Types of airbrush
Aerograph Super 63, a gravity-fed, double-action, internal mix airbrush
Airbrushes are usually classified by three characteristics. The first characteristic is the action performed by the user to trigger the paint flow while the second is the mechanism for feeding the paint into the airbrush and the third is the point at which the paint and air mix.
The simplest airbrushes work with a single-action mechanism where the depression of the trigger actuates air flow through the airbrush. The airbrush’s color flow and spray pattern are adjusted separately from the trigger action. This is done through an adjustment of the airbrush’s needle placement within its paint tip, by the turning of the paint tip on an external mix airbrush (Badger 350 or Paasche Model H are good examples of single-action external mix airbrushes) or the turning of a needle setting dial on an internal mix airbrush (Badger 200 or Iwata SAR are good examples of single-action internal mix airbrushes). The color volume and spray pattern are maintained at a fixed level until the airbrush user re-adjust the setting. Single-action airbrushes are simpler to use and generally less expensive, but they present limitations in applications in which the user wishes to do something more artistic than simply apply a good, uniform coat of color.
Dual-action or double-action airbrushes enable the simultaneous adjustment of both air and color at the trigger, by allowing the user to actuate air by depressing the trigger and simultaneously adjust color by sliding the trigger back and forth. This ability to adjust color flow while spraying the airbrush, coupled with the users adjustment of distance from the sprayed surface allows for the variation of fine to wide lines without stopping to re-adjust the spray pattern as is necessary with a single-action airbrush. This allows for greater spray control and enables a wider variety of artistic effects. This type of airbrush requires some amount of practice to become proficient in triggering technique and control, but it offers greater artistic versatility to the artists once the triggering technique is learned. Dual-action airbrushes (Badger Patriot 105, Paasche VL, Iwata CM-C are all good examples of dual-action airbrushes) are of a more sophisticated design model than single-action airbrushes, which tends to make them the more expensive of the two.
Paint can be fed by gravity from a paint reservoir sitting atop the airbrush (called gravity feed) or siphoned from a reservoir mounted below (bottom feed) or on the side (side feed). Each feed type carries unique advantages. Gravity feed instruments require less air pressure for suction as the gravity pulls the paint into the mixing chamber. Typically instruments with the finest mist atomization and detail requirements use this method. Side- and bottom-feed instruments allow the artist to see over the top, with the former sometimes offering left-handed and right-handed options to suit the artist. A bottom feed airbrush typically holds a larger capacity of paint than the other types, and is often preferable for larger scale work such as automotive applications and tee-shirt design.
With an internal mix airbrush the paint and air mix inside the airbrush (in the tip) creating a finer atomized “mist” of paint. With external mix the air and paint exit the airbrush before mixing with each other, which creates a larger coarser atomization pattern. External mix airbrushes are cheaper and more suited for covering larger areas with more viscous paints or varnishes.