Airbrushing is an artistic technique that uses a compressed air tool, called an airbrush, which sprays various media such as inks, dyes, or paints on to most any surface. There are various techniques to the art, many of which can be difficult to master, but artists pursue airbrushing because of the potential for stunning realism in their final work. The first airbrush was invented in the late 1890s, making it an art form over a century old.
While artists often pursue learning airbrushing skills for personal expression, there are a variety of commercial applications where it is frequently used. The auto body industry is one of the leading commercial industries where artistic airbrushing is a highly sought skill. Additionally, photo touch-ups and restoration, custom clothing, and fingernail art are examples of other commercial applications where this art is common. Similarly, but far less artistic, the technique is used to apply coats of paint to a variety of objects and surfaces.
Though airbrushing can be done using stencils, it is most often a freehand process. The artists who master the process must not only be gifted at recreating an image, but be able to manipulate the trigger with the right amount of pressure and to be able to blend various colors together in addition to shadowing and highlighting. Done well, it can add incredible realism to images and graphics and is sometimes used for painting realistic murals.
The custom airbrushed graphics and designs seen on motorcycles and helmets, automobiles, trucks, and boats are usually applied freehand as well. In many cases, similar to a tattoo artist, an auto body artist can design an image based on customer request, making the graphics truly custom. This can be a very lucrative business for the graphic artist skilled in the techniques.
Custom t-shirts are another area where airbrushing can be lucrative. Street artists who airbrush portraits, names, and other designs can be found at amusement parks, carnivals, street fairs, festivals and other venues that draw large crowds. Manicurists who use the techniques for nail art are usually not freehand artists, but rather combine airbrushing with stencils.