How Does An Airbrush Work


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How Does An Airbrush Work

An airbrush works by allowing compressed air to pass through the airbrush body, that high pressure air mixing paint from a reservoir attached to the airbrush and atomising that paint into a mist before spraying it out of the airbrush in a distinct spray pattern.

Airbrush Modeler

The paint that mixes with the airflow can be stored in three different locations in relation to the airbrush body, where the paint actually mixes with the airflow can happen either internal or external to the airbrush body, and how the paint is triggered to start flowing can happen in two distinct ways.

So as you can see there are many different types of airbrush available but don’t be confused, we’ll go through each in quick and concise detail and very quickly you’ll be up to speed on how all types of airbrush work…

What Are The Different Types Of Airbrush

There are a number of categories that define the type of airbrush you are using, including the feed type, the trigger type, and the mix type, and other less obvious variables.

Airbrush Categories That Dictate The Airbrush Type:

  • Feed Type: this relates to the location of the paint reservoir in relation to the body of the airbrush, and can be a siphon feed (below), side feed, or gravity feed (top);
  • Trigger Type: this relates to whether the trigger uses a single movement or dual movement to regulate air and paint flow, and are labelled either single action or double action;
  • Mix Type: this refers to whether the paint mixes with, and is atomised by, the high pressure air inside or outside the airbrush body, and can be either internal mix or external mix.

The airbrush type will be identified and named using all categories, an example being:

a gravity-feed, double-action, internal-mix airbrush.

Let’s take a deeper look at each category in turn to get a better understanding of how an airbrush works…

How Does A Gravity Feed Airbrush Work

A gravity feed airbrush works by allowing gravity to pull the paint down into the airbrush from a paint cup located on top of the airbrush body.

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Once inside the airbrush gravity continues to assist by pulling the paint into the atomisation chamber where it is introduced into the high pressure air flow and is atomised into a fine mist.

Airbrush Modeler

From there the paint mist is sprayed in a deliberate spray pattern onto your job.

To learn whether a siphon feed or gravity feed airbrush is better for you personally check out this in-depth article. 👍

How Does A Siphon Feed Airbrush Work

A siphon feed airbrush holds the paint in a jar underneath the airbrush body and uses the pressure of the compressed air passing through the airbrush to draw the paint up from the paint cup via a paint tube.

Airbrush Modeler

When the paint reaches the end of the paint tube it is introduced into the airflow to atomise and be sprayed onto your work.

For a comparison of siphon feed airbrushes against gravity feed airbrushes check out this detailed article. 👍

How Does A Side-Feed Airbrush Work

A side feed airbrush is one that has the paint cup positioned directly to the side of the airbrush body, and could be considered both a siphon feed and gravity feed airbrush depending on how you use it.

Airbrush Modeler

For in-depth detail on side feed airbrushes, how they function, and how they compare with other airbrush types check out this article. 👍

How Does A Single Action Airbrush Work

A single action airbrush is labelled as such due to the single movement capability of the trigger, in that it can only be pressed down and this will provide a fixed amount of paint. It essentially works exactly like a can of spray paint does.

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On a single action airbrush the amount of paint that sprays can be controlled, but rather than this be dictated by the trigger it is altered by turning a part of the airbrush that adjusts the opening of the nozzle so that more or less paint can flow through.

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Single action airbrushes are considered more for the beginner, however it must be said that they are very capable of providing excellent paint finishes although won’t have the range of paint control that a double action airbrush gives for technical paintwork.

For in-depth information on the differences between a single action vs double action airbrushes check out this detailed article. 👍

How Does A Double Action Airbrush Work

A double action airbrush is labelled as such due to the double, or dual, movement capability of the trigger, in that pressing down on the trigger delivers air and pulling back on the trigger will deliver successively more paint as the trigger moves backwards.

Airbrush Modeler

The further you pull the trigger back on a double action airbrush the more paint comes out, allowing for greater paint control especially during detail painting where you may want more or less paint on the fly.

A double action airbrush is often considered better for detail work, however a single action airbrush can also manage very good fine detail albeit with potentially more manual adjustment of your hardware.

For an excellent detailed article on how to use a double action airbrush complete with steps, pictures and downloads, check out this in-depth article. 👍

How Does An Internal Mix Airbrush Work

Internal mix refers to where the paint is mixed with the high pressure airflow, with the mixing occurring inside airbrush body in what is called an atomisation chamber.

Airbrush Modeler

All gravity feed and side feed airbrush will be internal mix airbrushes as it’s not practical for them to function as an external mix.

How Does An External Mix Airbrush Work

An external mix airbrush is one that introduces the paint into the airflow outside of the airbrush body and is very common on siphon feed airbrushes that have a paint cup hanging below the airbrush.

Airbrush Modeler

An external mix airbrush relies on the high pressure air passing through and out of the airbrush to essentially suck the paint out of the cup underneath.

The end of the paint tube is situation slightly in front of the end of the airbrush nozzle where the pressurised air exits.

What Is The Best Airbrush For Beginners

The best airbrush for a beginner is one that presents the easiest learning curve, and would be characterised by being a siphon feed, external mix, single action airbrush.

A siphon feed airbrush could be considered easier for cleaning as any airbrush needle won’t accrue paint on it, plus any paint mixing can be done in the paint jar and used straight from that jar.

In contrast, for example, a gravity feed airbrush will require mixing in a separate jar and then transfer to the airbrush paint cup, or the mixing can be done directly in the cup but this can present its own problems.

An external mix airbrush will not have the same cleaning requirements as an internal mix, which doesn’t necessarily give a massive improvement in the learning curve however every little bit of simplicity helps for those who are very much new to airbrushing.

And a single action airbrush is reasonably easier to use than a more complex double action airbrush as the user only has to point and shoot, rather than think about manipulating a second trigger action to regulate paint flow.

For all of these reasons the best beginner airbrush would be characterised as…

…a siphon feed, external mix, single action airbrush.

For some examples of this specific type of airbrush see the table below complete with links to reviews and current prices:

Single Action Airbrush Model

Reviews & Current Prices

Paasche Airbrush H-Set Single Action Siphon Feed External Mix Airbrush Set

Badger 350 Single Action Siphon Feed External Mix Airbrush Set

Having said all of this a beginner should not necessarily limit themselves to this specific type of airbrush, as it sometimes pays to think ahead and get yourself a functionally capable and advanced airbrush that will match your skills as they improve over time.

And the learning curve for the more advanced airbrushes is not so steep that they exclude beginners, and, for example, double action airbrushes with their multi-faceted trigger movement can certainly be mastered by a beginner with diligence and practise.

In fact I have a full step-by-step article on this website that teaches you exactly how to use a double action airbrush for beginners, complete with detailed pictures and downloads.

Final Thoughts On How An Airbrush Works

An airbrush is a precision tool that works on basic air pressure principles to get the paint atomised into a mist and sprayed perfectly onto a surface.

There are a number of different types available, some of which may be perfectly suitable for you as a beginner, or more advanced types that will suit advanced users.

All of them, however, require a source of compressed air in order to function, so…

Now that you’re familiar with the different types of airbrush available take the time to review this super-detailed article on what you should look for when buying an airbrush compressor to find the perfect compressor to complete your airbrushing setup.

Happy airbrushing!

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