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How to airbrush T-shirts

T-shirts are everywhere and are a favorite of everyone, young and old, boys and girls, for work or play or just to make a statement. Airbrushing of T-shirts and other apparel reached its peak in the 60's and 70's. Today, you might even call airbrushed T-shirts commonplace.

Airbrushing T-shirts as a business is good if you work from home. It cuts down on fixed costs like rental and utilities and can be profitable given the tight margins of the business. Artists will charge $1 a minute and a simple design will go for about $10. These prices have stayed the same for almost twenty years, even if the price of materials has gone up considerably during this period. Airbrushing T-shirts can be as simple as adding small touches to personalize an already airbrushed T-shirt, or airbrushing the whole design on a plain T-shirt.

To airbrush a T-shirt, a bottom type Siphon Feed airbrush is commonly used. It handles high-viscosity textile paints better and lets you change colors quickly. It's easier if you have different containers for each of the colors you use. The right hose for the paint used is an important consideration, and different airbrush brands have different specifications for the hose.

A compressor should deliver a pressure of 40 to 60 psi, and most standard airbrush compressors will be adequate if you just do occasional airbrushing jobs. However, if you're into high-volume work, you might prefer commercial type compressors available at hardware stores.

You will need the right kind of textile paint, in the colors you will use for your designs. Artists recommend using popular name brands to avoid problems with your design that you might encounter with cheaper, untested brands.

Then, of course, there's the T-shirt itself. You can use 100% cotton or 50% cotton and 50% polyester T-shirts. 50/50 blends are supposed to have less design fading over time and shrink less. Some artists suggest washing and ironing the T-shirt before airbrushing it, while others say it's not necessary. The important thing is to eliminate the loose fibers that can get in the way of airbrushing. If you don't wash and iron the T-shirt, you can apply a clear coat over the shirt and heat set it to get rid of the fuzz. It will also give you a smooth surface on which you can airbrush your design.

Practice drawing your design on paper until you're satisfied. Place the T-shirt on a shirt board, securing it with clamps or clothespins, and draw the design on the shirt in light strokes using a soft lead pencil or vine charcoal. When you airbrush the shirt, take your time, concentrate on each stroke and focus on every detail. Take care not to apply too much paint.

After you've finished airbrushing the design, apply a clear coat on the design and heat set it. For occasional airbrushing jobs, an ordinary home flat iron will suffice. For volume jobs, a commercial heat press might be more practical.

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