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Choosing the Right Airbrush


A complimentary eBook from

About Airbrushing

An airbrush is an atomizer using compressed air for spraying liquid, (e.g. paint, ink, dye, stain or glaze), on a surface. It is similar in shape and size to a pen and is held in the same manner. Airbrush applications are often artistic in nature, but airbrushes may also be used for practical purposes including paint removal, taxidermy, sign painting and dental work. They are excellent for painting thin lines, covering larger areas with an even coat of paint and for highlighting subtle changes in color. They are also well suited for custom color mixing.

Given the recent explosion in custom automotive and motorcycle painting, fueled by high-profile television shows, the airbrush industry has experienced a surge of interest in all types of applications. Growing numbers of craftspeople and hobbyists are using airbrushes for finishing ceramics, model cars and airplanes, glass vases, murals and any other surfaces they can find. In fact just about any surface can be airbrushed including plastic, metal, wood, paper, leather, fabric. Of course, it is important to properly prepare the surface and to check its compatibility with the liquid being sprayed.

Indeed, some types of airbrushing have become lucrative endeavors of themselves. Equipped with an airbrush, a compressor, paints and stencils, even teenagers have built themselves thriving airbrush businesses doing birthday parties, school carnivals, fund raisers and other events. Nationwide, entrepreneurs are spraying temporary tattoos, body art, fingernails, body art, t-shirts, birthday cakes, sunless tanning and models.

Many people assume that airbrushing requires natural talent. The great thing about airbrushing is that anyone can do it, even kids. It takes some time and effort to learn, but then it’s a matter of practice, practice, practice. It’s just paint….. so if you don’t like what you’ve done, just start over. Airbrushing is fun and can be profitable, too. Airbrush artists have been known to spray anything that isn’t nailed down and anything that is!

Before you go shopping

There are a number of factors to consider when purchasing your first airbrush. Ask yourself these questions before you go searching for the perfect airbrush:

1)      On what type of surface will you be painting?

2)      In what environment will you be spraying?

3)      How finely detailed will your work be?

4)      What type of medium or liquid will you be spraying?

5)      What is your budget for the entire setup (airbrush, compressor, paints, stencils, cleaning solutions, etc)?

Airbrush Terminology

Action refers to the functionality of the trigger and how it affects the spray pattern (width of the paint spray).

Single Action airbrushes have one trigger that controls only the flow of air. Depressing the trigger dispenses a set amount of fluid. Turning the needle adjustment screw at the back of the handle regulates the amount of fluid. Rotating clockwise decreases the amount, while counterclockwise rotation increases the amount of paint or other fluid. For external mix airbrushes, the amount is regulated by turning the fluid cap at the front of the brush. Spray pattern is controlled by the distance at which the airbrush is held from the painting surface.

Excellent for beginners, single action airbrushes are easier to learn to use and tend to be less expensive. They are also very good for hobby and craft applications where the liquid being sprayed has a high viscosity (e.g. ceramic glaze) since they tend to clog less frequently. On the down side, the paint process can be slow and painstaking since the artist must continually stop spraying in order to adjust the paint volume. Many people begin with a single action airbrush and upgrade to dual action when they have achieved a level of proficiency.

Fine art, commercial art, hobbies, crafts, automotive, sign painting, taxidermy and cake decorating are some recommended functions. These instruments can accommodate several types of fluids including lacquer, varnishes, glazes, textile paints, gesso, acrylic, inks and dyes, enamels, gouache and watercolors.

Double (or Dual) Action airbrushes have one trigger that controls both the flow of air as well as the flow of color. Pressing down dispenses air while pulling back dispenses paint.

Dual action airbrushes offer much more control and allow for finer detail since the artist can control both the air flow as well as the paint volume “on the fly” (without stopping). These types of airbrushes are perfect for situations that require continual adjustments of spray pattern width and paint volume. Double Action airbrushes tend to be higher in quality and higher in price.

Recommended utilizations include fine art, commercial art, hobbies, crafts, automotive, sign painting, taxidermy, cake decorating, t-shirt or textiles, fingernails and cosmetics, body art and photo retouching. Properly thinned lacquers, varnishes, glazes, textile paints, gesso, acrylic, inks and dyes, enamels, gouache and watercolors may be successfully sprayed through a double action airbrush.

Mix refers to the point at which the air and the liquid are combined.

External Mix airbrushes combine the air and the paint on the outside of the airbrush after they have exited through the tip. The amount of paint is controlled by turning a knob or the fluid cap usually at the front of the airbrush. The result is often a large dot, stippled coarse spray pattern. External mix airbrushes are ideal for spraying large areas in a flat, continuous color and are also good for highly viscous materials including acrylics and varnishes. These tend to be less expensive and easier to operate than most internal mix airbrushes.

Internal Mix airbrushes blend the paint and the air inside the tip of the airbrush. Atomization is more thorough in this type of airbrush, producing a soft, fine point spray pattern, reminiscent of a photograph. Used often in fine art applications, internal mix airbrushes

Feed refers to the location and direction of the paint source.

Gravity Feed airbrushes store the paint in a small metal cup directly above the airbrush and feed it via gravity into the needle and tip. The decreased requirement for air pressure provides for slower hand movements, thereby allowing superior control over fine details. Gravity feed models are better for low volume and high detail and are work better with less viscous fluids. Likewise, this type of airbrush is easier to clean with far fewer clogging difficulties. The gravity feed is the most consistent and responsive type of airbrush available and is the choice of most professional fine artists and illustrators. The disadvantage is that the color cups are usually not removable and may be rather small (1/2 oz.), requiring frequent refills.

Siphon (Bottom) Feed airbrushes draw the paint up through a tube attached to a color cup or bottle mounted on the bottom of the airbrush, requiring more air pressure than gravity feed models. Bottles, jars and color cops are removable and are available in various sizes, allowing for greater versatility and quick color changes. These are also good choices for spraying higher volumes of liquid, excellent for example, for sunless tanning applications. T-shirt and textile artists often prefer this type.

Side Feed airbrushes have the metal color cup attached to the side of the airbrush. Paint is siphoned or suctioned through the airbrush. The most notable advantage is that it can rotate 360°, allowing the artist to work at almost any angle, horizontal or vertical. An additional feature that many find desirable, the side feed cup does not obstruct the artist’s view of the painting surface as sometimes is the case with the gravity feed type.

Needles run through the length of internal mix airbrushes and control the amount of paint being sprayed. When the needle is drawn back and away from the tip, the paint and air are mixed (atomized). As the needle is drawn further back from the tip (head assembly), more paint is released.

Nozzles and Tips The amount of the mixture of air and paint is primarily controlled by the size of the tip. Some airbrush models are designed with fixed tip sizes. Others models allow for interchanging tips in order to accommodate various volumes of sprays and material viscosities (thicknesses). Interchangeable tips are usually available in three sizes: fine, medium and heavy. When changing the tip of an internal mix airbrush, it is important to change the needle to the corresponding size. Tip sizes vary from 0.1mm to 1.5mm, with the smaller size influencing the delicacy of the line.

How to Buy Airbrushes

For the beginner, the best route is to purchase an airbrush starter kit that comes with everything needed to get up and running. Airbrush starter kits usually include the airbrush, airbrush compressor with fittings, air hose, cups and bottles, airbrush paints, cleaning solution, airbrush stencils and an instructional video or DVD. Kits are available in various configurations including temporary tattoo kits, t-shirt airbrushing kits, fingernail airbrush kits, hobby kits, and sunless tanning sets.

Look for a retailer that offers brand name airbrushes and are connected to the major manufacturers. It may be tempting to purchase a less expensive import, but it will cost more in the long run. It is important to have immediate access to a comprehensive selection of airbrush parts and accessories. The seller should also have a reasonable return and exchange policy and should be knowledgeable about the airbrush industry.

Popular Airbrush Brands

·         Badger

·         Paasche

·         Iwata

·         RichPen