Late last summer, I took up airbrushing again. I’d stopped in the early 90s, and despite some wistful moments, I hadn’t picked one up again until I started doing airbrush tattoos late last summer. That hooked me again, and I started gearing up. The tough part: paint. Back in the day, I used to shoot some nasty stuff—the kind of stuff that would burn your lungs. I didn’t want to do that again. It’s smelly, dangerous, and my lungs aren’t what they used to be. But I’d been out for a while and didn’t know the landscape.
I bought samples of several kinds of commonly used, water-based, “non-toxic” acrylic paints. God, they were maddening. Water-based acrylics have a nasty habit of quickly building up on the tip of the airbrush needle…a phenomenon known as “tip-dry”. The only useful solution is to use your fingernails to “pick” off the extra paint. That wasn’t a problem with the paints I used to shoot, and was starting to bug. But there was an early buzz about some new paints that some people had been testing. It wasn’t really out in the marketplace yet, but it could still be purchased. That paint: E’Tac.
I have to tell you, shooting E’Tac paint is like night and day compared to things like Createx, Aqua Flow, Goldens, and pretty much every other brand I tried. Except for white (which is always troublesome), E’Tac paints exhibit essentially no tip dry. As a result, I pick the tip not out of need, but from habit.
E’Tac come in two basic formulations: Private Stock, which is basically targeted to T-Shirt artists, and EFX-500, which is more of a hard-surface, fine-art sort of paint. There is more to it, but those two form the basis. EFX-500 is low-tac (not sticky to the touch…i.e. doesn’t attract dust), re-wettable (if you make a mistake, a wet cloth can simply wipe it clean), scratchable and erasable (two fine-art techniques), and bonds well onto many surfaces. Private Stock has a higher tac, is not rewettable, scratchable, or erasable, and when heat-set behaves as well or better (typically) than other brands. The kicker is that you can mix and match paints from these two lines without problem.
While sprayability and lack of tip-dry is a major selling point, the bonus is that these paints are designed to be used without messing with the chemistry. You hear “hints” for other brands of paint to make them easier to use…things like adding solvents (alcohol, Fantastik, etc) to make them more like…well…E’Tac. Thing is, when you add those chemicals you’ve now made the paint more toxic. Honestly, if you’re going to do that, you might as well go with the solvent-based paints to begin with (though with increasing EPA regulations, it might be harder to do so).
For airbrush artists, I give my highest recommendation to E’Tac paints. I’ve yet to see their equal in a water-based acrylic, and none better. It’s a joy to shoot, easy to clean, and even smells nice. If you haven’t tried any, order a few bottles or a small set and give it a try. Tell ‘em CJ sent ya.