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Introduction to Airbrushing

An airbrush is a small, air-operated tool that sprays various media including paint, ink and dye by a process of atomization. Spray guns developed from the airbrush and are still considered a type of airbrush.


This first airbrush was invented by Abner Peeler of Iowa in 1879. It was rather crude, using a hand-operated compressor and a variety of spare parts from a jeweler's workshop such as old screwdrivers and welding torches. A more practical device was developed 4 years later and marketed by Liberty Walkup. The first modern airbrush was invented by Charles Burdick and debuted in 1893 at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This device worked in a different manner from Peeler's device, being essentially the same as airbrushes in use today. Aerograph, Burdick's original company, still makes and sells airbrushes in England.


An airbrush works by passing a stream of compressed air through a venturi, which creates a local reduction in air pressure that allows paint to be pulled up from an interconnected reservoir. The high velocity of the air atomizes the paint into very tiny droplets as it blows past a very fine paint-metering component. The paint is then carried onto the surface. The artist controls the amount of paint using a variable trigger, which opens more or less a very fine tapered needle that is the control element of the paint-metering component.

An extremely fine degree of atomization allows for the creation of ultra-smooth seamless blending effects between two or more colors. Freehand airbrushed images have a floating quality, with softly defined edges between colors, and between foreground and background colors. A skilled airbrush artist can produce images of photographic realism.

Some airbrushes use pressures as low as 20 psi while others use pressures in the region of 30-35 psi. Larger spray guns, such as those used for automobile spray-painting, need 100 psi or more to adequately atomize a thicker paint using less solvent. They are capable of delivering a heavier coating more rapidly over a wide area. High-Volume Low-Pressure (HVLP) spray guns are designed to deliver the same high volumes of paint without requiring such high pressures.


Airbrushes are usually classified by three characteristics:

  1. The action performed by the user to trigger the paint flow
  2. The mechanism for feeding the paint into the airbrush
  3. The point at which the paint and air mix


The simplest airbrushes work with a single action mechanism where the depression of a single trigger allows paint and air to flow into the airbrush body and the atomized paint to be expelled onto the target surface. Cheaper airbrushes and spray guns tend to be of this type.

Dual action airbrushes separate the function for air and paint flow so that the artist can activate the airflow and then vary the paint flow independently. Most airbrushes tend to be of this type.

Feed System

Paint can be fed by gravity from a paint reservoir sitting atop the airbrush (gravity feed) or siphoned from a reservoir below (bottom feed) or on the side (side feed).

Mix Point

With an internal mix airbrush the paint and air mixes inside the tip of the airbrush, which creates a finer atomized mist of paint. With external mix the air leaves the airbrush before it comes into contact with the paint creating a coarser stippled effect. External mix airbrushes are less expensive and more suited for covering larger areas with more viscous paint.

Spray Guns

The spray gun is a larger, more industrial type of paint applicator used for larger areas. Airbrushing itself started being used on cars in the 1940s to make hot rods and specialty cars before spreading to the general car repainting industry.


Airbrush technique is the freehand manipulation of the airbrush, medium, air pressure and distance from the surface being sprayed in order to produce a desired effect on a consistent basis, either with or without stencils. Airbrush technique differs with the type of airbrush being used (single action or dual action).

Double action airbrush technique involves depressing the trigger on the top of the airbrush to release air only, and drawing it back gradually to the paint release threshold. The most important procedural dynamic is to always begin with air only and end with air only. By observing this rule, precise control of paint volume and line width and character can be achieved. The single most important airbrush stroke consistently utilized by professionals is the dagger stroke, which begins wide and ends as a narrow line, created by starting with the brush far from the support and moving it evenly closer as the line is drawn.

With single action airbrush technique the action of depressing the trigger releases a fixed ratio of paint to air. Achieving different line widths is achieved by either changing the tip and nozzle combination or adjusting the spray volume manually between spray width changes. The most important aspect of single action airbrush technique is to keep the hand moving before the trigger is depressed and after the trigger is released to avoids the bar bell line.

Automotive Airbrushing

Airbrushes are used to spray murals, graphics, and other artwork on automobiles, motorcycles and helmets. This art form has been around since the fifties, but more recently it has seen an increase in popularity. Most professionals prefer to use automotive grade bases through top of the line gravity fed airbrushes. It is not advised that the novice use automotive grade paints either in their home or garage, but rather in a well-ventilated shop equipped with a spray booth. The cost to hire a professional artist will vary from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the requirements of the job and the artist's location, skill level, and reputation. Remember you may not always get what you pay for; BUT You will always pay for what you get!!!! With our company and our reputation we always give a little extra. Unlike the el-cheapo’s out there.

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