The History of Airbrushing in Custom Apparel

The History of Airbrushing in Custom Apparel


DECATUR, AL – If anyone grew up in the 1990s or at the very least took a vacation near a local beach, then most people would remember the common sight of airbrush shops. You would see shop walls plastered with various demonstrations of airbrushing to choose from. And blank t-shirts that come in a variety of sizes for people to airbrush on the spot. It is the epitome of California and Malibu culture, and while shopping malls have died down somewhat, airbrushing of custom apparel is still a thing in the West and Gulf.

So, what started this trend in the first place? When was airbrushing invented, and why is it becoming popular in not just the world of custom apparel, but in the world of baking and tabletop RPGs?   Let’s find out.


The Invention of the Airbrush

airbrush, custom apparel, daguerrotype

When thinking about the origins of airbrushing, especially in clothing you first have to ask just how far back do you go? Do you mention the concept of aerosol or graffiti first? To prevent the starting point from going too exhaustive, we are going to exclusively talk about the airbrush.

While we don’t know who technically invented the first airbrush, we know who first patented the technology. In 1876, American businessman Francis Edgar Stanley from Massachusetts patented the machinery. He owned a photography shop, during an age when photography was so new that they had to color in their own photos by hand.

There would be a combination of crude attempts to make similar stuff for the application of watercolor on photos. But the most solid design with the appointed name “airbrush” was made and re-patented on October 6th in 1883. Liberty Walkup made the final design. His wife Phoebe would not only name the airbrush but would teach it formally in the Illinois Art School.


The Spread of Airbrushing for Makeup and Custom Apparel


After impressionist artists, such as Wilson Irvine, picked up the airbrushing technique it made its way around the artistic circuit and landed all the way in Hollywood, California.  During the production of Ben Hur, a makeup artist needed a way to quickly spray-tan thousands of extras. The airbrush combined with a makeshift concealer did the job.

While the airbrush would become a permanent fixture for prosthetics, temporary tattoos, and sci-fi makeup in the ’70s, it would make its way into custom apparel.

The ’60s and ’70s started to see a boom in airbrushing as both an expression for urban culture and an art form for clothing, album covers, and car customization. Stanley Mouse, son of a Disney Animator, was a front runner in this movement. He lived in Detroit, MI and expressed his own artistic vision for both car and t-shirt customization. He was also the main illustrator behind the Grateful Dead album covers.

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth was another front runner, who also got his start in the custom car circuit. He created his own custom characters, and eventually got into making shirts for the auto shows.

The ’60s and ’70s would bring airbrushing to the peak of popularity and would be commonly seen in print media advertising, and graphic tees.

Airbrushing Remains a Countercultural Medium

Airbrush, graffiti, custom apparel

The popularity of airbrushing in custom apparel died down in advertising, thanks to the wake of digital art and graphic design. However, it does not mean that it is completely erased from custom apparel. It just made a return to its roots in counterculture and is alive and well in punk, hip-hop, and street art. It is a staple in urban cultures around the country and is still a contemporary art form today. Usually as either an expression of grief for losing a loved one or an expression of triumph for black communities.

Airbrushing also found a new home in a niche baking with airbrushed cakes made with thin layers of edible paint and food coloring.  It has made an impression on competitive baking shows and other professional bakers.


Airbrushing is an amazing art form that is so versatile that it has reached so many types of industries. Custom apparel in Decatur, Al is just icing on the cake.  If you want to order some airbrushed custom apparel, in Decatur, AL, contact us. We will not only get the job done well, but we will do it with a smile on our faces.

Feel free to see what we have to offer at www.

15% OFF

With Your 1st Order

*Terms & Conditions applies



We have a number of services to offer you! Just enter your information and select the service you're interested in and your local representative will get in touch with you soon.

Entrusted Tees, promotional products, tshirt printing

First Name

Last Name


Phone Number

Choose What You're Looking For

Scroll to Top