Airbrush Art – A Beginner’s Guide to Airbrush Painting

There are more than a few ways you can go about painting a surface. Since the discovery of paint, one of the most common ways to paint a surface has been to use a brush or roller to get the job done. However, since then, we have developed many easier and often quicker ways of applying paint to a surface. These application techniques have revolutionized various industries and even spawned industries of their own, but one of the most interesting means of applying paint has to be the art of airbrushing. While remaining a pretty niche art form, airbrushing has skyrocketed in popularity since its inception, and as the technology and materials have become more readily available many budding artists have found new and exciting applications for this art form. This being said, let’s have a look into what an airbrush is, how it works, how they’ve come about, and what notable artworks have been created through this medium.



What Is an Airbrush?

You’ve probably seen airbrush art at some point in your life, right? There are brilliant murals all over the world that depict a wide variety of subject matters, all of which have been created by this revolutionary paint application technology. So, we know what can be made with an airbrush, but what exactly is it and how does it work?

Originally, we thought that airbrushing was invented in the early 1890s, but thanks to research done by some really smart people, we now know that one of the first airbrushes was designed and operated in the late 1870s and consisted of a pretty crude design which needed air to be manually cranked through to facilitate the atomization process.

Cleaning Airbrush Techniques

Although crude, this is what airbrushing is once your strip away all of the nitty-gritty stuff; it’s a small handheld dispenser with a trigger attached to it. There is a small button on the trigger which when pressed controls a small needle. This needle controls the flow of air within the device, and when lifted by applying pressure to the trigger this needle allows for the atomization of paint.

Where is the paint stored? Well, these days it’s usually housed in a small container that is either directly attached to the airgun or housed in an auxiliary container that is connected to the airbrush via a hose. Regardless of which feed mechanism is used, the paint is fed to the nozzle at the edge of the airbrush. 

Once the trigger is pressed it causes the paint to be atomized into a fine mist, which then lands on the target surface.

To someone that has never seen or heard of an airbrush before, it looks like a little pen with a little tube attached to it that sprays paint. Think of it as a conventional paint sprayer, only a lot smaller and capable of doing far more detailed work than its larger counterpart. Airbrushes are typically used for things like murals or custom automotive artwork because of their unique ability to blend colors together almost seamlessly.



How Exactly Does an Airbrush Work?

Although we mentioned this in passing previously, it’s important to understand how an airbrush works in a little more detail in case you need to do some DIY repair work or if you ever need to order replacement parts (or intend to customize your airbrush). The primary concept on which an airbrush functions is pretty simple.

Compressed air passes through a venturi which is basically a tapered hole. This happens at quite a high speed, and as this air passes over a recess connected to the container housing your paint it creates a drop in pressure which forces the paint up and allows the flow of air. While being sucked up and following this stream of air the paint becomes atomized (cut into really small droplets).

The paint and air mixture eventually reach the spray tip, which then distributes the now atomized paint across the surface you’re spraying. Pretty cool, right? One of the best parts about airbrush painting is that you can control the intensity, radius, and spray pattern of your paint to a degree that is pretty much impossible with larger paint sprayers. 

Cleaning After Airbrush Painting

In fact, professional airbrush artists are capable of blending and forming their subject matter in such extreme detail that their airbrush art can resemble actual photographs. This degree of proficiency can take years to acquire and a lifetime of commitment on your part, but this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to make incredible works of art with just a little bit of practice in your spare time.

How does an airbrush allow for such intricate detail in airbrush art? Well, unlike larger paint sprayers airbrushes use less compressed air to apply paint to your workpiece, this in addition to using spray tips that are impossibly small means that the mist of spray produced is far finer, which means that colors can be blended far more easily and on a smaller scale.

How much less air pressure does an airbrush use compared to a conventional sprayer you ask? Well, most compressed air paint sprayers use around 100 PSI of pressure to produce a consistent application of paint without any splatter. 

An airbrush on the other hand only needs around 20 PSI to do the same thing, and if you have the time and the correct spray tips, you could probably paint surfaces of a size that would usually warrant the use of a full-sized sprayer.

If you’ve done some spray painting before then you know that atomized paint particles pose a significant risk to your health. If inhaled these particles can cause long-term damage to your lungs and respiratory system, so ensure that your work area is well ventilated that you always wear a mask graded for use with aerosolized paints when working with an airbrush.



Who Are Some Noticeable Airbrush Artists?

Every art medium has its exceptional practitioners, and airbrushing is no different. Airbrushing takes a while to become proficient at, so those that have developed their skills to a point where they are considered masters of the craft. Let’s have a look at a few of the most renowned airbrush artists and some of their most famous works to date. Airbrushing can be completed on many different surfaces, from metal and wood to t-shirts and cakes, and there are professional artists in all aspects of the medium. 

Airbrush Uses


John Latham (1921-2006)

While the modern depiction of an artist generally involves loads of Instagram posts while trying to make a living off a liberal arts degree (not as easy as it sounds) things were a bit different in the 1930s and 1940s. John Latham was born in Zimbabwe and attained British citizenship, he participated in the second world war, joined the naval reserves, studied the arts, and was best known for his performance-based artwork. Although his initial weapon of choice was an aerosol spray can, he did later move on to airbrushing which earned him great success and popularity in local circles at the time. 

He also had a proclivity for burning books in the interest of performance art, which later developed into one of his most famous works dubbed God is great (1991) in which he bisected several holy books and displayed them on glass.


Barrie Cook (1929-2020)

Considering that airbrushing saw its initial rise in popularity in the United Kingdom, it should come as no surprise that one of its most renowned artists and artworks come from the same place. Barrie Cook is pretty much one of the biggest names in airbrushing and his works have often tested the limits of the detail one can achieve through this medium. Loads of his works are held in various national collections, being curated, and displayed in museums and exhibitions all over the region. 

Although Mr. Cook is no longer with us, during his life he would frequently display his new and old works, and at times when he was not busy creating his next masterpiece, he could be found teaching a new generation of artists at the Coventry College of Art and other fine art institutions.


James Rosenquist (1933 – 2017)

If you’re interested in more commercially appealing artwork, then the works of the world-famous James Rosenquist might be right up your alley. Starting his career in the field of commercial drawings and signage, Rosenquist channeled this style into his later works, which closely resembled the largely popular works of pop-art magnates Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. His works featured sensationalized depictions of everyday objects that were often juxtaposed with one another to create a subtle commentary on consumerism in the modern age. 

It seems that his work in the advertising industry fostered a jaded attitude toward the commercialization of commodities, and this is thoroughly expressed in the majority of his artwork.



Are There Different Types of Airbrushes?

Yes! Just like there are different types of paint sprayers there are indeed different types of airbrushes on the market today. All of them are unique and have been designed to suit certain applications, so let’s have a look at some of the airbrush types you’re likely to come across on your airbrush painting journey. You can learn more about the different airbrush guns at

What Is Airbrushing


Double Action Trigger Airguns

Like professional oil painting, airbrushing is considered a fine art in most circles of the art community because it takes a while to master and develop your technique. Double-action airbrush units and the ones most commonly used by professionals because of their unique trigger mechanism that allows you to control the flow of both your paint and airflow.

Setting up for Airbrushing

How does this work? Well, double-action airbrushes have a trigger that fulfills two functions: This is the flow of compressed air and the amount of paint secreted for the painting process. How does it manage this? Well, the button on top of the spray gun controls two mechanisms; a pull mechanism that controls the amount of paint supplied to the spray tip and the push mechanism which controls airflow. Pulling the trigger back increases the amount of paint supplied to the spray tip and releasing it causes the inverse. Pushing the trigger down toward the shaft increases the airflow which activates the spray function. 

This dual function trigger can take a while to get used to especially if you’ve gotten used to a conventional trigger setup.


Best Double Action Airbrush: MASTER AIRBRUSH Performance Pro Set

If you’re in the market for a double-action airbrush why not try out this one from the Master Airbrush team? Its sleek design and lightweight make it a joy to handle for more detail-oriented workpieces. Not to mention that it comes ready with a variety of spray tips that will enable you to tackle pretty much any airbrushing project that comes your way.

  • Professional dual-action gravity feed airbrush set and accessories
  • The set includes three different nozzle sizes and a 6-foot hose
  • The cutaway handle allows for quick flushing and cleaning 
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While the MAster Airbrush team does say that this unit can be used by beginners and novice artists, we think that it’s best suited for those who have adequately developed their skills due to the sensitivity of its trigger mechanism. This unit is pretty versatile too, feel free to use it for ordinary airbrushing, use it with food-safe paint to decorate cakes or fill it up with nail paint.


  • Versatile
  • Easy to use
  • Sleek design
  • Reputable brand
  • Light weight
  • Reasonably priced


  • Not suitable for beginners
  • Only comes with three needles
  • Spare hoses not included


Automatic Trigger Airbrushes

As you can imagine, it can take a bit of time and effort to master the double-action trigger configuration, and if you’re not in it the love of the craft, it can get a bit frustrating, especially if you’ve been at it for a few hours and your motor skills are starting to let you down. It’s for this reason (and likely simplicity) that the automatic trigger airbrush exists.

How to Use an Airbrush

In principle, the automatic trigger airbrush has the same function as the one we mentioned previously, the only difference being that one of these functions has been automated for ease of use. The function in question is the air control, so instead of you having control of both the paint and airflow, the slide function controls both the air and paint flow of your airbrush. This ease of use makes them one of the most purchased unit types, and they’re often used as an intermediary for those who are one day hoping to master the double-action trigger units. 

This airbrush allows for the attention to detail and finish quality as the double trigger unit, but it does mean that you’re sacrificing fine adjustment of your airflow.


Best Automatic Trigger Airbrush: ITAWA-MEDEA Revolution CR

If you’re in the market for an automatic trigger airbrush we think that this one from the Itawa-Medea team might be just what you’re looking for. This one also has quite a sleek design and has a reliable gravity feed mechanism which ensures that your paint supply is always optimum and ready for you exactly when you need it.

IWATA-MEDEA Revolution CR Airbrush
  • A dual-action, top-feed airbrush with an internal mix mechanism
  • Includes a larger nozzle and needle combination for easy spraying
  • The ergonomic design allows for easy assembly and cleaning
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Designed with simplicity in mind, this unit does the mixing of paint and air for you, which frees your mind up to focus on your latest and greatest airbrush creation. Its internal mechanisms are solvent-proof too which means you won’t have any trouble cleaning it, and thanks to its thicker internal needle you’ll be able to spray thicker paints with little to no problem.


  • Versatile
  • Easy to use
  • Solvent friendly internals
  • Ideal for spraying thicker paints
  • Reasonably priced
  • Ideal for beginners


  • Not ideal for more skilled artists
  • Not extra needles included
  • Not additional hoses included
  • No thread adapters included


Pistol Grip Airbrush

If you’re looking for something a bit more pedestrian, then why not try out an airbrush with a configuration closer to something you have used before? The pistol grip trigger airbrush, as the name suggests, has a pistol grip and trigger. This comes in stark contrast to the futuristic pencil aesthetic that most airbrushes are associated with, but it’s a blast to use and is a solid choice if you’re looking for your first airbrush.

Airbrush Painting

The pistol grip airbrush configuration is significantly easier to manage and can be used in a number of different applications. Those of you who have used a conventional paint sprayer might find this configuration a lot more familiar compared to some of the others we’ve covered so far, in fact, this is one of the best entry-level configurations for those who are interesting in airbrushing. How does this configuration work? Well, unsurprisingly it has a lot to do with the trigger. Much like the automatic configuration, this airbrush type connects both the airflow and paint flow to the trigger mechanism. 

A light pull on the trigger activates the airflow and engaging the second stage of the trigger will engage paint flow. Simple but extremely effective, which is why it’s ideal for beginner airbrush painting.


Best Pistol Grip Airbrush: MASTER AIRBRUSH Multi-Purpose Pistol Trigger Airbrush

If you’re looking for a pistol grip airbrush you can trust to get the job done we recommend this one from the Master Airbrush team. Like all of their products, the design was created with the artist in mind, featuring an ergonomically friendly stance that’s sure to have you working for hours without your hands cramping up.

MASTER AIRBRUSH Multi-Purpose Pistol Trigger Airbrush
  • The dual-action airbrush features a precision pistol trigger
  • Comes with a 0.3 mm needle and nozzle with 3 fluid cup sizes
  • A versatile airbrush for hairline detail and larger area fills
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This unit comes with three hopper sizes for you to choose from, which means that if you’re spraying larger workpieces, you won’t find yourself having to constantly replenish your paint supply. This truly is the best of both worlds as it provides the feel of a paint sprayer with the detailed oriented spray applicator that airbrushes are known for.


  • Easy to use
  • Ergonomically friendly
  • Easy to control
  • Versatile
  • Ideal for beginner artists
  • Multiple hopper sizes included


  • Expensive
  • Hoses not included
  • Not as intuitive as conventional brush configurations


Single-Action Airbrush

This one is a crowd favorite, especially for a beginner airbrush artist. There are more than a few ways you can begin your airbrush journey, but if you’re looking to move on to a more intricate configuration later on, the single-action configuration will set you on the path to getting accustomed to the look, feel, and operation of double-action and automatic-action airbrush configurations.

Airbrushing Tools

This one is even simpler to use than the pistol grip unit. In fact, if you’ve used aerosolized paint cans before, then this one should feel quite familiar. All you need to do is press the button that controls the flow of both paint and air. Some units in this configuration do have variable air control but most of them use a single setting. As you can imagine, this isn’t exactly what a professional airbrush artist would use and is therefore reserved for those who are new to the medium. It’s pretty easy to get started with units of this type too, all you need to do is fill up your paint hopper, plug in your air supply and get working. 

You can control your paint volume using trigger pressure though, so this unit isn’t completely static in its design.


Best Single Action Airbrush: PAASCHE Airbrush Single Action Siphon Feed Airbrush Set

If you’re looking for a good first airbrush, we think that you’ll find this one from the Paasche team easy to use and even easier to set up. If you’re looking to just get started in the airbrushing medium without having to worry about the learning curve, then we think that this unit might be exactly what you’re looking for.

PAASCHE Single Action Siphon Feed Airbrush Set
  • Single action siphon feed airbrush with .45, .65 and 1.05mm heads 
  • Perfect for beginners or those requiring quick and easy spraying
  • Comes with a number of additional and useful attachments 
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The Paasche team provides you with pretty much everything you’ll need to get started except the paint and a supply of compressed air. All you need to do is fill this airbrush up, pick your target, and you’re pretty much ready to start your airbrushing journey. If you’re a beginner and are committed to developing your airbrushing skills, we think this is a good jumping-off point.


  • Easy to use
  • Ideal for beginners
  • Includes a number of attachments
  • Reputable brand
  • Includes two hoppers and a hose adaptor


  • Limited control over paint and air mixture
  • Not ideal for skilled airbrush artists
  • No extra needles included



Paint Supply Configuration

As you’re probably gathered by now, airbrushes are essentially smaller versions of conventional paint sprayers. This being said, just like paint sprayers have different configurations for their paint supplies, so do airbrush units. Choosing a paint supply configuration can be tough, so let’s have a look at some of the common configurations you could encounter on your journey.