

May 24, 2019, 10:52 AM
Registered User
FYI; DIY equivalent of Tamiya's Very good, but a bit pricey if you use much of it.. Thinner;
30 % Alcohol 70 % water and a drop or 2 of Jet dry.. which contains surfactant and glycerin Or failing that.. Brand name Bubble Solution (not $ store swill)
Use Windex to streak your windows.
ps; Cheap craft acrylics are just that... cheap product.. with low and inconsistently coarse pigment grains.
These cause all manner of problems... clogged brushes, spotty texture and very poor colour coverage.. to name a few.
IF after a quicky paint job on a flat foamy.. buy rattle cans of Floral colours... Perfectly suited to purpose.

Oddly we expend large effort to build a model.. then insist on saving 5$ on cheap junk quality paint.. Really?
May 24, 2019, 12:34 PM
Registered User
AntiArf's Avatar
The Model Masters enamels with airbrush thinnner method isn't terribly expensive. Painted the lower blue on a good sized GWS262 recently with 2 small bottles and 1 airbrush thinner bottle with some to spare. Don't use brush cleaner, as it's not the same thing. One Model Masters spray can of the two top colors finished the model, although I bought 2 cans of the lighter grey first coat color which required more paint, as it did cut it fairly close. With green Frog tape used for masking, there was very little paint lifting that required touch up. The fast drying can paint allowed me to repaint and mask off one side of the stab top that I forgot to mask for the second (darker) top color, in about 5 minutes time.
(3rd pic is another model, showing the LG clip scheme)

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