AIRBRUSH: Learn the Basics of Airbrush Technique Part 9:  Airbrushing T-Shirts

AIRBRUSH: Learn the Basics of Airbrush Technique
Part 9:  Airbrushing T-Shirts

At this point you may feel confident with the mechanics of airbrushing, but you’re not sure how to go about doing T-shirts.

Materials List:


  • Piston-operated compressor (1/2HP)

  • Braided hose

  • Professional Textile Colours (Sample Kit)

  • Medea Airbrush Holder

  • Medea Fabric Stencils

  • T-shirt boards

  • 100% cotton T-shirts

  • Easel

  • Medea Airbrush Cleaner

  • Assortment of paint jars

  • Stencil knife

  • Acetate, 5mil

—To begin, go to a local fabric store and purchase a few yards of white 100% cotton or Pilon. Practice on this instead of the more expensive T-shirts. You must practice on actual fabric, since it has a different feel from paper.

—Practice the “dagger stroke” on fabric. This is a stroke that goes from a wide line to a fine line in a short space and is that used most often by T-shirt artists.

—It’s important to master airbrushing an alphabet. All your customers will want a name airbrushed on their T-shirts. The most popular lettering styles are script, which is simply a controlled handwriting; block or bubble are solid letters with a bulbous appearance; and punk or graffiti is a straight, stick-type lettering. Remember to keep your letters consistent.

—As you will see after spraying your alphabet, free-hand airbrushing results in a soft look. To achieve a hard edge, you must use a stencil. Cut a stencil out of 5 mil acetate and airbrush through it; see how the spray captures the edge. Most airbrush work is a combination of free-hand airbrushing and stencil airbrushing.

—Work with a limited palette of colors. This should consist of red, yellow, blue, purple, aqua, brown, medium gray, black, white and hot pink.

Tips for Airbrushing T-Shirts

—Work on 100% cotton T-shirts, which do not require prewashing.

—You will need T-shirt boards to stretch the shirts over so the fabric is taut with no folds or dimples. These can be made from quarter-inch tempered Masonite or foam board.

—A sturdy easel is required—one that will hold your airbrush and paint jars in a tray about 32″ off the floor.

—A multiple airbrush system will simplify your operation. Many T-shirt airbrushers work with one airbrush per color for ease of operation. All the airbrush hoses are hooked up to one compressor. Since you can use only one airbrush at a time, this system will not overload your compressor. A multi-hose adapter—the Medea Multiple Valve Assemblies—will be required to hook the hoses to the compressor, one hook-up per hose.

—Use a 1/2HP piston compressor that will deliver 65psi (pounds per square inch), the suggested working pressure for T-shirt painting. Be sure the compressor you choose can run ample time without overheating.

—Work with pre-reduced airbrush textile paints— Professional Textile Colours.

—Wear a protective mask while spraying and have a ventilation fan if you work inside.

—Heat-set your painted T-shirts to insure their permanency and washability. ) Do not iron directly on the painted surface; iron on the reverse side of the T-shirt or cover the painted area with butcher paper and then iron on the paper.

—Assemble an attractive display of samples.

In conclusion, airbrushing T-shirts can be lucrative and has been a great summer job for many aspiring artists. Pricing is determined by the complexity of design and the competition. Don’t limit yourself, however, to painting only T-shirts; baseball caps, license plate tags and children’s clothing are also popular airbrushed items.