Getting started with Airbrushing! Protective gear (Part 5)

Protective Masks

OK, this is a topic I find difficult, because its probably where you get the most pushy advice.  People shout things like:

  • “You must wear mask!”
  • “You must wear a respirator!”
  • “You must wear  full level 5 hazmat suit before you even look at a post about airbrushing or you will die horribly as your lungs explode.”

Its terribly prescriptive, and doesn’t really take your particular needs and setup into account.  And if you are anything like me, being told “this is the one true way” tends to make you irritated.   So lets look at the risks and mitigating factors to take into account.

Assuming you are using standard acrylic paints and nothing too fancy, the particles are entirely non-toxic in themselves. They can build up in the bronchus (and can eventually lead to complications like Bronchitis) and won’t clear themselves out of your lungs, which we obviously don’t want.  In addition, certain thinners and cleaners may contain other chemicals in their own right, and these may cause nasty effects.  Horrible, right?

Lets look at mitigating factors too.  If you are following this series, you are probably either spraying outside, or with a spray booth extracting the particles and fumes out of a nearby window.  That helps!

You are also using an airbrush cleaning pot if you have any sense – this reduces or removes the worst of the chemical fumes when sorting out your brush.

You also need to think about how often you will be spraying, and for what sort of period.  I have 2 small children – hobby time will be erratic, and for comparatively small periods – chemical exposure will be pretty minimal!  If I had 3-4 hour painting sessions every day or so, it’d be a very different story.

One thing that is pretty individual too is the pressure you spray it – if you use a high PSI, you are going to end up with a heck of lot more airborne particles than a low PSI.  The longer distances you spray at, the higher the PSI you’ll need, and the more particles in the air.  The more particles and fumes in the air, the more protection you should have.  I’ve found that the most fervent supporters of massive masks tend to use fairly high PSI levels.

Another key fact is that filters run out.  The dearest, most expensive mask will do little to protect you if the filters expire. (Well, or the filters will block up entirely and you won’t be able to breathe in it!)   You need to maintain any mask or respirator, or swap it out fairly regularly.

Another factor is that if you are following this series, you are just starting in airbrushing.  You may have a bad experience.  You may find it isn’t for you.  You may suffer from claustrophobia in a big mask!  Spending a fortune isn’t ideal, especially at this point.  We’ve looked at entry level airbrushes, and spray booths.  What should we be looking for here?

Well, as we are dealing with fumes from cleaners, we probably want to look at respirators, not just dust masks (though with a booth and airbrush cleaning pot, and irregular usage, you could probably get away it – certainly a lot of airbrushers I’ve talked to or read their blogs do!).  You can spend a lot on these, but there are a fair few available for around the £25 mark that should do the job.  I’m actually settling for a disposable option, rated as respirators at around £10 for now.  If I find I’m using the airbrush a lot, I can upgrade later.  I can pop them on quickly, swap them out easily, and I have minimal exposure to fumes anyway with the cleaning pot, booth and small number and length of sessions.

Protective Glasses or Goggles

Well, bits of paint in the eye aren’t pleasant, and its always possible to accidentally spray yourself in the face!  I wear glasses, so there’s an element of protection already … but those are expensive and I want to keep them safe.

Honestly, I think a simple set of protective glasses for a couple of quid should do the job, generally.  Again, if you are doing a heck of lot, it’s probably worth kicking it up a notch but I’ve gone for a simple set of protective glasses that fit over my normal ones.  Cheap .. but will help keep the eyes safe.

Protective Gloves

These probably aren’t too big a deal unless you are doing a lot of airbrush work and needing to mess about cleaning the brush all the time with colour changes…. or if you are a seasoned professional worried about getting paint on you hands and accidentally transferring it to your models.  If you do go for these, definitely go for nitrile gloves, not latex – most airbrush cleaners will eat through latex!  You can pick up a box of 100 for just over £5.

Apron

Sounds silly, but unless you have hobby clothes, have a simple apron ready to pop on and save your clothes!!!!  Cheap, quick, easy!  Like hobby should be!

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