Introduction: Intro to Airbrushing Makeup!

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Airbrush consists of a compressor, which sprays air through a paintbrush gun, which then nebulizes the paint and distributes it finely. Airbrush can give you a flawless, absolutely natural finish that blends seamlessly into the skin, all while using only a few drops of makeup and taking only a minute or so to apply. It also has many artistic and special effects uses-- check out the SciFi channel's newest show, "Naked & Painted" to see how far airbrush can go creatively. Unfortunately, airbrush equipment is extremely expensive, temperamental, and difficult to master. I'll outline the basics of airbrushing but I highly recommend that you take an airbrush class, whether through Blush School of Makeup in SF (where I attended) or through an airbrush company such as Iwata or Temptu.

Step 1: Materials

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The materials you will need are an airbrush gun (the piece that actually sprays the paint), a compressor (a piece connected to your gun that forces the air through the gun), and airbrush paints.

The gun:

There are two types of guns, single-action and double-action. Single action guns, such as the Dinair and Luminesse, are less powerful and have less control and precision, but are somewhat easier to use than the double action and are designed to be used by consumers and not professionals. If all you want is to airbrush your own foundation that is the system that I recommend. They usually come with their own compressor and are far less expensive than double-action guns.

Double action guns, such as the Neo CN or the Revolution, require you to do two actions (both pressing down the trigger and pulling it back and forth to control the spray of makeup) while in use and cost around $75-$150. They offer a much finer trigger control than single-action guns but are much more difficult to master. They require a separate compressor.

The compressor:

Compressors are a separate piece of machinery that push the air through the gun. They require an electrical outlet to run and usually cost around $300. I use the Iwata SilverJet, and know a lot of artists that use the Temptu model as well, which is much smaller and more portable.

The makeup:

You MUST use makeup specifically manufactured for airbrush in your airbrush gun. The gun is extremely delicate and has extremely small parts that can easily be clogged by chunks of pigment, which could even break your gun if you are not careful. Airbrush paints look extremely expensive, but keep in mind that it takes an average of 7 droplets of product to cover an entire face. Some airbrush brands that are makeup artists' favorites are Kett and Temptu.

Step 2: Your Gun

Picture of Your Gun

In this tutorial I'm going to show you how to take apart and clean your gun. When I took my airbrush class, we spent several days doing only this. It is extremely important to know how to gently and efficiently take apart, clean, and put back together your gun. Even when using the best airbrush makeup in the best conditions, guns have a tendency to clog at random and require a full breakdown and thorough cleaning before they are ready to perform again. I recommend that you do this over a tray on a level surface with good lighting, as there are many tiny parts that, if they roll away, you will never find again and not be able to operate your gun without!

I use an Iwata Neo CN so that's what gun I will be breaking down and cleaning. Most double-action guns are very similar to this but always refer to the manufacturer's instructions. Single-action guns are not meant to be taken apart whatsoever and you will void your manufacturer's warranty if you do so.

Step 3: Your Compressor

Picture of Your Compressor

I use an Iwata SilverJet, but other compressors are similar, just refer to the manufacturer's instructions. The knob on the far left is to control the Psi-- stands for pounds per square inch-- basically the strength of the air blowing through your gun. You generally will want to keep your Psi under 20; I prefer it around 9 or 10. Refer to the instructions on your airbrush makeup-- different formulations recommend different Psi's. Warning: if your Psi is too high, you can drive pigments or particles deep into someone's skin or eyes, resulting in permanent damage, even blindness or severe scarring. The hole next to the knob is to rest your gun in, nozzle-first, while you are taking a break. The meter next to that hole shows you what your Psi is. On the far right side is where the tube that connects the airbrush gun and the compressor screws in to. Do not leave this part screwed in to either your gun or your compressor while in storage.

Step 4: Airbrush Breakdown

Picture of Airbrush Breakdown
  1. Remove the back cover of your airbrush gun. This is threaded and will screw off.
  2. Slowly loosen & remove the chuck nut. This is the piece that is screwed onto the base of your needle.
  3. SLOWLY & GENTLY pull the needle out. If there is any resistance:
    1. Remove the nozzle cover.
    2. Using the wrench that came with your gun, gently loosen the needle cover until it is loose enough for you to unscrew the rest of the way with your fingers.
    3. Remove the needle cover.
    4. Try again to remove the needle. It should slide out easily.
  4. If you've had no problems removing the needle, remove the trigger assembly. This has a semiflexible "tongue" on the inner end, so you may have to wiggle the trigger assembly slightly or angle it upwards as you pull it out.
  5. Remove the trigger. This will lift right out of the gun.
  6. Remove the nozzle cover. It will screw right off.
  7. Remove the nozzle. This should also screw off easily. This is the part of the gun that directs the spray.
  8. Remove the needle cover using the tiny wrench that came with your gun. Use the wrench only to loosen it to the point where you can unscrew it the rest of the way with your fingers.

Step 5: Cleaning Your Gun

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Before breaking your gun down, turn your Psi up and blow all of the product out of your gun. If you don't have a clog in your gun and you're just spot-cleaning when going from one client to the next, you can spray 99% alcohol in your bowl and blow that through at a high Psi before going back down to a low Psi and putting product in the bowl. NEVER LEAVE YOUR GUN WITH PRODUCT IN THE BOWL! It will dry and clog your gun. If you are putting your gun down temporarily, fill the bowl with water. If you have a clog or you are cleaning your gun for Once your gun has been broken down, you can now clean it. I like to soak all of the individual parts in a cup of Windex, then spray Windex through the larger parts of the gun and use Q-tips to clean those out. There are also airbrush cleaning kits you can buy that are very useful. They usually come with a number of different-sized spoolies that you can work back and forth through the gun, removing any pigment particles that are stuck in the gun. Before going back to using your airbrush gun, run some 99% alcohol through to ensure that all the Windex has been rinsed out.

Step 6: Reassembly & Other Tips

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To reassemble your gun, simply do the breakdown steps in reverse! Remember to tighten up the spring guide and chuck nut after inserting the needle.

Your gun comes with a cap on the bowl-- never use it. It impedes the airflow through the gun. I'm not quite sure why it's even included with your gun. Appparently there are other guns that come with a bowl cap that has airholes so it can be used while your gun is in use.

Never leave your gun with product in the bowl. It can dry and harden inside your gun, rendering it useless. If you're leaving your gun temporarily, fill the bowl with water.

If you are spot-cleaning your gun in between clients that are one right after the other, you can just blow some 99% alcohol through the gun to clean and sanitize it. Windex is only for the full breakdown and cleaning.

If your gun is clogged, first try to blow the particle out by turning the Psi way up and working the trigger quickly back and forth. If this doesn't work, it's time for a full breakdown and cleaning.

Always carry extra needles with you when airbrushing. They break extremely easily and if your needle breaks on a job and you don't have a spare you're done for.

Spring for the more expensive, higher quality airbrush makeup. The cheap stuff has large grains of pigment that can cause constant clogging and can even break your gun.

Be careful not to over-tighten any parts of your gun. This can result in your gun breaking.

Be careful to not leave parts of your gun too loose. This can result in your gun breaking.

Always wear clothes and shoes you don't care about while airbrushing, or at least an apron. Have your client wear a full-body cape. It's extremely easy to splash or spill paint out of your bowl while airbrushing and airbrush paint usually stains permanently because it is so pigmented.

NEVER leave your compressor on while you are not pressing down on the trigger of your gun. This can result in your compressor blowing up, essentially.

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Bio: Professional MUA, educator, and Benefit Beauty Artist working in Sacramento & the Bay Area. I specialize in film, print, editorial, glamour, & special FX. AlexYourFace.com FB ... More »
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