Basic Handling and Care of the Airbrush

Basic Handling and Care of the Airbrush

To most artists, airbrush maintenance basically means keeping the airbrush clean so that paint flow is uninterrupted. But another aspect of maintaining the airbrush deals with proper handling and care to prevent damaging the components of this highly sensitive tool. This can occur when the airbrush is dropped, mishandled, or sometimes lent to a friend. Let’s look at the parts of the airbrush and how they apply to its proper performance.

Airbrush Needle

All internal mix airbrushes have needles that run through the body to control the flow of paint. These are honed to an extremely sharp elongated tip that, if bent, will result in an undesirable spray pattern. The harder the material of which the needle is made, the harder it is to bend the tip. (The most durable needles are made of stainless steel.) Damage can occur to the needle during the cleaning process when it is removed from the airbrush. Upon replacement, it can accidentally press against metal parts, thereby “hooking” the very fine tip. This may be remedied by rolling it between two flat metal objects, gently twisting the needle to straighten it. Be aware that if straightened too many times, the result will be tip breakage and replacement will be necessary.

Head Assembly/Tip

 If this part which controls the atomization of the spray becomes dented, the performance of the airbrush will be compromised. This can occur if dropped onto a hard surface (and this will bend the needle, too). If dented, it must be replaced, and the parts are readily available at art supply stores. When the head assembly is replaced, it must be seated properly and tightly. Years ago airbrush tips were sealed with beeswax, and then they were sealed with metal “O” rings and after that with PTFE “O” rings; and today there are self-seating tips and head assemblies. No matter which type is being replaced, it must be seated tightly so that there is no air leak; otherwise, the airbrush will have a pulsating spray. However, be careful not to over-tighten a head assembly or the threads might break off inside the body of the airbrush. This would necessitate the tool being sent back to the manufacturer for repair.

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Trigger/Back Lever

On some airbrush models, when the needle is removed for cleaning, the trigger is susceptible to falling out of the body, and the small spring-loaded return mechanism located behind the trigger can fall out or drop down into the body of the airbrush. This can be a real nuisance, but everyone who has ever owned an airbrush has been faced with this problem and been successful in replacing the parts. Once the mechanism is back in place and the needle is reinserted, be sure that the trigger and back lever are aligned properly so that the needle can slide through without the tip being bent.


Anywhere that objects are threaded together on the airbrush you must be cautious of cross threading, e.g., where the air hose attaches to the airbrush and where the head assembly screws into the body of the airbrush. Otherwise, an air leak may occur.


There are a number of types of airbrush handles, and in many instances artists work with the handles removed. These were designed to cover and protect the needle and the inner-workings of the airbrush. If you work with one of the new handles in which the needle can be removed from the back of the handle or if you work with the handle removed, there is a strong possibility that at some point you will hit the back of the needle against something and either wedge the needle or split the airbrush tip. Because of this, it is best to work with handles that cover the needle completely.

The airbrush is a durable, precision instrument. But, as with any precision instrument, it is susceptible to damage if handled improperly, so handle it with care.