What Is Airbrush Tip Dry And Six Ways To Avoid It


Airbrush tip dry is when paint accumulates and builds up on the tip of your airbrush needle, due to it partially drying while being atomised in the airflow.

Why Does Airbrush Tip Dry Happen

Tip dry can happen with any type of paint given the right conditions but will be more likely with acrylic paints.

Acrylic paints simply have a tendency to dry out more quickly than enamels or lacquers, but it should be noted that all paint types can be prone to it.

Don’t be afraid to use acrylics however, as acrylic model paint manufacturers will have formulated their paints with this problem in mind and gone to lengths to ensure their paint gives a minimum of tip dry.

Even so, some brands will be better than others, with reports that Vallejo acrylics are more prone to tip dry than other modelling specific acrylic paints.

How Quickly Can Airbrush Tip Dry Occur

Airbrush tip dry can occur to an extent that it disrupts the spray-pattern quality of your airbrush within a handful of seconds.

As mentioned above, this will be more common in acrylic paints especially those that are thinned with water.

However switching to solvent based paints (enamels and lacquer primarily) will help to alleviate how quickly tip dry occurs, or if it occurs at all with your particular airbrush setup.

A good rule of thumb to go by is… the quicker a particular paint dries, the more likelihood you’ll experience tip dry, and vice versa.

While their use is not common in model building, urethane paints ‘cure’ through chemical reaction rather than dry, and so won’t be prone to airbrush tip dry issues.

How To Tell If You’re Getting Airbrush Tip Dry

There are two tell tale signs of tip dry:

  • Degraded Spray Pattern: Any build up of paint on the needle tip will disrupt the airflow exiting the airbrush, causing the spray pattern of the atomised paint to be affected. You may find that it sprays high, low, or off to the side, indicating possible tip dry.
  • Reduced Paint Flow: If the build up of paint begins to block the nozzle of the airbrush less paint will be allowed to flow. On a dual action airbrush this will become evident by the need to pull back on the trigger more and more to get the correct amount of paint to flow, necessitating the need to clean the airbrush needle tip.

How To Keep Airbrush Tips From Drying Out

There are a number of methods you can use to significantly reduce, if not stop, airbrush tip dry:

Use Paint Retarder (Flow Improver)

Airbrush Modeler

Perhaps the gold standard of ‘fixes’ for airbrush tip dry, using a paint retarder will slow the drying time of the paint making it much less likely that you’ll experience tip dry problems.

It’s always best to use a paint retarder of the same brand of paint that you’re using.

👍 To see reviews and current prices of paint retarder for extremely popular paints click the link below:

👉 Tamiya Acrylic Paint RetarderOpens in a new tab.

👉 Tamiya Lacquer Paint Retarder (link coming soon 😎)

👉 Vallejo Acrylic Paint RetarderOpens in a new tab.

Use Brand Thinners

Airbrush Modeler

As with the paint retarder, always use the brand of thinners to match the brand of paint you’re using.

Thinners of a particular brand will have been designed to work perfectly with the paint of that same brand.

The same cannot be said of any other brands’ thinners, you simply cannot know exactly how well different brands of thinners and paints will mix and whether you’re getting substandard results as a result.

Increase Thinning Ratio

Thinning your paint more will also help alleviate airbrush tip dry.

If there’s less paint for a given volume of fluid passing over the tip of the airbrush there’s simply less paint available to dry and build up.

👍 If you want to brush up on the details of how to perfectly thin your paints for airbrushing check out this article on the topic.

Add Gylcerin

While I’ve not tried it myself, many airbrush users swear by adding a few drops of glycerin to their paint mix.

Glycerin is a lubricant and will aid the flow of paint, thereby allowing a smaller chance of airbrush tip dry.

Polish The Tip Of Your Needle

You can remove any tiny imperfections on your airbrush needle tip by polishing it, which will make it more difficult for the paint to grab.

👍 For a full walk-through on how to polish the tip of your needle check out this article that explains how to fix a bent or damaged airbrush needle.

NOTE: this is an advanced method of reducing tip dry and should be undertaken with caution as it’s quite easy to damage the needle tip requiring it to be replaced.

Lubricate Your Needle

Over time the tip of your needle can get small imperfections in it which allow the paint to grab and stick, causing a build up that results in tip dry.

By applying needle lubricant to the tip of the needle you essentially cover up those imperfections reducing the likelihood of the paint grabbing and adhering to the tip, thereby reducing tip dry.

In closing…

As you can see airbrush tip dry is something that you will likely come across, and probably have already experienced, but by using the correct paints with the correct thinners and paint retarder, you can airbrush with confidence that tip dry will be significantly minimised if not eliminated.

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