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How to Thin Acrylic Paint for an Airbrush When Painting Miniatures




How to Thin Acrylic Paint for an Airbrush When Painting Miniatures

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Why You Should Thin Your Paint for an Airbrush

Painting miniatures is a delicate process that requires skill and precision, and thinning your paints is a crucial step that many beginners overlook. Applying too much paint can lead to disastrous results, including bald spots and even ruining the underlying surface if the thick layer is applied early enough. Additionally, thicker coats make cleaning up more challenging in case things go wrong with your project.

While some artists prefer to use a brush, others opt for airbrushes for their unique capabilities. Airbrushing offers softer lines and greater detail, allowing for a faster painting process that gives artists more time to focus on other artistic pursuits. Cleanup is also easier with airbrushes, and the results are often similar to those achieved through brushwork combined with spray guns.

However, neglecting to thin your paint can result in several issues, including:

  • A thick base coat that hides the details of the miniature.
  • A glossier finish than desired.
  • Cracks in the paint.
  • Either a damaged brush or a clogged airbrush.

Therefore, thinning your paint is crucial to achieving the desired results in your miniature painting.

Thinners to Use With Your Acrylic Paints

As a large-scale modelist, I have experience using different types of thinners with acrylic paints. The options available range in price, with some being free and others costing around $15. Ultimately, the choice of thinner comes down to personal preference and budget.

Thinner Price Quality Purpose
Tap Water Free May contain impurities affecting paint quality General thinning
Distilled or Deionized Water Low cost Purified, does not affect paint quality General thinning
Airbrush Thinner Variable Specially formulated for airbrushing Thinning for airbrushing
Mediums Variable Adjusts color and consistency Thinning for specific paints

The following are the different types of thinners:

Tap Water

Tap water is the most commonly used thinner, mainly because it’s free. However, if your tap water contains a lot of minerals or if you live in an industrial area with heavy pollution, your paint may appear gray and have a rough texture due to impurities.

Distilled or Deionized Water

If you’re concerned about the quality of your paint and want to use water as a thinner, distilled or deionized water is a better option. It removes impurities and does not affect the paint in any way.

Airbrush Thinner

There are thinners specifically designed for airbrushing. These ensure that your paint has the optimal consistency, providing better coverage and reducing the mess.


Some paints do not thin out with water. If you need to adjust the color or consistency of these paints, you can use paint mediums specifically made for this purpose.

Types of Paint for Airbrushing

If you’ve been struggling to make your paint the perfect consistency, we have good news for you. Many different paints can be used with an airbrush, depending on what look and feel you want. Some never need thinning at all!

Some paints are specifically made for airbrushes, so they don’t need thinning at all. Some other paintings require specific mediums to make them work well in an airbrush and flow easily.

Type of Paint Best Used With Thinning Required Best Thinning Method
Airbrush Paints Airbrushes No N/A
Base Paints Airbrushes Yes Experiment with 1:1 paint-to-thinner ratio
Glazes and Shades Airbrushes No Use mediums specifically designed for these paints if desired

Below is a list of the most common types of paint that people use when painting with their airbrushes.

Airbrush Paints 

Airbrush paints are specifically made for use with an airbrush and come in a range of colors. Some of the most popular brands include Vallejo, Citadel, and Lifecolor. These paints don’t require thinning and can be used as is or adjusted to your liking.

Base Paints 

When using base paints, the best way to thin them is to experiment. Different brands and colors will have varying thicknesses, so start with a 1:1 paint-to-thinner ratio and adjust as needed. It’s better to start with a thinner consistency, as you can always add more, but it’s difficult to correct a paint that is too thick.

Glazes and Shades 

Glazes and shades don’t require thinning before use. If desired, only use mediums specifically designed for these types of paints.

How to Thin the Paint

As a seasoned painter, I have found that there are several ways to thin paint, each with its own benefits and uses. If you prefer the consistency of milk, then adding water is an easy way to create interesting effects on your canvas. You can also use alcohol or turpentine, but be careful not to mix them as they don’t work well together.

Here are the two most common methods for thinning paint.

In a Cup or Bottle

If you’re feeling bold and experimental, mix a large amount of paint in a jar to have it ready to go. On the other hand, if you prefer to experiment with different ratios without wasting time and resources, use small cups instead.

To mix paint in a cup, follow these steps:

  1. Pour a few drops of paint into the cup.
  2. Add 2-3 drops of water or thinner to the paint.
  3. Use an old, inexpensive brush to mix the two. You don’t want to risk damaging an expensive brush.
  4. Continuously add water or thinner a drop at a time until you achieve the consistency of skim milk.

In Airbrush Cup

With a cup, you need to mix your paint and then transfer it to the airbrush. By using an airbrush cup, you can eliminate this step and directly add the paint to the cup. You can even use disposable cups for easy cleaning.

To mix paint in an airbrush cup, follow these steps:

  1. Add 2-3 drops of water or thinner to the airbrush cup. Starting with paint might result in clogging the brush or making it harder to clean.
  2. Add 2-3 drops of paint to the airbrush cup.
  3. Use an old, inexpensive brush to mix the two.
  4. Cover the nozzle with your finger and move the lever back. This will create a backflow that will help mix the paint and thinner.

10 Methods for Thinning Paints for Miniatures and Models

I have been an avid miniature painter for a while now and I have always struggled with finding the perfect paint consistency. The paint that comes in pots can be too thick, making it difficult to apply evenly on the model without it running all over the place. I have discovered 10 different methods that solve this issue:

  1. Water
  2. Inks and Shades
  3. Glazing Mediums
  4. Flow Aids or Improvers
  5. Varnish (Water Soluble)
  6. Airbrush Thinner
  7. Hobby Mixing Mediums
  8. Windex or Other Glass Cleaners
  9. Rubbing Alcohol (Isopropyl, Isopropanol, or 2-propanol)
  10. Slow Drying Mediums

As a miniature painter, it is important to understand how each paint thinning medium affects different painting techniques. Some are better for specific color blending, while others may be more appropriate for airbrushing or glazing onto miniatures. The key is to remember that thinner paints behave differently on the palette and brush than thicker ones, so being aware of this will greatly enhance your painting skills!

Here is a comparison table of the pros and cons of using thinners for miniatures and modeling:

Thinning Medium Pros Cons
Water Inexpensive, widely available, easy to use Can change the consistency of paint, can affect the drying time, may not be suitable for all types of paint
Inks and Shades Good for creating washes and adding depth to models Can alter the color of the paint, may not be suitable for all types of paint
Glazing Mediums Good for creating transparent layers, adds shine and depth to models Can be expensive, may not be suitable for all types of paint
Flow Aids or Improvers Improves the flow of paint, reduces brush strokes Can be expensive, may not be suitable for all types of paint
Varnish (Water Soluble) Good for sealing and protecting paint, easy to use Can change the consistency of paint, may not be suitable for all types of paint
Airbrush Thinner Designed specifically for use with airbrushes, improves flow and atomization Can be expensive, may not be suitable for all types of paint
Hobby Mixing Mediums Designed specifically for use in miniature painting, can improve flow and consistency of paint Can be expensive, may not be suitable for all types of paint
Windex or Other Glass Cleaners Inexpensive, widely available, easy to use May affect the color of the paint, may not be suitable for all types of paint
Rubbing Alcohol (Isopropyl, Isopropanol, or 2-propanol) Inexpensive, widely available, can improve flow and consistency of paint May affect the color of the paint, may evaporate quickly, may not be suitable for all types of paint
Slow Drying Mediums Good for blending and layering paint, allows for more time to work with the paint Can be expensive, may affect the final consistency of the paint, may not be suitable for all types of paint

Note: It’s important to keep in mind that the specific effect of each thinner can vary depending on the type of paint and the desired outcome.

For hobby model makers like myself, it can sometimes be challenging to determine which paint consistency works best for different techniques, such as using an airbrush versus traditional hand application methods like brushing or dabbing the surface with a sponge. But with a little experimentation and knowledge, you’ll be able to find the perfect paint consistency for your models.

How To Thin Createx Airbrush Paint

Createx’s Airbrush Paint can be thinned to increase its use in miniature painting. Their performance can also be improved with the help of 4012 high-performance reducer and 4030 Balancing Clear as a clear base medium that will make them more durable, easier to spray and adhere better.

My Experience with GOLDEN Airbrush Colors

I have been using GOLDEN High Flow colors for my airbrush projects and I am extremely impressed with their quality. The colors are derived from a 100% water-based acrylic emulsion that is both safe and long-lasting, containing only the most lightfast pigments available. I love that they are ready to use straight out of the bottle, no dilution required as they are finely ground and effortlessly spray through even the smallest airbrush nozzles.

Additionally, the GOLDEN Airbrush Medium has made a huge difference in my work. It allows me to achieve more transparent colors without sacrificing the integrity and permanency of the film. By adding this extender, I can reduce the pigment load and still achieve the desired results.

I have also discovered the secret to perfect paint mixing with GOLDEN. I have encountered the same challenges as many others when it comes to mixing paint, such as determining the right water ratio and watching the colors separate instead of blending together. But, with the help of the convenient mixing chart provided by GOLDEN, I have been able to avoid these issues and achieve consistent, smooth results every time.

Paint  Thinner Ratio Pressure Clean-Up
Polly Scale Distilled Water 3:1 or 4:1 15-25 H2O/Washer Fluid
Floquil Solvent/Thinner 2:1 or 3:1 12-20 Lacquer Thinner
Badger Modelflex Water Very little, if any 25-30 H2O/Washer Fluid
Tamiya Alcohol 2:1 15-20 H2O/Washer Fluid
Vallejo Model Color Vallejo Thinner 3:1 20-25 Lacquer Thinner
Vallejo Model Air Vallejo Thinner Very little, if any 20-25 Lacquer Thinner
MicroLux Vallejo Thinner Very little, if any 20-25 Lacquer Thinner
Humbrol Water 1:1 or 2:1 15-20 Water
GunzeSangyo Alcohol or
Distilled Water
1:1 or 2:1 20 Water/Alcohol
Scalecoat II Solvent/Thinner 1:1 15-20 Lacquer Thinner
ModelMaster(Testors) Universal Thinner Very little, if any 18-20 H2O/Washer Fluid
Alclad II Lacquer Thinner    Very little, if any 12-15 Lacquer Thinner
Pactra Lacquer Thinner 1:1 20-25 Lacquer Thinner
Pactra Acrylic None 25-30 H2O/Washer Fluid
Lifecolor Acrylic Distilled Water, Washer Fluid 1:1 12-15 H2O/Washer Fluid
Craft Store Acrylics 25% Liquitex Slow-Dri, 25% Flow Improver, 50% water 1:2 20-30


It should be noted that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to thinning paint, as the precise amount of thinner required can vary greatly based on the brand and color of the paint in question. In fact, achieving the ideal consistency may require a great deal of experimentation and trial and error, which can be a daunting prospect for those who are less experienced in this particular craft. However, it is important to remember that practice makes perfect, and with enough persistence and a willingness to take risks, even those who initially struggle with the process of thinning paint can eventually develop a keen eye for the subtle nuances that separate the good from the truly great. Indeed, the ability to achieve the perfect consistency is not only a technical skill but also an art form, one that can only be mastered through the careful cultivation of both knowledge and intuition. So if you are looking to improve your skills in this area, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and dive headfirst into the world of paint thinning – with enough dedication and hard work, you may just find yourself surprised at what you are capable of accomplishing.


What is the best solvent for acrylic paint?

A simple answer to a complex question! Solvents are, in fact, not the best solvent for acrylic paints. Acrylics tend to dry faster with the use of solvents. A better alternative is water which helps prevent lap marks from drying and produces hard, smooth, and shiny surfaces on your miniature projects.

But when it comes to airbrushing – using an airbrush provides control over paint flow rates but applying thinned paint through an airbrush requires different methods than just thinning with water alone. The thinner you apply the paint, the less the surface tension resulting in a bigger spray pattern, thus affecting your ability to produce fine details in small areas or near edges.

How do thinners affect paint performance?

Paint performance directly affects the surface appearance, spray pattern, and adhesion of your miniature projects. Paints are formulated using solvents to prevent lap marks (uneven drying) and control the application level per area. Thinners tend to add more solvent resulting in less control over paint flow through the airbrush when thinning paints. The result is a big spray pattern causing overspray on areas that should not be painted or apply too much paint, which results in uneven drying and blurring edges. This greatly affects your accuracy, especially when applying wonderful details like bolt heads on armored vehicles and eyes and achieving smooth transitions between different color shades on your mini-projects.

Experimenting with different ratios will assist you in applying thinned paints while producing high-quality results. Also, remember that each brand of paint follows different performance characteristics – their separation and drying time to name a few.

How can you apply acrylic paint to wood?

Acrylic paints do not evaporate or leave behind any residue while applying on wood. This makes it easier to apply thinned acrylics as they dry very fast and harden without leaving behind a shiny film when using water in your mixing palette.

Since paint solvents are not required, thinning techniques can convert projects with plastic models that receive the paint through an airbrush. You will need to change your spray nozzle (0.2mm) if you plan to slowly build up layers of color per model since this nozzle size is good for larger surfaces like big tanks or planes.

Authentic results can indeed be achieved by applying coats of diluted paint after priming your miniature project first unless we’re talking about a specific paint like hobby color acrylics which serve as primers in itself.

Remember that the aim is to have full control over your project by applying thin and diluted coats of color to achieve smooth surface transitions and produce fine details with an airbrush. Building up layers using water to dilute the paint will greatly assist you in achieving quality results on both large surfaces such as vehicles and smaller projects such as buildings or terrain boards.

What is Layering technique when painting with acrylic paint?

Another method to apply thinned paints on your miniature projects is by using a layering technique. This involves applying a coat of diluted paint followed by water and another coat of diluted paint until you achieve the desired color shade or effect per surface.

This also requires more drying time since each layer needs to dry before applying another, so plan accordingly when working on your project. Ideally, work on one part at a time, put it aside and come back later after waiting for some time.

There are many techniques to choose from when painting with acrylics and depending on the colors you want to use, different methods will be more suitable.

This is an instrumental technique, especially on vehicles and big projects where you want to highlight the edges and crevices of your models, as seen in the picture above.

Miniatures can be painted with acrylics, but other paints are more suited for this task, like enamel or watercolors. Be sure to use thinners when airbrushing these since they have different characteristics compared to acrylics.

Acrylics will dry much faster than washes due to their solvents, meaning we’re able to spray in between coats which greatly assists us in building up layers using this method.

Will paint thinner destroy plastic?

Acrylic paint thinner is not harmful to plastic but make sure your miniatures are safe where the liquid will not reach them.

The same as when you’re using enamels, spray from different angles for best results. Just be mindful that this takes time since each coat needs to dry before applying another one and it’s recommended that you leave ample time before handling the project again, just in case.

An airbrush is a great tool for spraying thinned paints on your projects as it provides consistent results while saving both time and effort – most importantly, precision while building up layers.

Remember that acrylics react more quickly to solvents than enamels so they will smudge or destroy previous layers of color if we’re not careful. The main reason we choose to thin the paints is that each layer requires time to cure and if it’s thick, you will need a long drying period before spraying again.

What type of paint works best with DnD miniatures?

Citadel Colour paints are great because they adhere well to plastics. For example, the Citadel paint line works better with plastic miniatures than hobby color acrylics. A simple way to achieve this quality is by using GW’s thinner before applying the paint on your projects since Citadel lives up to its name of being a good choice for painting Citadel Miniatures.

If you want something that will dry faster while also achieving smooth surface transitions, I think Vallejo Game Colour offers an amazing finish which makes them ideal for airbrushing.

For fine details, it is necessary to have thinned paints for any possible effects since thick coats will only obscure these parts and make them look like blobs.

How do you remove paint from plastic models without damaging them?

Painting miniatures is fun, but cleaning them can be quite frustrating, especially if you’re dealing with many parts. The easiest way to remove any unwanted paint (or color) on the plastics is by using an eraser or toothpick since they are a similar consistency compare to modeling putty.

When removing paint from plastics, always remember that too much rubbing will result in scratches and marks, so use the erasers lightly and only apply light pressure when needed. If there’s excess paint around the details, try using some of your thinners for this rather than water, as it may help lift it off more effectively.

An alternative way to do this would be by soaking the part overnight in odorless thinner, waiting for the paint to loosen up and then gently scrubbing the affected areas with an old toothbrush.

Once we’re done, clean them thoroughly with water and let them dry before using your model again.

To avoid this in the future, make sure that any time you work on a project is always spent painting and not cleaning. This way, it will be easier to wash away what’s leftover from the paints after working on them.

How do I thin oil-based paint?

Oil-based paints help create a hard and non-glossy surface if applied correctly, but as they normally come, they are quite thick, making them unsuitable for airbrushing.

To apply these properly, we must thin them first to make the paint more fluid inconsistency, enabling us to spray it in layers. Without proper thinning of acrylics, your project could push out bubbles or cause clogging on the nozzle.

The best way we can do this is by shaking up milk (crème Fraiche) with the paints then stir the mixture with a spoon (it should be directly mixed with the color). You should remember that not all colors make good base coats, while some are better used for highlights and shadows.

The best way to test them is by spraying on a piece of cardboard, as this will allow us to figure out if we’ve mixed them correctly before trying anything on our project.

If you’re unsure how much paint to thin your colors with, remember that less is more when doing this since too much fluidity will create an uneven surface while making the model sticky. But if the consistency is too thick, it will take forever to dry before you can continue working on another layer, so be careful in applying the paints.

Can alcohol ruin acrylic paint?

For most acrylic paints, I don’t recommend using rubbing alcohol as thinner since they contain serious solvents and other chemicals that damage the paint’s consistency.

Some brands of these paints, such as Vallejo Game Colors, are designed to be used with different types of solvents, so you can get away with using this kind while making sure not to use anything too strong, which may cause unwanted results.

If you really want to try it out on airbrushing, then a good alternative would be isopropyl alcohol or even naphtha, commonly used in lacquer-based varnishes.

How to mix airbrush paint Createx?

To mix airbrush paint Createx, you should start by shaking the bottle well to ensure that the pigment and binder are well mixed. Then, add a small amount of the paint to your airbrush cup and dilute it with the appropriate amount of thinner, which can vary depending on the desired effect and the specific Createx paint you are using.

Hey there! I’m Richard Baker, a miniature painter who’s been in the game for a solid decade now. I’ve been painting miniatures for ten years and I’ve got a ton of tips and tricks to share with you all. My website is a treasure trove of knowledge that I’ve gathered from both my own personal experiences and from reading all sorts of books.

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