This guide is separated into three sections. To learn about airbrushing in general and the necessary equipment, see the section below labeled "PART ONE". To learn about different kinds of paint, skip ahead to "PART TWO". For instructions on how to apply paint and removal see "PART THREE". For frequently asked questions and other interesting stuff see "PART FOUR".
Before I begin, here are some useful links. I’ll be referring to some of these in this guide.
Pam’s Twi’lek Body Paint Guide - chucrew.com/Twilek/bodypaint.h… I strongly recommend reading this. I learned so much from her, and she covers some things I don't.
Pam’s Twi’lek Forum - chucrew.com/TwilekCelebration/… I also strongly recommend perusing these; I learned a lot from these forums!
Pam is a really awesome costumer who’s done a lot of really cool Twi’lek costumes, and has been a great help to others in our community. Check out her stuff!
Reel Creations - www.reelcreations.com/ This is where I buy the Reel Creations Body Art Ink I mention a few times in this guide. Check out “Fred’s Tips” for some additional info on alcohol based paints.
Silly Farm - www.sillyfarm.com/ A good one stop shop for a lot of the products I mention, plus many other body paints.
Jest Paint - www.jestpaint.com/ Another good one stop shop, plus they have actual swatches of a lot of the paints they sell!
PART ONE - So what exactly is airbrushing?
Airbrushing is a method of paint application. Air is forced through a gun, the air mixes with paint at some point, is aerosolized into a fine spray, creating a thin, smooth, and even application of your paint.
Is it magic? No, it’s not magic. It’s just another method of application. A poor quality paint is still a poor quality paint even if applied with an airbrush. Airbrushes do apply liquid paint more evenly than a sponge or brush, but it won’t magically last longer or be better just because you used an airbrush. While it is my preferred method of application for body paint, it is also not the the only way.
Why should you use an airbrush, what benefits are there compared to sponging on creme or water based paint?
- Airbrushing gives a very smooth finish to your paint.
- You want to accomplish certain effects that can only be done with an airbrush.
- Liquid paints are way easier to mix than creme or cake makeup. If you need a very specific color, this may be the best way to get it.
- You want to use alcohol based body paints (which are best applied with an airbrush).
- Internet bragging rights because people think it’s magic.
- The equipment you’ll need adds up really quick. A good compressor will cost you between $80 to $300, and an airbrush between $25 to $150 or more.
- It’s a lot of equipment to lug around, and by no means travel friendly. (I fear the day I have to get all this stuff past the TSA.)
Okay, so you're thinking about airbrushing. The first thing you’ll be doing is…
Choosing an air compressor.
This is your air source. You’ll see a lot of huge and crazy looking ones at hardware stores, but you don’t need anything that hard core for body painting. You’re going to be working between about 5 - 25 PSI, depending on your airbrush and type of paint. (PSI referring to the force of the air, specifically pounds of air pressure per square inch.) For the purposes of body paint and cosmetics, you really don’t need one that puts out more than 40 PSI, or has more than 1/5 horsepower. Anything more than that would be overkill, and would be pretty big and difficult to transport.
While it’s not necessary, I do highly recommend getting one with a pressure gauge and regulator so that you can see how much PSI you’re working with, and adjust it as needed for different types of body paint. A moisture trap is also useful, this will keep water from getting into your air hose and paint (which might cause it to gunk up if it’s an alcohol based paint).
Compressors sometimes have air tanks. When you turn it on, the compressor runs until the air tank is full, and air is drawn from it, rather than directly from the compressor. This creates a stream of uninterrupted air; compressors without tanks sometimes send pulses of air, which can cause paint to splatter a bit. Body paint isn’t permanent, so this isn’t a big deal, plus tanks add a significant amount of weight and size to the compressor, making it difficult to transport. However, if you’re thinking about using your compressor for painting props too, it might be something to consider.
This is a very important piece of equipment, so don’t cheap out! A little battery-operated compressor may be tempting price wise, and cover a face no problem, but will probably burn out before you can finish a more extensive paint job. If you see something on Amazon or eBay that looks a little too good to be true, do some research on the equipment and seller first. If your compressor dies on you during the middle of application, panic will ensue.
Types of airbrushes, and which one to use.
Next, you’ll need an airbrush. There are many different kinds; I was rather overwhelmed when I first started looking for one. I’ll explain some terms you’re going to run into. Airbrushes are defined by three different things. Their trigger type, their “mix point” and what kind “feed” they have.
Triggers - Single action vs. Double/Dual action.
Single action - Pressing the trigger engages the air and paint flow at the same time. The flow of pigment is adjusted separately, usually by adjusting the actual paint container or a knob on the handle. They’re easier to use, and generally cheaper.
Dual or Double action - Both air and color flow are adjusted by the trigger. This allows you to go from a thick to thin line without stopping to adjust the paint flow. These require a lot more practice to use correctly, and are better suited for detail work than a single action.
External vs. Internal mix
External mix - The paint and air mix outside the gun, creating a wider and coarser spray pattern. These are best for covering large areas.
Internal mix - The paint and air mix within the gun, creating a finer spray pattern than an external mix is capable of. These are better for detail work. They are also more prone to clogging.
Top/Gravity Fed vs. Bottom/Siphon Fed vs. Side Fed
The feed point refers to where the gun draws its paint from. There are three kinds that you'll run into. Top/gravity fed, side fed, and bottom/siphon fed.
Top/gravity fed – The paint source is attached above the airbrush’s nozzle. This is the kind you will generally see advertised as a makeup airbrush, because top fed guns require less air pressure to aerosolize liquids thanks to good old gravity, ergo, they are more gentle on the face. If you plan on doing just regular foundation, blush, etc. with your airbrush this is the kind of feed point you would want. Not only because they aren’t as harsh, but gravity helps get all the makeup out, making it ideal for more expensive cosmetics.
Bottom/siphon fed – The paint source is attached below the nozzle, and paint is siphoned out of it when air flows through the gun. They lack the advantage of gravity and require a higher psi to operate, but allow you to see over the top of the gun. Bottom fed airbrushes will hold a lot of paint, which means you don’t have to stop as often to refill.
Side fed – Paint is drawn from the side of the airbrush, and acts as a top or bottom fed airbrush, depending on where the paint source is positioned in relation to the nozzle. Some models may be used as both, and may even allow you to rotate the paint source, which allows you to spray at all kinds of angles. They can be used for body painting, but they’re not very popular for that use.
Note: needle/nozzle size is important as well. I'll add a section detailing this eventually. But ~.3 - .5 is generally recommended for body painting.
So you might be thinking WHAT THE HECK. THAT’S WAY TOO MANY OPTIONS.
I know, so I’ll make it simple. These recommendations are based on my experience, and may not necessarily be considered ideal or correct by a professional.
If you want something for covering large areas (i.e. you want to be pink head to toe) get a single action, bottom fed, external mix airbrush. These are good for covering a large area, hold a lot of paint, and get the job done at the lowest price point. If you're willing to drop a little more money, a dual action, bottom fed, internal mix airbrush would also be good for this. The dual action would allow you to adjust the paint flow as needed for smaller areas to conserve paint, and also lets you spray air only, which is a handy way to dry paint as you go.
If you want something that’s good for detail work (veins, bruises, defining abs, and small tattoos), or to cover a small area (just your face/hands). Get a top fed, internal mix, dual action airbrush.
A few things I want to note:
While the first kind of airbrush I mentioned (bottom fed) are fantastic for covering large areas quickly, you will lose quite a bit of alcohol based paint as overspray with this kind of airbrush. Alcohol based paints are more volatile than water based ones, and because the psi bottom fed airbrushes operate at is higher than ideal for alcohol based paints, quite a bit tends to get whisked away.
Top fed brushes won't cause you to lose as much paint as overspray, since they require a lower psi to operate than bottom fed. However, you will spend more time stopping to refill your your airbrush, and these generally have a smaller spray pattern than bottom fed airbrushes. Both of these factors add up to a lot more time being spent painting if you're covering a large area. When deciding on what to use for alcohol based makeup, you'll have to decide what's more important; saving paint, or time.
When shopping for airbrushes, be wary of ones labeled as "cosmetic" brushes. Sometimes companies will charge more because they slapped that word in front of it. Also, one company's hose may not hook up with another's airbrush or compressor because of various connection sizes. Keep in mind that you may need to buy adapters if you decide to mix and match brands!
PART TWO - An overview of the different types of airbrush makeup.
Okay, so you have an airbrush, now what do you put in it? In the years I’ve been doing this, there are five kinds of airbrush makeup I have consistently run into. Water based, alcohol based, "Hybrid" makeup, silicone based, and PAX.
The brands mentioned below aren't the only things available on the market. I strongly encourage you to look around, and do some additional research to see what might be the best thing for you!
Water Based Body Paints
These are the paints commonly seen at your local costume shops (Ben Nye Magicake, Mehron Liquid Makeup, Kryolan Aquacolor Liquid, etc.). They are available in a liquid form, and in cake form. They are usually the cheapest kind, are readily available at local costume shops, and come in a wide color variety. They dry matte to a slightly satiny finish depending on the brand, and must be sealed with a barriers spray such as Ben Nye Final Seal or Mehron Barrier Spray to prevent wear and transfer.
The big down side? Water based paints are water soluble. Sweat and humidity will loosen the bond between the makeup and your skin, causing it to streak and rub off as the day goes on. You'll need to be prepared to touch up the following “danger zones“; the crease of your elbows, your hands, anywhere fabric/costume pieces will be coming into contact with your skin (armholes, collars, gloves, etc.), your arm pits or any other part of your body that produces a lot of sweat. Barrier sprays will delay and reduce wear, but it's still an inevitability.
The liquid forms of water based paints are very simple to apply. Choose your brand of paint, thin it with the recommended mixing medium if necessary (some liquid paints like Mehron Liquid Makeup are too viscous on their own to be airbrushed, but become usable once you thin them a bit), fill your airbrush up and go to town.
Some water based cake makeups can also be applied with an airbrush if dissolved to a proper consistency. For example; you can crush and mix 1 part Ben Nye Magicake with 2 parts Ben Nye Final Seal to create a liquid paint. (Other kinds may need different solvents). When mixing a dry pigment you intend to airbrush with a liquid, add the pigment a little bit at a time to the liquid while stirring. It mixes easier this way, and is less likely to clump. Clumps cause clogs, and clogs mean you have to stop and clear out your airbrush, which significantly slows down application time.
It’s a useful trick, but I would discourage doing this if you have a large area to cover. The cost is about the same as buying premade liquid paints, which will flow much better. No matter how carefully you mix them there will be bits of pigment that stick together, which inevitably causes clogs. Crushing and dissolving the cakes is also rather time consuming.
Some things I want to stress about water based makeup:
- Touch ups WILL be needed. If you're at an event without access to an airbrush, bring a bottle of your paint, barrier spray, a sponge, Q-tips, etc. Reapply paint lightly, if any fresh paint is allowed to run down your paint that’s already applied, it’ll streak.
- If you’re planning to do a photo shoot, do it right after you’ve applied your paint, and your makeup is still fresh.
- Water based paints WILL rub off on your costume, consider this when choosing materials for your costume.
- Water based paints can and WILL get on other people's costumes, clothes, chairs, that wall you leaned on...
Seriously, be mindful of all of your painted appendages. I don't care how well you sealed yourself, or how little you're sweating. Assume that transfer is a certainty. Try and avoid super packed crowds and situations where you might run into to other people. If you've painted your hands do not touch people, their costumes, or things that aren't yours!
Alcohol Based Body Paints
These are the super-indelible-won’t-come-off-till-you're-dead-and-maybe-even-later body paints. They form a very strong bond to your skin, and aren't water soluble. They won't start sliding off your face if you sweat a whole lot, or come off just because you say, scratch your nose, or bump into something. They're also much less likely to stain fabric once dry. These will stay on your skin until you want them to come off; they require a special remover. You can wear these for a few days in a row, with touch ups here and there. Popular brands include Reel Creations, Temptu, and European Body Art. They dry matte to satin, and some brands (like Temptu) may have a slightly sticky finish.
While they are pretty hardcore, they aren’t completely infallible. Rub off happens but it's minimal compared to water based paints, and it only happens where something is consistently wearing on it, like the previously mentioned “danger zones”. They will eventually wear off your fingers and the palms of your hands, but not nearly as fast as water based paints, and they do not reactivate with the sweat and oil your hands produce and smear off. Reel Creations just kind of peels, and leaves behind little bits of paint that can easily be flaked off of door knobs, lightsabers, or anywhere else you might leave it behind. You can wash your hands with soap and water while wearing RC, and the only paint it’ll take off are really tiny bits around areas that are starting to wear.
Thinning alcohol based paint before airbrushing is generally not necessary, as the liquid forms of these paints are designed to be airbrush ready. If needed this can be done with 99% isopropyl alcohol or the brand’s recommended thinner.
Like water based paints these come in cake form too, and you can dissolve them in 99% isopropyl alcohol (or the brand's activator) and airbrush them on. I have no experience with this, and from what I’ve read, this involves a bit of trial and error. See this thread on Pam’s Twi’lek forums for some first hand accounts. chucrew.com/TwilekCelebration/…
The down side? They’re pretty expensive. It’s $11.00 for 4 oz of Mehron Liquid Makeup, vs $48 for 4 oz. Reel Creations. Plus there's the cost of the remover. They're also not readily available in most stores, and must generally be ordered online. Being alcohol based, these paints can sting just like an alcohol prep wipe, may irritate the skin, lungs, eyes, etc., and are also flammable when wet. The removal process takes a while, and can be irritating.
Again, remember to be mindful of your painted appendages while wearing these. They’re highly unlikely to transfer with brief contact, but other people don’t know that. If you wear these paints overnight, don’t snuggle up in the pristine white hotel sheets. Bring your own. Like I said, they’re not infallible and will start to rub off after a while, and you could leave behind a nice dusting of your paint that the hotel probably isn’t going to be happy about.
These are another kind of alcohol based make up, but there’s less alcohol in them and the formula varies in a way that allows for fairly easy removal with just soap and water, so they’re placed in their own category. They’re generally more expensive than water based paints, but are usually a little less expensive than most traditional alcohol based ones. They’re a little more durable than water based paints, but not as long lasting as alcohol base paints.
Like alcohol based paints, they are very water resistant. Water alone will not remove them without vigorous scrubbing, and they don’t sweat off easily. However, they are not friction-resistant like alcohol based paints, and will wear off at the same “danger zones” as water based paints, it just takes a little more time. They will also transfer like water based paints do after while, so as always, be mindful of your painted appendages. Popular hybrid paints include Proaiir Hybrid, Graftobian F/X Aire, and Olive Branch.
If you’ve already been looking at cosmetic airbrush kits you’ve probably run into this kind or airbrush makeup. They’re generally advertised as “high definition”, and are very popular in the bridal industry. These are longer lasting than water based paints, but not as long lasting as alcohol based ones. I have no experience with them, and don’t know anyone who’s used them for body painting. Normal skin tone colors for beauty applications are easy to find, but I’m only aware of one brand that ever made crazy colors for body painting - Temptu - and they were about a whopping $105 for a four ounce bottle. Temptu discontinued this line some time ago. The lack of color variety, availability, and expense makes them less than ideal for body painting.
You’ve probably already come across this if you’ve already been researching long lasting body paints. However, this really shouldn’t be used as body paint. PAX stands for Pros Aide+LiquiteX. It’s a mixture of Prosaide adhesive and acrylic paint, usually the Liquitex brand because it’s rated “non-toxic”. PAX used to be very popular in the cosplay community as a body paint because like alcohol based makeup, this will not come off until you want it too, and even then, it’s a fight. However, it has fallen out of favor for that use due to a greater awareness of the safety concerns associated with it (“non-toxic” doesn’t necessarily mean skin safe). Both Prosaide and Liquitex have said nope don’t use this on your skin: blog.cosplaytutorial.com/post/…
It’s still very popular for painting latex prosthetics; it’s really great for that. It’s usually applied using regular old paint brushes rather than airbrushes. It needs to be thinned with water before using it in an airbrush. My understanding is that it’s prone to clogging them and should really only be used with an external mix airbrush.
What kind of paint is right for me?
Everyone’s skin is different. Finding the right type and brand of paint for you might take some experimentation. However, I really recommend starting out with water based paints so that you know what you’re getting into, and so you can practice airbrushing before moving on to the expensive stuff.
If you’ve never done any body painting before, I'd recommend that you start off by playing around with a water based cake makeup like Mehron Paradise AQ on a sponge or a brush before investing in any airbrush equipment. You might find that works well enough, or maybe you just can’t stand the way body paint feels, and that this isn’t for you.
If you have sensitive skin, or your event is only going to last a couple of hours, or won’t be real freaking hot, water based is probably the way to go. If you’re going to be somewhere hot, humid, just tend to sweat a lot, have a costume that might stain easily, or want to be able to wear your paint for a really long time, and are willing to drop the cash, I strongly recommend alcohol based paint.
You could also use both, a lot of people do. You can't blend different kinds of paint together and airbrush them on, but you can certainly apply them to different parts of your body. If your face is just too sensitive for alcohol based paint, but the rest of your body is fine, you could use a water based paint or creme make up there, and then an alcohol based one on the rest of the body. Color matching different kinds of paint can take some time and experimentation, so be sure to play with this way ahead of time.
PART THREE - Applying airbrush makeup. What’s involved, what to do, how long it takes, and other things you should know.
First things first; prep your skin.
This is a process that starts a couple of days before you wear your paint. Where ever you’re going to be applying paint, you may want to remove your body hair. When you sponge or brush on body paint, you get some on your body hair, but most of it is forced past those fine hairs and sticks to the skin. With airbrushing, those hairs act as a kind of filter, and a lot of the paint will hit your hair before any reaches the skin, resulting in more layers of paint, and will therefore be more likely to crack, flake, etc. Thicker layers of paint are uncomfortable, and it makes you look fuzzy. Airbrushing will reveal facial hair you didn't even know you had and shine a brilliant spot light on it. I use a brow razor like this www.sallybeauty.com/Ladyn-Razo… to remove my facial hair.
Now, depending on how thick or fine your hair is, and what brand of paint you're using, you may not have to do this. Some brands of paint can be brushed off after drying (especially if you have fine hair), and others can adhere your hair to your skin if you apply a base layer with a sponge and smush them down. Personally, I just remove it. I have pretty fine hair, but smushing it down with a base layer has never worked for me with any of the paints I’ve experimented with, and brushing it off afterwards just adds to application time and wastes paint.
Exfoliate a day or two in advance, and use moisturizer generously in the days leading up to your event. If you’re going to be painting your arm pits, you’ll want to use an antiperspirant. Get one that will absorb into your skin overnight, and apply it at bedtime the night before you paint yourself.
Before applying your paint, wash your face and skin and let it completely dry. If you have a certain skincare routine you do on a daily basis, it may be best to skip it, depending on the paint you’re using. Applying a moisturizer or other products (especially ones that contain any oil) before alcohol or hybrid body paint can weaken the bond between the paint and your skin, and cause them to wear off when they wouldn’t otherwise. I recommend doing a test run with any moisturizers or primers you’d like to use before doing your first event to see if your products are compatible with your paint.
It's best to refrain from drinking alcohol the day before wearing body paint. When you drink, your body exudes a small amount of alcohol through your skin for awhile afterwards. If you drink enough, this can interfere with the bond between the paint and your skin, making it difficult to apply and shortens the wear time.
Have a tarp / towel / sheet you don't care about on the floor because if any paint spills it may stain the grout or tile. This is reaaaally bad if you're in a hotel. I also recommend protecting the shower curtain. Hotels can charge extravagant amounts of money for damage. I’ve never turned a hotel bathroom blue with overspray, but I like to take these precautions just in case. It’s better to look like a crazy person and Dexter the bathroom than get charged $200 because there’s a smidgen of body paint on the floor.
Make sure your work area is well ventilated, especially if you’re using alcohol based makeup or a hybrid paint, the fumes can be a little irritating. Leave the bathroom door open, and take breaks to let the paint dissipate if it gets too thick in the air (you might set off the smoke alarm if it gets real bad). Pam and the makeup artists at Reel Creations both recommend having a box fan with an air conditioning filter taped to the back set up in your work area. (In a pinch, you can also cover the back with a few strips of paper towels.) The fan draws the excess overspray into the filter, and the breeze from it helps the paint dry faster and eases the stinging when applying alcohol based paints to your face. Don't have a curling iron or anything like plugged in at the same time. Remember, these paints are flammable!
If you're doing this in a hotel, be kind to your roommates, and warn them ahead of time. If the room isn't in your name, make sure the room host is aware of what you're doing and okay with it. If you're using any body paints that may be fumey like alcohol based makeup, make sure no one has any breathing problems. Bring and offer ear plugs if airbrushing will occur during the wee hours of the morning, compressors can be a bit noisy.
Applying the paint itself is quite easy, it's just a little tedious. You’ll want to do some experimentation to nail down what works best for you and the paint you pick. Here’s my general process.
- Put on your costume pieces and draw on an outline around where you need to apply paint, so you won’t use more paint than you need to. Be sure to take into account how your costume may shift and expose more skin.
- If using a water-based paint, apply a barrier spray such as Ben Nye Final Seal or Mehron Barrier spray all over your to-be-painted skin. This is generally unnecessary for alcohol based and hybrid paints, but some brands may recommend using a base layer barrier spray.
- Optional – Sponge on or use a makeup brush such as a flat top kabuki brush to apply a quick base layer. If your paint requires two coats to reach your desired opacity, this can cut down on application time a bit, and reduces the amount of paint you get in the air (which is really useful for more “foggy” brands of body paint, like Proaiir). It doesn’t matter if the first layer is a little splotchy, the airbrush layer will smooth it out. I do this with water-based and sometimes hybrid paints, but generally skip it with alcohol-based ones, as those tend be rather difficult to apply without an airbrush.
- Start airbrushing! Hold your airbrush back at least six inches from your skin for base layers. The closer you hold an airbrush to your skin the smaller and more concentrated the spray pattern gets. The smaller the spray pattern, the longer the application time, and you don’t want your layers to be very thick. You want to apply two, maybe three thin layers of paint (and be sure to let the paint dry between layers). The application pattern doesn’t really seem to matter, I usually use long sweeping motions on my arms and neck, and circular ones on my face. Get just enough on there to get the desired opacity.
- When you finish airbrushing, apply a barrier spray such as Ben Nye Seal or Mehron Barrier Spray for water-based paints, or your brand’s recommended sealer if using an alcohol-based or hybrid paint. Sealants aren't super necessary for alcohol-based paints since the paints alone don't really budge. However, sealants do further minimize rub off, and extend the wear time of the paint, which is good for things like temporary tattoos you want to last for several days. If you're using an alcohol based paint that has a tacky finish (like Temptu), you'll want to powder it to reduce that.
I wear nitrile or latex gloves while doing this so that my hands (if I'm not painting them) will be clean later. If I am painting them, I still wear gloves until I'm ready to paint them, and do that last. Put your costume on after airbrushing yourself. Again, that overspray gets everywhere.
While you might try your best not to, you will scrunch your eyes when spraying paint onto your lids and under eyes, and it won't land in the wrinkles that form. As a result the makeup around your eyes will be wrinkly. It also won’t reach the skin below your bottom lashes. If you try to correct this by spraying more on, you'll just end up with a really thick layer of paint around your eyelids, which will crack as you make various facial expressions throughout the day. Sponge or brush it on the best you can.
I should note that alcohol based paints do sting the sensitive under eye skin and the fumes sting the eyes and nostrils. Not badly, at least not in my opinion, and sticking my face in front of the fan helps alleviate this. I would also like to mention that it goes against everything I’ve ever been taught at science school to spray any kind of alcohol directly at your eyes. If you choose to do this, do it WITH EXTREME CAUTION. Seriously, this could hurt them. It's best to use a matching water based or cream makeup for this area (apply it prior to airbrushing for best results). Do NOT open your eyes until the paint is dry or the fumes from the alcohol will sting your eyes. Same goes for water based paints, not because of any fumes, but because opening them before will cause the paint to crease on your lids.
When painting joints like your elbow or fingers, wait for the paint to dry completely before bending them. These areas are going to wear off no matter what with water based paints, and just a little with alcohol based paints, so don’t start off the day with some creases, or they’ll just go faster.
Oh, and after you've finished airbrushing, it's a good idea to clean out the inside of your nostrils with a Q-tip or tissue. You'll find out why. :]
This is very important. If you walk out onto the con floor with just the body paint on you will hate the way your pictures look. Your face will be flat and your features will be ill defined. It’s important to add some definition back to your face with EVEN MORE MAKEUP!
Eyeliner - This is probably the most important, it makes your eyes visible again. They will disappear right into your face without it, especially if they're a similar color to your body paint. The pink of your water line will still be visible. Don’t even try to put body paint here. If this bothers you, pick an eyeliner to tight line may-mayhem.blogspot.com/2012/1… with. I strongly recommend Maybelline and Essence Gel Eyeliners. NYX makes a lot of crazy colors if you don’t want to use a black or brown, but they don’t last as long.
Mascara / False lashes - Your eyelashes will inevitably catch a bunch of overspray while you are airbrushing yourself. This will turn them the same color as your body paint. You may want that, you may not, but if you don't, mascara will help bring them out back out. Mascara will apply clumpily to your lashes because of the paint that's there; I try to comb out as much of the paint as possible before applying any. Mascara will only cover the front of your lashes, so the tops of your lashes will still be the color of your body paint. If this bothers you, false lashes will help cover this.
Eyebrows - The paint will inevitably catch on to these as well, and they'll disappear for the most part. Again, that may be something you want, it may not. An eyebrow brush will help get some of the paint off. You can clean the paint off your brows, but you'll end up taking away the paint underneath as well. If the remover you’re using runs down your face, your paint will streak. You can color these with mascara, but just like your lashes, it'll be clumpy and difficult to apply. Personally, I prefer to just draw them back in with an eyebrow pencil/powder, or eyeshadow.
Lips - Body paint doesn’t stick to the lips very well, you'll want to use a lipstick. If you want a "natural" look for your character, pick a lipcolor that's a few shades darker than your paint. I recommend looking at NYX products if you need a hard to find color like blue or green.
Blush / Contouring - This is crazy super important. Again, painting yourself one flat color is going to look bad in photos. Contour your cheeks, nose, temples, eyelid crease; whatever you feel is necessary. Practice with this beforehand, so you know how light/heavy a hand to use.
It’s easiest to use a matte eyeshadow or powder that’s darker than your body paint for contours, lighter than your body paint for highlights. Cream or water based cake makeup can also be used, but be sure to test the compatibility of the cake with your airbrush makeup (and wear it around for a while). The oils or other ingredients in these paints may weaken alcohol based makeup, and cause it to smudge when touched. They may also reactivate and smear water based paints.
You can do this with your airbrush if it’s a double action, just darken the paint you used for your body color, or use a darker color that complements your body paint. This is best done by an assistant, since you’re likely going to get paint in your eyes if you do this by yourself. However, contouring with an airbrush requires a lot of practice, so unless you have a super dependable friend or significant other you can teach to do this, it’s probably best to go the powder or cake route.
A bit of blush can also look good, depending on the color of body paint. Make sure you have a blush color that compliments the body paint, not you.
Nails - If you're going to be applying body paint to your hands, paint your nails a similar color to your body paint. Body paint doesn't stick very well to your nails, but does a little better when they're painted. The paint here will rub off no matter what, so the similar color will keep the rub-off from being too obvious.
Contacts - If you wear them and are using water based paint put them in BEFORE applying your body paint. If you are using alcohol based makeup, I recommend putting them in AFTER applying your paint to your face, with unpainted and clean hands, but before doing your eye makeup with mascara, liner, etc. (If any alcohol based makeup were to get into your eyes during application, it could become trapped under your contact lenses, making it difficult to flush out and could seriously harm your eyes.)
How much time will this take? Depends. How much area do you have to cover? How wide is the spray pattern on your airbrush? How opaque are your paints? My Mission makeup takes about two hours to do unassisted (airbrushing and face makeup). Do a full test run on a free day before your first event so you have an idea. Take some pictures too, so you can make sure you’re happy with the results. If you have any prosthestics (like Twi’lek lekku), paint them prior to the event to save time there. At conventions, I like to set up my workplace in advance the night before, after everyone is done showering to save time the next day.
Cleaning your airbrush
I don't care how big of a hurry you are to get to your event; always always always clean your airbrush. If paint is allowed to dry inside of an internal mix airbrush, it will freeze up and cease to work. You can generally save your airbrush if this happens, but it's a huge pain and it's just not good to let it happen. Save yourself the trouble and clean it immediately. This is less of a concern with external mix airbrushes since the paint doesn’t actually go through the airbrush itself, but paint can still build up around the nozzle and cause headaches.
When using water based paints, I spray a mix of dish washing liquid and water through my gun, and then lots and lots of water through it to get it clean. To clean my airbrush after using alcohol based inks, I spray 91% isopropyl alcohol through it, directly into an airbrush cleaning pot. Your airbrush may also require oiling or other maintenance. Make sure to read your user manual, and follow the manufacturer's instructions!
Body Paint Removal
And here's where the real fun begins! This can be a frustrating process if you used alcohol based paints, but fear not, you will not die green. You just need some patience and elbow grease. This process will get faster in time, and you'll soon learn the little trouble spots you tend to miss.
Water based paints
These are easy to remove. All you really need is a washcloth or loofa, and soap and water. Make up removers are good for stubborn spots, like your eyebrows. I like to use makeup remover wipes for a first pass all over my skin to keep as much of the paint out of the tub as possible to avoid any stains. I take a good long shower afterwards to get really clean. Be thorough; you may think you're clean after a few minutes, but no, it's still in your hairline, ears and nose.
Alcohol based paints
Alcohol based paints laugh at regular makeup removers and soaps. You have to reactivate them with something they’re soluble in so that they can then be wiped/washed off. 91% isopropyl alcohol will cut right through them, but it stings like crazy and will dry out your skin.
Reel Creations and European Body Arts have specially formulated removers; Reel Body Art Remover Liquid, and Unveil and Vapore. I haven’t tried EBA’s products yet, but RC’s is awesome, and is my preferred means of removing alcohol based body paint. Rub it on, let it sit for a few minutes, then wipe or wash it off with some soap and water. It doesn’t sting at all or require a ton of scrubbing.
The previously mentioned brand name removers can be bit pricey, so here are some cheaper and more easily accessible removers:
Coconut oil – Rub it into your skin, let it sit for 5-10 minutes, wipe/scrub off with paper towels or a wash cloth. You may have to repeat this process a couple of times depending on what brand of paint you’re using. It’ll take more time than the specially formulated removers, but it’s real gentle on the skin and is pretty cheap.
Baby oil – Same process as coconut oil. The smell will stick with you forever though, and it also requires more scrubbing than coconut oil.
Barbasol Shaving Cream – I saw this recommended a few times by makeup artists who’ve worked at haunted houses and on TV productions. Lather up, let it sit, wipe with a warm wash cloth, rinse, repeat as needed. It’s a little slow going like coconut or baby oil, but it gets the job done. Skintimates has also worked for me, I'm sure other brands would as well. Out of all the cheaper removers this one is my favorite since it doesn't leave an oily residue behind in the shower/tub.
Use soap and water or the previously mention removers for alcohol based paints for stubborn spots. You need to let the soap set for a bit before rinsing off with water. Start off by rubbing soap onto your skin until the lather begins to turn the same color as your body paint. Wait a minute, then rinse. Repeat as needed.
Bring your own towels and wash cloths for cleanup, regardless of what kind of paint you use, any of them might stain the hotel towels. You might want to bring one to wipe down the bathtub too. Be careful not to leave any used towels laying around somewhere where they might come into contact with someone’s costume or clothes. I always bring a trash bag for any used paper towels since those will fill up the tiny hotel trash cans real quick.
Be sure to test your remover in advance, and make sure it works well with your paint and skin, and that you're comfortable with the amount of scrubbing you need to do. Personally, I found that coconut oil took more time and scrubbing than I was comfortable with to remove Reel Creations, but worked fine for Temptu Dura.
PART FOUR - Frequently asked questions and other interesting stuff.
I have _____ skin problem, can I wear body paint?
That’s a tough question, and not one that I can answer. Everyone’s skin is different. I’m pretty lucky, my skin isn’t the greatest, but I’ve never had a bad reaction to any of the theatrical makeup or body paint products I’ve tested.
If you have a known allergy or suspect a certain cosmetic ingredient to irritate your skin, check the ingredients of the makeup you’re interested in before purchasing. These paints, especially alcohol based ones are going to be rougher on your skin than your everyday wear makeup. The removal process can be very irritating too.
Don’t invest in a whole bunch of makeup before testing it out to see if it’s compatible with your skin. Buy small amounts at first, and do a makeup test well in advance of your event. Don’t just leave it on for ten minutes, wear it for a day, and see how it feels and lasts.
How much paint will I need to cover x or y parts of my body?
I also can’t give you an exact answer that, sorry! The amount of paint you need is going to vary for a variety of reasons. What brand and color of paint are you using? Temptu's white cover's almost twice as much area as Reel Creations because Temptu's is more opaque. In general, lighter colors of paint will require more layers to achieve a decent level of opaqueness. More layers = more paint to buy. Do you have tattoos? These will require thicker paint to cover up, and more paint to touch up as the day goes on, because thicker layers of paint wear faster. How tall are you? What’s your body shape like? Your skin tone? Is your airbrush appropriate for the the kind of paint you are using? How much experience do you have? Seriously, there are a lot of factors that go into this.
For my Mission costume, when I paint my face, arms, neck, plus the areas that might show when my clothes move, it takes about 3 ounces. I’ve never done a full body paint application, but I’ve read that it takes between 8 to 12 ounces for a woman my height and weight.
I’d recommend buying some samples of the colors you’re thinking about using and seeing how far an ounce goes, the longevity of your chosen paint, etc. before sinking a lot of money on a large amount of makeup. Again, I can’t stress the importance of testing your products in advance.
What’s the best way to mix liquid body paints?
I like to remove paint from the original bottle, and blend colors together in a new bottle. That way, I can keep track of exactly how much I’m using of each color, and record what my formula is so I can get that exact color again. You can buy bottles for airbrush paints at hobby stores. Be sure to add a metal bead to them to help mix the paint if they don’t come with one.
To precisely measure body paint while mixing test batches, or just small batches in general, I heartily recommend using an oral medication syringe and bottle seal such as this: www.amazon.com/Dose-Oral-Syrin… Trying to use tablespoons and the like gets messy real fast. These are also a good way to add paint to your airbrush's paint container if your paint bottle doesn't have a squeeze top.
Can I mix different kinds of body paints?
Depends. Mixing alcohol based paints with water based ones is a hard no. That won’t magically create a hybrid paint. Instead it’ll make useless gunk you can’t airbrush any more. Different brands of the same type of body paint will sometimes mix well together. I was once able to blend Reel Creations with another (now discontinued) alcohol based paint and it worked like a charm. It just depends on how each brand’s formula varies, and if they’ll react well together. If you want to play around with compatibility, use teeny tiny batches to experiment with so you don’t waste much paint if something goes wrong.
Silicone based paints don’t play nicely with any other types of paints, and will create useless gunk that you can’t airbrush. I’ve seen makeup artists recommend having an entirely separate airbrush for silicone makeup, because any residual silicone products left in an airbrush after cleaning could react with a different kind of paint, and clog your airbrush.
Can I use the same airbrush for painting props?
Can you use the same kind? Sure, but it's best not to use an airbrush that you've used for acrylics/lacquers/etc., for makeup. You don't want to get any not-for-skin products on your body.
Can you recommend an airbrush/compressor for me?
I bought my compressor from a now defunct company. However, I’m fairly certain that it’s a rebranded Master TC-20 airbrush compressor (a lot of off-brand airbrushes and compressors are rebranded Master products). You can find it on TCP Global or on Amazon.
I like it well enough, and it gets the job done. It’s not too noisy and has a regulator that allows me to adjust the PSI, and it has a moisture trap that prevents water from gumming up my alcohol based paints. But it tends to overheat so I have to stop every now and then and let it cool off. It also “walks” around because it vibrates so much, so I have to keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t go too far astray and pull my hose into something.
It’s a great starter compressor, and has certainly given me my money’s worth over the last ten years, but I’ll probably purchase a compressor that doesn’t walk around as much next time.
As far as airbrushes go, I love my Iwata HP-CS (a gravity fed, internal, double action brush). Thing is it’s pretty pricey and probably not something you want to purchase as you’re just starting out. I have an Aztek Broad Stroke airbrush (a bottom fed, external, single action) as well, which a lot of people really like and recommend for body paint. It's a great starter brush and gets the job done, but I've noticed I lose more alcohol based paint as overspray with this one, and so I usually only use it for water based or hybrid paints.
When looking for airbrushes, check reviews on multiple websites to get an idea of whether or not it'll be a reliable brush. You'll generally find things cheaper online than you will in hobby stores like Michael's and Hobby Lobby.
My body paint stained my skin! What do I do?
Keep at it with the remover, shaving cream can be especially helpful for this. Applying a lotion, letting it set for 30 minutes or so and trying again can be helpful. Applying a base layer of white or a neutral, non-staining color can help prevent this. Base layers can also help your paint color pop!
Wearing Body Paint; some things to expect and other tips.
When you do your first full face makeup test, you’re going to look in the mirror and admire how awesome you look. It’s going to make you crack a big ol' smile. And when you do you’re going to freak the hell out. Certain colors of paint will make your teeth look like they belong to a chain smoking coffee addict who has never been introduced to a toothbrush. Pretty much any color of face paint will at least make them look dull. You’re probably not going to be too crazy about the way they look unless you have Hollywood white teeth. Practice your smile, and maybe think about whitening them if it bothers you and you plan to wear body paint a lot.
Eating in body paint can be tricky. Stuffing your face whilst painted is a bad idea, regardless of what kind of paint you used. If it is an enemy of lipstick (like sandwiches), it is body paint’s greatest nemesis. Some snacks I like are almonds, protein bars, cheese cubes, really anything that can be broken into small bites and popped into your mouth. Also, bring straws.
Some people use body paint as a reason to invade your personal space. I’ve had people get real close to me to examine my skin and touch me without asking permission. It’s not a constant thing, but it usually happens once or twice when I wear body paint at a con.
Other people will have the opposite reaction and squeeze themselves as far away from you as possible in elevators or hallways. Try not to take offense, as they’ve likely had an unpleasant experience with a body painted cosplayer. I’ve been grabbed by people with painted hands while in costumes I spent 200+ hours working on or made of an irreplaceable material. It was absolutely nerve wracking to look down and assess the damage done, and to see if it would come off or not later.
On that note, it’s a good idea to bring loose fitting disposable gloves with you if you’re going to be painting your hands. It’ll keep paint off of things if you find yourself needing to rummage through your luggage for something during the middle of the day, and your hands clean when you use the bathroom.
Children will be fascinated by you.
And that’s all I have to say for now; I hope it helps! Applying body paint is pretty simple, it’s the detail work that takes a lot of practice. Don’t be intimidated by it, and have fun! I’ll update this guide as I have more information and experiences to share.