Is Print Dead? … the State of the Airbrush Union

The key to keeping the longest running airbrush magazine in history alive is a constant reinventing of ourselves, guerilla marketing tactics, the shear will to survive, and, especially in these print-challenged times, luck.

July-August 2012 Issue
Airbrush Action Magazine

About 17 years ago, the advent of computer graphics and art spelled the end of photo-retouching by hand, and all but decimated hand painted illustration, Airbrush Action’s flagship application.  Yes, for those who didn’t know us back then, we were primarily an illustrator’s magazine.  Our advertising universe was quite respectable, we boasted about 116 pages an issue, and Airbrush Action showed continual growth in its first 10 to 12 years.

Then followed the enormous attrition of art stores. When I entered the art industry in 1983, there were more than 5,000 art retailers. Today, there are about 500, if that! Many of these retailers just couldn’t rebound or react quickly enough to the personal computer boom.  It got so bad one year, in fact, that the difference between profit and loss for Airbrush Action was the rent.


“I don’t think anyone can argue that, ultimately, we have done far more
good than harm in making one of the largest contributions to promoting
and helping to sustain the use of airbrush.”

—Cliff Stieglitz, Airbrush Action’s publisher


We then redirected our focus to a new market: automotive custom painting, the last frontier of airbrushing as I saw it at the time.  To compensate for the substantial loss of ad support, I realized that I had to step up our ancillary efforts by expanding our video library, further grow the Airbrush Getaway workshop program (more courses, etc.), publish more books, and explore any other products that wouldn’t compete with our advertisers.

Then, by the early 2000s the internet devastated print publishing across the board, including major magazines and newspapers.  The New York Daily News, Time magazine, ad infinitum, are all in financial trouble. In fact, I just heard today that Newsweek may cease printing. The classified sections of newspapers are on the brink of extinction because of free posting, and effective, websites such as Craigslist.

Do I believe print is dead? Not yet. Our distribution remains strong and niche and mainstream magazines are still in demand. And as long as there are airports, bookstores, and special interests, there will be print. The big problem is that many advertisers believe that all their eggs should be in one basket, the internet. I certainly believe in the internet, and I most enthusiastically embrace new technologies. Airbrush Action certainly does its fair share of social media, PPC campaigns, and even launched its website in 1996, before most in this industry.

But, I firmly believe that many of the players in this sector (airbrush and paint manufacturers, and those who make art accessories, etc) are committing a big mistake ignoring the relevance and importance of print, and clearly missing an important and fresh parade of readers associated with each issue. Clearly.  As much as we’re involved in the internet, you may be surprised to know that most of our Airbrush Getaway registration, and other response that leads to revenue, comes from Airbrush Action! We have spent thousands on pay-per-click campaigns on the net with only modest returns, and print subscriptions continue to be the champ over iPad and Web digital versions of Airbrush Action.

Although most of the feedback we receive is very positive, there are those who take issue (no pun intended) with our house ads, and I fully empathize with them. But please understand that if Airbrush Action cannot rely on the support of its industry, it must use other means to survive. Folks, even in good times an airbrush magazine is more difficult to sustain than you could ever imagine.  In fact, two former competitors shared the same sentiment with me: “Cliff, I have a new respect for you, and would never attempt to publish an airbrush magazine again!  I don’t know how you do it.”  For those who may believe that publishing is glamorous, let me assure you that there’s absolutely no romance in the minefield of magazine ownership.

Unfortunately, I know I cannot please everyone all the time, yet I’m committed to my nearly 30-year passion to continue to publish Airbrush Action.  I don’t think anyone can argue that, ultimately, we have done far more good than harm in making one of the largest contributions to promoting and helping to sustain the use of airbrush. However, the tradeoff for readers and enthusiasts desiring Airbrush Action’s continuation is being a little more understanding of our very necessary fund-raising efforts.

Your generous support in the form of Airbrush Getaway registration, subscriptions, the purchase of our books and DVDs is greatly appreciated and vitally important.  I anxiously await your suggestions on how we can make Airbrush Action a better experience for you, so please feel free to e-mail me at





  1. Mark Harmon says:

    Keep it going Cliff. I have been a long time subscriber and believer in Airbrush Action magazine. I want the print version to survive as I feel having a quality visual guide to reference is an important learning tool that the computer can’t replace while I am working on a piece.

    That only problem with print vs digital for me is the ability to find the article I know I have in my library. Is there a search engine in the digital collection of back issues on disc? If so I would buy the collection to quickly locate the article when needed.

    Thanks for all the years of Airbrush Action, Mark.

  2. Absolutely NOT! print is still alive and well in my mind … having everything digital is (in my personal opinion) becoming a pain in my ass as well as my eyes! I prefer the feel of a magazine, the vibrant color of the pictures, the visual size,the ease of the text on my eyes, the versatility even!! i can read it anywhere and everywhere, roll it up, stuff it in the bottom of my bag to read later and I don’t have to worry about anything getting broken, cracked, stolen, battery dying, to dark to see, to bright to see pop ups, computer crashes, 404 errors, etc. !!!

    Really with my airbrush action magazine in hand the worst things I can think of is “damn I have a ripped page,” or “oops I got it wet!” and in the worst case scenarios…just grab another copy ! long live print! I’m all in…don’t get me wrong of course…I’m a total digital tech whore and love my toys but somethings are just better left alone…”cough” “cough” mp3 vs vinyl “cough” “cough” but that’s a whole new conversation :)

  3. Judy Brassard says:

    I look forward to the print version of Airbrush Action magazine every two months. It has a lot of great information besides the adverts and I enjoy the adverts as well. I have tried the digital version, but I am not really a fan.

  4. Buzz Brown says:

    Printed material is very far from dead! I have read Airbrush Action since about 1985, it is an institution. I would never give up my hand held paper copy of a publication in lieu of staring at it on a screen, that is just wrong. And besides-what would I do-take a laptop to the bathroom to read Terry Hill’s newest article??
    Keep up the good fight, Cliff, and I hope to see you in Vegas again soon!

  5. Hi
    I need a little help from you guys,I bought a digital magazine and untill now I did´n receive link to restart my password,I lost and I can´t log to my account to download the magazine.
    thanks for the help

  6. Butch Evans says:

    I am in agreement with Buzz Brown, Judy Brassard, Stewart Maclaren and Mark Harmon.
    Hard copy is great; it’s tactile something with character. Having said that, the one good thing about digital (for me anyway) is it allows me to subscribe to magazines I normally would not purchase because of the space they take up.
    So I have my 2 favourite mags in hard copy and anything else I find interesting I either purchase a subscription or single magazine in digital format.

  7. Please keep printed issues as I have been a subcriber on and off since the early 90′s and enjoy a magazine that I can hold and read time to time. I have tried the digital issues and really don’t like them…The only reason I even buy the digital is because they come out way before I get it in the mail. I would say that this magazine is the biggest source of inspiration in my work and look forward to every new issue.

  8. KennyHuff says:

    Maybe the printed version could evolve into less quantity, but better quality images….? Like full-page spreads of very detailed stuff.
    As a younger, more tech savy person, I think I would transition over to a digital version easily. Especially when you have started offering the DVD on-demand stuff. Thats great. Print will never die, but technology and the World Web is quite amazing these days.


      I’ve been an avid subscriber since the first pages graced my fingers in 1984, I believe. And, I will continue to be as long as I can smell the ink on the pages. I have every edition on my shelf. Tangible, turn-able pages that I can feel. Airbrush Action has been and will always be the standard for airbrush enthusiasts. Others have come and gone. Never will an RGB digital monitor exemplify REAL, HAND PAINTED airbrushed originality. Never. It’s hard enough in CMYK print…

      PHOTO-REALISM IS DEAD. There’s no dispute about that. Sure, it’s impressive and looks great on a car; but try to get commissioned for and sell a piece. Besides, it’s labor intensive, and impossible to build a career on in today’s American techno-landscape. I wouldn’t spend a DIME if I were younger trying to do in 30 hours by hand what PHOTOSHOP can do in a couple. Bad business all around!

      SADLY, AIRBRUSHING IS DYING – respectfully dead in many markets. Magazines like Airbrush Action have been their own worst enemies at times – doing as much to destroy airbrush strongholds as to promote new markets and gimmicks that came skipping along with money in hand. Rather than holding fast to TRADITIONS and developing NEW generations of TRADITIONAL artists, teaching them how to absorb the digital shock and remain true to their core and discover ways of utilizing their long years of training with combined digital techniques; AIRBRUSH ACTION was too quick to visualize the aspirations of whichever sponsor would pay for ad space. Artists TOO are their own worst enemy. I’ll save that for a someday blog (argh… hate that word; it sounds like something out of the south bound end of a north bound skunk!).

      AIRBRUSH ACTION was/is too quick to be trendy without solid forethought on the ramifications to the tens of thousands of artists who have given blood, sweat, tears, years, money and patronage, to make the market that became AIRBRUSHING; enabling mag’s and manufacturers alike to capitalize on the inventiveness and originality of us artists who PAINSTAKINGLY gave r ALL to produce it and attempt to keep it viable on our own dollar! No benefits. No health insurance. No pensions. No salary. No 401- K. But, that is the way of artists, is it not? We create. We must to survive. Business, well that’s not really our thing… We READ; we FOLLOW.

      Rather than offer solid snippets of GOOD WRITING on how to maintain foundations in AIRBRUSH EXCELLENCE and offering avenues with which to build and develop enthusiasm for the product that sold well for over a decade, Airbrush Action seemed destined to become a resource for hobby painters, temporary tattoo stencils, and airbrush sun tan products – with a few angles on custom autos here and there aided by the catchy jacket of a Dru Blair photo realist painting. But turn the pages, the DARK pages, and there is little in the way of content and thinking outside the box. Little in the way that builds upon the foundation and character of airbrushing. And, that may be where – Airbrush Action has placed itself. This is not good nor bad. Digital or Print. But it is a prime example of how privately owned businesses easily succumb to prostitution in an attempt to accommodate survival when playing with big boys for niche markets; a true lesson on the presumptive ways of American capitalistic tendencies to freely exploit without prejudice or ethical considerations. EXPLOIT? Indeed. And the manufacturers of paint, airbrushes, and incidentals are just as guilty! How many artists who provided the crucial visuals to make Airbrush Action and the merchandise within a salable product and success for over 30 years were rewarded with monetary payment? Nadda, nil, for the most part. I know as I’m one of those contributing artists who provided pics and articles and many thousands of dollars in sponsor and advertising revenues in days past. It’s nice to see your stuff in print. But, “it don’t put bread on the table and it doesn’t amount to the phone ringing off the hook for more jobs.”

      The very odd dichotomy of TECHNOLOGY is that it is KEY to holding on to tradition. Many countries other than America have proved this; especially regarding ART FOUNDATION. In the larger sense, removing art from schools – where incidentally I had my first airbrush exposure from my high school art instructor – is a HUGE component in the dichotomous puzzle. I currently teach many youths airbrushing and pin-striping – for free, in schools, live art contests, wherever and whenever possible. I hate telling them that the airbrushed leather jacket I did in the 80′s for $500 dollars will only bring $50 bucks now. SO I DON”T! I tell them where and how they CAN make money utilizing traditional art and airbrush skills. More than that, I teach them the BUSINESS of ART. I also inform THEM that it’s on THEIR BACKS to fight for tradition, as America and it’s resources and manufacturers WILL NOT! We’ll gladly spend 7 trillion to fight wars, 2 trillion to bail out banks, and hundreds of billions to build roads and bridges. But we’ll not offer a DIME to an artists to paint the nose cone of a $500 million dollar plane? The future solution is in education, technological advances in airbrushing (I’ve got an airless/cordless airbrush and paint gun that has a backpack requiring 6 vials of paint to make more than 280,000 color combinations in the works) and resources that BELIEVE in ARTISTS and their abilities; but mostly, that our HANDS – EYES – AND BRAINS amount to more than mouse clicks, pen tablet strokes, and tanning booths. There is money to be made with an airbrush. Still, there is a future for the airbrush. But likely no one will point you in the right direction. You’ll take 20 years to figure out how many times you can change your product, style, software, and sales pitch in order to carve out a living hardly fit for a professional artist.

      Just Thoughts… Timm

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