Selecting a surface to practice your airbrush skills on can be difficult, especially if your preferred canvas is not easy to come by…
Today we’ll discuss what surfaces to practice airbrushing on & some of the best materials to airbrush on…
Practice airbrushing on a surface that closely resembles the surface of your planned expertise. Take into account, curvature of your final canvas, background color and any surface textures. The goal is to realistically resemble your final canvas with a subject or material that is easily accessible.
Surfaces To Practice Airbrushing On
It’s hard to say one specific surface or material to practice airbrushing on. Simply because there are so many different surface applications that can be airbrushed.
Anything from skin to automotive metals and so forth…
My suggestion when selecting a surface to practice airbrushing on, is:
Brainstorm some surfaces or materials that closely resemble the surface you intend to make your expertise.
For example, if you have intent on airbrushing motorcycle helmets, search for a surface that is similar in curvature, texture and ideally can be re-used for other practice paintings, or easily replaced. In this example, I would search for a helmet, a bowling ball, maybe even a large bottle or container that is of similar shape, cheap and can be easily reused for other practice paintings or replaced.
The idea is to practice as if you were in a real-world scenario. That way, when you are on the spot, your training & preparation will take over and carry you on to success.
Airbrush Practice Surfaces
Following this, is a list of potential surfaces in each sector of airbrushing that are easily accessible to practice airbrushing on. Simply find the subheading that closest relates to your area of expertise. I’m sure you’ll find a canvas idea to help improve your airbrush skill.
Practice Fine Art Airbrush Surfaces
- Printer Paper (Available on Amazon)
- Craft Paper (Roll) (Available on Amazon)
- Poster Paper (Available on Amazon)
- Poster Board (Available on Amazon)
- Cardboard (Available on Amazon)
Basic white printer paper, likely the easiest canvas to get hold of. Printer paper is my practice surface of choice as it can be the most difficult surface to airbrush on (Aside from sheet metal). Airbrushing on paper requires careful trigger control, proper paint viscosity and exact air pressure. Any little imperfection can be spotted clear as day when airbrushing on paper. For this reason, paper is the best to practice airbrushing on.
Craft paper (Roll), using a roll of craft paper is great for getting a lot of practice surface for cheap. I personally spent a lot of my early days learning to airbrush on an easel that utilized a large roll of craft paper. This made it so easy for me to practice basic airbrush skills on a large surface at minimal cost.
Poster paper is a great option for practicing your airbrush skills, as it comes in sizes far greater than common printer paper, its available in multiple colors so you can practice airbrushing shade (black) on a white background and light (white) on a black background. Plus, poster paper can be found for less than a dollar at any local craft store. I personally believe poster paper is a great option for practice paintings.
Poster board, similar to poster paper in size, color options and so forth. However, poster board can be found as a sort of cardboard / plastic hybrid material. This Plastic poster board is a very smooth (non-porous) surface. Which makes the task of laying paint down without spidering that much more difficult. But difficulty is a benefit when practicing, better to over train.
Cardboard can be found virtually anywhere, and it’s got a rather porous surface that absorbs the paint which minimizes the possibility of spidering and can make laying down paint easier for the beginner.
Miniatures & Models (Practice Surfaces)
- Natural Elements (Rocks, Sticks, Leaves…)
- Empty Containers (Plastic, Glass, Cardboard…)
- Worn Children’s Toys (Action Figures, Cars…)
Natural elements: airbrushing on miniatures and models is all about emphasizing light and shade to make your character come to life. This means you can practice your model airbrush skills on anything that is small, has sharp ridges, indents, and curvature similar to what you might see on model vehicles, figures and so forth. Natural elements such as baseball sized rocks, sticks and such can be utilized to practice your model airbrush skills. Just clean the surface well.
Empty containers such as plastic water bottles, beverage bottles, milk cartons and so forth can easily be collected and used for practicing your airbrush skills.
Worn children’s toys that are to the point of being thrown out such as action figures, toy cars and so forth can be great for model airbrush practice. I personally recommend this option for practice, as it gets you the closest to airbrushing directly on your expensive models without actually doing so. Just make sure the toy is no longer of value to the child you’re taking it from…
Automotive (Practice Surfaces)
- Flat Sheet Metal
- Bent / Curved Sheet Metal
- Scrap Yard Metal
Flat sheet metal is perfect for those who intend on airbrushing anything related to automotive. Especially if you put a coat of primer on the surface, as this is as close as you can get to the real thing. You could even go as far as mounting the sheet on a wall or tabletop to simulate the area on a car you’ll be airbrushing (mounted on a wall = car door, mounted on a tabletop = car hood…). This will help you to develop comfort working in different positions.
Bent / curved sheet metal, simply take a sheet of metal and bend it / curve it in any way to mimic the common surface you’ll be airbrushing on. For instance, if your gonna be airbrushing on motorcycle tanks, fenders and so forth. Take a thin sheet of metal and bend it into a cylinder shape. Though this won’t exactly mimic a motorcycle tank, it will give you a rough shape to get used to working on.
Scrap yard metal comes in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. Ideally if you can go to a scrap / junk yard and find the exact surface you’ll be working on, perfect. Take airbrushing motorcycle tanks for example: if you can find a motorcycle tank at a junk yard that’s in decent shape you can use that 1 tank for multiple practice paintings by re-painting the surface. This gives you real world experience at minimal to no cost. Same idea for car doors, car trunks, car hoods…
Airbrush Makeup (Practice Surfaces)
Mannequin Heads are a great option for practicing your airbrush makeup skills, as you’ll get exposure to facial shape, color and once you’re finished you can easily start over by wiping the makeup off using a wipe.
Plastic masks that are commonly made up of a semi flexible plastic can be another great option for practicing airbrush makeup or body paint. Though not as beneficial as using a mannequin, you can get hard plastic masks for cheap and get some exposure to the contours of the human facial features.
Friends & Family will provide you a perfect canvas to practice your airbrush makeup skills on, as long as you can convince them. But given the intrigue airbrush makeup brings, I don’t think you’ll have much difficulty finding someone who’s willing to be your model. This option gives you every aspect you’ll face in a real-world scenario but allows you the ability to make minor mistakes without the client getting upset.
You can always practice on yourself. To be honest, if you can pull off applying airbrush makeup on yourself. Then applying airbrush makeup on a client will be as easy as 1,2,3… This is because, applying airbrush makeup on yourself requires a bit of backward thinking and awareness on a whole new level.
T-Shirts & Clothing (Practice Surfaces)
- Bulk Fabric
- Cheap Blank T’s
- Old / Worn Clothing
Bulk fabric can commonly be purchased cheaper then clothing. Ideally you would look for bulk fabric similar to that of what you intend to airbrush on. Tablecloths such as these, can be had for cheap, in multiple colors and gives you a significant amount of surface area to practice on. Or you could try using some bed sheets such as these.
Cheap blank T-shirts can be picked up for a couple bucks a piece when purchased in bulk, giving you a real-world example to practice on. I’m sure you could easily sell the shirts for what you are into them (A couple bucks) just to break even while you practice your technique and skill.
Old or worn clothing can be found pretty much anywhere. I’ll bet I could find a couple worn shirts in my closet worthy of airbrush practice. Ask some friends and family if they have any worn clothing they’re considering throwing out. You may come up with a bunch of practice canvases.
It’s best to practice airbrushing on a surface that is similar or exact to that which you intend on specializing in.
This is because the paint can act far different on a surface that is porous or absorbent then that of a surface that is smooth and rigid.
You’ll have some disconnect practicing your airbrush skills on a surface that is porous but specializing on a surface that is non-porous.
Using myself as an example,
I personally airbrush a lot on paper, but if I were to start airbrushing on cotton fabric my paint reduction ratio, air pressure, and my overall technique needs to be adjusted to compensate for the paint being absorbed into the fabric rather than sitting on the surface as it does when using paper…
There is a disconnect practicing on one surface but specializing on another.
I hope you were able to find some value here! If you have any further questions regarding the airbrush do be sure to take a look around the website. Airbrush Insider is dedicated to helping all in the airbrush community!
This is Colt signing off!
Check Out Some Of My Favorite Airbrush Equipment:
- My Favorite Airbrush To Date!
- The Air Compressor I Currently Use, And Why I’m Never Going Back To A Traditional “Airbrush Compressor”!
- My All Time Favorite Airbrush Paint’s For Ease Of Use & Versatility!
Next Recommended Resources: