What Paint Can I Use in My Airbrush? (Which Types are Best?) Acrylic, Enamel etc

Most Paints can be used through an Airbrush 

Airbrushing creates pressurized air from a compressor that atomizes any paint or liquid that flows into it.  So almost any liquid paint can technically work in an airbrush.  That said, there are considerations on if you should use them.

For miniature painting, by far the most common airbrush paints are acrylics.   I’ll cover all the paint types and give my thoughts, backed up by experience and data,  on using them through an airbrush.

I’ll put this all in a quick reference table.  Again, most paints can work in an airbrush.  There are special considerations for a lot of them though.  

Below the table I’ll give you a bit more information based on my experience with these paints.  I’ll also give examples of what I personally use and recommend for Miniature Painting.

Airbrushing Paints Quick Reference Guide for Miniature Painting: Can I Use This Paint in an Airbrush?

Paint TypeUsed in AirbrushSpecial Considerations
High Quality Acrylic PaintYESNone.  Simply ensure paint is thinned to flow easily. Good Acrylics are the most commonly used paint in Miniature Painting.
Craft PaintsYESPoor coverage is common with craft paints.  You may need to spray multiple layers or have uneven results.
Enamel PaintsYESVentilation and a respirator are extra important with enamels and any non Acrylics.  Be sure to clean the airbrush after use.
Acrylic PrimersYESNone.  Acrylic primers are also extremely common for airbrush use in miniature painting.  Thinning depends on your specific airbrush nozzle and brand of primer being used
Metallic PaintYESExample: Vallejo Metal Color – These are specifically made for airbrush use but are equally good with a paint brush.  Excellent results.  Clean thoroughly after use.
Acrylic VarnishesYESNone.  Acrylic varnishes are easy to use in an airbrush.
Citadel Contrast PaintsYESNone.  Do not over thin unless you want a very transparent finish.  Layers underneath will make a big difference on the paint look. White/Light primer gives bright results, Black/Dark is muted.
Vallejo XPress PaintsYESNone.  Excellent result through an airbrush.  Test first to gauge the look it gives, they are transparent so under layers are important to consider.
Army Painter Speed PaintsYESNone.  Similar to Contrast and XPress, these are transparent and thin.  
Oil PaintsYES/NONot recommended for beginners.  Must be thinned with solvents like mineral spirits which are toxic and flammable.  However, it will go through an airbrush.
Latex PaintsYES/NOWater based and similar to acrylic.  You can use this although it’s not commonly done in Mini Painting.  
Fabric PaintsYESUse acrylic fabric paint, although again this is not common in Miniature Painting.  
Watercolor PaintsYESWatercolor paints are water based, generally considered non-toxic.  As with anything in an airbrush, you should not be breathing it in.  Use a respirator in well ventilated area.  Not commonly used in Mini Painting and might give inconsistent results.

Water Based High Quality Acrylic Paints in an Airbrush:  

Can they be used in an Airbrush:  Yes

Special Considerations:  None

Water based acrylics are one of the most commonly used paints in an airbrush.  They are extremely common when miniature painting and regularly used in other crafting.  You can buy them expressly made for airbrushing, or you can thin down any acrylics for use in an airbrush.

If you are involved in Miniature Painting, acrylics are your go to paints.  I highly recommend acrylics specifically made for the hobby, although you can make pretty much anything work.  There is a wide range of options for almost any budget here.  

Examples of Acrylic Paints made for the Airbrush:

Vallejo Model Air Color:  Easily my top recommendation if you want something specifically for airbrushing.  Great quality, reasonable price and an extremely reliable result.  

Citadel Air Paints:  Excellent quality, more expensive than other options.  A huge benefit of citadel is the quality and exact color matches to their other paints.  If you are going for a specific look, or a really particular shade of paint for the airbrush, this might be a good option.  Just remember, you can always thin down the other paints.  The only benefit here is that it is pre-thinned for airbrushing.

Army Painter  Airbrush Paints:  I have no personal experience with these specific airbrush paints but I see them used often enough to mention.  Again these are just pre-thinned acrylics.  You can just thin the standard paints down for a very similar result.  

Examples of Standard Acrylics You Can Thin Down to Use In An Airbrush:

Vallejo Model and Game Color Paints:  I would rate these as the best overall acrylic paints for miniatures.  They are moderately thick, meaning paints like Reaper and Army Painter are thinner, Citadel and AK Interactive might be a slight bit thicker.  They thin down perfectly and you can use them in an airbrush all day long.

Citadel Paints:  Citadel categorizes their standard paints as Base and Layer Paints.  Base is a tad bit thicker and more opaque.  Layers a bit thinner.  You can use either of these (as well as Contrast Paints, more on those below) in an airbrush.  Just thin them appropriately with airbrush thinner, flow improver, water, or a mix of those.

Pro Acryl Paints:  Fantastic all around paints for Miniature Painting, including in the airbrush.  A bit thinner than Citadel or Vallejo.  Just thin and pour in the cup and you’re ready to spray.  

Craft Paints in an Airbrush:

Can they be used in an Airbrush:  Yes

Special Considerations:  Craft paints are very inexpensive but also tend to have poor coverage.  They also do not thin down particularly well.  You might have uneven results or need multiple coats.

One of the best uses for craft paints is for large projects like miniature terrain.  If you’re making a huge batch of dungeon tiles for D&D for example.  Or maybe some rocky scatter terrain.  Or a large playing board.  Craft paints can get the job done there.  And the quickest way to apply it over a large surface is the airbrush.  

Craft paints come in a variety of formulations.  You can buy less or more expensive versions.  I would recommend either going with cheaper craft paints, or moving up to miniature painting brands like Vallejo or Citadel.  Beyond cost savings, they are not especially good for the airbrush or miniature painting in general.

Examples of Craft Paints to Use for Airbrush:

FolkArt Acrylic Paints:  This is the only craft paint I’ve tried and it was fine for the job I was doing:  Spraying some terrain rocks black, grey and blue.  For something like that these will work.  If you do those projects often these are worth a look.

Apple Barrel:  Commonly used paint, but not in miniature painting.  You’ll get a very poor result with a brush on a miniature.  Again though if you want to airbrush large pieces it might do the job at a lower price point.  No need to use expensive paint on everything!  Similar to FolkArt in quality and results.

Enamel Paints in an Airbrush:

Can they be used in an Airbrush:  Yes

Special Considerations:  Use caution with non acrylic enamels in an airbrush.  While you don’t want to breathe any aerosol paint, petroleum based enamels would be worse than acrylic.  Have ventilation and use ppe like a respirator mask.  You also want to be sure to clean the airbrush very well after use to prevent wear on parts.

I do not personally use Enamels through an airbrush or on anything else really.  As a kid I used Testors with a paint brush and they weren’t great to be honest.  They are petroleum based, toxic and require their own thinner as opposed to water.  

That said, they are common in the model building world if not miniature painting.  They absolutely have their place still. 

If you do use them in an airbrush, be sure to wear a full respirator mask in a well ventilated space.  

Example of Enamel Paint:

Testors Small Promotional Set:  I’d start here as it’s a nice small set to get you started

Acrylic Primers in an Airbrush

Can they be used in an Airbrush:  Yes

Special Considerations:  None

I have years of experience using acrylic primers through an airbrush.  Every single miniature I paint starts with a primer coat through the airbrush, and I’ve painted literally hundreds of minis.  

There is no single answer as to if you need to thin your acrylic primer for an airbrush, it depends on your particular airbrush and the brand of primer.  Here are some examples though:

Examples of  Acrylic Primers for Airbrush:

Stynylrez Acrylic Primer through a Badger Patriot 105 airbrush with a .5 nozzle:  I typically do not thin this at all.  Simply prime the airbrush by shooting some flow improver through it first and you’re ready.

Pro Acryl Primer through a Badger Patriot 105 airbrush with a .5 nozzle:  Again no need to thin this down, it’ sprays like a dream.  Prime the airbrush with flow improver and go.  

Vallejo Surface Primer through a Badger Patriot 105 airbrush with a .5 nozzle:  I find this needs to be thinned down a bit.  My formula when I use it is:  2 drops airbrush thinner, 10-15 drops primer, 1 drop flow improver.  When I sprayed it thinned down just a bit, it rarely clogged on me.

General Advice:  If you are using an airbrush with a smaller diameter nozzle, and you experience sputtering or clogging, I would thin it down a bit.  Start with 3 drops thinner, 1 drop flow improver, 10 drops primer.  Increase thinner if it’s still an issue.

Metallic Paint in an Airbrush

Can they be used in an Airbrush:  Yes

Special Considerations:

I want to say right off the bat that the Vallejo Metal Color Paints are absolutely brilliant for both brush and airbrush.  I can not recommend them enough.  They can be used right out of the bottle in an airbrush and spray like a dream.  They use a very fine aluminum pigment and look fantastic on miniatures and models.

There are a fairly wide variety of Metallic paints. 

Examples of Metallic Paints to use for the Airbrush

Vallejo Metal Color Airbrush Colors These paints are phenomenal.  They flow incredibly well through an airbrush right out of the dropper bottle.  They are also great with a paint brush.  No thinning needed, great coverage, even finish, fantastic paints.  

Pro Acryl Metallic Colors:  Another great range that works really well in the airbrush or a brush.  You also get a bit more diversity of colors here.  I like the golds better in pro acryl, but Vallejo silver and steel shades are the best.

Acrylic Varnishes in an Airbrush

Can they be used in an Airbrush:  Yes

Special Considerations:  None

You can use polyurethane in an airbrush as well, I just prefer the acrylics. Acrylics have less odor, they’re non-toxic and they work well.  

Examples of Acrylic Varnishes to use for the Airbrush

AK Interactive Varnish:  By far my favorite varnish is the AK Interactive Ultra Matte Varnish.  It’s smooth, goes on easily, and I love the finish.  I find the matte look gives it a more “real” appearance.  If it’s a bit too matte for certain miniatures, you can mix it with satin or gloss to your preference.  

Vallejo Mecha Varnish:  Another great varnish that goes on easily through the airbrush.  No thinning needed.  

Citadel Contrast Paints, Vallejo XPress Paints and Army Painter Speed Paints in an Airbrush

Can they be used in an Airbrush:  Yes

Special Considerations:  Contrast, XPress and Speed paints are all rather transparent through an airbrush. This is a good thing most of the time but you need to pay special attention to the coat of paint or primer you are spraying on. Light primers work best for bright colors, darker will give a muted dull result.

I love Contrast Paints through the airbrush.  The only drawback is price, but the result is worth it to me.  It’s a filter more than a layer, meaning you can see through the paint to the layer underneath.  Look into Zenithal Priming, you can do a lot with a simple zenithal prime and contrast paints.  

Examples of Contrast Paints, XPress Paints and Speed Paints to use for the Airbrush

Citadel Contrast Paints Examples:

Iyanden Yellow
Baal Red

Akhelian Green

Army Painter Speed Paints Examples:

Dark Wood

Hardened Leather

Battleship Grey

Vallejo XPress Paints Examples:

Space Grey

Black Lotus

Gloomy Violet

Oil Paints in an Airbrush

Can they be used in an Airbrush:  Yes

Special Considerations:  They can be used but not optimal and not recommended.  Be sure to use a respirator and clean your airbrush thoroughly after use. 

Latex Paints in an Airbrush

Can they be used in an Airbrush:  Yes

Special Considerations:  Another paint that can be used, but not a common practice.  

Fabric Paints in an Airbrush

Can they be used in an Airbrush:  Yes

Special Considerations:  Not optimal for miniature painting.  

Watercolors in an Airbrush

Can they be used in an Airbrush:  Yes

Special Considerations:  Not optimal for miniature painting.

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