Choosing Your Airbrush – The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need
Once you’ve learned how to use it, an airbrush is an invaluable tool that can be used for a variety of applications, from fine art to model painting and even makeup. However, with so many models on the market, finding the right airbrush for your needs can be a daunting task. There are many factors to consider: the technical features of the device (which will affect the ease of use, the level of detail, and the compatible paints), its quality of manufacture, its versatility, and of course, its price. Don’t worry though, all of these criteria will be thoroughly discussed in this guide!
How to Choose the Right Airbrush for Your Needs
An airbrush uses compressed air to spray the liquid (paint, ink, pigment, etc.) held in the reservoir (also known as a cup) onto any type of surface (canvas, wall, figurine, model miniature, etc.). This process is called atomization. But not all airbrushes operate in the same way. Each type of device has its pros and cons that should be taken into consideration before purchasing.
Single vs Dual Action Airbrush
Single action airbrushes use a pushbutton to control the airflow. The paint flow can only be modulated by playing with the needle depth inside the nozzle (a knob at the back of the device usually allows adjusting this depth). This type of airbrush is particularly suited for working on large, uniform surfaces as well as for base coating.
On a dual action airbrush, the push button is replaced by a trigger which allows for simultaneous modulation of both the airflow and the paint flow, so there is no need to stop spraying mid-piece to adjust the paint release!
Dual action airbrushes require two actions: pressing the trigger to control the airflow and pulling back on the same trigger to release the paint.
The control of paint spraying is thus much greater with a dual action airbrush than with a single action one. While the learning curve might be steeper, a dual action airbrush is a much better choice for detailed work such as shading or highlighting.
Gravity Feed vs Siphon Feed Airbrush
The paint can reach the nozzle in two different ways, depending on the model of airbrush: by gravity or by suction.
Gravity feed models have their paint cup attached to the top of the airbrush (as seen in the image below), allowing the paint to be drawn into the nozzle through the force of gravity. On the other hand, siphon feed airbrushes have the paint cup attached to the bottom or the side of the body. The release of compressed air generates a suction force, drawing the paint from the reservoir into the mixing chamber, where atomization occurs.
The positioning of the cup is what sets a gravity feed airbrush apart from a siphon feed airbrush.
A gravity feed airbrush requires very small amounts of paint to operate and utilizes every drop. As such, it is both economical to use and easy to clean. Furthermore, it allows spraying with less air pressure than a siphon feed airbrush, and it is more forgiving of thicker, chunkier paint. This type of airbrush is usually used for detailed work, as it offers greater control over paint flow (less pressure equals finer details). The downside is that the color cup of a gravity feed airbrush is rather small (so as to not obstruct visibility), which can be inconvenient when painting large surfaces.
Siphon feed airbrushes allow for the use of large cups and bottles, making it possible to paint larger surfaces without having to refill too often. However, siphon feed requires more air pressure to spray materiel, resulting in more overspray and less precise lines.
External vs Internal Mix
Depending on airbrush models, paint can be mixed with air in two different ways. As the name suggests, in internal mix airbrushes, the air and paint are mixed inside the airbrush, prior to being released. This requires the paint to be suitably thinned out to prevent clogging, but also produces a very fine and precise spray that is ideal for intricate details.
Alternatively, air/paint mixing can take place outside the airbrush: this is known as external mixing. The spray is slightly coarser than with internal mixing, but the dilution of the paint matters less. An external mix airbrush is ideal if you need to spray a large area without worrying too much about details, or if you need to use thick or high-viscosity liquids, such as acrylics or varnishes.
To work, an airbrush must be connected to an air compressor. Choosing the right airbrush thus also implies choosing the right compressor, but this is the subject of another guide (you can find out here how to pick the best airbrush compressor). Note that it is still possible to use compressed air bottles, but this solution is more costly than a small compressor in the long run.
For most applications, it is recommended to choose a dual action airbrush with gravity feed and internal mixing. This type of device is precise, easy to handle and simple to clean. To ensure maximum versatility, it is ideal to choose an airbrush that offers the option to fit needles/nozzles of varying diameters.
Is It Worth Getting a Cheap Airbrush as a Beginner?
Chinese airbrushes are everywhere on the internet – names such as WilTec, KKmoon, Abest, Timbertech, VidaXL, Agora-Tec, and Royalmax are just a few of the Chinese brands available. They can be easily identified, as they are usually packaged in blue thermoformed foam.
For a beginner who doesn’t want to spend too much, the temptation to get a cheap airbrush for less than $30 is strong. However, be warned: Chinese airbrushes lack precision and reliability and you’ll likely spend more time cleaning than spraying. Mastering the airbrush art takes time and dedication, but the result is surely worth the effort. It would be a shame to give up too soon due to a poor experience with low-end equipment.
The Best Airbrushes of 2024
It’s best to invest in a high-end airbrush that will be durable, precise and easy to use, rather than settling for a low-quality one that will undoubtedly cause you trouble. Don’t worry though, there are great dual action gravity airbrushes (ideal for most applications) for less than $80.
|Iwata NEO CN
|Harder & Steenbeck Ultra
|Harder & Steenbeck Evolution Silverline Two in One
|Needle / Nozzle Set(s)
(Optional 0.4 mm
0.2 & 0.4 mm
(Optional 0.15 & 0.60 mm
2 & 9 ml
(Interchangeable color cups)
(Optional 5 ml color cup available)
2 & 5 ml
(Interchangeable color cups)
|Optimal Working Pressure
5 - 35 psi
(0.3 - 2.4 bar)
4.5 - 43.5 psi
(1.5 - 3 bar)
4.5 - 43.5 psi
(1.5 - 3 bar)
Read our review
Read our review
Read our review
Iwata NEO CN – The Best Airbrush for Beginners
Start your airbrushing journey off on the right foot with the Iwata NEO CN. Its 0.35 mm nozzle set is versatile enough to handle both fine detailing and medium area coverage, making it an excellent choice for beginners and casual hobbyists alike.This model also comes with two interchangeable paint cups, a 2 ml cup and a 9 ml cup, giving you even more flexibility in your airbrushing projects.
Harder & Steenbeck Ultra – The Best Airbrush for Miniatures & Models
Harder & Steenbeck is a German brand very well known for the quality of its airbrushes. These tools come with a 2-year manufacturer’s warranty, ensuring customers can trust in their durability and performance.
The Ultra stands out as the most cost-effective option among the brand’s wide range of instruments. The 0.2 mm nozzle on this airbrush is ideal for spraying pigmented inks and transparent paints, but may not be suitable for thicker paints like opaque CREATEX or solvent-based paints. However, one of the standout features of the Ultra is that you can switch out the nozzle for a 0.4 mm one, which is available as an optional accessory. This allows you to expand the range of paints you can use with the airbrush. The instrument is equipped with a 2 ml paint cup, and for those who require a larger volume, a 5 ml cup is also available as an optional accessory.
Evolution Silverline 2 in 1 – The Ultimate Airbrush Kit
Harder & Steenbeck’s Evolution Silverline Two in One is an upgraded version of their Ultra model, offering greater customization and versatility. In addition to the 0.2 and 0.4 mm nozzles available on the Ultra, the Evolution can also accommodate 0.15 and 0.6 mm nozzles, expanding the range of applications and paints that can be used with it.
Must-Have Accessories for Your Airbrush
To operate your airbrush, you’ll need a few accessories in addition to consumables like cleaner and airbrush paint. The most important accessory is a compressor, which provides the compressed air necessary for spraying. You’ll also need a reinforced hose to connect the airbrush to the compressor (though this may be included with your compressor).
To make your airbrushing experience more comfortable and efficient, consider getting a cleaning station. It will serve as a stand to hold your airbrush while you mix and manage your paints, freeing up your hands and allowing you to work more easily and precisely. The station also includes a lidded container to safely and easily dispose of any unwanted paint or cleaning solution, which helps keep your workspace clean and free of clutter. In addition, the station usually comes equipped with all the tools and accessories you need to clean your airbrush (brushes and needle set). This makes it easy to maintain the airbrush and keep it in top working condition, ensuring that it is always ready for use.
Last but not least, you should protect your lungs by using a maintenance-free filtering mask. The 3M half facepiece is a great option, as it effectively filters out the harmful micro-particles of paint and diluent that can be inhaled during spraying.