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The easiest way to remove dried paint from the tip of an airbrush

Updated on January 21, 2012

Make a soft paper stump

It's the bane of the Tshirt painting profession - dry paint on the needle tip. Every few seconds it seems, you stop and remove paint from the needle. I've seen artist try many things, finger nails, toothbrushes, cotton swabs. I made my first jiffy-paint-remover with a round plastic eraser that I sharpened to a point with a pencil sharpener. It worked beautifully. Forgetting my wonder tool one day, I was forced to make an improvised replacement. So, I rolled a small piece of paper into a stump and taped it tightly. It worked just as well (almost) as my original. I have since shown many others this quick trick. They're easy to make and work far better than finger nails or cotton swabs.

Paper towel makes pretty good stumps, but water-color paper works best. Follow the illustrated steps. You'll need scissors, paper, wide masking tape, a straw and maybe a wide board or a big book. In the end you want to have a pencil-shaped stump that is about the diameter of a real pencil, and about two or three inches long. Start with a piece of paper that about twice as long as it is wide, maybe 3x6 inches. Cut it a little more narrow on one end. Use a small straw to roll the paper on, starting with the wide end of the paper.

No need to roll neatly at this point. Take care that the tapered side of the paper creates a crude conical shape. Once you have the paper roll roughly shaped, you can begin to roll it tighter by hand.

Remove the straw and repetitively roll the paper coil until it bcomes smaller and tighter. Roll lighty at first. The more it's rolled and harder it's pressed, the tighter it becomes.

You may have to unroll and try again if you did not get a nice pencil-like taper. It's important to make the taper tip small enough to fit inside the airbrush air cap. Once your coil is tight, unroll it until it's about the size of a pencil, cut off the remainder of the paper with a kraft knife. Press very firmly and roll the stump several more times. Don't allow the coil to loosen up. If you need to set it aside, clamp the roll with a clothes pin or put it in a book.

If you find that you can't roll the paper tight enough by hand, use a wide board or a big book to press more firmly as you roll. Just like the airbrush, it takes practice to get it perfect.

Cut a piece of wide masking tape slightly shorter that your paper coil. Place it sticky-side-up on your worktable. Carefully place the leading edge of the paper on the tape and finish rolling it up.

Of course to use it, just press the taper end on the needle tip and give it a twist. Smaller diameter stumps are easier to rotate. At first, It may take a couple of twists to get the paint off. As the dried paint begins to collect in the taper tip it will work better. The rubbery texture of the dried paint works faster than paper. After many uses the dried paint will accumulate on the stump tip. Remove excess paint from the stump tip from time to time. You can refashion the stump tip by wetting it with water and pinching and rolling it to a point again. Allow it to dry and it will re-harden to a stiff point. Eventually, (after many hundreds of uses) the tip of the stump will get too fat and mushy and you'll have to use a new one. So make more than one. You'll make better ones with practice anyway.

Use stump to wipe dried paint off the needle tip


Artist that use acrylic paints (tshirt paint is acrylic) have to clean the needle tips of their airbrushes more often. Tshirt artists will find this little jewel will keep their nails clean.

Airbrushing can be a wonderful hobby or even a pretty good job. However, keeping an airbrush working can be so frustrating that it spoils your hobby. Discouraged airbrush artist can take heart, I have another Hub with helpful advice on how to keep your airbrush working,


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    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 5 years ago from Dartmoor

      Great hub. I'm with ripplemaker - the diagrams are really good. I'm not a T shirt artist, but I use paper stumps for my pastel work, and have always bought them. Who knew I could make my own. I'll give it a go. Rating up and following you.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I love the illustrated diagrams as this is very helpful in seeing how to do it! :) Helpful hub to artists I am sure!

      Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination! To read and vote, head this way please