Buying a New Airbrush and Basics
Author: Larry “djinn24” K.
Painting Table

In this article I will cover the basics on looking for a new airbrush. This is a commitment that you really have to be serious about because a decent airbrush set up will cost in the neighborhood of 250-400 dollars. 

First I will explain the different types of actions that an airbrush may have. An airbrush can have a single and dual action trigger. With a single action trigger you can only control how much airflow come from the gun, the paint always comes out consistently at the same rate. With a dual action you control how much air comes from the gun as well as how much paint comes from the gun as well. 


A casual or even experienced user may not know if an airbrush is single or dual action since this only become apparent once you handle the gun and see if you can pull the trigger back. With a single action you are only able to push the button in, with a dual action you can push the button in and pull back on it as well.

With an single action you are guaranteed a constant stream of paint while using them, so these types of brushes are great for base coating, they are normally much cheaper then dual action air brushes as well. Dual actions are much more complicated on the internal working, and thus more expensive, but since you are in control of how much paint comes out, you can paint much better details as well as effects such as shading and highlighting.

Mix Types

Next up are the mix types. You have brushes that are both internal mixes and external mixes. An external mixing airbrush will always be single action, but you can have both single and dual action internal mixes. As the name implies, this describes where the paint is mixed. I find that external mix airbrushes do not atomize the paints properly, but they are much easier to clean up as no paint actually enters the airbrush. An internal mix airbrush mixes the paint with the air while it is inside the brush, these type of brushes can be hard to clean and more costly, but are much smoother when it comes to application of paint.

Feed Types

Next when you look at airbrushes you will notice that some of them have bottle attachments hanging from the bottom, and others have little cups built in on the top, and there are even some who have cups on the side, these are the types of feeds and airbrush can have. The little cup on the top is known as a gravity feed, and as you can guess the paint is pulled by gravity down the brush to the needle tip. A siphon feed has the paint pulled from the bottom by suction that is created by the airflow in the gun.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of feeds. A Siphon feed has the ability to hold much more paint and in some ways are easier to clean since you can remove the paint bottle from the gun during cleanings. One thing I do not like about them is the fact that you have to run a higher constant pressure to get them to flow right, also if you are not careful the bottles can fall off during painting. I even had an experience with the nozzle getting clogged so I has blow back happen and it built ungodly pressure in the bottle, causing it to shoot off and spray me and the wall with green paint. Gravity Feeds have the paint brought to them by gravity. I find that you can paint with lower PSI with these guns; they are a royal pain in the ass to clean dried paint from. Also if you have to angle the gun upward you will have to have more paint in the cup as well since the paint will have a habit of trying to flow backwards into the cup.


Single Action External Mix
This type of brush has limited applications and is not the best for details. When you press the button the air begins and as it passes over the external needle setup siphons paint from the attached bottle. Downside to these is limited detail work, set paint flow, paint does not atomize as fine. The upside is there is less moving parts and the paint is mixed outside the gun so clean up is much easier, great for basing models where the ability to switch paint flow does not matter, cost on this brush is much less then any type of dual action brushes. Overall a great brush for a person who needs a brush to basecoat models or paint large areas who needs to stay within a budget. Very easy brush for the newer user.


Single Action Internal Mix
Same as the External mix except the paint is now pulled inside the brush and then forced out over the needle. The atomization is much fine and you can get more detail with this brush though it is still point and spray. The clean up is more difficult due to the paint now coming inside the brush and cost is similar to a single action external mix.

Dual Action Siphon Feed
The difference between a single and dual is that you can use the trigger to adjust the amount of paint that comes out.  With a Siphon feed the pressure from the air traveling through the airbrush pulls the paint into the airbrush.  The downside if you have to use a higher pressure and the needle sizes are larger.  The pro is that you can load up a LOT of paint and do not have to swap out that much.

Dual Action Gravity Feed
This is my favorite type of brush.  Just like the siphon feed, you can adjust the needle, usually with the trigger, to control how much paint that comes out.  Instead of the pressure of the air pulling paint up, there is a small cup that sits on top of the airbrush where the paint is and gravity pulls it down into the well.  This means that the pressure can be lower and you can have smaller needles/tip combinations which means that the detail that you can paint will be finer.


This style of compressor, either large or small is the best choice for a compressor. The main reason is the tank, now both of these pictured would be loud and not normally a good idea for painting in doors. There are small models available that are nowhere near as loud. The reason you would want a tanked compressor is the airflow will be constant coming out of the tank versus getting small surges as the air comes out of the pump. Also when buying a compressor keep in mind getting an oil-less compressor or a sealed motor where you do not have to worry about maintence on the motor. As a bonus with a tank as well, it gives another place for water to settle so it will help keep the airlines dryer.

While these are not compressors in the typical sense these would be horrid to attempt to try and paint with as well, they would not push out near enough pressure, there is no tank, and these would more of a tendency of surging.

Canned air. I personally dislike canned air but other would rather go this route because they do not plan on airbrushing as much, also a bonus to a smaller airbrush set up using canned air is it is very mobile and probably the lightest of all the combos (it would weigh probably 3-5 lbs). One downside is air pressure is not as constant, as the can runs out of propellant you will begin to get less air pressure. Also if you run the can too much is will begin to get hold and you will get less air pressure as well.


The Iwata brand is know for making an awesome, stainless steel, airbrush for all types of applications. With many different features available along their different series of brushes. The downside is you will pay for quality, the brushes will normally run you $150 to $800+ dollars.  Iwata now has a new series of airbrush marketed for the newer painter under the Iwata NEO brand.  There is only two brushes in this line, one is a siphon feed with a .4mm tip and the siphon feed with a .35.  I have played with both of them, they have almost no features but they do have a nice trigger pull.

The Master airbrush is much like the Iwata, but at a lower cost. Master series brushes are not normally found in your typical art stores and most replacement part will have to be ordered online. Good balance on the gun and most of the features are available at a decent cost. Available in both precision style and broader use guns.  The downside is once you you handle a better quailty brush you will notice how the trigger pull does not seem as smooth as with other brushes.  I do recommend the Masters G44 for new people starting in airbrushing.


This is a solid, heavier airbrush designed with the automotive industry in mind.  As of right now they only have one airbrush out, the DAGR.  You can run just about anything through it as it is designed to be solvent proof.  It has a really nice trigger draw, stiff but controlled.

Badger is the brand that has a brush for almost ever type of person who wants to use one.  They have cheaper brushes, and expensive brushes.  The downside to this airbrush compared to most others, it uses a smaller connector so you may have to get an adapter to use the brush with your compressor, keep this in mind when you are looking for a brush.  Badgers do have some really interesting features.
not familiar with this brand. 


The ultimate new to airbrushing airbrush, this is one of the most readily available airbrushes on the markets as most retailers carry these and part of these guys. Also very versatile in the matter of tip and needle sizes and ease of switching out. With easy swap out of needle size you are able to switch from a larger sized needle for basing to a smaller needle for more precision. While you will not be able to get the precision of a brush designed for smaller applications (.2mm to .23mm sized). Prices can run from $65.00 to $150.00. When dealing with Paasche brands you will not get some of the more advanced controls available on the Iwata and Master brushes.

Now this is not all of the airbrushes that you can get, there are dozens more that we may eventually work into.

You still here? Good sticker shock did not scare you away.

In this article we will talk about the workings of the airbrush and what to look for and what to stay away from.