Airbrush Classifications

Identifying features and operations of spray tanning applicators

This page outlines the operations and classifications of airbrushes and can be applied to spray guns as well. They are classified by the predominant features of the brush, but can get confusing when attempting to choose just one to fit a specific purpose such as spray tanning.

Principles of Operation

Although there are many different sizes, shapes and options for airbrushes and spray guns, they all work on the same principle. Air and fluid meet at an exact point in the airbrush, where there is a tapered needle that projects the combined air and fluid forward. Depending on the needle size, this fluid/air combination can be very fine or rather wide and is referred as atomization. Fine line spraying, usually reserved for hobby models or body art, requires a very delicate needle that can be as thin as .18mm. Wide coverage spraying, such as car painting using spray guns, have blunt needles that do not have much of a tapering end. The airbrush nozzle is part of the head assembly in which the needle rests and is tapered exactly the same as the needle it holds. The following paragraphs explain how atomization varies between the different types of airbrushes.

Single-Action vs Dual-Action Airbrushes

"Single-action" and "dual-action" refers to the way air and fluid flow of the airbrush is controlled.

Single-action airbrushes work just like an aerosol can - just push down the trigger for spray. With single-action models, the amount of fluid is regulated by the needle adjustment screw at the back of the handle or, in the case of an external mix model, the fluid cap at the front of the airbrush. Essentially, a pre-set amount of fluid is sprayed and the trigger controls only airflow.

Dual-action airbrushes describe how the trigger controls both airflow and fluid flow. The trigger is pushed down for air and pulled back for fluid, less for less fluid and more for more fluid. This simple upgrade allows the user to change the width of the line, the range of value and the opacity of fluid without stopping their hand motion, making this model invaluable for spray tanning. Because of this effective function giving the user the control for allowing production of fine lines and thick to thin strokes, we at The Tanning Store don't sell anything other than dual-action airbrushes.

Internal Mix and External Mix Airbrushes

Internal mix indicates that the air and fluid mixes inside the airbrush, combining inside the head assembly to produce a thoroughly atomized fine dot spray pattern. External mix indicates that the air and fluid mixes outside the airbrush, combining just in front of the needle and producing a larger dot spray pattern. The amount of fluid that is released is controlled by a knob or screw located near the tip. External mix airbrushes are easier to maintain because there are fewer internally functioning parts and fewer moving parts that need cleaning.

Siphon-Feed vs Gravity-Feed Airbrushes

These terms refer to how fluid is supplied to the airbrush. Although this feature does not directly influence the performance of the airbrush, it does disclose the airbrush fluid capacity and how long a technician can work before refilling.

Siphon-feed indicates the fluid cup is attached to the bottom or side of the airbrush body relying on air suction to pull the fluid from the cup to the nozzle. Siphon-feed airbrushes can be further classified to bottom-feed or side-feed airbrushes, referring to the place of the bottle attachment. Bottom feed airbrushes are versatile by enabling the user to change colors quickly and permit various sized cups to be utilized. Side-feed airbrushes generally utilize a smaller color cup in order fit it comfortably on side of the airbrush. However, this cup is able to rotate, accommodating the user to work on either a vertical or horizontal surface. The side-feed configuration also permits the user to view the strokes being made without obstruction, a common issue of a top-mounted cup.

Gravity-feed airbrushes use top-mounted cups which rely on gravity to draw fluid into the airbrush. This design requires less air pressure to operate and permits the excellent hand movement control ideal for fine detail applications. Many models offer a separate cap to keep fluid from drying in the color cup.

Overall Recommendation

To fit the purpose of airbrush tanning, we highly recommend the SparMax GP-850 Airbrush. We have found that this dual-action, siphon-feed airbrush is highly adaptable and highly dependable, satisfying the needs of the user while providing superior tanning results for the customer.