Airbrushing 3D Prints: Tips and Techniques for a Professional Finish

Airbrushing is a technique that can add a professional finish to your 3D prints. It involves using a small, handheld airbrush to spray paint or other materials onto the surface of your print. In this article, we’ll explore the basics of airbrushing 3D prints, including the tools and materials you’ll need, as well as some tips and techniques for achieving a flawless finish.

Tools and Materials Needed for Airbrushing 3D Prints

Before you begin airbrushing, you’ll need to gather some basic tools and materials. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:

Airbrushing Tools

  • Airbrush
  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Spray booth (optional)

Paints and Other Materials

  • Acrylic paints (recommended)
  • Paint thinner or airbrush medium
  • Masking tape
  • Sandpaper (various grits)
  • Primer (optional)

Preparing Your 3D Print for Airbrushing

Before you start airbrushing your 3D print, you’ll need to prepare the surface for painting. Here’s how:

Airbrushing is a useful technique that can elevate the quality of your 3D prints to a professional level. To achieve a flawless finish, it’s important to gather the necessary tools and materials, prepare the surface of your print through sanding, cleaning, and priming (if desired), and follow tips such as thinning your paint, using light coats, and practicing on scrap material. Using a spray booth can also help to keep your workspace clean and safe.


Use sandpaper of various grits to smooth out the surface of your 3D print. Start with a coarse grit, such as 80 or 120, and work your way up to a finer grit, such as 220 or 320. This will help to remove any ridges or bumps on the surface of the print, creating a smooth surface for painting.


After sanding, wipe down your print with a damp cloth to remove any dust or debris. This will ensure that the surface of the print is clean and ready for painting.

Priming (Optional)

If you’re working with a porous material, such as ABS or PLA, you may want to prime your print before painting. Priming will help to fill in any gaps or holes in the surface of the print, creating a smooth base for painting. Use a spray primer designed for your material, and allow it to dry completely before painting.

Tips and Techniques for Airbrushing 3D Prints

Now that you’ve prepared your print for airbrushing, it’s time to start painting! Here are some tips and techniques to help you achieve a professional finish:

Thin Your Paint

When airbrushing, it’s important to thin your paint with either paint thinner or airbrush medium. This will help to create a smooth, even flow of paint from your airbrush. Start by mixing a small amount of paint with the thinner or medium, and gradually add more until you achieve the desired consistency.

Use Light Coats

When airbrushing, it’s better to use several light coats of paint rather than one heavy coat. This will help to prevent drips or runs in the paint, and will also allow you to build up the color gradually. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next.


If you’re working on a complex print with multiple colors or sections, you may want to use masking tape to protect areas that you don’t want to paint. Apply the tape carefully, ensuring that it adheres well to the surface of the print. This will help to create clean, crisp lines between different colors or sections.

Practice on Scrap Material

If you’re new to airbrushing, it’s a good idea to practice on scrap material before painting your actual print. This will help you get a feel for the airbrush and the paint, and will also allow you to experiment with different techniques and effects.

Use a Spray Booth

If you’re airbrushing indoors, it’s a good idea to use a spray booth to capture any overspray or fumes. A spray booth is a small, enclosed area with a fan that sucks in air and filters out any particles or fumes. This will help to keep your workspace clean and safe.

FAQs for How to Airbrush 3D Prints

What is airbrushing and why is it important for 3D prints?

Airbrushing is a painting technique where high-pressure air is used to spray paint or ink onto a surface. It is important for 3D prints because it allows for a more even and controlled application of paint, producing a smoother and more realistic finish. With airbrushing, you can achieve subtle gradations of color and create intricate details that would be difficult to achieve with traditional brush painting.

What materials and equipment do I need to airbrush my 3D prints?

To airbrush your 3D prints, you will need an airbrush, an air compressor, paints, and a cleaning kit. It is important to choose paints that are compatible with the material your 3D print is made of (e.g., acrylic paints for PLA prints). You may also want to invest in a spray booth to contain any overspray and reduce exposure to fumes.

What steps should I follow to airbrush my 3D print?

First, you should clean and prime your 3D print to ensure a smooth surface for painting. Then, mix your paint and adjust the air pressure on your compressor to achieve the desired flow rate. Practice on a scrap piece of material to get a feel for the airbrush before painting your print. Start with a light coat of paint and build up additional layers as needed for the desired finish. Finally, clean your airbrush thoroughly to prevent clogs and maintain its longevity.

How can I achieve a realistic finish with my airbrushed 3D prints?

To achieve a realistic finish, it is important to use a variety of techniques such as shading and highlighting. You can achieve shading by spraying darker colors in the recessed areas of your print and lighter colors on the raised surfaces. Highlighting involves using a lighter color to create an illusion of depth. It is also important to pay attention to details like texture and add subtle variations to create a more natural appearance.

Are there any safety precautions I should take when airbrushing my 3D prints?

Yes, airbrushing can produce fine particles of paint and fumes that can be harmful if inhaled. It is important to work in a well-ventilated area and consider using a respirator mask. It is also important to avoid skin contact with paints and solvents and to wear protective gloves. Additionally, be sure to dispose of any hazardous waste properly and read the safety instructions on your paint and equipment.