Why Is Paint Not Coming Out Of My Airbrush – 14 Step Action Plan

Why Is No Paint Coming Out Of My Airbrush

Paint will not come out of an airbrush if it is blocked or hindered from traveling between where the it is being held and where it is introduced into the high pressure airflow. This blockage or hindrance can happen for a number of reasons including airbrush clogging, airbrush hardware issues, compressed air issues, or problems with the paint itself.

This article will look at the primary reasons an airbrush won’t spray paint, numerous step-by-step methods on how to fix the problem, and preventative measure you can take to avoid it in the future.

The three sections are:

  1. Why would paint not be coming out of my airbrush;
  2. How to fix paint not coming out of my airbrush;
  3. Preventative measures to avoid paint not coming out of your airbrush;

Let’s dive right in…

Why Would Paint Not Be Coming Out Of My Airbrush

The causes of only air but no paint coming out of your airbrush come down to airbrush clogging problems, airbrush hardware problems, various air pressure problems, and possible paint problems.

While this article focuses mainly on double-action gravity feed airbrushes the siphon and side-feed style airbrushes often suffer from the same problems and this information is extremely relevant to them too, and these airbrush types will be mentioned specifically from time to time. 👍

Clogged Paint In The Airbrush Paint Tube Or Nozzle

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Nozzle or paint tube clogged.

A paint clog is the most common reason for paint not coming out of an airbrush, and even after a number of thorough cleans this can still be the cause of the problem given the fine tolerances and precision nature an airbrush has.

Whether it’s dried leftover paint, or even a piece of debris of some king that found its way into the system, it only takes a minute piece to block an airbrush.

Blocked Vent Hole In Paint Container Cap

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Vent hole blocked.

There is a vent hole in the lid of your paint cup or bottle which allows pressure to equalise as paint is drained.

If the pressure in the paint cup can’t equalise then the paint will be restricted from flowing to through the airbrush.

Needle Chucking Nut Not Tight

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If you haven’t properly tightened the needle chuck the needle itself will move when you press on the airbrush trigger.

If it doesn’t move you’ll get air but there’ll be no gap opened up at the nozzle and so no paint will flow at all.

Air Pressure

If the air pressure coming from your compressor is too low it will be insufficient to atomise any paint and spray it from the airbrush.

Granted, the air pressure would have to be extremely low for this to happen, but I have seen reports on various online forums where people have made exactly this mistake.

This may be more prevalent in siphon feed airbrushes which, on average, require greater air pressure to operate properly.

Thick Or Old Paint

If the paint is too thick it simply won’t flow easily, and sometimes this will be the case any virtually any pressure that your airbrush compressor can give.

This is particularly prevalent in old paint where no amount of thinners will allow it to flow like brand new paint would.

Incorrect Thinning Agent

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If you use the incorrect thinners for a given paint it can cause the paint to react badly and gum up your airbrush, meaning no paint will flow at all due to a clogging issue.

It’s always best to use the proprietary thinners to match the paint you are using to fully minimise and problems.

How To Fix Paint Not Coming Out Of My Airbrush

To get paint to start coming out of your airbrush again you must first use methods of checking that the airbrush hardware itself is operating correctly, then assessing for paint blockages, then assessing and adjusting the paint you’re using.

Follow these steps in order to get your airbrush to spray paint again:

STEP 1 – Check For Lid Vent Hole Blockages

Have a good look at the lid of your paint cup or jar to see if the hole is blocked.

If it is, grab a toothpick or similar item and poke the paint or debris out of the hole, and ensure the remainder of the lid is entirely cleaned of paint.

You can also test whether this is the problem or not in a gravity feed airbrush by

If the problem rectifies after a test spray then the issue was the pressure not equalising inside the paint cup.

STEP 2 – Ensure Needle Chuck Is Tight

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Remove the back handle of your airbrush where the needle inserts, and ensure that the needle chuck is tight.

There’s no need to make it ridiculously tight, moderate finger pressure will be enough.

Press the airbrush trigger a few times to visually inspect if the needle is moving backwards and forwards or not.

If it is, great!

If it isn’t then the chucking nut isn’t locking onto the needle properly and needs to be adjusted or tightened again.

If the problem rectifies after a test spray then the issue was the airbrush needle not moving to create a gap for the paint to flow through the nozzle.

STEP 3 – Double Check Air Pressure, Set No Lower Than 20 psi

If the air pressure from your airbrush compressor is too low no paint will flow through your airbrush at all.

Set your air pressure to no lower than 20 psi to ensure that this is not the problem, as all properly thinned paints, and especially water alone, will spray perfectly well from any airbrush at 20+psi.

👍 If your compressor does not provide 20 psi or you think the compressor you have may be broken, check out this super in-depth article on what to look for when choosing a new airbrush compressor to get an idea of what would be suitable for you moving forwards.

If the problem rectifies after a test spray then the issue was the air pressure being set too low.

STEP 4 – Test Spray With Water Only

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Now it’s time to do a test spray with water only, as it’s one of the thinnest mediums you can put through an airbrush.

If, after doing Steps 1 and 2, the water sprays out fine, then problem solved! 👊

If the water doesn’t spray out then move on to Step 4.

STEP 5 – Blow Air Back Into Cup To Get Bubbles

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Put water into the paint cup and block the end of your airbrush nozzle with your finger or a thick rag, ensuring that you don’t damage the needle tip.

Press the trigger down on your airbrush to get pressurised air into the airbrush and then pull back on the trigger in an attempt to get paint, or water in this case, to flow.

Because you’ve blocked the end of the airbrush, rather than water flowing, air will instead pass backwards up the paint tube and into the water filled paint cup.

This will be evident due to bubbles showing in water, and they will increase the more you pull back on the airbrush trigger.

If the pressurised air does not cause bubbles in the paint cup then there is a blockage in the paint tube between the paint cup and the airbrush nozzle.

If the problem rectifies after a test spray then the issue was a blockage in the paint tube that is now dislodged, and should be followed with a thorough clean.

STEP 6 – Deep Clean Your Airbrush

This clean should incorporate the paint cup, paint tube, and also the airbrush needle which will have to be removed.

👍 For a full article on this type of airbrush cleaning complete with pictures and step-by-step instructions check out this detailed article.

Additionally, you should also remove the needle cap and nozzle entirely and give them a thorough cleaning, possibly leaving the nozzle submerged in proper airbrush cleaning solution or thinners to really soak into any paint so that it can be easily removed.

It’s also an excellent idea to get an airbrush paint tube cleaner, such as the one shown below, and give the paint tube a very thorough clean.

Once you’ve completed the cleaning process reassemble your airbrush and do another test spray with water only.

If the water sprays fine, excellent, you’re done!

It’s time to move on to paint considerations to see if the paint you were using was contributing the problem.

👉 IMPORTANT: if none of the above solutions have worked, then the problem must, by default, be with the paint you are trying to use.

However having said this, the assumption is that water will spray through the airbrush fine but paint will not.

If this were not the case and water did not spray out of your airbrush, then the problem is a blockage, paint cup pressure equalisation, or the needle chuck not being tight, and Steps 1 to 5 should be repeated. 👍

If the problem rectifies after a clean and test spray then the issue was a blockage in the paint tube or nozzle that is now dislodged and removed.

STEP 7 – Test Spray With Paint That’s Not Acrylic

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Some acrylics have a tendency to dry quicker than enamels or lacquers and this can cause problems with paint clogging in the airbrush paint tube or nozzle.

If possible, do any further test sprays with non-acrylic paint.

If the problem rectifies after a test spray with non-acrylic paint then the issue was the type of paint you were using, and it’s recommended that an alternative be found.

STEP 8 – Test Spray With New Paint

Very old paint will often not properly thin or flow with any amount of thinners like new paint would.

If possible, do any further test sprays with brand new paint.

If the problem rectifies after a test spray with new paint then the issue was using old paint that clogged the system.

STEP 9 – Properly Stir Paint

Paint that has been left to sit for a lengthy period of time can settle and thicken on the bottom.

Take your time to really thoroughly stir the paint through, even for up to five minutes of constant hard stirring.

I’ve heard of people attaching a stirring device to power drill and putting it on a low setting to stir the paint, but I’m pretty certain that if I tried that I’d end up with it all over me… 🙄

If the problem rectifies after a test spray thoroughly stirred paint then the issue was using paint that was left for too long and not stirred sufficiently.

STEP 10 – Warm Paint

Cold paint doesn’t flow as easily as warm paint, so it may pay to warm your paint jar under hot water for a while prior to putting any paint into your airbrush.

Granted, it’s unlikely that this is the main problem, but we’re really trying to cover all the bases here and get right down to the root of the problem so no stone is being left unturned.

If the problem rectifies after a test spray then the issue was using paint that was far too cold and wouldn’t flow properly through your airbrush at the given pressure settings.

STEP 11 – Over Thin Your Paint

If water airbrush fine but paint doesn’t, it’s likely still a problem with overly thick paint that either doesn’t want to move due to viscosity reasons or is drying too rapidly and blocking the airbrush.

So now try thinning your paint much more than you normally would, say 2 parts thinner to 1 part paint.

Ensure when you do this that you don’t drop the pressure down as you normally would with thinner paint, rather keep the air pressure at around 20 psi or greater.

👍 If you want very detailed instructions on how to properly thin your paint for airbrushing at the perfect pressure setting check out this in-depth article here.

If the problem rectifies after a test spray with excessively thinned paint then the issue was the paint you were using was too thick.

STEP 12 – Use Paint Retarder

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If the paint you’re using is simply drying too quickly and clogging your airbrush in a short space of time then using a paint retarder to slow the drying process will come in extremely handy.

Many paint manufacturers will have their own proprietary paint retarder for use with their range of paints, so test some of this retarder to see if the problem resolves.

It may be worth using two or three times the amount of recommended retarder to really see if quick drying paint was the issue.

You wouldn’t normally use so much when painting something but you’re only trouble-shooting the airbrush so it doesn’t matter at all how much you use. 👍

If the problem rectifies after a test spray using paint retarder then the issue was the paint drying too quickly inside the airbrush and causing clogs.

STEP 13 – Spare Parts Check

If you have spare parts such as a spare nozzle, swap it over to test a part you know isn’t compromised.

For example, if the airbrush isn’t spraying paint or water, even after a deep clean, and you switch the nozzle with a new one or one you know was working prior, and the airbrush then sprays perfectly, you know that the nozzle simply wasn’t cleaned properly and was the culprit.

You can also do the same by swapping out the airbrush needle, and paint cup or bottle if your airbrush has that functionality.

If the problem rectifies after a test spray then the issue was an uncleaned or damaged airbrush component that had to be replaced.

Step 14 – Deep Clean Again

If, after all thirteen steps above have been completed, you still can’t get your airbrush to spray water, the problem is almost certainly improper cleaning.

This may seem frustrating given you’ve likely already thoroughly cleaned your airbrush a number of times, but nine times out of ten the problem comes down to cleaning.

Ensure that you soak your nozzle in thinners or airbrush cleaner, you use an airbrush cleaning tool or brush, and thoroughly clean off your airbrush needle.

It’s worth blowing compressed air through your nozzle while it’s not on the airbrush, but be careful you don’t blow it out of your fingers to be lost forever!

It’s also worth covering the end of the airbrush nozzle with your fingers or a rag, putting thinners in the paint cup, and blowing air and bubble back up into the airbrush for a while to really try to dislodge any gunk that’s been left in the paint tube. 👍

Preventative Measures To Avoid Paint Not Coming Out Of Your Airbrush

The preventative measures you can take to avoid the problem of paint not coming out of your airbrush include moderately deep cleaning between colour changes and always ensuring that the airbrush components are correctly setup for use.

Clean Properly Between Colour Changes And After Use

Between every colour change and when you’re finished using your airbrush a fairly thorough clean should be conducted.

The paint cup or jar, paint tubes, and also the needle should be cleaned.

👍 This does require removing the needle, and for an in-depth article on doing this level of cleaning swiftly and safely check out this article that steps through it in detail.

You do not normally have to remove the nozzle for this level of cleaning, only do so if you find that you’re having paint spraying problems.

Double Check Needle Chuck Before Use

After you’ve cleaned your airbrush as above, put your airbrush back together and ensure that the needle chuck is properly finger tight.

It does not have to be super-man tight, moderate finger tightness is fine.

Double check that it’s working properly by triggering the airbrush and noting if the needle moves backwards and forwards. 👍

Confirm Lid Vent Hole Is Not Blocked

As the final part of cleaning your airbrush after use, double check that the vent hole in the paint cup lid isn’t blocked with paint or debris.

If it is, simply poke it out with a toothpick or similar item, ensure the remainder of the lid is totally clean, and you’re done!

Final Thoughts On Fixing Paint Not Coming Out Of Your Airbrush

An airbrush is a precision tool that requires constant cleaning and checking of its components to ensure proper functioning without blockages or spray pattern problems.

If you’re having troubles getting the paint to spray from your airbrush, following the 14 Steps above will almost certainly get it functioning perfectly again.

And once you’re at that point taking properly preventative care of your airbrush will ensure that paint spraying problems are a thing of the past! 👊

Whatever you do though, don’t give up on airbrushing.

Once you get it functioning perfectly, which you most certainly will with a little diligence and patience, it’s an extremely rewarding skill to have and to practise. 😎

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Why Is Paint Not Coming Out Of My Airbrush