There are many ways to transfer an image to a working surface but my favorite (by far) is the opaque projector because it is SO simple.
All you do is place a photo, sketch, magazine clipping, whatever under the projector, turn it on, focus the image and VIOLA – there’s your image, projected onto the surface with no special preparation or skill – ready and waiting for you to trace it.
I want to say it again, just to be clear…. the image projected does not need to be printed on any fancy paper or surface to be projected using an opaque projector! Any flat image, on any surface, can be projected.
Not only is it simple to use, an opaque projector is also a really simple little unit. It basically consists of some lightbulbs, mirrors and lenses.
Most opaque projectors on the market are designed to be set on top of the image to be projected. The lightbulb shines on the image and reflects it onto one or a series of mirrors and then the reflection is “bounced” onto the lenses which can be adjusted to make the image bigger or smaller and to focus the image. Placing the projector closer to or farther from the projection surface also adjusts the sizing of the projection.
Another bonus – the simple construction of an opaque projector means that they are typically inexpensive to buy - and mine was well worth every cent.
- One word of warning about these types of projectors is that often the lightbulb is pretty high wattage and therefore gets REALLY hot…your image will also get hot as the lightbulb is pretty close to it. So just be careful you don’t damage the image (or start a fire!).
My only disappointment with my opaque projector is that it took me so long to give in and buy one – and also that I wasted so much time trying and searching for alternatives to one.
An airbrush plotter is, to break it down super simply, an inkjet printer, but, instead of writing with ink, it cuts with a blade.
Plotters like these were developed for the signage industry and are used to custom cut vinyl. Airbrush artists saw this technology and immediately saw the opportunity to use the device to make their own custom stencils and masks to aid in the creation of their art. If you want to see one in action, watch the video below … I’ll continue talking about the airbrush plotter below it.
I myself do not have an airbrush plotter – but I want one – BADLY! While I have had the means and opportunity to buy one on mutliple occasions I have been holding out for a variety of reasons that I thought it may be helpful to share:
This technology, while new to the general public in the last few years, has been around for a fairly long time. When it was first made available for public consumption (I am guessing about 2005) these things were incredibly pricey. I saw one that came with the plotter and the software for making the custom designs for around $7000 around that time. $7000 may be worth it if you own a production shop where you are cranking out the work, but for a hobbiest – ehhh – I don’t think so.
Nowadays, you can buy one of these systems (and the software) for about $1500 – a little easier to swallow – but I have the feeling that cutting plotters will continue to drop dramatically in price over the next few years.
I think this because software for graphic design is becoming more and more widely used – tonnes of people use photoshop or elements and grasp the concept of designing something on the computer. This understanding of technology opens up a large market for technological equipment like plotters.
For example, there is a product on the market right now that is a cutting plotter and is available on the mass market that is geared towards scrapbooking (and could totally be used as an airbrush plotter too). It is a really slick little unit and it could be yours for a mere $350 at your local craft store. These things are awesome, but, right now they are not customizable.
What you do is buy cartridges that have programmed clipart in them and you choose one of the images from that cartridge to cut. Because this is geared to the scrapbooking market, there really isn’t a huge demand for images that are typically airbrush – like flames, skulls, demons and things… it’s a bit more like puppy dogs and butterflies. Regardless – it is a super cool machine and could totally work as an airbrush cutter as it becomes more cutomizable or the scope of the images gets larger.
Here’s a video of the cricut cutter – (I know it is super girly but suck it up boys and just watch the coolness.)
So do you see why I am waiting now. I don’t see any reason, unless you are the super airbrusher with a fancy shop, to run out and spend upwards of $1500 bucks on a fancy schmancy airbrush plotter when you could buy one of these for so much less. Yes, it doesn’t have nasty stuff like skulls (yet) but just think of the lettering alone!
HEY! Here’s an idea – maybe your siginficant other is a scrapbooker and you could sweetly buy a cricut for her for mothers day or valentines day or her birthday and then just “stumble” upon the fact that you could use it too.
I’m kidding!!! Using airbrush stencils isn’t cheating … they are simply a tool to help you paint faster and cleaner.
There are basically three types of airbrush stencils:
1. Design Elements,
2. Design Aids, and
3. Edge Aids.
(note those are not technical terms – just my way of categorizing them)
Design elements are stencils that, when used properly, actually end up looking like something you recognize. For example an stencil of a skull would be a “design element”.
A design aid would be any type of stencil that doesn’t produce a recognizable result on it’s own but is used instead to add to an overall design. As an example a stencil that adds texture or dimension to artwork would be a “design aid”… specific examples would be wavy lines, membrane textures or a brick design.
An edge aid is any airbrush stencil that’s sole purpose is to help make different shaped edges. French curves are the most recognizable type of edge aid.
The Key to Using Stencils
While using stencils can really speed up your production and can aid those of us who are not terribly creative or artistic in the traditional sense (that is we can’t draw) there is a risk associated with using them…
… your artwork can end up looking like you used a stencil!
Stenciled airbrush art that screams “I used a stencil !” can impress your friends and family, but overall has a bit of a cheap, amateur look about it.
The key is to use the stencil as a guide to help guide your artwork – not drive it.
How do you do you use stencils as a guide ?
For design aid type stencils (i.e. skulls, hearts, etc) place the stencil and then just lightly mist over the stencil with your airbrush… the lighter the better. When you remove the stencil you will have an EXCELLENT starting point to build your design upon…
All the while, edge aids (i.e. french curves etc) can be used to keep your paint where you want it and the design elements (i.e. textures etc) to add some interest and depth.
One of the greatest things about these stencils is that if you get “lost” in your design (say you lose the eyes or teeth in your skull) you can always reapply the main design aid stencil and get that definition back.
Here are some links that showcase my FAVORITE stencils!
The best airbrush tip I have for new airbrush artist is…
… get yourself some Frisket Film.
If you’ve seen the lessons on this website, you’ll see that I use this product often!
The reason I use it so much is that when your learning to airbrush it can be very frustrating when your paint sprays in areas you don’t want it to. Frisket film is assurance that the paint will go where you want it to and only where you want it to.
So what is this stuff?
Basically, frisket film is simply clear tape that comes in sheets instead of strips. Each sheet comes on a backing that is easily removed.
How is it used?
Frisket film is used to make quick custom stencils. You can apply the frisket over a sketch and, because it is so clear, you can see the design through the film. Using an exacto knife lightly cut through the film following the lines of the sketch beneath.
When you are ready to paint, remove the areas of frisket film that you want to paint and paint away – your paint will be confined only to the area exposed. Or, you can draw directly on the frisket making a stencil with both a positive and negative component as shown below:
What else can it do?
Not only can you paint shapes as shown above, but once you are done painting those areas you can reapply the removed piece of frisket over the painted area to protect it.
Where do you get it?
Frisket, in some form or another, is available at almost any arts or crafts store. It may come in sheets (as shown above) or it may come in rolls. Either way will work just fine.
If you are torn between brands, get the cheapest one. I know that is contrary to pretty much everything I have ever said on this website (as usually you get what you pay for) but in this case – frisket is frisket.
I have even read that all frisket, regardless of all its branding, all comes from the same factory … so it is all the same stuff.
What if you can’t find it?
In a pinch… and only in a pinch … you can use Mac-Tac (which is a kitchen cupboard liner) as an alternative. It is available at most hardware stores in the kitchen area – it comes in all patters (flowers, woodgrain, etc) but you are only interested in the clear version.
I warn you that this product is not made for this application. It is a lot thicker and harder to cut, and, the glue on the back sometimes comes off on your artwork when you pull it off.
What else do you need to know?
You need some tips!!
Airbrush Tip #1:
Frisket is way stickier than it needs to be. This can be problematic if you are working on paper or illustration board because it will cause the paper to peel when you remove it.
To reduce the stickiness, still the frisket to your pant leg or to your skin a few times. This will pick up some lint (or dead skin – gross) that will reduce the over all stick-factor.
Airbrush Tip #2:
Cut lightly! The goal is not to actually cut all the way through the frisket – you only wan to cut about 95% of the way through so that you don’t end up marking up or scratching the surface being painted.
I always turn the music off and listen when I am cutting frisket – you can tell if you are cutting too far because you will hear the tip scratching the surface.
Also, change your blade frequently – it will be SO much easier to cut with a fresh blade!
Airbrush Tip #3:
Firsket is reusable!! So, if you have a big-ish piece, be sure to keep it somewhere for reuse!
I encourage you to check out the lessons on this website to see more practical applications.
An electric eraser can be a handy tool to have around when airbrushing…
Erasers in general (the regular old hand powered ones) can be used to remove paint, add highlights, touch up overspray, blend out a hard line, add texture … all sorts of things.
Electric erasers serve the same purposes, but are able to concentrate their application in a tight area.
It’s a pretty simple little tool….all it is is an eraser mounted on a battery powered rotating shaft. You press a small button on the side of the tool and the eraser spins…. like a drill. The erasers obviously wear out over time – but they are easily replaced as shown below with refills.
I tend to use mine for three purposes (although there are many more I am sure):
Re-establishing Highlights … it never fails that you purposely leave a nice white highlight in your painting (like the sparkle in someones eye) and as you are painting overspray somehow migrates over to that bright white area and muddys it up. A few touches with the electric eraser and … poof… back to white in a flash.
Softening Harsh Lines … Sometimes you screw up and make a harsh line when you intended to make a soft, gradual transition … and often, there is no easy way to get rid of that hard line short of painting over it … OR… you can try softening the edge with an eraser! Using an electric one makes short work of this.
Frisket Clean Up …. This is what I use this tool for most! And it is totally not it’s intended purpose!! When you paint with frisket, paint overspray builds up on the frisket and that personally drives be crazy!! I like to see what is below the firsket so that I can judge the value of the color I am painting. To clean the overspray off the frisket I used to use my fingernail and painstakingly scratch it all off…. until one day I tried my electric eraser instead … and WOW does it work great for that.
Things to Watch For
I did a search on the net to try and establish a price range for these tools…. and was shocked to see some of the prices!!!
I paid $15 for the Staedtler Model above … but on the net I saw them as high as $125!! That is ridiculous – don’t pay over $20 … they are not THAT useful!!!
Also…. because the eraser spins so fast you run the risk of burnishing your paint when you erase on it. Burnishing results in the a texture change and shiny spot on your painting which can ruin the overall look…. that is, it looks like you made a mistake and tried to fix it at that location because the shiny spot will make the color look slightly “off”
Other than that…. I am pretty happy with my little toy!
Before I had the essential seven airbrush stencils I was CONSTANTLY cutting little scraps of paper to make my own handmade, temporary stencils – I thought I was being thrifty – but now that I have them, I see that I was really just wasting time!
These seven simple stencils are SO handy … and, while cutting your own stencils is a cost savings, at some point, you have to realize that having the right tools for the job can sometimes make all the difference.
So far I have not encountered a curve or a shape that I can’t match up to one of the knobs, swerves or designs on these stencils.
I purchased mine in a set that included all seven stencils which was way smarter in the long run that getting them one at a time …
…I am learning that prolonging a purchase (i.e. buying one a month) doesn’t actually save you money – it just makes your feel better about spending the same amount….LOL
I don’t know why these pictures are all wonky! I am too tired to deal with it though so you’ll just have to suffer