The Best Airbrush Thinner Options

Here are the best airbrush thinner options to make sure the hardest part of airbrushing is not harder than it needs to be!

Airbrushing is fairly simple, there are only two things you need to master.  One is trigger control, the other, much more frustrating, is how to thin airbrush paint properly.

Trigger control is much less frustrating because even if you don’t fully get it to begin with, everything works.  You just don’t have the same range with your airbrush.

Paint consistency however, you have to get right, or nothing works.  Not only is it not going to be working, depending on what and how you get wrong in thinning, it’s going to not work in a different way.

What makes this even more difficult is that each color and each brand is different, so there is no one size fits all answer.

Finding the right airbrush thinner makes this task a lot easier!

The Best Airbrush Thinner Options

To begin this tutorial, here’s the most important thing that almost no one will tell you.

Once you find a way that works for you, stick with it.  Don’t change for the sake of changing, or because some other video/painter/article says so.

This old saying ‘don’t fix what’s not broken’ is right in on the money.

This is because every person has a different use for its airbrush.  Some use it only for under coats and base coats, other use one for inks and glazes.  Unless you are trying to get a very specific effect and your way is not working, keep doing you.

As stated previously, another interesting, if not challenging part on how to thin your airbrush paint, is what to use as thinner.

Here are some of the most popular options, with their pros and cons.


Good old tap water is what a lot of people try first to thin airbrush paint.   And it makes sense, it’s what you use to thin your regular paint on a palette.

The biggest upside to using water, besides being practically free, is that it’s a bit of a jack of all trade.  It doesn’t have very specific features, doesn’t come with a list of ‘don’ts’.

This is also the main drawback of using water: is it does nothing truly well.  Sure, it works, but it does not improve your experience or make anything easier.  Water exists, and it works.

Isopropyl Alcohol

While great as a cleaner, alcohol is not a great thinner by itself.  Alcohol breaks down paint, which is what makes it great at cleaning.  But breaking down the elasticity of paint is not something you want thinner to do.

Water plus alcohol is a better way to got.  20% alcohol to 80% water is a good starting point, and one you can play with to suit your needs.

I’m not the biggest fan of this simply because I don’t like having to mix my thinner and every batch behaving in a slightly different way.

Commercial Thinner

Almost every paint brand offers some sort of airbrush thinner.  As a rule of thumb, most product labeled airbrush thinner is a mix of medium, paint retarder, and water.

This is a good starting point, because it does everything you want your thinner to do and takes most of the guess work out of the equation.

Commercial thinners have two big drawbacks.

The first is the paint retarder element.  Paint retarder essentially stops paint from drying quickly.  This helps your paint stay workable in your airbrush longer, but also makes it harder to use in general, because it stays wet on your miniature.

The other issue is the cost, which is significantly higher than every other product on this list. Even by using a generic art store brand or making your own (Ingredients:  Water, Paint Medium, Paint Retarder, Love) the bill grows fast.

What I’ve seen happen most is painters love using commercial thinners, but because it costs so much, they use too little of it.

Glass Cleaner

This is an old pirates trick, and my preferred method to thin airbrush paint.  It costs next to nothing, doesn’t require mixing and can be used to also clean your airbrush.

You should always wear a mask when airbrushing, but if you plan on using glass cleaner, you want to buy a fancier one than the disposable cloth ones.

As with most household products that work in miniature painting, get the generic kind, not a scented or ‘extra’ version of it.

A good way to go with thinner is to try one option 2-3 times.  If it doesn’t work too great, try another option 2-3 time, and so on, until you find a solution that works for you.

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