How to Prevent Airbrush Tip Dry


What is Airbrush Tip Dry?

Airbrush tip dry is when paint that is being sprayed from your airbrush gets stuck on the tip of your needle rather than spraying onto your model or mini. Once the paint starts to buildup on the needle it can start to block the flow of paint leaving your airbrush and make your airbrush less responsive to your trigger adjustments, as it builds up more it can cause the spray pattern to change, and result in splatter.

To reduce how often tip dry happens, try these tips

  • Properly maintain your airbrush needle
  • Clean your airbrush
  • Properly thin your paint
  • Lube your airbrush needle
  • Try some Additives

Properly maintain your airbrush needle

Be Careful Not to Bend the Tip of Your Airbrush Needle

The needle of your airbrush is very thin and it is super easy to damage the tip. If you bend the tip of your airbrush needle you are guaranteed to get tip dry as the paint will catch onto the imperfection as soon as it starts to leave your airbrush. Luckily, most of the times that I have done this I have been able to carefully bend the tip back into alignment with my fingernails.

In my experience nothing will cause airbrush tip dry faster than a needle tip that is bent over

If you bend the main part of the needle, you can cause the needle to not sit straight in the airbrush and more pressure will build up on one side of the needle that can also create drag that slows the paint and causes tip dry.

Polish the Airbrush Needle

Airbrush needles are mass manufactured. They come out pretty smooth but they all have imperfections that make the surface easier to stick to than a well polished surface. By polishing the needle tip you reduce the surface area available for the paint to cling to. This is a tedious process that needs to be done very carefully to avoid accidentally damaging your airbrush needle.

Of the solutions here I think that this would be one of the last ones that I would try if you are having trouble with tip dry. I feel that the other solutions are simpler and have less danger of causing damage rather than fixing a problem.

If you are going to try this there are several commercially available polishing agents that will help you to get a super smooth surface that your paint will flow right over.

Clean Your Airbrush

Airbrushing is all about the flow of paint through your airbrush and onto your models. An airbrush that is dirty inside will prevent paint from flowing freely it can also cause clogs and spurts.

Properly Thin Your Paint

One of the primary skills necessary to learn for airbrushing is properly thinning your paint. If your paint is too thick it will not flow through the airbrush very easily. It will leave your airbrush in larger droplets and these larger droplets stick to the tip of your airbrush’s needle much more easily than small, properly thinned paint droplets.

Paint for your airbrush needs to be thinned to a much thinner consistency than you would normally use for painting your miniatures with a hand held brush. But you also need to be careful of over thinning to the point that it breaks the bonds of the pigment.

Since every paint manufacturer has it’s own recipe for making it’s paint, there can be some unintentional reactions to mixing brands of thinner and paint. This is mostly the case with enamels and varnishes rather than water based acrylic paints. If you have been using one brand for a ling time you should try thinning the paint outside of your airbrush if you have switched to a different brand just to be sure.

Lube Your Airbrush Needle

Needle lube is just what it sounds like. There are two brands that I prefer, Iwata and Badger. When I lube my needles, I just put one drop of lube on my finger tip, then I slowly pull the needle between my finger and my thumb while rotating it. I only pull so that the needle does not stick me, I never try to push it forward.

You only need a very small amount of lubricant, because too much will start to come off and mix with your paint as it flows by. Also only lube the half of your needle that is toward the tip. Your airbrush relies on friction to hold the needle in place as it moves back and forth inside, lubing the back end of the needle would reduce that friction and make this more difficult.

The other benefit of lubing your airbrush needle is that it will move more smoothly through your airbrush. I didn’t really realize how much friction there was in my airbrushes until I lubed one for the first time. I was really amazed at how much of a difference there was.

My go to brands Badger Regdab needle juice and Iwata Super Lube are both very good needle lubricants.

Try Additives in Your Paint

There are a lot of different additives available for your airbrush, some of them are great, others, not so much. There are two types of additives that will help reduce tip dry for your airbrush they are drying retarders and flow improvers. They are similar products but they are different.

Drying Retarders

Drying retarders are chemicals that are added to paint to extend the dry time. Since tip dry is cause by dry paint sticking to your airbrush needle tip, having paint that stays wet longer helps reduce the possibility of it drying on your needle tip. Drying retarders don’t affect the viscosity of your paint as much as thinners do.

Drying retarder should be used in moderation, too much can cause your paint to take several days or longer to dry.

Flow Improvers

Flow improvers, sometimes called flow aids, reduce the surface tension of your paint making if bead up less and flow easier. Flow improvers are also great when painting with a hand held brush. In my experience flow improvers affect the viscosity of your paint to a lesser extent than thinners, but more than drying retarders.

For water based acrylic paint I use Vallejo airbrush flow improver, I haven’t had any issues with it reacting with any brands. Check the current price on amazon.

A few drops of flow improver goes a long way, adding too much can cause adhesion issues.

Paint Thinner

Most paint thinners manufactured by paint companies contain mostly the same substance as the paint base. So for most of the paint marketed at miniature painters this would be primarily water, since we tend to have water based acrylic paint marketed at us. Many manufacturers will also add some flow aids and drying retarders to their thinners.

When you get into other paint types such as enamels and varnishes the thinners will contain stronger chemicals that are required to break up the particular compounds in those paint types.

Generally you can add quite a bit of thinner before having issues, up to about 25% by volume without issues, you can usually get away with up to 50% by volume, but more than that you will likely break your paint.

For water based acrylic paints I use Vallejo airbrush thinner without any interaction issues. Check the price on amazon.

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