Airbrushes are the tool which provide great advantages and ease, to many different kinds of artists. Basically we are speaking in the wide range from illustrators to make-up artists, to T-shirt artists which quickly make noticeable and modern design. If you have ever used an airbrush before you know that its possibilities are endless, of course that is if you are able to make the most of it.
Like any other thing you are purchasing you first will have to get familiar with the specifics, models, the good sides and the bad ones of the desired model. You don’t to be complete ignorant and waste your money on a wrong or bad merchandise. When it comes to airbrushes, first there is a great variety of manufactures out there Paasche, Grex, Iwata, Badger, Master and countless others. Second thing which you need to take into consideration is whether the brush has single or double-action; a gravity, a siphon or a side feed; an internal or external mix; what size nozzle and needle combination is required; and what you will be using it for.
Without further delay let’s see what we have here:
Single VS Double – the ultimate fight
When we talk about the action of an airbrush, we are referring to the question of how the airflow and paint volume work together and are controlled. So when you want to buy a proper airbrush you need to consider whether you want a single – action or a double – action one. Now you are thinking: double what?! Let’s explain:
Single – action ones have a trigger which only controls the airflow. Basically you simply press down the trigger to spray both the air and paint at the same time, similar like a can of spray paint. You are also given the option to twist the knob to adjust the paint flow. When heavier or lighter paint flow is needed, the artist must stop to adjust the screw. The advantages of this type are that you always spray the same amount of fluid throughout the whole time; it can be used by some who is a beginner and still look good; they are a bit easier to handle, adjustable for everyone and easier to maintain.
Double – action has a trigger which controls both the airflow and the volume of the paint. Pretty cool, right? So, when you push down the trigger the airflow increases (same as it does in the single – action ones), but here there is an extra option of pulling back the trigger – this causes the paint to start to flow. So the catch is the further you pull it, the more paint is sprayed. The advantage of this type is that you can continuously adjust the paint flow. But, managing these two actions simultaneously takes time to practices so the learning how to work with is takes longer than with single ones.
To sum up, single-action airbrushes are simpler to operate and less expensive, so use it if you are planning on painting with just solid colors or filling stencils. Double-action airbrushes are recommended if you are doing fine art, lettering, FX etc. because it makes possible contour lines and dagger strokes.
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The feed: Gravity – siphon – side
Gravity – feed – this model has a metal cup which is located on the top of the airbrush. You simply fill it with paint, and by pressing the trigger you let the paint flow directly downward into the brush. The paint flow because of the rules of gravity, hence the name. It is recommended for painting models because the paint travels directly downward into the brush, it doesn’t need to be sucked up. A vacuum is created in the paint chamber and this makes the paint atomize better and finer, and gives a smother basecoat. This is precisely what we want. They also require less pressure when handling which makes it easier to achieve fine details. I have to also mention that they are also suitable when using thicker paints (for detailed information look at our airbrush paint types). Gravity feed airbrushes offer also two different cup sizes, larger – for people who will use a lot of paint like when airbrushing cars or motorcycles; and a small cup – when you smaller amounts of paint, ideal for airbrush art, and other finer usages. This model has less issues with clogging and also requires less PSI and CFM from the compressor (for further info look at airbrush compressors).
Siphon – feed (also known as bottom-feed) – when people hear the word “airbrush” this is probably the first picture they have in their mind. When manufacturers are offering you an “all purpose” airbrush this is the one. The paint is held in a jar at the bottom of the airbrush body and these two are connected via a tube. When you press the trigger the air which is moving through the tube creates a vacuum which sucks the paint up. This airbrush is excellent for base coating, but not so much used for detailed work. It is used by people who need a large amount of paint sprayed and who change colors frequently, for example: airbrushing cars, motorcycles, T-shirts, temporary tattoos etc.
Side – feed airbrushes are similar to bottom-feed, with a small difference: the cup or jar is attached to the side. What a shocker! Their advantage is that the reservoir can be rotated which allows the paint to be sprayed at any angle even upside down. This makes them suitable for painting in strange positions, such as ceilings, auto interiors or motorcycles. Also it is meant for medical illustrators, photo retouchers and painting models. The model offers precision and great field visibility. If you want an airbrush which does it all, you need to spray upside down, you don’t mind the cost of extra accessories and you are okay with a bit longer cleanup time – choose the side-feed over the gravity – feed one.Click to tweet this post Click To Tweet
Internal VS External Mix
The airbrush “mix” refers to the place where the paint and the air are mixed and atomized for spraying. In the internal one, as the very word states, the paint is prepared inside the airbrush. It gets introduced into the center of the air stream. You should always choose this type because it is consistent and you get more even spraying. When it comes to external mix airbrushes, the paint does not enter the body of the airbrush. It gets introduced into the side of the airstream producing a squished O or D shaped spray pattern. If you don’t mind less consistent spray and you don’t need fine details just small coverage area choose this type.
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Airbrushes have the ability to produce a different range of spray patterns – from wide ones to ones which are thin as a single hair. The thing you need to know is that a tiny needle and nozzle DOES NOT guarantee a fine line. Actually, when using acrylic or enamel paints with tiny needles and nozzles will certainly clog. A short needle is designed to deliver spray over a wide surface and possesses a small part near the tip where a rushing narrow spray appears. While a long nozzle delivers narrower spray much further from the tip. This combination actually depends on the user and his preferences. The manufacturers express the sizes in millimeters, except Badger which uses terms “medium”, “fine”, “ultra-fine” etc. The size .5mm-.4mm is the largest one to be considered, suitable for base coating models and is used for general purpose; .3mm/.35mm – starting point for detail airbrushes, suitable for base coating and some freehand; .22mm/.21mm/.23mm/.25mm – finer than the previous, finer spay with finer lines, the “sweet spot” for a modeler’s airbrush; .15mm and smaller: insane details are possible, but not recommend for base coating because it will last forever.
Our recommendation is a .3mm one. It is suitable for most people who want to base coat, but at the same time play with some freehand. If you are willing to spend a bit more money and draw in detail use a .2mm one. You could also buy an airbrush with .3mm setup which accepts multiple needle/nozzle sizes (the sets cost form 20-50 dollars).
After introducing these features above, we conclude, you want: a double – action, gravity-feed, .3mm or .2mm nozzle airbrush.
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A few more things
In addition to performance and reliability, the attention to balance and handling makes airbrushes much simpler to use. But the handling also comes down to a personal preference: people who are heavy handed need a rugged model such as Paasche VL or Iwata Eclipse, while those with a softer touch need something like Iwata Custom Micron or Harder Steenbeck ALplus.
At the back of the airbrush handle there is a preset needle stop that can be adjusted to restrict the trigger and needle from being pulled back more than required. This is helpful in small detail work or more precise projects. And I will also mention the Micro Air Control Valve also called Fine Pressure Control Valve which allows you to regulate the airflow directly from your airbrush.
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A little bit about models
There are many manufactures which all have a solid offer, and a lot of Chinese made airbrushes from the range “they’re great” to “they’re junk”. Here are some of the good airbrush options which have a good reputation and understand customer service.
Badger is the least expensive one; they are not the best airbrushes in the world, but they are not the worst ones. They frequently innovate new designs and stand behind their products.
Paasche is a bit better from Badger. It is the model on which many people learn first. Nothing bad is ever said about them.
Iwata is at the top of the food chain. Two of their most popular airbrushes are Eclipse CS and Eclipse BCS. They have one of the best customer service and technical support.
Master is a brand sold by TCP Global, it has solid models which are capable of nice work if you know what you are doing.
Others: Good things are said about Harder and Steinbeck. Also you need to keep an eye on the clones. Most clones are exact duplicates of the models mentioned above. Try to avoid them, they don’t have an engraved model name on the side.
Based on specifications and feedback from customers, these are a few examples of what you could use depending on the purpose.
Fine art: In this case there are larger surfaces and thicker paints. Therefore consider using a gravity – feed type with a large cup or bottle feed, a large or medium size nozzle or multiple nozzles. Models: Iwata Eclipse, Iwata Revolution, Paasche Talon, Badger Patriot, Grex Tritium TG or TS etc.
Illustration: You need a very small nozzle size, but air control is the most important thing here so consider using a MAC valve. A gravity-feed model is needed because of only small amounts of paint used, and also a small cup which does not obstruct you field of vision. Recommended models: Iwata Micron CM-B, Iwata Hi-Line, Iwata HP+, Paasche VJR etc.
For hobbies: When it comes to hobbies mostly we are talking about small projects, but the scale of detail can vary greatly. If you need super fine detail on small scale models or small figures you will need a detail airbrush, otherwise, if you need broad strokes of solid color a single action airbrush with a wide nozzle is perfect. Models: Paasche H, Iwata Revolution HP – SAR, Badger Krome, Badger 200-20 etc.
Airbrush makeup: Most make-up artists prefer to use double-action brushes with a medium sized nozzle and a small gravity-feed cups. They need a great range of spray pattern sizes and they do not prefer a large cup because it blocks their sight, this is why that kind of airbrush is needed. Recommended models: Iwata Eclipse BS, Iwata Revolution BR, Iwata Neo CN, TEMPTU – SP 35.
Airbrush spray ten: When applying a spray ten you need a thin solution a lot of coverage. This is why we recommend a large nozzle airbrush or a mini gun. Recommended models are: Paasche H, Paasche 300T , Iwata Ecplipse G6, Grex Tritium TS5 etc.
Body Painting: Similar to make-up but on a larger scale. An airbrush with a medium sized nozzle is recommended, to cover a wide range of patterns. Bottle-feed airbrush is faster, but the gravity-feed one works great also. When doing this it is maybe better to use a mini gun to lay down a base and then an airbrush for details. Models include: Iwata Eclipse, Paasche Talon, Iwata Revolution BCR, Iwata Eclipse G6, Paasche VL etc.
Car airbrushing: For this purpose you will need a fine to medium size nozzle, gravity – feed airbrush with a large cup. There is often a large amount of surface to cover, and a certain amount of details involved. Iwata has a Kustom series designed only for the automotive artists. Recommendations: Iwata Kustom KCS, Iwata Kustom KCH, Iwata Eclipse HP-SBS Auto, Badger Krome, Badger Velocity etc.
Murals: The first thing when it comes to murals is the size of the project and how much details does it need. It is ok to have a bottle feed airbrush, which is a siphon – feed one or a side-feed one. This gives you the option to carry more paint and to change colors rapidly. But if you are painting a mural on you ceiling, of course, you will then use a side-feed airbrush. Models: Iwata Eclipse BCS, Iwata Revolution BCR, Paasche Talon TS, Paasche VL etc.
T-Shirts: This requires good coverage and the need to change colors fast in order to increase production, fine details are less important. Therefore you will need a medium or large nozzle size. Recommended models include: Iwata Eclipse BCS, Iwata Revolution BCR, Paasche Talon TS, Paasche VL, Paasche VLS etc.
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The single-action airbrushes are somewhat quick to learn how to operate, but the double-action ones give you the option of adjusting the paint flow. Siphon (bottom) feed models allow greater volumes of paint to be maintained without removing the container. When it comes to gravity – feed models they are less immense. The sizes of needle and the nozzle must be big enough to allow the wanted kind of paint to pass, while achieving the desired level of detail to be created.
When buying an airbrush, you have to option of buying it singly or in kits together with nozzles, needles, compressors, hoses and connectors needed for their functioning. Many brands exists, you just need to know the purpose of you usage.
I believe you are ready now, grab your wallet and good luck shopping!