What Is An Airbrush And How Does It Work?

An airbrush is a small handheld tool, often shaped like a pen, which uses compressed air to spray various mediums including: paint, dye, glazes, ink, body paint, food dye etc.

When pressed the airbrush trigger allows compressed air to travel to the front part of the airbrush which contains the needle, nozzle and nozzle cap.

Pulling the trigger back also pulls the needle back from where it sits within the nozzle which, in turn, allows paint to travel to the needle tip.

The compressed air can only escape through a small aperture within the nozzle cap which sits over the nozzle and needle tip. As the air passes over the needle tip (loaded with paint) it creates a venture effect pulling and mixing the paint with the air – this is called atomisation.

The atomised air / paint mix is then propelled out through the nozzle cap and onto the project.

For more detailed information please view the below guides:

How Do I Start To Airbrush?

Airbrushes And Associated Terminology Explained - We explain commonly used words and phrases and walk you through how an airbrush actually works.

Guide To Airbrushes And Their Particular Applications


What Is An Airbrush Compressor And How Does It Work?

An airbrush compressor is smaller in design than standard air compressors as airbrushing does not require extremely high pressures or an incredibly large volume of air. This smaller design makes it more portable and easier to store.

The operating noise is also greatly reduced meaning that it can comfortably be used in the home.

A small electric motor is used to drive a piston to create compressed air. The compresses air is then either delivered to an air storage tank or straight to the airbrush (often an air pressure regulator / water trap is used).

Most airbrush compressors have an auto start / auto stop feature and a thermal safety cut off switch.

Air is delivered to the airbrush by means of an air hose.

For more detailed information please view the below guide:

Guide To Airbrush Compressors

Do I Need An Airbrush Compressor With Or Without An Air Tank? - Take our online quiz to see which airbrush compressor suits your particular needs.

Can Any Surface Be Painted?

Any surface which is absorbent can be spray as it will allow the paint or medium to penetrate and bond with the surface.

Non absorbent surfaces can also be spray painted using specialist paint or a base coat or primer which enables the top coat to bond to it.

There are many airbrush and modelling forums which will provide you with all of the information you may need on your particular choice of paint.

What Medium Can Be Sprayed Through An Airbrush?

Almost any medium can be used in an airbrush, however, it must be correctly thinned to reduce its viscosity to that similar to non skimmed milk. This gives the medium fluidity and allows it to move more freely under gravity or suction which are the two methods by which the medium is delivered to the airbrush needle and nozzle.

We have to remember that the medium needs to be able to travel along the needle and to the needle tip whilst it sits within the nozzle. The gap between the needle and the inner aperture of the nozzle is very small and only fractionally increases when the tapered needle tip is pulled back through the aperture in the nozzle.

If the medium is too thick it will not move freely and the paint flow will be poor or intermittent. This may lead to spitting or blockages within you airbrush.

If you need to use a slightly thicker medium (such as with candy / pearl paints, body tattoo paints, cake decoration mediums etc) then you should consider using an airbrush with a larger needle/nozzle/nozzle cap size such as 0.8mm.

For more detailed information please view the below guide:

Guide To Airbrush Paint

We also have a number of useful Advice Videos which explain paint thickness and air pressure ratio.

These will help you to overcome many issues common to those new to airbrushing such as tip dry and other performance issues.

How Do I Clean My Airbrush?

You should always rinse your airbrush through with water (if using water based paints) or a suitable solvent (if using solvent based paints) between colour changes. This also includes paint cups, bottles and the internal channels of the airbrush, along which the paint has travelled, to ensure that all paint residue has been removed.

Many people choose to use an airbrush cleaning pot (which can also double up as an airbrush holder). These are very simple to use and help to prevent paint spillage whilst also assisting with the capture of paint vapour.

BARTSHARP Airbrush Cleaning Pot
BARTSHARP Airbrush® Cleaning Pot


Between colour changes you should empty your paint cup or pot of any remaining paint and then use a cloth to wipe out any further residue.

Place your airbrush into the cleaning pot holding grommet and add water / solvent to the cup / pot.

Use a small brush to clean the pot / cup and then press the trigger to expel the dirty fluid into the cleaning pot.

This should be repeated until the expelled liquid is clear of any colour.

Airbrushes should always be put away as clean as possible. Cleaning is much the same process as above but may involve using an airbrush cleaning fluid to be sure that all paint residue has been removed.

Airbrush cleaning needles and cleaning brushes should also be used to fully ensure that all paint has been removed from the inner channels of the airbrush.

BARTSHARP Airbrush Cleaning Needles and Brushes
BARTSHARP Airbrush Cleaning Needles and Brushes


The airbrush needle, nozzle and nozzle cap should be removed, inspected and cleaned individually using the same process as above.

Always clean your needles from back to front so that you do not damage the fine needle tip or injure yourself.

If you are using acrylic paints you will know that these dry to an almost rock hard finish. Even a very small build up of dried paint, on the inner aperture wall of the airbrush nozzle, will almost certainly cause performance issues if not a total blockage. One of the safest and easiest ways to remove dried paint, from inside an airbrush nozzle, is with the use of an Airbrush Was Needle or Airbrush Nozzle Reamer.

BARTSHARP Airbrush Wash Needle
BARTSHARP Airbrush Wash Needle


This inexpensive tool has a long needle with a flat side which acts as a delicate blade.

Insert the wash needle into the nozzle from the back, apply a small amount of forward pressure and gently turn the wash needle.

The edges of the flat side on the needle will gently (dependent on pressure used) remove the dried on paint from the inner walls of the nozzle.

This will ensure that your airbrush nozzle is perfectly maintained and optimised for performance.

What Health And Safety Aspects Should I Consider?

Be sure to read all instructions as provided by your paint manufacturer.

All paints have VOC (volatile organic compounds) which can be hazardous to health if ingested or inhaled.

Automotive paints use solvents which have high levels of VOC. We highly recommend the use of a quality face mask suitable for use with the spraying of solvent based paints.

Water based paints also have VOC, however, the levels are much lower. Again, we would recommend the use of a face mask.

The spraying of any medium will create a fine mist (through atomisation) which will then become airborne. This airborne paint can not only be inhaled but may also settle on other items or surfaces within your work room (or further).

Many people choose to invest in an airbrush spray booth as it provides a very effective means of capturing overspray and airborne contaminants.

BARTSHARP Airbrush Spray Booth DCLK
BARTSHARP Airbrush Spray Booth DCLK


Filter material captures overspray whilst paint vapour is drawn away, along a ducting and out through a vent or window. This helps to create a safer working environment and will also assist to capture atomised paint which may damage other items.

Compressed air can be hazardous. Always check that air compressor fittings are secure and not damaged or worn.

Compressed air should not be left in an air compressor air tank for extended periods and should be emptied.

Most compressors air tanks also have a drain screw which should be used to remove any build up of water.

This water may, over time, cause rust within the air tank and affect its integrity. (Water and heat is a by-product when air is placed through a mechanical process such as compression.)

All paints should be disposed of in line with manufacturer’s directions and current legislation. Certain paints may cause water sources to become contaminated. Always act responsibly.

Please use our “Contact Us” page for further information or if you would like to see additional information in our guides.