Com-art Airbrush Paints (review)

Review of one of the most well-known, best-selling brands of airbrush paint.

A friend of mine recently handed me two small bottles of Com-art paints. I’ve heard good things about them, and they are regarded as being in the same category as Createx Illustration paints and Etac Efx paints, each of which has a sterling reputation.

For this quick project, I was using a micron CM-C, this is the gravity feed version with no Mac valve, so the detail it provides isn’t the best of its class, but it’s damn fine. The paint flows smoothly and accurately without any reduction, with surprisingly little tip dry.

The image displayed above is completely freehand and is around the size of a penny, and the detail was easy to achieve with this combination of products.

The picture above is a good result of the detail lines you can achieve as such soft intensities WITHOUT any reducer. This is straight out of the bottle. The eyelashes have been done with the aid of a frisket. However, shadows and more subtle lashes can be done freehand with care and regularly cleaning the tip. I was amazed we could get these results with water-based paint; normally, you must do much more erasing work. Also, notice the hard line at the top of the image; this line is around 2mm wide and simple to achieve freehand with this combination of materials!

While the textures of this image have been created using erasers and such, some of the darker areas in the iris, such as those to the left, have been reinforced using freehand airbrushing. Normally you’d need to clean the tip after every pass; however, if you have regular paint flow (i.e., if you’re moving fast), then tip dry isn’t much of a problem and allows you to get into the tighter areas.

Airbrush Paints

Water-based and solvent based are the two main types of paints used in airbrush art.
All good paints should contain a minimum of 3 key ingredients, A:

  • Diluent
  • Pigment &
  • Binder

A diluent is a diluting agent and can be referred to as a vehicle. This product in the paint allows you to ‘thin it out’. For example, to dilute a water-based paint, one must add water – therefore, it is commonly referred to as the base.

Pigments are tiny granules incorporated into paint, which give the paint its color. It is important to know that pigments are insoluble. They can either be natural or synthetic. The alternative to pigments is dyed, which on the contrary, is water soluble and much smaller than granules.

The binder is also commonly referred to as the vehicle. This is the component of paint that causes a film to form once the diluents have evaporated. The binder groups the pigments together and promotes adhesion to the substrate. When you hear of paints having to cure, it refers to the binder’s ‘drying’ or polymerization time.

Water-based airbrush paint

As explained already, water is the diluent of water-based paints, which can be thinned by water. The advantage of using water-based paints in airbrushing is that they are the least toxic of paints and are considered safe.

The cleaning is easy, and they can be used on many substrates. The disadvantage of water-based paints is that they are quite temperamental, especially regarding finer detail airbrushes.
Pigments can group together and get stuck in the tip of the airbrush, causing it to spit, and it is common for the pigment to stick to the very end of the needle, causing a temporary irregular paint flow.

Solvent-based paint for airbrushing

For the sake of anyone who’s not a paint lover, we’ll keep this short and stick to only automotive solvent-based paints.

The pigments of automotive paints are much finer than those of water-based paints and are also softened due to the presence of thinners. The advantages of using automotive paints are that they flow much more smoothly, have a cleaner spray pattern, and can be used at lower air pressures. They are much easier to airbrush with, and you get fewer problems.

The disadvantages are that these paints are extremely toxic to inhale, and the cleaning must be done with an appropriate thinner, which is also highly toxic. Always follow the cautions displayed when using such paint products.

Com-art Paints

While I love the quality of the paint and its erasability, the only downfalls I can throw at these products are these two pesky items;

1. The bottles aren’t big enough. For such a great quality product, I’d like to have more. These particular bottles are only 28mL. You may be going through this paint fast if you’re doing full-color portraiture and heavy color mixing. In saying this, the paint is priced competitively, and you’ll find that two bottles may be worth one of another brand of the same quantity.

Since the time of writing, I have been made aware that these same com-art paints are available in 4oz, 16oz and 32oz sizes! This means that you can purchase larger quantities of the colors you use most often. The larger the bottles you purchase, the better value for money also!

2. The paint is too thin. However, I also feel this is one of the paint’s strengths. If you’re working on an absorbent surface, even paper, using this paint at low pressures will deliver the performance you need for a great quality finished product.

Also, having the paint this thin means that you have better flow straight out of the bottle, hell if it didn’t come reduced, I’d be reducing it anyway. And here is the finished result.
After using a low-tac border tape to mask the image, i removed it all, backmasked the artwork, and put the transparent black into the airbrush. I mixed it with around 50% water to test adhesion and see how the flow was. Adhesion is great on the poster board (a semi-gloss finish) for illustrative work, and the flow was excellent.

Since urethanes, I must say this is one of the strongest performing water-based paints I’ve used. This entire image was done using transparent (royal blue and black), and I’d love to go with the opaque. While I didn’t have any to perform this test, I have used them briefly and can vouch that they are also very thin and smooth-flowing. If this is how all com-art paints perform, then they easily get my tick of approval, I just want to get some more so I can get cracking on a color artwork!