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Airbrush spray gun (13.5 centimeters long) with interchangeable paint containers
Historic airbrush machine around 1900

Airbrush [ ˈɛɹbɹʌʃ ] ( English for "air brush" ) describes a small version of a spray gun , which is only slightly larger than a ballpoint pen. Often, however, the painting technique with an airbrush gun or the resulting painting is also referred to as airbrush, so that terminology can quickly be confused. In the following, the word airbrush is used in combination with other words such as “pistol”, “technology” or “design”.

The Technique with the airbrush gun found for example in model construction , the nail design , body painting , for makeup and in the graphic arts application. It allows the finest color gradients to be created, which is a basic requirement for photorealistic painting. But it is also possible to create even surfaces with the airbrush gun.


History of airbrush technology

The origin of the airbrush technique is controversial and begins as early as the Stone Age, as various cave paintings prove.

Airbrush guns were used as retouching devices in the USA even before 1870. With the spread of the silver bromide enlargements around 1890 and the associated larger surface retouching, airbrush guns were also used as retouching devices in Germany.

The first airbrush gun was only patented by Francis Edgar Stanley in September 1876. The Patent Office ranks Stanley's "Atomizers" (US Patent No. 182389) as the first patent for its type and the first in its class and subclass (239/354). The patents of Stanley, Abner Peeler, Charles Burdick, Jens Paasche and Allen De Vilbiss were the original developments for spraying paint using a two-substance atomizer .

History of the compressed air spray gun

The history of the spray gun is closely linked to the history of the airbrush.

The invention of the spray gun goes back to an invention of the American doctor Allen De Vilbiss (1890 Toledo, US state Ohio). The aim of his invention was actually the atomization of drugs in the throat. Based on this, his son Tom developed an atomizer for paint in 1907. The paint spray gun replaced the time-consuming and laborious painting process with a brush and therefore, together with the discovery of quick-drying nitrocellulose paints, enabled the industrial mass painting of cars.

In Germany, Albert Krautzberger registered a patent for a "compressed air-powered painting device" in 1902 and production began in 1903. Krautzberger GmbH still produces manual and automatic guns for surface technology today. Other well-known manufacturers of paint spray guns are Sata, Iwata and DeVilbiss.

Functionality and application

Technically, the airbrush gun is a two-substance atomizer based on the principle of a jet pump , which uses compressed air as a propellant.

With the airbrush gun, any liquid color with fine pigment, depending on the nozzle size, can be applied to all surfaces. Acrylic paints, watercolors, textile paints and diluted oil paints are easy to apply with it. The working pressure is usually between 1.5 and 3 bar. The higher the pressure is set, the finer the color is atomized. In order to deliberately create uneven surfaces, e.g. B. to represent sand, you can deliberately set the pressure very low.

Heavily thinned paints are applied with less working pressure, viscous paints with over 2 bar. Is used with textile dyes z. For example, when working on a T-shirt, the user can work with 3 to 4 bar because the textile fibers absorb the paint.

If the paint does not cover sufficiently after the first application, a second application is possible after the paint has dried, which is the case with acrylic paint after a few seconds. If the first application is too heavy, it usually results in bleeding, dripping paint, especially if the airbrush gun was used too close to the object.

Types of airbrush guns

External mix single action pistol
  • Single Action: With this version, only the amount of compressed air is regulated via the operating lever and the amount of paint is regulated with another controller. Here, air and paint meet outside the gun, shortly after the air nozzle, and are mixed.
  • Double Action: With this version, the air and paint supply are regulated separately via a control lever. Pressing the lever down regulates the air supply, pulling it back (at the same time) adjusts the amount of paint.
  • Controlled Double Action: There are only a few models with this method. All three manufacturers are German companies (Harder & Steenbeck, Efbe-Airbrush, Gabbert). With these devices, too - as with the normal double-action type - the amount of paint is regulated with the finger. However, the lever only needs to be pulled back and not pushed down. These devices are suitable for detailed work and are rated as easier to use by beginners.
  • Gravity flow cup gun: The spray material flows from an overhead paint cup to the paint nozzle by gravity . This inflow is supported by the suction effect of the compressed air.
  • Suction cup gun: The paint is here in a hanging suction cup, into which a riser pipe protrudes. The atomizing air flowing past the paint nozzle creates a negative pressure, which sucks the material out of the container.
  • Side connection system: This type of device has a hole on the side of the airbrush device. The user has the option of replacing the flow system with a suction system. Disadvantage: weight is on the side. Advantage: A clear view of the illustration.
  • Mini turbine: This invention by Jens Paasche is a special version of the airbrush gun. It works with a mini turbine that moves the paint needle. The user can control the paint supply very specifically via the speed of the turbine.

Difference between painting and airbrushing

In the painting technique, the medium (paint) is usually applied wet on wet. This means that so much paint is applied that the surface melts into itself. One problem with this is that tears or noses (runners) appear as soon as too much paint is applied. This technique has the advantage that high-gloss surfaces can be produced.

The airbrush technique works dry on dry. The paint is only applied as a fine “paint dust” that dries when it hits the surface. The surface does not usually get wet. In order to achieve a rich shade, the paint must be applied in several fine (dry) layers. The advantage is that you can work here in great detail. However, glossy surfaces cannot be created in this way. In order to get an airbrush surface glossy, a glossy varnish must finally be applied using the painting technique.

Since the airbrush technique uses much less “material” (paint), much finer nozzle diameters are used here. The finest nozzle size in airbrush technology has a diameter of 0.15 mm. The nozzle sizes vary up to a nozzle size of 1.2 mm. When choosing the nozzle size, the size of the color pigments is decisive; the coarser the color, the larger the nozzle opening must be. It is therefore important to specify the minimum nozzle size for airbrush colors.

Airbrush paint

In most cases, special non-toxic airbrush colors (acrylic-water-based) are used in airbrush technology, with which a very specific pigment size is adhered to and guaranteed. The finer the pigmentation, the finer the airbrush nozzle can be. The finer and more precise the pigmentation in the paint, the finer and more precisely it is possible to work with this paint, but this increases the production costs of the paint.

Normal paints or varnishes can only be airbrushed to a very limited extent, as no special attention is paid to the size of the pigments when producing the paint. The most common airbrush paint is an acrylic-based paint. It is comparable to emulsion paint .

Acrylic paints dry waterproof, but not scratch-resistant. These colors only become scratch-resistant when they are coated with clear varnish. Protein glaze colors are often used for fine, detailed illustrations. These colors are unpigmented and can therefore be processed extremely finely with the finest nozzles. The disadvantage of these colors is that they do not dry up waterproof. In addition, this type of paint can only be used on absorbent surfaces (e.g. cardboard). There are also solvent-based paints for the airbrush technique, which, however, should only be used outdoors or in well-ventilated rooms (with breathing protection) due to the hazardous ingredients.

For airbrush design on the skin (body painting, airbrush tattoo, etc.), skin-friendly or dermatologically tested paints must be used in order to minimize the risk of allergic reactions.

The airbrush specialist trade offers paint for all areas of leather paints, textile paints, glass and porcelain paints, food colors, plastic paints, etc.

Use of the airbrush technique in cosmetics

The airbrush technique can also be found in the cosmetic field. With fine airbrush guns, a concentrated tanning lotion is applied to the skin as a mist. Since the mist is evenly distributed on the skin surface when used correctly, an even tan is possible. The active ingredient dihydroxyacetone is used, which forms brown pigments with amino acids in the top layer of the skin. Good airbrush tanning lotions do not contain any care products or fragrances in order to reduce the risk of allergies. Tanning with the airbrush technique is also known as spray tanning.

Since high-resolution recording technology ( HDTV ) for film and television, make-up artists have also been working with airbrush-compatible make-up. The advantage of the airbrush technique in the make-up area is the extremely fine pigmentation of the make-up and, above all, the possibility of applying this make-up extremely finely and without contact. The advantages of the airbrush technique of being able to create the finest color transitions come into their own here.

Use in art

Color tube from Manfred Behrens
Dambulla by Marcus Brazel

The first pictures that were painted with the airbrush technique were rejected by art lovers and museums with the argument that they were painted with "non-artistic means". From its practical application in graphics and illustration, airbrush technology finally advanced through the Bauhaus and Pop Art styles into the field of art. Around 1960 art forms such as photo realism or hyperrealism developed as classic fields of activity for airbrush technology. It wasn't until 1970 that airbrush design was recognized as an art form. One of the first airbrush artists in Germany is Gernot Bubenik . Well-known airbrush artists are z. B. HR Giger or Paul Wunderlich .

Health risks

In order to protect your own health, paints containing organic solvents should not be used in living spaces and require adequate ventilation. Organic solvents can be, for example, turpentine , white spirit , gasoline or toluene . When processing media based on organic solvents with the airbrush gun, suitable protective clothing (preferably a painters suit) as well as protective goggles and a respirator is recommended.
The half masks commonly used to protect against dust (class "FFP2") are only particle filters and by no means keep out solvent vapors, unless they are just water. In order to keep out organic vapors, filter masks of class "A2P2" or "A2P3" are required ("A2" means "protection against solvents," P2 "or" P3 "" protection against particles ").
For filtering out particle solvents, aerosols are used by Experienced model builders also recommend an extraction system . This can be purchased commercially or built by yourself. Basically, such a system consists of a work surface with a conical hood ("funnel") and a ventilation module that converts the toxic aerosol into a filter for small particles (usually also with activated charcoal) sucks where it is bound. It is also important to wear impermeable gloves, since solvents that come into contact with the skin are absorbed by the body.

See also


  • Ernst Otto Böttger, Jörg Warzyceck: Createx Workbook. Newart Medien & Design, Hamburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-941656-03-1 .
  • Dirk Schlapbach: Airbrush. Basics. Motifs and model design. English publisher , Wiesbaden 2004, ISBN 3-8241-1270-1 .
  • Roger Hassler: Airbrush Photorealistic. Step by step. newart medien & design, Hamburg 2006, ISBN 3-00-018272-1 .
  • Trade journal: Airbrush Step by Step Magazin. newart medien & design., Hamburg, ISSN  1863-7426 , VDZ-No .: 73092
  • Sven Schmidt: Airbrush - develop and implement motifs. English publisher, Wiesbaden 2010, ISBN 978-3-86230-152-2 .

Web links

Commons : Airbrush  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Airbrush  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ GH Emmerich : Lexicon for photography and reproduction technology. A. Hartleben's Verlag, Vienna / Leipzig 1910, p. 9.
  2. The history of the airbrush
  3. Historical models
  4. Stummis Modellbahnforum - Self-made airbrush ventilation! Illustrated construction report