Airbrushing: How Many Coats? It Depends on These Factors

A man's hand holding an airbrush against a black background.

Airbrushing technique was invented in the late 19th century, but it became more popular in the 1930s.

If you’re using this technique for the first time, you probably have some questions about the right type of application, and we’re here to help you. 

The first question that most painters ask is how many coats of paint should be used for airbrushing? What are the factors that affect the final look?

How many coats for airbrushing? Two coats of paint will be enough to create a uniform color, but you can definitely apply more or fewer coats, depending on the desired result. Several factors like the type of paint and its thickness can prompt you to use a different number of layers. 

Want to know more about flawless airbrushing? Keep on reading. 

How Many Coats To Apply When Airbrushing

You usually need about two coats of paint for flawless airbrushing.

These two coats will cover the canvas or the background color and create a smooth, soft finish with the new color you’ve added. 

To achieve this result, you need to use special airbrushing paint and an airbrushing tool.

Airbrush paint has a unique formula with smaller particles, so it doesn’t clog the pores on your tool. At the same time, you can easily clean the tool after application to apply a new color. 

Vallejo makes a great set of basic colors (16 in all) at a very reasonable price. Airbrush-ready paints, great colors, perfect for beginners and pros alike!

Vallejo Basic Colors: Acrylic 16 Airbrush Paint...
  • Airbrush straight from the bottle, no thinners
  • Smooth coverage even with a thin coat

Influencing Factors

Applying two coats of paint is the standard but might not always be the right answer. There are several factors that affect the number of paint coats that you need for a flawless finish. 

Type of Paint Used

Any type of paint can be used in an airbrushing machine as long as it has the right consistency. The paint should be as thin as skim milk or thinner so it doesn’t clog the airbrushing machine. 

Acrylic paint can be used for airbrushing if it’s thinned with water or another suitable thinner.

However, you should be careful about the type of paint you’re using because low-quality paint can clog your machine.

If the paint is too thin, you might need to use three coats instead of two to get the right coverage. 

Enamel paint can also be used for airbrushing, but it has to be thinned with mineral spirits. Because it has a thicker consistency, you can get away with using only one coat of enamel paint. 

Thickness of Paint

Special airbrushing paint is specifically designed to work with your tool, and it generally takes two coats of paint to conceal the canvas and create a new layer of the new color.

However, if you’re using a slightly thicker paint, you may be able to get by with one coat. 

The problem with thick paint is that it might not achieve the desired smoothness when the paint is dry, which is one of the core features of airbrushing.

This is why you can opt for a thinner paint and apply three or two coats instead of a single layer of thick paint. 

Layer Thickness

For a rookie, you might make the mistake of applying too much paint in a single layer. In this case, you shouldn’t add another coat of paint because the result won’t look smooth.

Over time, you’ll be able to learn the correct pressure that will allow you to create a flawless finish. 

A thin coat can be achieved by following a thinning ratio of 3 to 1 paint to thinner.

Changing the amount of thinner will make the layer look thinner or thicker, depending on your choice. 

Desired Result

Airbrushing is usually used by artists to add lighter strokes of paint and create blurry edges, which makes it more versatile than other painting techniques.

To achieve the desired result, you’ll have to think about the number of paint layers you’re using. 

A single layer will create a minor effect when it’s applied on your canvas or on top of another color. If you want to completely conceal the background color, you’ll have to use more coats of paint. 

Smoothness of Result

A single coat of paint will have the smoothest result if you’re following the right airbrushing technique. Adding more layers will make the finish more opaque, but it could also be less smooth. 

When you’re painting, you need to consider whether you want to achieve the smoothest result or the strongest shade of the color.

Applying too many layers on top of each other will make the canvas look a little bit bumpy. 

The Importance of Priming When Airbrushing

Priming prepares the canvas for the paint you’re going to apply.

It prevents the paint from bleeding to maintain the desired effect, and it also allows the paint to have a smooth and flawless finish from a single coat. 

Applying a primer is essential for a smooth result, but you don’t have to apply too much primer because it’s thicker than the airbrushing paint.

You should also give the primer a good shake before using to guarantee uniform application. 

Personally, I recommend Stynylrex Primer. I’ve tried quite a few over the years, and this has become my go-to.

Smooth and even coverage, great adhesion, and it works on anything from metal to plastic.

Badger Air-Brush Co. SNR-410 Stynylrez, 3 Piece...
  • Self leveling primer Simple and easy application detail enhancing coverage. Excellent adhesion and...
  • For use on plastics, metals, woods, resin, various other substrates, Simple and easy clean up

How Much Time To Allow Between Coats

This depends on the type of paint you’re using. In most cases, waiting between four and six hours is enough to let acrylic and water-based paints dry before applying another coat.

If you don’t wait long enough, you can risk having a dripping result that doesn’t look as uniform or smooth. 

If you’re using oil-based paint, you need to wait a little longer. You might want to wait at least 24 hours to make sure that the paint has completely dried before applying another coat. 

How To Know When Enough Is Enough

Think of the desired effect after the paint has completely dried.

Some people will think that the paint looks too watery and continue to apply another coat before the first one has dried.

This is why you need to make sure that the first layer has completely dried to evaluate your result. 

If the paint is starting to look less smooth or less uniform, then you’ve applied too much paint. Paint cracking, flaking, and clumping are all signs that you’ve applied too much paint. 

If this is the case, you need to use a scraper to remove all the flaking and clumping paint, sand the edges to help them blend, and then apply a new layer, let it dry, and examine the result. 

What To Do If You Add Too Many Airbrush Layers

When this happens, you’ll start to see the paint dripping or taking on a clumping or unsightly appearance.

First, you’ll have to let it dry, then you need to polish and sand the paint with a fine grit to remove the excess paint, and then apply another layer for a uniform finish. 

Best Practices When Airbrushing Multiple Layers

Applying multiple layers of paint is used to achieve different effects.

You might want to wait until the first layer is completely dry before applying another one for a richer color, or you might want to apply it while it’s still wet for some movement.

In some cases, you might choose to apply a different shade or amount of paint to create a specific effect. 

Here are some tips that you can follow when airbrushing multiple layers. 

  • Apply a primer to guarantee that the paint will adhere well. 
  • Start with applying a layer of opaque colors to create the background. 
  • Use white to create the outline of a shape you want to add on top. The white will bring out any other color you apply on top if the background is too dark. 
  • Apply wet on wet or wait until the paint has dried to create the desired details. 

Related Questions:

How Long Can You Leave Paint in an Airbrush?

Acrylic paint tends to dry pretty fast and can start clogging the airbrush within a few hours. So, by the time your paint layer has dried, it will also dry in the airbrush machine.

If you won’t be using your airbrush again right away, it’s best to at the very least give it a quick clean.

It only takes a moment, but it will save you time and effort when you’re ready to resume your work. 

Should You Sand Each Coat When Airbrushing?

Sanding isn’t a must, but it can significantly improve the look of the airbrushed item. It can remove dust, lumps, and drips to guarantee a better, smoother result. 


Airbrushing can offer opaque and transparent results depending on your choice of paint and application.

In most cases, you need about two coats to achieve a satisfactory opaque result, but you can go for more or fewer layers if you prefer. 

Last update on 2024-05-28 at 04:28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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I'm a hobby enthusiast with a real love for painting miniatures. I also happen to run this site and write the majority of its content!