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Airbrushing Leather Jackets

After the fig leaves of Adam and Eve, the animal hides used by cavemen and women are probably the oldest items of apparel in human history. From this came “Leather”, a durable and flexible material produced from animal skin and rawhide by different tanning processes. There are four major types of leather:

Full-grain where the upper section containing the epidermis and hair of the hide have not been removed. This type of leather has not been sanded or buffed to remove the natural marks, leaving the hide with greater strength and durability. It also allows air to pass through so perspiration does not accumulate.

Top-grain is the type where the upper section has been removed, leaving it thinner and more flexible. The surface has been sanded and a finish coat applied leaving it feeling like plastic and less breathable.

Corrected-grain leather is one where an artificial grain has been applied by sanding off the imperfections and impressing an artificial grain onto the surface. The artificial grain is then stained or dyed.

Split leather results when the top grain of the hide has been removed leaving a fibrous part. These parts can be split further into many layers until the minimum possible thickness is reached. The surface of the split layer gets an artificial layer and the grain is embossed.

Because it resists wind and abrasion, leather has become identified with rugged work. Cowboys with leather chaps, pilots with leather jackets and bikers with their leather outfits are all symbols of the macho man. Because of its special texture, leather has also become one of the favorite materials for haute couture designers.

Leather jackets are a favorite medium for the airbrush, in much the same way as T-shirts. Leather has more texture and does not absorb paint as much as cotton does. The main difference between airbrushing a leather jacket and a T-shirt lies not so much in the process of spraying the design but in the preparation of the material and the finish.

A Double-Action Gravity Feed airbrush is recommended to spray a design on a leather jacket. A compressor with at least 60 psi, equipped with a pressure regulator and a moisture trap is recommended.

Unless a stencil is used, the design to be sprayed on should first be sketched as a guide. The design may even be projected onto the jacket. The jacket should be placed on a mounting board (just like one would do with a T-shirt).  The surface for the design must first be cleaned of grease and grime with alcohol or a grease remover.

With the airbrush, the design is sprayed onto the jacket using textile paint just the way it is done with a T-shirt. Care must be taken to avoid an excessive build up of paint. Depending upon the design, there can be up to 30 layers of paint on the jacket. Since it's still paint, nicks and scratches can ruin the design. Putting a clear coat finish or heat sealing should protect it adequately.

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