The Airbrush Dictionary

We made the airbrush dictionary to help you make sense of the jargon and technical terms surrounding airbrushes.

Part of learning a new tool and new techniques is also learning the lingo that goes with it.  Grasping the lexicon allows you to sit at the grown up table and understand the conversation, so to speak.

The Airbrush Dictionary

The airbrush dictionary is broken down into section, with links to more in-depth content where we have it available.  There’s a form at the end if there’s a term missing you would like added.

This is quite wordy, so the Ctrl+F function might come in handy.

General Terms

  1. Airbrush: A tool used for spraying paint or other mediums using compressed air.
  2. Compressor: The device that supplies compressed air to the airbrush for spraying paint.
  3. PSI (Pounds per Square Inch): A unit of pressure used to measure the air pressure delivered by the compressor.
  4. Dual-action airbrush: An airbrush that controls both the airflow and paint flow with a single trigger. Pressing down controls the airflow, and pulling back determines the amount of paint released.
  5. Single-action airbrush: An airbrush that controls only the airflow with a single trigger. The amount of paint is controlled by adjusting the paint flow beforehand.
  6. Gravity feed: A type of airbrush where the paint cup is located on top of the airbrush. Gravity pulls the paint into the airbrush, resulting in a more controlled and efficient flow.
  7. Siphon feed: A type of airbrush where the paint cup is located underneath the airbrush. Air passing over a tube creates a vacuum that pulls paint into the airbrush.  This is also called Suction Feed.

Airbrush Parts

  1. Nozzle: The nozzle is the tip of the airbrush where the paint and air mix before being sprayed. It controls the width of the spray pattern and is available in various sizes to achieve different effects.
  2. Needle: The needle is a slender, pointed component that moves back and forth within the nozzle. By adjusting the needle’s position, you can control the paint flow and determine the amount of paint being sprayed.
  3. Air Cap: The air cap is located at the front of the airbrush and works in conjunction with the nozzle. It helps shape and control the spray pattern by directing the airflow and paint mixture.
  4. Trigger: The trigger is the control mechanism of the airbrush. In a dual-action airbrush, pressing down on the trigger controls the airflow, while pulling it backward determines the paint flow. In a single-action airbrush, the trigger controls only the airflow.
  5. Paint Cup: The paint cup is a container that holds the paint or medium to be sprayed. It can be located either on top (gravity feed) or underneath (siphon feed) the airbrush, depending on the airbrush type.
  6. Handle: The handle is the part of the airbrush that you hold and maneuver during painting. It provides a comfortable grip and stability for precise control.
  7. Airbrush Body: The body of the airbrush houses all the internal components and connects to the air hose. It is typically made of metal or durable plastic and may have additional features like an adjustable color flow knob or a paint volume control.
  8. Air Hose Connection: This is the point where the airbrush connects to the air hose, which is then attached to the air source or compressor. It allows the compressed air to flow into the airbrush.
  9. Air Adjustment Knob: Some airbrushes have an air adjustment knob near the hose connection. It allows you to control the amount of air pressure delivered to the airbrush, enabling adjustments for different painting techniques and effects.
  10. Trigger Lock: A trigger lock is a feature found on some airbrushes that allows you to lock the trigger in a specific position. This can be helpful when you need to maintain a consistent airflow or paint flow without continuously holding the trigger.

These are the fundamental parts of an airbrush. While the design and features may vary slightly between different models and brands, understanding these components will give you a good foundation for using and maintaining an airbrush effectively.

Common Brands

  1. Iwata: Iwata airbrushes are renowned for their precision and quality. They offer a range of airbrush models suitable for various applications, including miniature painting.
  2. Badger: Badger airbrushes are popular among miniature painters for their durability and versatility. They offer a wide selection of airbrushes suitable for different skill levels and budgets.
  3. Harder & Steenbeck: Harder & Steenbeck is a German brand known for producing high-quality airbrushes. They offer a range of models suitable for miniature painting, including ones with fine detail capabilities.
  4. Paasche: Paasche airbrushes have been a staple in the airbrushing community for many years. They offer a variety of airbrush models suitable for miniature painting, including single-action and dual-action options.
  5. Grex: Grex airbrushes are known for their innovative design and performance. They offer airbrushes that are well-suited for miniature painting, featuring precise control and fine detail capabilities.
  6. Sparmax: Sparmax offers a range of airbrushes that cater to different painting needs. They provide reliable and affordable options for miniature painters, including models with gravity and siphon feed systems.
  7. Harder Evolution: Harder Evolution airbrushes are popular for their high-quality construction and precise control. They are often favored by miniature painters for their ability to achieve intricate details.
  8. Timbertech: Timbertech is a brand that offers a range of airbrushes suitable for miniature painting. They provide cost-effective options for hobbyists and beginners.
  9. Master Airbrush: Similar to Timbertech and a plethora of other so-called ‘unbranded’
  10. Testors: Testors airbrushes are widely used for miniature painting. They offer entry-level airbrushes that are affordable and easy to use, making them popular among hobbyists and beginners.
  11. Chinesium, Unbranded, Offbrand El Cheapo: These are slang for cheap airbrushes that are often copies or cheaper versions of popular airbrushes.  Timbertech and Master above are the most popular of these.

Problems & Issues

  1. Clogging: Clogging happens when paint particles or debris block the nozzle or needle of the airbrush, obstructing the paint flow. It can occur due to inadequate paint thinning, dried paint residue, or impurities in the paint.
  2. Splattering or spitting: Splattering occurs when the airbrush sprays unevenly or produces inconsistent paint droplets, resulting in a rough texture. It can be caused by insufficient air pressure, improper needle adjustment, or paint inconsistency.
  3. Blotchy or patchy coverage: This issue arises when the paint application appears uneven or leaves visible patches. It can be caused by inconsistent paint thinning, improper airbrush technique, or using low-quality paints.
  4. Overspray: Overspray refers to the unintentional spray of paint beyond the intended area, leading to wastage and mess. It can occur due to excessive air pressure, improper distance from the surface being sprayed, or lack of control over the airbrush trigger.
  5. Tip dry: Tip dry happens when paint dries and accumulates on the nozzle or needle, obstructing the smooth flow of paint. It can occur if the paint is not properly thinned, the airbrush is not cleaned regularly, or if the ambient conditions are too dry.
  6.  Sputtering or Pulsating: Sputtering or pulsating occurs when the airbrush spray pattern is inconsistent, with intermittent bursts or interruptions. It can be caused by insufficient air pressure, a damaged or improperly seated needle, or a worn-out nozzle.
  7.  bubbling: Bubbling happens when air bubbles form within the paint during spraying, leading to an uneven surface texture. It can be caused by excessive shaking or agitation of the paint, inadequate paint thinning, or air leaks within the airbrush.
  8. Paint runs or drips: Runs or drips occur when excessive paint is applied or the airbrush is held too close to the surface, resulting in thick, pooled areas that may run or drip. It can be caused by improper airbrush technique, excessive paint flow, or insufficient control over trigger movement.
  9. Dry tip: Dry tip refers to the condition when the needle tip dries out during spraying, causing interruptions or inconsistencies in paint flow. It can occur if the paint is not adequately thinned, the airbrush is not cleaned regularly, or if the ambient conditions are too dry.
  10. Spidering / Spiders: Lack of adhesion happens when the paint does not adhere properly to the surface, resulting in poor coverage or peeling. It can be caused by improper surface preparation, incompatible paint and surface materials, or using low-quality paints.

Hardware & Accessories

  1. Air Compressor: An air compressor is a vital accessory that provides compressed air to the airbrush. It powers the airbrush and regulates the air pressure required for spraying paint or other mediums.
  2. Air Hose: The air hose connects the airbrush to the air compressor. It allows the compressed air to flow from the compressor to the airbrush, ensuring a steady supply of air.
  3. Moisture Trap/Filter: A moisture trap or filter is an accessory that helps remove moisture and impurities from the compressed air. It prevents these contaminants from affecting the airbrush and the paint application.
  4. Airbrush Cleaning Kit: A cleaning kit typically includes various brushes, cleaning needles, and cleaning solutions. It is used for thorough cleaning and maintenance of the airbrush, removing paint residue and ensuring proper functioning.  These little metal brushes are the devil, and you should not use them.
  5. Paint Cups: Paint cups are containers that hold the paint or medium to be sprayed. They can come in different sizes and designs, such as gravity-feed cups or siphon-feed bottles, allowing for efficient paint flow and easy color changes.
  6. Quick Disconnects: Quick disconnects are fittings that allow for easy and quick connection and disconnection of the airbrush from the air hose. They provide convenience when switching between different airbrushes or accessories.
  7. Stencils: Stencils are pre-cut templates with various designs or patterns. They are used to create consistent shapes or designs during airbrushing, allowing for precise and repeatable artwork.
  8. Masking Materials: Masking materials include masking tape, frisket film, or masking fluids. They are used to cover specific areas of the artwork to protect them from overspray, allowing for clean and precise paint application.
  9. Airbrush Holder: An airbrush holder provides a safe and convenient place to rest the airbrush when not in use. It prevents the airbrush from tipping over or getting damaged and allows for easy access during paint color changes.
  10. Spray Booth: A spray booth is an enclosed workspace with proper ventilation designed to capture and filter overspray and fumes during airbrushing. It helps maintain a clean and safe working environment.
  11. Paint Mixing Cups: Paint mixing cups are containers used for accurately measuring and mixing paint and other mediums. They often have graduated markings for precise mixing ratios and ensure consistent color results.
  12. Paint Thinning Mediums: Paint thinning mediums are liquids used to dilute paint to achieve the desired consistency for airbrushing. They help improve flow, atomization, and control during paint application.


  1. Base Coating: Base coating is the technique of applying a solid, even layer of paint over the entire surface to establish the initial color or tone. It provides a foundation for further detailing and shading.
  2. Gradation or Fading: Gradation involves smoothly transitioning colors from one shade to another. It creates a gradual change in color intensity, typically from light to dark or vice versa, and adds depth and dimension to the artwork.  This is often mistakenly called blending.
  3. Highlighting and Shading: Highlighting is the technique of adding brighter areas or spots to simulate direct light hitting the surface, while shading involves adding darker areas to create depth and volume. Both techniques contribute to a three-dimensional and realistic appearance.
  4. Preshading:  Preshading is shading that you apply before spraying your main color.  With your main color’s transparency, the shading will come through and be tinted darker.
  5. Stippling: Stippling is a technique where small dots or specks of paint are applied to create textures, tones, or patterns. It can be used to simulate textures like skin, fur, or rough surfaces.
  6. Masking: Masking is the technique of covering specific areas of the artwork to protect them from overspray or to create sharp edges. It involves using masking tape, frisket film, or other masking materials to block off areas while spraying paint.
  7. Freehand Airbrushing: Freehand airbrushing is the technique of painting without the use of stencils or guides. It requires precise control over the airbrush to create intricate details, patterns, or free-flowing designs.
  8. Stenciling: Stenciling involves using pre-cut templates or stencils to create consistent shapes, patterns, or designs. It allows for accurate reproduction of shapes or intricate details.
  9. Texturing: Texturing is the technique of creating the illusion of texture on the surface by using specialized additives or paint application methods. It can simulate various textures like stone, wood, or fabric.
  10. Splattering or Splatter Effects: Splattering is the technique of creating controlled or random spatters of paint by flicking or tapping the brush or airbrush. It can add texture, create a speckled effect, or simulate the appearance of mist or particles.
  11. Lining or Detailing: Lining or detailing involves adding fine lines, outlines, or intricate details to enhance the artwork. It requires precise control and a steady hand to achieve crisp and clean lines.  This is often called Pre-shading when  it comes to the airbrush.

Are we missing something?

If there’s an airbrush term in a technique, tutorial or assembly guide you don’t find here, let us know!  The airbrush dictionary is never truly complete as new airbrush models and new techniques keep on coming!

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