Airbrush Buyer’s Guide

Airbrush Buyer’s Guide

Mystified by the variety of airbrushes available? Don’t know a single-action from a double-action? Don’t panic -- whether you’re shopping for your very first airbrush, buying a gift, or just curious about how airbrushes work, this guide can help.

Airbrush Basics

Types of Airbrushes

There are two main types of airbrushes: single-action and double-action. “Action” in this context refers to the finger lever used to control the flow of air and paint from the paintbrush.

Single-Action Airbrushes: This is the simpler, easier-to-use type of airbrush. A single-action airbrush’s lever is limited to a single up-and-down movement of the finger lever or trigger-style level. Thus, the spray of paint and air is determined entirely by the settings of the airbrush and cannot be changed. Single-action airbrushes are frequently used by beginners and hobbyists. They lack the versatility and subtlety of the double-action airbrush. However, single-action models are less expensive. If you’re a novice airbrusher, or covering large areas at a time, a single-action airbrush may be right for you.
Double-Action Airbrushes: As you might guess from the name, double-action airbrushes have two different modes of action. Depressing the finger lever controls the flow of air. Pulling the trigger back releases paint. The further back you pull the trigger, the more paint you release. Technically: pulling the trigger moves the airbrush needle further back into the airbrush, which allows a wider opening at the paint nozzle. Double-action airbrushes offer greater versatility than their single-action counterparts. They are accordingly more difficult to use and master. If you’re an experienced airbrush artist, or working on projects that require a variety of application techniques, a double-action airbrush is probably right for you.

Airbrush Feed Variations

In addition to single- and double-action, airbrushes are categorized by the manner in which paint is fed into the airbrush. Gravity-feed airbrushes use paint cup attachments mounted to the top or side of the airbrush, which rely on gravity to draw the paint into the airbrush. They are less bulky than siphon-feed models and may be easier to use, depending on the application. Their main drawback is the requirement to empty and clean out the airbrush in order to change colors.

Siphon-feed airbrushes use paint bottles mounted underneath the airbrush body. Although the paint bottle contributes significantly to bulk, the ability to rapidly change paint bottles makes the siphon-feed airbrush the tool of choice for artists who wish to rapidly or frequently change colors.

Caring for Your Airbrush

Airbrushes are delicate tools that require some TLC. We strongly recommend the following preventative maintenance for your airbrush:

Clean after every use. (If you don’t, you may wind up with clogging, irregular sprays, or spattering.) Use distilled water to clean after water-based paint. For acrylic paints, or other paints based on solvents, use turpentine or another solvent to flush out any remaining paint.
Note: cleaning your airbrush is the single most critical maintenance task. If you don’t do this, don’t bother with the other stuff. Avoid cleaners that contain ammonia. Ammonia is a great solvent, but corrodes brass and causes chrome plating to peel.
Don’t soak the entire airbrush. You can soak individual parts, but if you soak the entire airbrush you’ll not only remove the lube that helps keep the airbrush functioning, you’re also exposing your o-rings to solvents that will eat away at them. In addition, some have discovered to their dismay that paint sometimes precipitates out of the solvent into odd nooks and crannies of the airbrush. Avoid unpleasant surprises -- don’t soak your airbrush.