Airbrushes are hand-held miniature paint sprayers that use compressed air to expel the paint. A single hose delivers the air, which mixes with the paint and exits through the nozzle. Different sizes and types of nozzles along with the distance between the brush and the object create the desired effect. There are many types of airbrushes available on the market. Various brushes and accessories offer different levels of function, which makes the airbrush suitable for specific tasks. The type of airbrush purchased depends on an artist’s level of experience and the projects they are interested in creating.
Single-action vs. Double-action
Single and double action refer to the trigger function of the airbrush. A single-action airbrush features a level that moves up and down. When pressed, air and paint enter the brush simultaneously to spray. However, single-action brushes are generally not adjustable. Single-action brushes are commonly favored by hobbyists and new artists due to the tool’s relative simplicity. They are also the least expensive.
Double-action airbrushes require an artist to press to initiate the air flow. Pulling back the lever brings paint into the brush. By adjusting the tension on the trigger mechanism, you gain more control over the amount of air and paint flow.
Paint Feed Types
Airbrushes also differ in terms of how the paint is delivered to the brush. Side- or top-mounted models have a paint cup directly attached to the brush. Gravity enables the paint to enter the brush to mix with air. The brushes use a lower pressure to emit the paint, use less paint and provide a focused spray, which is often desired for detail work. However, if the side cup is below the nozzle, the paint is delivered by siphon. Some prefer side feed brushes, as they adjust to any angle.
Siphon-fed brushes have paint jars positioned beneath the airbrush. The paint is siphoned via suction into the device. The removable jars are considerably larger than affixed paint cups and may be considered cumbersome. But, they hold more paint, which enables artists to paint longer between refills. The bottom jar also enables artists to quickly change between colors. The greater paint volume is also convenient when needing to cover larger areas.
Brushes vary as to how the air and painting medium combine during the airbrushing process. Devices having external mix technology combine air and paint outside the brush and create a coarse, round spray pattern. External is desired for covering larger surface areas. The method also features attachments that more easily handle larger volumes of paint. Internal mix mechanisms mix the components inside the brush. Internal mix brushes are ideal for the finer detail needed for making dots, color blending, shading and fine lines.
Best Overall Airbrushes
1. Iwata-Medea Eclipse HP CS
Iwata has a reputation for producing quality brushes and the Eclipse HP CS is no exception. Yet, the Eclipse HP CS is affordable. The quality construction that goes into Iwata products ensure years of service with proper care. The Eclipse HP CS remains one of the most popular models and is used by artists who specialize in small or large projects. Ease of use, cleaning and maintaining also make it the ideal tool for novice to experienced painters alike. In fact, the device is recommended for hobbyists aged eight and older. The versatility of the Eclipse makes it appropriate to use for a wide range of applications while providing economical paint use.
The gravity-fed airbrush is made of durable stainless steel with a polished chrome finish, which makes the exterior easy to keep clean. The large spray head quickly comes apart to reveal threads that are manufactured in such a way as to prevent stripping. The Eclipse features dual functionality for greater control over the spray.
Eclipse HP CS models come equipped with a 0.35mm, self-centering needle for fine line to wide spray patterns. Move the brush further away from the project to get a pattern having up to two inches in diameter. The top-mounted, funnel-shaped cup has a removable lid and holds up to 0.30 ounces of paint.
The single cut-away handle makes clog removal a snap. Merely move the chuck front and back a few times. To clean the needle and nozzle end of the brush, simply loosen the rear chuck and pull the needle through the front of the airbrush to prevent the backflow of paint. The back part of the handle also disassembles to access the trigger tension chuck.
Along with the airbrush, the package contains a detailed instruction booklet, a bottle of lubricant and a spanner. Iwata also offers a five-year warranty on manufacture, material or workmanship defects. Overall, the comprehensive function of the Eclipse makes it the only airbrush most artists will ever need.
2. Badger Patriot 105
The American-made Badger Patriot 105 is a versatile, easy-to-use airbrush that features a top-mounted, gravity-fed, 0.30-ounce cup and double-action functionality. The stainless steel construction means you get a durable product designed to last. The chrome finish is attractive and easy to clean. The brush is slightly heavier than some competitive models. Yet, the airbrush is still comfortable to hold and use. The affordable price makes the Patriot appealing for beginners or professional artists. Use the Patriot 105 for everything from cake decorating or model finishing to textile art.
A tight-fitting lid enables you to use the Patriot 105 at various angles without spilling paint. The device comes with a 0.50 mm needle, which enables the unit to handle thin or thicker mediums with ease. Even with the larger needle, artists can achieve pencil thin lines. Pull the brush back from the project to get a spray pattern of up to three inches in diameter.
The nozzle tip has fewer pieces and is also considerably larger than what is supplied on many models, which makes keeping track of the pieces that much easier. The tip also simply inserts into the device. So you need not worry about thread stripping. The nozzle collar keeps the tip in place.
A cut-away handle allows for quick clog removal and trigger tension adjustments. The back end of the needle features a knob. The knob combined with the larger needle size make for easier handling. However, removing the needle through the back of the brush means drawing paint through the entire unit, which makes cleaning a bit more complicated.
A foam-lined plastic case provides safe and easy storage. A detailed instruction booklet has artists up and going in no time. Badger offers a one-year warranty on the device against manufacturing defects. The PTFE seals and factory labor come with a lifetime warranty. The Patriot 105 is an affordable all-around tool.
3. Paasche TG-3F
Paasche has proudly been in the airbrush business for more than a century and is based in Chicago. The American-made Paasche TG-3F is an incredible value for all that comes in the package. The airbrush is one of the company’s newest models and is made from chrome-finished stainless steel and features an anodized gold-toned aluminum back handle and cup lid. The larger 0.40-ounce cup adds a little more weight to the airbrush. But overall, the device is well-balanced and comfortable to hold and use.
The cut-away handle enables quick clog removal or tension adjustments. The TG-3F easily disassembles for cleaning. However, the needle must be removed from the back of the brush, which complicates the internal cleaning process.
Paasche airbrushes have a uniquely-sized fitting for the air hose. So the fact that the package comes with six-feet of Paasche braided hose is especially convenient. Otherwise, many prefer using a universal quick-attach mount to eliminate the hassle.
The device comes with size 1 and 3 spray heads along with a fan air cap in 0.25mm, 0.38mm and 0.66mm sizes. The needle itself is 0.35mm. Create spray patterns ranging from hair fine up to 1.5 inches in diameter simply by altering the distance between the brush and the project. A crown tip protects the delicate needle tip.
An enclosed hanger enables you to set the brush down when it is not in use. You also get two wrenches, an instruction manual and a lesson booklet. The TG-3F capably handles any water-based or solvent-based mediums.