Airbrush Makeup Frequently Asked Questions Part One
by Special Effect Supply


This page has recently been updated thanks to feedback from our Airbrush Customers.


1. What's the difference between liquid makeup and airbrush makeup?

Airbrush makeup is ready to spray. Often you can make any liquid makeup ready to spray by adding a little water or silicone fluid. Airbrush makeup is also characterized by fine pigment size. The new Kryolan Air Stream makeup is a new generation of airbrush ready makeup that has all the advantages needed to be true airbrush makeup.

2. Airbrush makeup is so expensive, is it worth it?

That depends on how you value your time. An impatient actor doesn't want to sit and watch you fuss with your formula, in that case get the stuff that is ready to spray, or measure out everything in advance. Before you invest in any airbrush ready makeups please do your homework. The new formulas (developed in the last 18 months) are excellent and certainly worth the extra cost. Expensive isn't better either, buy a small amount to test before committing yourself to $300 worth of makeup.

3. There are so many different additives, which one should I use?

Kryolan, Mehron and Ben Nye all have additives of different formulations and strengths. Use what works best for you based on your experimentation. All water based additives can be used with water based paints. SES Polyset is very robust and not as expensive as most.

4. I need extra sweat resistance, what should I do?

Just mix in an alcohol based top coat such as Kryolan's Fixier Spray or Ben Nye's Final Seal. Remember that you are turning your makeup into a layer of plastic. It's not unlike spray-on bandage. Use any regular polymer additive for normal sweat resistance. Keep this concoction away from the eyes. You can also use the top coat over the top, just like the instructions on the bottle.

5. Do I need a class to learn how to use an airbrush?

Not likely. Reputable airbrushes come with good instructions, CDs or videos. Makeup is easier to spray than paint because, unlike paint, it washes off. If you feel really unsure take a class, but most artistic people can pick it up with about an hour of playing around. On the other hand, if you want to learn the makeup side of things as class might really help you. Please refer to my article about choosing a good makeup school and our list of Makeup Schools.

6. OK, I want to take a class can you recommend one?

No, sorry, we don't do that kind of research. Please see our list of Makeup Schools. Call and ask about their workshops and package deals. Also, please refer to my article about choosing a good makeup school.

7. What is the difference between temporary tattoo airbrush makeup and regular airbrush makeup?

Usually it's the alcohol. Temporary tattoos need a very strong binder to keep it on the skin for a few days and this is alcohol based. Airbrush makeup is a generic term and could mean any number of different formulas. Usually, regular airbrush makeup is water-based and will wash off (or sweat off) rather quickly.

8. Why is the airbrush makeup so expensive?

The makers know they can get away with it. Generally, until a few years ago there just wasn't that many people making airbrush ready makeup so the manufacturers had a perceived monopoly. Trained professional makeup artists, who know all the little secrets, simply diluted liquid face or body paint. The new brands of true airbrush makeup are a higher quality makeup that is more expensive to test and develop. The prices will slowly go down with competition and time. Price changes in our industry usually occur in March.

9. My airbrush keeps clogging, what the deal?

It probably needs a good cleaning. Other factors are; defective makeup, improper agitation, pigment size too large, wrong tip. If you've never been able to spray makeup your brush is wrong. If you've never been able to spray the makeup regardless of the airbrush then the makeup is wrong. Stay away from any airbrush makeup that settles quickly.

10. I'm doing weddings, what should I charge?

Gosh, how would I know? Do some research and see what the market will bear in your area and in each season. $25 to $60 per person seems standard. Some parts of the country only have one airbrush artist and others are saturated.

11. We're doing a play and we need to put makeup on our choir/dancers/townspeople, what should we do?

In this case the airbrush will just not be enough. Go down to the hardware store and buy a cheap touch-up gun or paint spray gun (about $30). Use this for your foundations. It's very quick and easy way to apply makeup to a large number of people. Many of the body painters at Burning Man developed these bulk spraying techniques with our help in the late nineties. This technique also works good for body tanning such as needed in the production of "South Pacific."

12. Do I need an air compressor for my airbrush?

Yes and no. You do need an air source, the airbrush is not self contained.

13. OK, I need an air source, where do I start?

That depends entirely on your situation. Personally I use a SCUBA tank (the low pressure port), but I'm a certified scuba diver and I like the nice clean filtered air I get. Basically there is nothing magical about your air source. You can use a large shop compressor if you don't mind the noise. You can use the canned air sources if you don't mind the cost and the odor. You can use any of the cheap "Fish Tank" type compressors but they are not well regulated. Compressors with a storage tank are the best because they smooth out the airflow. There are a number of small compressors that are just a little box, a plug and a hose -- these work fine, just don't pay more than $50 for one. Special Effect Supply has some nice Paasche compressors. Simair used to make a beautiful portable for about $400. It had it all and we sold it for a time, but didn't sell many because of the price. NOTE: An air source doesn't mean you are getting air, you may get C02, propellant or some other gas.

14. How do I clean my airbrush?

You can start by spraying liquid soap through it. I use 409 but it makes me cough. If things get really bad use rubbing alcohol. To remove old acrylic paint use denatured alcohol. But nothing replaces a good old tear-down and soak.

15. Which tip (or needle) should I use?

Use the craft tip (or needle). You should be able to spray a pattern two inches in diameter at about six inches from the surface, with very low air-pressure. Cheap brushes only come with one fixed tip, don't be fooled by the packaging, make sure you buy a airbrush that gives you some versatility (multiple tips and needles). Not all brushes and not all tips are the same. Make sure your brush isn't limited to only spraying dyes.

16. How much should I spend on my airbrush?

Not more than $130 for a nice one. Really expensive brushes are nice for fine art but lousy for body paint. In this case expensive doesn't mean better. The fine wood box will not help the brush spray any better. On the other hand, your brush is an investment, I've had my Paasche for more than twenty-five years. NOTE: We've had reports from people who have been using the Harbor Freight $25 airbrush with great success.

17. Do I need an airbrush designed for airbrush makeup?

No. There's nothing special about the airbrush and I don't know of any airbrush specifically made for makeup application. The Kryolan Vega (which we sell) is time proven with over a decade of use in the makeup industry (but it won't work if you put the wrong needle in it.)

18. How dangerous is temporary tattoo paint?

Extremely, just as it is labeled on the bottle. I did a flammability test some time ago and created a hot, dull-yellow flame about three feet long with my brush set at 10 p.s.i.. It's just a matter of time before a spectator drops cigarette ash into an airbrush makeup stream that burns and blinds someone. Be warned and be careful, remember that you are aerating a flammable liquid just like a carburetor in a car. It won't explode, but it will come close. Don't hurt anyone and don't get sued. If you buy temporary tattoo paint from someone get a certificate of insurance from them, this will insure that their business insurance will cover the costs of a lawsuit and settlements when something terrible happens. You may be interested to know that cellulose based temporary tattoo paint is flammable even when it is dry. We don't carry those kinds of airbrush makeups any more.

19. That leads to another question, should I wear a mask of some sort?

Of course. The product labeling should give you the right NIOSH respirator to use with your paint. Federal law requires this information to be printed on any product that is hazardous such as the temporary tattoo paints.

20. Is regular airbrush makeup harmful? I mean we are spraying it into someone's eyes.

First, you are not spraying into people's eyes, unless you are putting it onto your own face. That's why you are the makeup artist, so that you can spray them while they sit with their eyes closed. Second, all the ingredients are FDA approved. If you are worried about problems you should worry about yourself (or your employees) first and your customer second. Remember you are the one who is experiencing chronic exposure to airborne particulates, not your customer. The safety of airbrush makeup is always in a state of debate and it will probably take several years before the truth emerges. Just use reasonable safety precautions.

21. Should I get the double acting or the single acting?

Get the double acting. My friends who paint everyday have scolded me for recommending the single action. A single action will work if you are on a tight budget and are not doing very complicated work such as foundation on a full body.

22. I'm using body paint, how much additive should I use?

No more than 25%, but I'm afraid you'll just have to experiment as there is no generic rule. You may need more depending on your brush. Ben Nye recommends up to 10% of their Liquiset in their body paints. Many artists use syringes to measure the amount of additives they put in their paints. Old paint needs more water. Any water-based product stored in plastic bottles will loose water to the atmosphere with time. This will throw off your measurements. Basically use what you need to get the desired viscosity, then a tiny bit more. Keep good notes, you'll want them later when you mix again.

23. I'm getting bubbles in my color cup, what should I do?

Clean your airbrush, the airflow is clogged and pressure is backing up through the paint passages.

24. Do you sell the new tanning stuff?

No. The stuff you're talking about is a quick tan that lasts about a week. The stuff we carry is for theatrical use and will wash off at the end of the evening after the performance. There are an increasing number of companies who make the tanning stuff, so shop around. It's not in my market so I can't advise you of reputable places to go. Jet-Tan makes a self-kit that costs less than the single application you get at the beach, but I don't have any customer feedback on Jet-Tan products yet.

25. I'm using a shop compressor, but the air really stinks, what should I do?

Change the oil to a synthetic, or sometimes just changing the oil will do it. You also might have some gross stuff living in the tank. Drain it and clean it out. Be sure to use compressor oil, not motor oil. Motor oil is used for cars.

26. My needle is bent, does that make any difference?

Yes, it makes a big difference. You brush will clog and you won't get a consistent pattern. Always carry a spare needle.

27. Do you carry the mica?

Yes and no. We can get the Mehron powered eye shadows for you and we often keep their silver and gold metallic powders in stock.

28. Do I need to powder the makeup after it's been sprayed?

Not if it is water based. There's some old oil based, make your own airbrush makeup formulas floating around and these would have to be powdered to be set.



Steve Biggs
12-24-2004

Sorry, we don't give customer support for airbrush makeup sold by other companies. If you are having problems please contact the people from whom you purchased your makeup or seek the services of a profesional makeup artist.

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