When painting miniatures and models, some people prefer to use an airbrushing technique over a paintbrush.
Airbrushing allows for consistent coverage but requires additional skills and knowledge if you want the best finished product.
Airbrush paint is recommended to paint these surfaces, but the cool thing is that you can use any thinned acrylic paint in an airbrush.
In this article, we will give you the best ready-to-use airbrush paints that are available for your models and miniatures and show you how you can thin acrylic paints to achieve the same results.
Having both options available can help you to make better use of the materials you have and use them for both airbrushing and hand painting if necessary.
Just getting started with the hobby? Figuring out which products you need and what techniques are critical can be confusing.
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These are the best airbrush paints for miniatures and models:
- Vallejo Metallic Air Paint: Best for metallic paint applications
- Vallejo Basic Colors Airbrush Paint: Gives you a wide range of colors
- Citadel Air Paints: Trusted paint for models and miniatures
- Best Airbrush Paint for Miniatures and Models
- Do You Need Specific Airbrush Paint for Miniatures and Models?
- Airbrush Painting for Miniatures and Models
Best Airbrush Paint for Miniatures and Models
If you want to use airbrush paint specifically, we have three recommendations that you should check out.
These paints are already thin enough to put directly into your airbrush and apply to your miniatures and models.
Airbrush paint is the easiest option if you plan on using the airbrushing technique frequently.
Of course, the more you practice with the airbrush, the better you’ll become.
When you’re first getting started though, you’re sure to have some questions about techniques and products.
Head over to my main airbrushing page to find the answers and see what products I personally use and recommend.
With so many choices out there in the miniature painting world, how do you know what you really need? I cover it all in My favorite Miniature Painting Gear.
Vallejo has established a reputation as a leader in the space for painting, especially for miniature and model applications.
If you want to add some metallic colors to your designs, we recommend checking out the Vallejo Metallic Air Paint Set.
You can dilute this paint further if you want a thinner consistency or if you want to dim the strength of the color.
The great thing about using these air paints is that they are designed to be thinner, which allows for a smooth and more consistent application.
They may still give you issues depending on the size of the airbrush nozzle you are working with.
When using smaller nozzles, you may need to use airbrush thinner so that the paint doesn’t sputter.
What We Like
- This set offers a wide variety of metallic colors that can be easily mixed with one another for unique combinations.
- The paint can be used with a brush application or airbrush, depending on your needs and preferences.
- These paints are recommended for their consistent coverage in both color as well as smooth texture.
What We Don’t
- Some of the colors will be thicker than others, and you may need to add airbrush thinner or flow improver depending on the thickness of the individual paints.
- These paints do tend to dry out over extended periods if they are not used.
(Dried out paints are not necessarily destined for the trash can. Head on over to my article “How to Restore Dried Out Paints.”)
If you don’t want to be working with metallic colors but still want the same quality paint in more traditional colors, the Vallejo Basic Acrylic Airbrush Set offers excellent coverage and vibrant colors as well as a flat finish for smooth results.
The set comes with 16 colors, so you have a wide variety to work with for all your models and miniatures.
These paints act very similarly to the metallic offerings from Vallejo so they can be mixed with each other, and thinner can be needed if you choose the thicker pigment paints.
Nozzle size will also dictate the level of thinness required, but for most applications, the paint is ready to use for airbrushing.
You will need to use a sealer after airbrushing so that the paint does not come off.
What We Like
- These paints require very little to no thinner if you want a smooth application with little outside interference. A small amount of thinner can make the airbrushing even easier.
- Vallejo offers one of the largest color ranges compared to different brands of paint for models and miniatures.
What We Don’t
- If you only plan to use a couple of colors, buying the entire set may be unnecessary, as a lot of the colors may never be used.
- You need to make sure you keep cleaner around as these paints tend to dry out your airbrush tips.
Citadel is also a popular name in acrylic paints for models and miniatures, offering a wide range of colors and paint types.
Citadel Air Paints are made of non-toxic acrylic paints and can be purchased in individual colors based on your needs.
As they are designed for airbrush, the amount of thinner you use will be minimal if you decide to use any at all.
These air paints stand out for their thickness in color, requiring fewer coats of paint to get enough coverage.
Base paints are going to provide you with that richness to allow the color to show compared to the layering paints that are designed more specifically for finishing.
What We Like
- Citadel airbrush paint is much easier to work with than traditional Citadel acrylic paints because of the thinning agents already included.
- The coverage is consistent in both color and texture for overall great finished work.
- You can also use this paint with both an airbrush and paintbrush.
What We Don’t
- They are not sold in a dropper bottle so it can be a bit more challenging to use directly with the airbrush. You will need to use a dropper or pipette to transfer paint from the pot easily.
- You will need to use airbrush cleaner more frequently to properly get the debris out.
Do You Need Specific Airbrush Paint for Miniatures and Models?
While you can buy airbrush paint that is ready to use in your airbrush, this is not your only solution.
Because airbrush paint is also acrylic, you can quickly thin down any acrylic paint you use and then put it into an airbrush.
Simply speaking, airbrush paint is just acrylic paint that has been thinned out. You can use an airbrush thinner to reach the best results.
We discuss the process of thinning acrylic paint in this article.
While many people use water to thin their acrylic paints, we recommend using airbrush thinner because it can achieve better and more consistent results.
If you plan to airbrush often, having airbrush thinner on hand will allow you to thin regular acrylic paints and even improve the quality of the airbrush paints that are already thinner.
We will break down our favorite airbrush thinner that has shown to be a top performer over time for many miniature and model hobbyists.
We will also show you how to thin your standard acrylic paints so you can put them inside of an airbrush to achieve different techniques.
Here is a great video that walks you through that thinning process.
Our Airbrush Thinner Recommendation
If thinning your own acrylic paint for airbrushing sounds like something you want to do, we recommend using the Vallejo Airbrush Thinner.
It works to thin your paints without compromising the quality of the color, the durability, or the adhesion of the paint to the model or miniature. It also keeps a consistent texture and coat.
Vallejo makes quality products, and this airbrush thinner is no exception. They have come up with a formula that delivers in all categories and works well with different brands of acrylic paint.
If you are also working with Vallejo paints, using this product should be a no brainer. You will just need to add a few drops to your paint so you can form consistency before airbrushing.
What We Like
- This airbrush thinner provides the consistency that water and other cheaper solutions have difficulty mimicking.
- You do not need much product to get the job done, and it can transform your ordinary acrylic paints into the thinness required for airbrush quality applications.
- Unlike other thinners, this one is dedicated to airbrushing so it can move quickly through the airbrush tool and prevent clogging.
What We Don’t
- This is an expensive product for the amount of thinner that is included. It works very well but may not be as long-lasting as other thinners on the market.
Why Is Airbrush Thinner Better Than Water?
Water is the most common option to thin their acrylic paints because it is the easiest and the cheapest.
While some people may be satisfied with using water only, the results you can achieve with an acrylic thinner far exceed those of water itself.
The quality of the application is improved, and you can make a consistency that is not always guaranteed with water.
The makeup of the airbrush thinner will always be the same, while there is some fluctuation that occurs working with water.
You will only want to use distilled water to avoid the minerals building up in your airbrush with tap water.
One of the most apparent downfalls of water thinning is the diluting of the pigment, which you will see upon application.
Water may not be your best option for airbrushing with acrylic paint because:
- Water can dry out the airbrush tip much more quickly than other solutions.
- You may encounter spotting if the water builds up in certain areas of the pigment.
- The hardness of water can fluctuate and react differently with the paint.
- You have to worry about adding too much water and potentially wasting your paint.
An airbrush thinner is often deemed better than water because it will achieve great results time and time again.
You don’t experience the consistency problems that you would when trying to figure out how much water to add and if you have the right water in the first place.
Airbrush thinner not only thins the paints, but it also has a retarder that prevents drying at the tip.
When these paints are not properly thinned, usually because the drying at the tip occurs, you may start to notice bubbling out the brush, which can be messy and more work.
By using a thinner, you won’t have to worry about this as much as you would with water.
Thinner will also allow you to reach better coverage with the paint, while water-based dilutes your pigment.
See which thinner I wouldn’t want to do without on my painting gear page.
How Do You Use Airbrush Thinner on Acrylic Paints?
When looking at a typical bottle of acrylic paint, you will notice that it is often very thick. This is difficult to use for both hand painting and airbrushing.
You will want to use your airbrush thinner to reach a much thinner consistency.
You will know that your airbrush paint is ready to go when it has a similar viscosity as milk. If you were to jiggle both, they should move at the same rate.
There is no set recipe when working with airbrush thinner and your regular acrylic paint.
This is because there are so many different paints available (check out the best paint sets for miniature painting here), and many factors influence the amount of thinner you use.
Different ratios will work for different people, and this process is a bit of trial and error until you achieve the consistency you seek.
Here are some considerations you will need to make when thinning your acrylic paints to be used in an airbrush:
- Type of paint: Different acrylic paints have varying thicknesses, so you will need different amounts of thinner to reach the milk-like flow. The brand of paint, as well as the pigment thickness, can have an impact on the amount of thinner you end up adding.
- Age of paint: Newer paint usually mixes better with thinning mediums and will often require less to be used. An older paint may need more thinner or will not be able to reach the consistency that you need. Your ratios can easily change over time to achieve varying results.
- Avoid clear color: If your color is not milk-like in both consistency and a little bit of the creaminess you will find in color, you have made the paint too thin. When it just looks like a see-through color, you will not be able to get the color and coverage to stay on the miniature or model.
If you are planning on using a color for a fair amount of work, we recommend getting separate bottles and making larger mixtures of the solution.
How to thin your acrylic paints so they can be easily used in an airbrush:
- Identify acrylic paint thickness: Thicker paints will need more thinner, and you should look closely at this before blindly adding thinner. Separate the amount of paint you plan to use so that you do not thin out the entire container. You can use the rest of the paint later or still make it available for other applications.
- Add minimal thinner: Start with a drop or two and begin to mix the paint and airbrush thinner. Try moving the container so you can start to see the level of thickness in your quest to achieve your milk-like solution. Add more thinner (little by little) until you reach the consistency you are looking for.
- Add more paint: If you notice that the paint has now become too thin when adding the airbrush thinner, carefully add more paint to raise the viscosity level.
- Add to airbrush: Having this solution in a dropper bottle is the easiest way to apply your solution for airbrushing directly.
As we mentioned, making your acrylic paint thinner is all about experimenting.
You will notice that some paints use more thinner than others, and you will need to play around with the different measurements to get it just right.
Take note of how much thinner you use, and you can use this as a reference point in the future (but it may change).
Don’t forget that before you apply the paint, a quality primer (I recommend Stynylrez – it’s amazing) should be used first.
In “How to Prime Your Miniatures With an Airbrush,” you’ll learn how quick and easy it is and how much it can help with getting your paints to adhere properly.
Airbrush Painting for Miniatures and Models
As we’ve demonstrated, you can use both ready-made airbrush paints and normal acrylic paint with airbrush thinner to give your projects a consistent finish and color on the miniatures and models.
(Be sure to stop by my miniature painting page for a ton of miniature painting information, tips, techniques, and recommendations! With over 50 articles, you’re sure to learn something new.)
Airbrush paint is essentially normal acrylic paint that has been thinned, and you can easily do this yourself with some practice.
Making your own airbrush paint is a great way to use an acrylic paint that you probably already have on hand.
If you don’t plan to airbrush often, but have plenty of acrylic paint, getting some airbrush thinner can make this one-time project much simpler.
The Vallejo Airbrush Thinner will provide you with excellent results and can be used for both your airbrush paints as well as your normal acrylics.
This product is trusted by experienced hobbyists and leads to much better outcomes than water will.
Purchasing airbrush thinner is a great investment for all types of paint being used in your airbrush.
Even airbrush paints can benefit from a little thinner to make your final results even more outstanding.
This is a solution you should have on you anytime you are working with your airbrush. It makes your work a lot simpler, more enjoyable, and protects your tools.
If you’re still looking for an airbrush setup, be sure to check out our complete airbrush review.
Before you go, don’t forget to grab your copy of The Miniature Painting Level Up Guide for the most comprehensive, easy-to-follow advice you’ll find anywhere.