Start Airbrush Guide
Welcome to our "Start Airbrush" page - a guide for newcomers to airbrushing and the custom painting world!
We've created this guide to help you make the right choice when buying your first airbrush painting kit.
You might be wondering who we are and how we are qualified to provide this information? Find out on our “about us” page.
Here you can select a type of airbrushing you plan to do and find our recommendations for your needs, or check out some general information by scrolling down.
-- Scale Modeling-- -- Fishing Lure & Custom Crankbait -- -- Illustration & Fine Art -- -- Automotive & motorcycles -- -- T-shirts & Textiles -- -- Custom Shoes & Leather -- -- Nail Art -- -- Cosmetics & Make-up -- -- Body Painting & Temp. tattoos-- -- Sign Painting/Lettering -- -- Cake and Pastry Decorating -- -- Taxidermy --
Airbrushes and spray guns, while made for different purposes, have one major thing in common. They both atomize paint using compressed air. Spray guns are typically designed to cover large areas, while airbrushes are focused on precision. However, there are some interesting hybrids on the market.
- Compressed air you say? Well, does that mean I need an air compressor? -
YES! Surprisingly, this really happens – people purchase an airbrush, some paints and wonder why it doesn’t spray even though they are not hooked up to an air source. You must have compressed air for the airbrush to spray. This doesn’t necessarily mean a compressor is the only way to supply your airbrush with compressed air – it can be canned air or even a CO2 tank, but compressors are the safest and most common air source for airbrushing.
SprayGunner’s recommendation is simple: if you can afford it, buy the best of the best, like the Sparmax TC620X air compressor. If you have a spending limit it is better to get a good airbrush and save on the air compressor. That’s why we came up with our NO-NAME line of compressors – average quality units at a low price with a 1-year limited warranty. These will make a good and reliable air supplier for your airbrushing needs, but they may not have all of the bells and whistles that some of the higher end compressors come with.
Which model of compressor should you get? The type of projects you work on will have a direct impact on the type of compressor you will need (see focused guides above). If you have to be portable with your setup, models like the Sparmax AC27 or the NO-NAME Skyline by SprayGunner will be your best bet. They are small enough for travel, but powerful enough for comfortable work with most airbrush nozzle sizes. Need an even smaller solution? We have it too! You can carry your whole setup in a pocket with this model, but these are designed for small projects/demos.
If you plan to keep your setup stationary, the principle is simple: bigger is better. Not too big – an industrial type air compressor would work, but it will be very noisy. Big enough to have an air tank with about a gallon storage in it and a 1 or 2 piston motor to pump the air quickly. This kind of compressor will supply air without any pulsations and it will be powerful enough to work with any airbrush, even hybrid types like the Grex TG5 fan spray air cap.
Some numbers for compressors: minimum pressure required for a good detail airbrush (0.15mm to 0.2mm nozzle, from a quality manufacturer) is 15 psi. Keep in mind that an air hose will eat up some of the pressure travelling to the airbrush so if you need 15 psi at the airbrush, you better have around 20 psi on the compressor regulator. Generally speaking, the bigger the nozzle size, the more pressure you need from the compressor. Even more for fan spray air caps. It’s best if you choose a compressor capable of work in the 30-40 psi range.
However, pressure is not the only number to look for. It’s important not only to understand what pressure the compressor delivers air at, but also the volume of the air it compresses. This is measured in either CFM (Cubic feet per minute) or LPM (Liters per minute). We recommend to have at least 7 LPM (0.25 CFM) for a good detail airbrush. More ideally we recommend to have a compressor which delivers over 20 LPM. Don’t fall for brand names – they do not always mean quality. In fact, most of the airbrush compressor brands on the U.S. market are made in China. If you have any additional questions about compressors please feel free to contact SprayGunner – we are here to help!
Now, back to where we started:
There are many options and too many brands. Think about it – we carry 10 (TEN!) different brands of airbrushes. Is there a reason for it? Yes!
Compressors are easier to choose – they stay somewhere under the table most of the time and only deliver air to you. The noise level for most models is about the same, and if you take the most expensive air compressor with a tank and a similar model from a budget selection like NO-NAME, you won’t be able to tell the difference between which compressor is delivering air to your airbrush if you can’t see it. It’s going to be the same air from your room compressed to the same psi and connected to your airbrush by the same type of air hose.
The airbrush itself is a completely different story.
Its something you have in your hands. You touch it, you feel it, you have to understand it and connect with it for the best results! This makes the consultation process much harder for us. There are some guides that say “Budget vs Branded” - we don’t agree. Don’t fall for the brand, it’s not always fair to the buyer - there are fancy branded airbrushes that come from China, same as their $20 friends with little difference in quality. A brand name is not as important as design, materials, and manufacturing quality.
Some manufacturers will have a different philosophy than others, making their products more of a versatile transformer versus specially crafted models that were made for a specific application. We have spent time and continue to spend time learning about all of the many facets that manufacturers have to offer in their airbrush line-ups and we are happy to share what we have learned!
The only thing we won’t be able to do for you is make the final choice – this is on you. We can’t say what’s best for you and won’t push you into any particular brand/model. We can only recommend what we know to be the best options for your needs and explain why they are the best options.
Common question: what is the best airbrush? It’s not the question you want to ask as the answer will be an opinionated one and there are too many outside factors. It is kind of like asking… What is the best car? “Lambo” you say. “The nicest supercar out there!” - Well, what if you need it to cross a desert?
Another one: Which is better, GSI Creos or Harder & Steenbeck? Well, what would you take, Japanese or German car? These are questions of taste and style and we can’t advise much here. What we can do is supply you with detailed information about every single model – and if you need to know more feel free to contact us with any specific questions that you may have.
General information on airbrush:
A long time ago, someone decided to classify airbrushes into 2 groups: “internal mix” and “external mix”. We recommend choosing the “internal mix” type for most projects, in fact around 99.9% of airbrushes we sell are this type. Don’t let this term fool you – nothing is mixed internally in these airbrushes.
Important terms to know:
Feed type. Airbrush can be Gravity feed (most common), Side feed or Suction (also siphon or bottom) feed. There are some hybrids, like a siphon type bottle attached to a side-feed airbrush or even an adapter to make gravity feed Harder & Steenbeck airbrush side-siphon type. Stay open-minded to all of the options as they each have their own pros and cons!
In general, gravity feed is the best choice. It delivers better control - paint flows directly to the airbrush head without any effort to pass through 90-degree side connections or be lifted from the bottom of a bottle.
Side feed will be harder to clean because of additional connections and tubes, but it’s very helpful when you need to spray something horizontally (flat on a tabletop or up on a ceiling). The side feed cup can be turned so that paint will not spill out of it.
Siphon feed type is mostly popular for airbrushes with larger nozzle sizes because it allows users to attach a large size bottle or even work directly from the paint bottle with the use of an adapter. Siphon feed type is mostly popular among t-shirt artists and mural artists that need to frequently and quickly change colors.
There are also different types of control:
Most primitive is a single-action airbrush. Trigger controls only the airflow. You have to push the trigger down to start air flow and turn the back knob to regulate the paint flow. It’s usable for some basic paint spraying tasks, but has a huge downside: when the nozzle is opened (needle pulled back) by turning the knob, it stays open after the spraying is done and allows the paint to keep flowing out of the nozzle - Due to this, the next time the trigger is pushed down for air, it creates a splatter.
There is another version of single-action airbrushes in which air flows out constantly and the needle action is controlled by the pull of the trigger. It gives better spraying quality because of paint flow control, but it is inconvenient since the airbrush always blows out air. This leads to stencils flying off the workspace and overheated compressors due to non-stop pumping.
A double-action airbrush is the best choice overall. The trigger controls both air and paint flow. Up and down action on the trigger to start and stop air flow and back and forward action to move the needle, allowing it to open and close paint flow. It takes some practice to get used to the trigger, but this style allows for full control over the airbrush. We also call it double independent action, because both air and paint flow can be manipulated independently from each other.
There are also double dependent action airbrushes or automatic as some call them. The most common example is a pistol-grip trigger type airbrush like the Grex Tritium TG3. Instead of the trigger being located on top of the airbrush body, it has a spray gun type of trigger located under the airbrush body. When the trigger is pulled back, the air starts first and if pulled further, the paint flow kicks in. This type of control is not limited to pistol-grip style airbrushes - there are models like the Hansa 281 with a similar look to most double-action airbrushes with the trigger located on top of the airbrush, but it has a catch. There is no up and down action on the trigger of this airbrush. Similar to the Grex Tritium we mentioned, the trigger only moves back and forward. When pulled back, the air flow will start first and then paint will flow as trigger is pulled back further.
Control and feed types are not the only characteristics to look at when choosing your first airbrush. Another important detail is the nozzle size.
They can be classified as:
Detail (from 0.15mm to 0.25mm for finest lines and perfect control while performing micro spraying).
General-Use (from 0.3mm to 0.5mm, airbrushes with a wide range of spraying capabilities, from relatively fine lines to medium spray patterns).
Heavy (from 0.5mm to 1.2mm, sometimes with fan spray pattern, these types of airbrushes are mostly used for quick, simple projects like T-shirt designs or used for laying down background colors on art projects).
Nozzle size is dependant on the particular project you have in mind, one nozzle size will be more suitable than another. For new users we recommend an airbrush from the General Purpose range. They will work with any airbrush paint and will give a good feel of the airbrush hobby or profession. You might think that a detail airbrush is the best option for you to start with, but keep in mind that they are much more sensitive to paint quality because of the narrow nozzle. You can face issues of constant clogging with low quality or old paint, and will not be able to spray metallics.
An important detail is the type of nozzle an airbrush has and if there are additional optional nozzle sizes. The nozzle can be threaded or self-centering/cone type.
In general, self-centering is the most universal option, because it’s easier to replace and most likely the airbrush will have optional sizes. The detail nozzle set can be replaced with general purpose or heavy set and transform the capabilities of the airbrush. A good example of this is Harder & Steenbeck 2-in-1 airbrushes.
Threaded nozzles are harder to remove/install (require a tool at least). Some brands offer tiny threaded nozzles which can be easily damaged in the process of installation/cleaning. It’s not bad to have this kind of nozzle and in many cases it’s very precise, but the airbrush will be limited to only 1 nozzle size, unless you want to take a risk every time you change the nozzle set. The GSI Creos PS-770 is one of the best airbrushes with small threaded nozzles. It’s a super high detail tool and works well for its purpose - just don’t expect to turn it into a heavy spraying airbrush.
Some brands, like Grex, offer larger size threaded nozzles. They still require tool for installation, but they are not as easy to damage or lose so the manufacturer offers a variety of nozzle sets to transform the airbrush from detail oriented at 0.2mm to heavy spraying at 0.7mm or find something in the middle (0.3mm, 0.5mm).
Last to mention, connection size. MOST brands these days use an 1/8” threaded connection as a standard on the airbrush, but not all of them. Two brands that are exceptions to the 1/8” standard are Badger and Paasche which have their own connection size and their airbrushes will require an adapter to connect to standard 1/8” air hose/compressor. Just keep that in mind!
Make sure you have an air hose included with your compressor or airbrush! If not – you better get one.
That information should cover all of the basics of airbrush and compressor purchasing. There are tons of accessories you may or may not need to set up your workspace comfortably, but that’s for a separate blog.
Paints – another topic with a lot of details and even larger selection than airbrushes. We will gladly consult you personally. Just know that there are 2 classes of paint:
- Water-based, will work with most any airbrush and has no smell.
- Solvent-based, generally easier to apply, but it comes with the cost of a strong smell so not the best fit for household use. Also, not all airbrushes are ready for solvent-based paints. Most of the cheap airbrushes from China will get in trouble with solvent-based paint quickly.