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Get Started with Airbrush Tattoos

(This is a guide only, it is up to you to do your research and decide what is best for you. We do not recommend any particular equipment or brand of equipment).


If you are totally new to airbrushing we would suggest finding someone who has a kit already. Ask them if you may have a go before you go headlong and buy the full kit. Its not as easy as you may think!

When starting airbrush tattoos the initial outlay is quite large for equipment. Therefore, you need to ensure that you do your homework and get the correct kit. Make sure you buy the best equipment that you can afford, it will last you a long time so long as it is well looked after. If you have a limited budget buy a good airbrush, as no matter how good your compressor it will not improve your airbrushing, a good airbrush will. As a guide a good kit with airbrush, compressor, stencils, paints etc will cost between £500.00-£1000.00 to set up.

Also, before unleashing yourself on the general public ensure that you use a health and safety policy ie one alcohol wipe per person and that you keep everything as clean as you possibly can.

Also you MUST have full public liability insurance. To airbrush tattoo the public without it is putting yourself and the public at risk. Many large events insist of public liability insurance.

All your electrical equipment MUST be PAT tested. No corporate clients will allow you to plug into their electricity supply unless your equipment is PAT tested.

Lastly before we move on to equipment, do not think airbrush tattoos is a way to quick and easy riches, it is most definitely not. Its hard work and takes time to become established as a reputable and reliable artist.




There are many different airbrushes available which vary in price according to brand names and versatility. A great all round airbrush for multi use purposes has an internal mix, is suction fed and is a dual action and has affordable accessible spare parts. However, there are many variations when choosing an airbrush for applying temporary tattoos.

Internal Mix

Is where the fluid and the air is mixed and atomised inside the tip of the airbrush. These airbrushes are used to achieve fine lines and detailed work they are ideal for adding details to your temporary tattoos such as highlights.

External Mix

Is where the fluid and the air is mixed and atomised outside of the tip of the airbrush. These type of airbrushes are suitable for applying temporary tattoos, as they are used mainly by hobbyists for coating work which doesn't require fine lines and detailed work and are a very cheap set up.

Single Action

This is regarding the action of the trigger. A single action airbrush controls the air only by pushing down on the trigger. They are available as an external or internal mix. With the external mix you adjust the flow of fluid by turning the tip at the front of the airbrush. With the internal mix you adjust the flow of the fluid by turning the knob at the back end of the airbrush.

Double/Dual Action

A double action airbrush controls the air and the fluid. By pushing down on the trigger controls the air and by pulling the trigger back you control the flow of the fluid. Nozzle size range from 0.10 to 0.35 mm

Suction/Bottom Feed

This is regarding the position of the storage container for the fluid (paint). A suction fed airbrush has the container attached to the bottom (underneath the airbrush) which is detachable and can be ideal when using several different colours. The advantage of this style airbrush is the ability to use many different size colour cups and bottles and to change colours quickly. Nozzle sizes range from 0.1 to 0.5 mm.

Gravity Feed

This is where the container is positioned to the top or the side of the airbrush and the fluid is fed into the airbrush by gravity. This allows you to run the airbrush with a lower air pressure than the suction fed airbrush and is designed for doing more detailed work using fine lines although you can also do coating work as well.

Side/Siphon Feed

For this type of airbrush the colour cup is attached to the side and rotates 318 degrees giving you the ability to work at just about and angle or even over head. Nozzle sizes range from 0.10 to 0.35 mm.

If you are considering an Iwata airbrush visit their website by clicking this link to see which airbrush is most suited to temporary airbrush tattoos.


Air Hoses Braided

These are a good alternative to use when choosing an air hose.


These hoses can tangle and can act as a spring pulling your airbrush off the table. They are inexpensive.

Straight Plastic

A great alternative works effectively and is inexpensive.



Lightweight compressor

Designed for short bursts of use. Not suitable to run all day.


Heavyweight compressor

This will run all day and just keeps going.......

It is important to purchase a good air source, one that supplies steady, dry air. You need at least 5 to 12 psi for body art and no more. For a compressor you will need a power supply and in the UK will need to ensure that if you are offering airbrush tattoos as a business that all your equipment is PAT tested. There are many different types of compressor, some of which are more suitable than others.

Diaphragm Compressor

This machine has a membrane which pulsates to compress the air. Can be fairly noisy and do not run for long periods of time. Only really suitable for someone who is only intending use at home for themselves as a hobbiest.

Industrial Compressor

Very noisy as they have to work hard to compress the air. These are not suitable for airbrush tattoos especially if you are working somewhere where they don't want a lot of noise.

Oil-less Compressor

A piston compressor can be of the oil-filled type or oil-less type. If the compressor is oil filled it will probably be very silent. However, oil-less compressors can also be quiet running. The advantage of the oil-less compressor is that you do not have to change any oil. This makes this machine low maintenance and no risk of oil spilling when travelling from gig to gig. Would be well suited to the airbrush tattooist.

Oil Filled Compressor

Compact compressor which will run all day long without any noise output. Must be kept upright at all times as the oil can be spilled into the cylinder which will go up into your airlines and spoil your work. Can be expensive to buy and need a lot of regular maintenance.


Required if you are working in the middle of a field. Tanks are also cheap if you have a limited budget but are heavy to move around. Do NOT use anything other than CO2. CO2 is inert and very safe. CO2 will supply a steady flow of dry air depending on pressure you're running for many, many tattoos depending on the size of gas bottle. You will also need a regulator for your gas bottle. Ensure that it has the right connection for CO2. Use a good local reputable dealer for your CO2 who will be able to advise rental rates and equipment etc.

If you carry CO2 in the car you must have a green sticker to notify emergency services that you have CO2 on board and you must inform your insurance company.


Some people do use generators that are petrol driven to run their airbrushes.


Again there are quite a few different brands on the market. Opinion is divided upon whether adhesive stencils or non adhesive stencils are the best. I think this is down to personal choice and what you prefer. I have put the pros and cons below to help you make your mind up.

Adhesive Stencils

The adhesive stencils may be of single use or multi use up to about 10 times. These type of stencils are flexible, strong and durable and are stuck to the body. They fit round all the curves making application of the paints easy as you do not need to hold the stencil in place. This provides a crisp, clear image giving a great looking tattoo when you have finished. Some companies claim that this type of stencil is unhygenic, however, as you wipe the skin first with IPA which is effectively a medical disinfectant there should be no problem with re-applying a multi-use adhesive stencil to someone else.

Non Adhesive Stencils

Non adhesive plastic/mylar stencils can be used time and time again and last for years. They are held against the skin while applying the tattoo and can be used over and over again ie you will never run out. However, you must ensure these stencils are regularly cleaned between uses. The disadvantage with this type of stencil is that it can move easily on the skin while you are trying to do the airbrush the tattoo and may cause paint to get under the edge of the stencil creating a blurred image. If you like using these stencils best, but find them difficult to keep in place a spray on stencil adhesive designed specifically for use on the body can be applied in which case you may as well plump for the readily adhesive stencils!

Temporary Tattoo Transfers

It is also possible to buy tattoo transfers which are the outline of a tattoo design. These are then transferred to the skin and you hand paint the detail in with a paint brush. You need to be a bit more skilled to do these type of temporary tattoos and they take a lot more time to apply.


This is the same stuff used in medical wipes you can buy from the chemist. Known as isopropyl alcohol (IPA). Can be bought as wipes or used as a solution from a bottle. Ensure that what you buy is of medical grade ie suitable for use on the body. IPA is used for preparing the skin, ie removing all the dirt and natural oils which ensures a longer life for the tattoo.




To run more than one airbrush you either need a manifold which connects for example 4 hoses to one compressor or a quick release connector. From experience we use the quick release system as it means we only have one airline to the compressor minimising the trip risk to ourselves and our customers. The quick release system automatically shuts off the compressor when disconnected.


Ordinary talcum powder can be used to set your tattoos and is often referred to a setting powder.


There are quite a few brands of paints available on the market and the price varies dramatically, although a quality paint is worth paying for. Most paints will last on the skin for up to 7 days depending upon the persons skin type, how often they wash and whereabouts the tattoo has been applied. It will last longer on dry skin compared to oily skin and if applied on parts of the body where clothing will rub then it will be rubbed off a lot quicker. The paints should be alcohol based and well known brands which are safe are Temptu, Airbrush Body Art and MiKim FX.

Please note: it has been brought to our attention that there are some people advising the use of water based paints for airbrush tattoos. This is not recommended as the paint will wash off immediately the client showers, sweats or goes out in the rain and will not last more than a day if they are lucky. All experienced professional artists use quality products such as those named above which have been tried and tested over many years and are known to last at least 5-7 days as a temporary tattoo should!!

Also any reputable retailer should be able to provide you with a safety data sheet for their products if requested. Make sure you only buy skin safe paints.

A word about CANS OF AIR - these are generally a waste of money as they cannot last long enough for a busy queue on an all day gig and also lack control over the air source supplying your airbrush. Not suitable for airbrush tattoo application. Not only that you have to keep paying for replacement cans!!


Now you have all this kit you need something to carry it around in. I doubt that there is the perfect system to carry your kit around and if anyone finds it please let me know.

However, I used to carry mine around in a Stanley Mobile Tool box.  It is large enough to carry the compressor, IPA, stencils, cotton wool etc.  I had a separate smaller box as shown below to carry my paints in.  Ultimately though its what suits you and your set up best.