How To Airbrush Backgrounds

Jennifer Dove | June 26, 2017

Enjoy this tutorial on making backgrounds from Jennifer Dove.

In this tutorial I am going to show you a great way to create your own backgrounds using airbrushing. You can come up with many different variations using this technique.  

Copic airbrushed landscape
For this technique you will need:


Step 1: Start off by cutting a piece of Mask It in the form of mountains.

Peel and place onto a piece of glossy cardstock. Make sure all edges are nicely pressed down so as to not allow ink to seep under the Mask It.

Copic Markers and Colorless Blender

Step 2: Get the colors out you wish to use for the sky.

Lighter colors for a “cloudy” sky and darker colors for a night sky. For my example I am using B34, B39, BV25, BV29, and C10. 

Step 3: Airbrushing in layers.

I started with the lighter color (B34) and placed a thicker layer of ink down using an airbrush machine in the area I envisioned as the “milky way” and the horizon. Working the darker colors next, I placed the B39 around the remaining white area and added a little BV25, BV29, and C10 in the upper corners.

Hint: The thicker the layers of ink are, the more action the ink will have in the next step. Fill a fine misting bottle with Various Ink Colorless Blender.

Copic airbrushing

Step 4: Mist the background with a generous amount of the blending solution.

The ink will separate or coagulate in small puddles and then settle to create a background texture. Watch and wait while the solution evaporates, the texture will change as it dries. Once dry, you can give it another light misting to add more texture detail, or add large drops of the solution for a more abstract effect. 

Every time you follow these steps the outcome will be unique. The variables are the amount of ink used, the colors, and amount of Various Ink Colorless blender.

How to use Copic airbrush

Step 5: Remove the Mask It.

Once the project is completely dry, you can gently remove the Mask It and discard.  

Copic airbrushed landscape

Step 6: Show separation and shadows.

Using C10, I outlined the top edge of the mountain scape separating and defining the 'mountains from the sky. I added it in the dark areas to show separation and shadows. Because the paper is glossy, the possibilities of a smooth blend are almost non-existent, as the ink has nothing to soak into. Your strokes will be more of a dab or smudge with slight color overlap.

Step 7: Soften.

Next I added B34 to the C10 and wiped off the nib of the lighter marker on absorbent paper to remove any C10 it had picked up. I then added B32 to soften the B34’s edge in the same fashion.

Rubbing Alcohol can also be used, but it has a tendency to change the colors.I wanted to add a little dimension to the piece, so I drew a tree in the foreground using C10, again using a dabbing stroke. Once finished with the main portion of the project, you can add white back in if desired. In this piece I used the White Pearl WiNK for the stars in the night sky.

Misting Variation

Spray a generous amount of solution onto the glossy cardstock and give the ink a moment to separate. Once you can see the separation happening, and while the ink is still wet, use the air nozzle of your empty airbrush machine to push the thicker ink around. This will make finger-like designs, or more of a marble effect as shown in the space project. You can make waves, rolling hills, an underwater seascape or whatever else your creative mind can think of.

Copic airbrushed landscape

Paper Alternatives

I have experimented with a handful of papers and cardstock. The best results are with a paper that is not as absorbent. We know the glossy cardstock works, but did you know that Copic Bleedproof Marker Pad has two different surfaces? The front of the paper is absorbent, allowing for blending.

The reverse side has a coating to keep the markers from bleeding through to other surfaces. This reverse side is less absorbent and will allow for this technique to work. It is slightly more absorbent than the glossy card stock, giving you a little blending capability, but with less time to move your colors around. After spraying and misting the reverse side of the Copic Bleedproof Marker Pad, a fun result appears where the large volume of Various Ink Colorless blender hits the paper. You can actually color over this texture using your basic blending.

Copic airbrush paper test

Paper Crafting

This technique can be incorporated into paper crafting projects as well. You can make your own background paper to coordinate with your colored image, the steps are all the same. Here is a sample of a card made using this technique.

I hope you have been inspired by this fun technique and find ways to incorporate it into your own style of artwork!

We hope you enjoyed this tutorial! See more of Jennifer Dove's work on her blog.


Topics: Illustration, Copic, X-Press It, Kirarina

Jennifer Dove
Jennifer Dove on June 26, 2017

Jennifer is a Regional Instructor for the Copic Art and Design Education team at Imagination International Inc.