Airbrushes: So many different models coupled with confusing words and phrases!

Our guide will provide you with all the information you need to fully understand how an airbrush works.


Airbrushes And Associated Terminology Explained


There are now many different styles of airbrushes which can be used for a multitude of applications and mediums.

Artists may start airbrushing with one airbrush but will, through development, purchase several different types.

These could include internal or external mix as well as gravity or siphon feed all of which lend themselves to different styles and disciplines.

For those new to airbrushing the many different styles of airbrushes can be quite daunting and it may be hard to know how to select the airbrush which is right for you particular needs.


Don’t worry, we too went through this learning process!


The below video walks you through airbrush basics and how an airbrush works.


To help you save time, avoid common mistakes and to start enjoying your airbrushing we have put together a number of guides.

These will help you understand the words and phrases commonly used to describe airbrushes and the associated equipment and paint.


Please read our other guides:

How Do I Start To Airbrush

Guide To Airbrushes And Their Particular Applications

Airbrush Paint Guide

Guide To Airbrush Compressors

Frequently Asked Questions And How To Avoid Airbrushing Problems


Words or phrases commonly used to describe airbrushes:

What is a Dual Action Airbrush?

A dual action airbrush requires two actions for its use:

Press down on the trigger for air release (pressing further down on the trigger will release more air).

Pull back on the trigger for paint release (pulling further back on the trigger will release more paint).

This dual action, sometimes referred to as double action, allows the artist greater control.

A dual action airbrush provides the artist with the ability to produce very fine lines and greater control of blending and fading for detailed work.

Dual action airbrushes are slightly more expensive than single action airbrushes and, because of the greater accuracy, can take longer to develop full control and a disciplined technique.

Dual Action airbrushes within the BARTSHARP Airbrush® range include:




What is a Single Action Airbrush?

A single action airbrush is used by a simple action of pressing or pulling back on the trigger which causes both paint and air to be released at the same time.

Single action airbrushes can be a good choice for those new to airbrushing as they are easy to control, clean and maintain. They do not offer the precision of a dual action airbrush and may be best suited to simple spraying and the spraying of larger areas.

The below BARTSHARP Airbrush® range have a single variable action:



What is Internal Mix?

This is also sometime referred to as internal atomisation. Paint and air is atomized within the tip of the airbrush. Simply put this means that the paint and air is mix together before it is propelled out through the nozzle cap and needle cap.

Internal mix airbrushes provide the user with a very gentle spray of atomized paint which replicate the dot pattern of a photograph and are used by artists to create sharp focus realistic paintings or where a gentle controlled spray is needed.

All of the airbrushes within the BARTSHARP Airbrush® range are Internal Mix.


What is External Mix?

With an external mix airbrush the paint and air is atomized outside of the airbrush.

An example of an external mix airbrush is the SprayCraft which provides a course stippled effect to the paint as it, and the air, is mixed outside of the tip of the airbrush. This type of airbrush is most commonly used by those wishing to cover larger areas with a need to create a continuous flat colour. Mediums which are thick or have a high viscosity are also suited to this design of airbrush. An external mix airbrush is simple in design, easy to use and less expensive than other designs.



Types of Airbrush Paint Feed

There are two main types of airbrush paint feed systems: Gravity Feed or Siphon Feed. These may in the form of top feed, side feed or bottom feed.

Gravity Feed

Gravity feed airbrushes have a paint cup situated on top of the airbrush. These can be made from metal or plastic with varying volume capacities. The medium is drawn into the airbrush and towards the needle tip by gravity. Some models of airbrush also have interchangeable paint cups of different sizes. Gravity feed airbrushes are used mainly by the airbrush artist wishing to produce fine to medium detail work.

Some examples of airbrushes within the BARTSHARP Airbrush® range which are gravity feed include:


Siphon Feed

Siphon feed airbrushes are also sometime referred to as bottom feed or suction feed. As the name suggests the paint is fed through to the airbrush from a metal cup, plastic bottle or glass jar situated below the airbrush.

Air passing through the airbrush draws the medium from the metal cup, plastic bottle or glass jar by means of a siphon effect.

This feed method offers artists the ability to hold a greater volume of paint than that available with gravity feed airbrushes. They are also highly suitable for the covering of larger areas or for the artist requiring quick colour changes for disciplines such as T-Shirt spraying or body art.

Some examples of airbrushes within the BARTSHARP Airbrush® range which are siphon feed include:


Side Feed

Side feed airbrushes draw paint from a paint cup, plastic bottle or glass jar which is mounted on the side of the airbrush. Paint is drawn to the airbrush by gravity, for cups situated above the airbrush, and by siphon for cups/bottles/jars situated beneath the airbrush.

An added bonus with this style of feed is that the paint cup/bottle or jar can be rotated through 360 degrees and locked in position to assist with the spraying of areas at unusual angles.

The BARTSHARP Airbrush® 133 airbrush is a siphon side feed airbrush (shown in the above image).


If you are looking for a bit more information then please take a look at the article at Model Space:

Model Airbrush Techniques - Scale Modelling Tips

Would you like the definitive on airbrushes and want to know the full history of how they were invented and developed? Take a read of the Wikipedia definition... be prepared for a long read!

Wikipedia - Airbrush


Should I Buy A Branded Or Budget Airbrush?

We would encourage you to buy the best airbrush you can afford.

We are fully authorised Iwata stockists. Our ranges of Iwata Airbrushes is priced between £92 and £399. They offer not only exceptional quality but are also some of the least expensive available in the UK. They are not grey imports.

The cost of a branded airbrush coupled with airbrush compressor, airbrush accessories and paint is going to be quite expensive. For those who remain airbrushing for many years this is a wise investment.

However, those new to airbrushing will be presented with a very steep learning curve and many frustrations as they develop their airbrushing skills and ability.

The initial stages, for those new to airbrushing, will involve many hours of practice to create a working knowledge of optimum air pressure, paint thickness and airbrush technique.

All of the initial introductory stages can be achieved using a less expensive airbrush as no one will be producing masterpieces straight off.

Purchase of a less expensive airbrush will allow you to master the required techniques and develop your personal style without the additional cost.

Needles and nozzles often become worn or damaged and have to be replaced. Iwata replacement needles cost around £20 each. The BARTSHARP range of needles cost £2.99 each (less if bought in multiples).

In many ways the newcomer and intermediate airbrush artist would achieve the same results with an airbrush from our BARTSHARP range (prices range from £16.00 through to £31.00) as compared with a high end Iwata – you only need to view our “Customer’s Gallery” to see what exceptional results can be achieved.

All of the airbrushes in the BARTSHARP Airbrush® range are provided with a One Year Warranty*.

For the newcomer the maths seems quite simple!

An intermediate to advanced airbrush artist, who is able to advance to the next level, will undoubtedly benefit from a branded airbrush.


We are here to provide you with the best information possible to ensure that you get the right products, first time.

Please use our “Contact Us” page if you have any questions which are not covered in our guides.

*Warranty does not include needles, nozzles, nozzle caps as these items are considered  “consumables” and are expected to wear in use.



Right Products, First Time