What is airbrush?

Airbrush in a narrower sense describes spray devices which can be used to spray liquid colours finely and deliberately. The devices are connected to an electrical compressor via an air hose which supplies the air for the nebulisation of the colour. The colour is introduced through a top-mounted cup (gravity feed) or a reservoir that is attached underneath the device (bottom feed). Opposite to spray guns, airbrush devices usually have very fine nozzles, roughly between 0.15 and 0.6 mm, depending on the field of application. The flow of paint and air can be regulated with a lever and is mixed at the very tip of the nozzle within the device.

In contrast to all other painting techniques, the airbrush never touches the painting surface during the application of the colour. This enables the artist to paint any material and surface. The airbrush technique is also defined by its particularly smooth and steady, quick and thin colour coat which, if correctly applied and dependent on the surface material, instantly dries. These characteristics allow for extremely smooth colour shifts and shading that result in a very realistic look of the motif. By means of masking and stencil techniques, crisp edges and recurring patterns can easily be produced.

   Fields of Application

The technique originated more than 120 years ago. It was used to colour and retouch photos back then because it made possible an extremely thin, transparent colour shading. From the twenties to the early nineties, the technique was used as a tool for technical and photorealistic illustrations and advertising arts – basically as a precursor of the computer graphic software. In the field of liberal arts the airbrush is still used in realism to create photorealistic effects.

Parallel to this, the trend of automotive painting, which originated in the USA, has been developing since the fifties. During the last ten years, the airbrush technique has also been spreading out into the cosmetics sector more and more. Recently, it has been experiencing a boom in the course of the HDTV technology which requires an even more finely pigmented and even makeup. Furthermore, airbrush is a favoured design medium for the creation of special effects makeup by makeup artists, for temporary tattoos or body paintings for events and marketing campaigns. Yet another focus lies in the design of fingernails (Nail Art), where the airbrush complements the ordinary brush on a very small area. Additional areas of application of the airbrush technique are e.g. the painting of dolls and porcelain as well as the decoration of cakes and pralines with chocolate and food colouring in the pastry sector.


Depending on the field of application, different materials are used for airbrushing: Airbrush systems differ essentially regarding the ink or colour feed (gravity feed/bottom feed), different nozzles and needles sizes (approx. 0.15-0.6 mm) and the operability:

Single Action = Singular lever action (Pressing for air + colour)
Double Action = Double lever action (Pressing for air, pulling for colour)

Controlled Double Action = Controlled double lever action (Pulling for air + colour)

In general, all thin liquids can be sprayed with an airbrush. Nonetheless, there are special airbrush colours available which have certain particular flow properties. Depending on the area of application, there are specialised airbrush colours for the use on paper and canvas, on metals and plastics, textiles or on the body.

Compressors basically differ in their performance strength, weight and loudness. As opposed to the varnishing industry, special airbrush compressors that are small and quiet are usually used.

The airbrush technique can basically be used on any painting medium. Sometimes special pre-treatments of the surface are necessary. In the case of paper, special airbrush paper is advised that can withstand typical airbrush techniques such as etching and scraping as well as working with adhesive stencils.

Further information about the airbrush technique can be obtained from Airbrush-Fachverband e.V. as well as from its members.