Fun and Games Airbrushing Characters on Textiles

Fun and Games Airbrushing Characters on Textiles

By Thomas Adams

Pressing buttons on a game controller is fun no matter what age you are; so is pressing the button on your airbrush. Video gaming is so much fun; but let’s face it, it’s not as constructive as you would like it to be. So in this article we are going to put down the trigger and do a short, simple T-shirt piece.

Today I am enlisting the help of one of my littlest fans to create a shirt with his favorite game character on it. Next time you are airbrushing for fun, grab one of your kids or nephews, nieces, grandkids, etc. Kids love to help and watch people airbrush. It is like magic to children when they see you creating things with an airbrush. Kids also love to pick up your brush and doodle around with it; you may even want to set up an old or unused brush for the youngster to use. I always try to promote airbrushing to the interested children I come across, since they will be the next generation of artists and craftsmen. Airbrushing is more popular than ever and you should pass on your knowledge with the hope that it stays that way. That being said, let’s get down to business.

I aim to make an easy project that anyone can do at home, so start with the airbrush, some fabric paint, a T-shirt, and a quilting marker. I affix the T-shirts to a piece of cardboard when airbrushing on them. It is a good idea to press any shirt you are going to airbrush, as it takes out any moisture and eliminates wrinkles and lint so they will not catch overspray. Pull the shirt over the square of cardboard and stretch the sleeves and neck around the back. Once you have stretched everything to the back you may use a few pieces of masking or cellophane tape to hold the stretch. Setting up the shirt this way will give you a smooth, even surface to work on and keep anything from getting in the way. With all the setup complete, it is now time to pick a design and transfer it to the shirt. Many people like to freehand. I like to freehand as well, but if you are a beginner you may want to do it this way to practice following the lines. A quilting marker is a washable marker that comes in several colors and is available at your local fabric outlet or the fabric section of most big box stores. These markers wash away clean and you can airbrush right over them, I have been using fabric markers since I first started airbrushing.

Fig. 1 — There is someone you may recognize.

Once your design is on the shirt you can now fill up your favorite brush with black fabric paint.  Mine is the Iwata HP-C, which is my “go to” for lining, but it can handle anything else like a champ, too. Almost any Iwata airbrush would be suitable for this little project, so we will also use the HP-Plus. Once the black paint is in the brush you can go at it, tracing out whatever image you have chosen. Tip:  Removing the needle cap from the end of the airbrush will allow you to get finer lines when doing this step. Your outline will look a bit like this.

Fig. 2 — A rough outline, ready for color.
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Now it is time for the color. Well this one is an easy pick, as I will use my Iwata HP-Plus to handle all of these colors. This brush is great for filling, and it also has a handle setting in the back that you can use to set the max pattern size. This feature is genius and comes in handy both when filling and lining your artwork. I am going to fill up this brush with red and work through. Set the air compressor to a lower psi to reduce overspray; somewhere around 30 should be okay. When painting thicker fabrics like sweatshirts, I tend to work at a higher psi, around 60 or so. This pushes the paint deep into the thick fabric.

Fig. 3 — A rough coloring of reds and browns.

Notice now that the red is very blotchy due to where the strokes start and stop. Some colors tend to do this more than others, and it is known in the auto paint industry as “modeling.”  It is a very common problem, especially when blending colors. Reds and blues tend to do it when airbrushing a shirt because they build. The more you paint, the darker they get. No worries though–we can heat-set this project with our heat gun and go over it again.

Fig. 4 — Dry the shirt with a heat gun before you put anymore paint on.

After coloring in the skin using the same airbrush and colors, I moved on to trying to touch up some of the modeling on the hat. Since there is now a flesh tone on the face, it is going to be tough to keep the red overspray away, so I will show you a little technique that will aid in that. When filling a bold color like red around a lighter one like white or flesh, I slightly tilt my brush towards the color I am spraying.

Fig. 5 — When the air/color mixes hit your surface, they spread out like a fog, but if you vary the incline of the brush you can assure that the air and overspray spread over the color you are spraying.

The angle trick works well, but it takes practice so as not to spread overspray elsewhere on the shirt. Once the colors are in I like to go over and line T-shirts with black a second time. On the second pass I thicken the lines and do some light shading. This reinforces the existing lines and helps to cover up some areas where the other colors have bled out a bit.

Fig. 6 — Time for an outline redux.

Once that is done and all the other black areas are filled, I throw in some ground shade and a little highlighting. I try to shy away from highlighting too much, but cartoons such as this are supposed to look embellished a bit.

Fig. 7 — A few washes will take out some of the blotchiness, and remember you can always go back and touch up T-shirts any time in their life cycle.

Once the paint is all done it must be sealed with heat.  Because there are many paints on the market, I suggest you stick to the manufacturer’s directions; they take the time to write them for a reason. Your work can be sealed with a household iron, but make sure there is NO STEAM, as this will bleed your work and ruin it. I have made that mistake more than once. If you are going to get serious about doing shirts or you have money lying around, you can purchase a large clamshell press like the one I have and make short work of heat setting the fabric.

Well that is all for now, until next time.  Keep on paintin’!