Airbrush vs. Spray Paint: What’s the Better Option?


Last updated: April 4, 2023

Airbrush Vs Spray Paint in the guide.

Airbrush vs. Spray paint

For any painting work to be successful, you need the right tools and equipment. These tools are generally the same but may differ slightly depending on which method of paint application you intend to use. 

If you’ve wanted to try some DIY painting jobs, you could be wondering which is the right approach to applying paint. The most common techniques involve using brushes, rollers, powder coating, sprayers, and airbrushes. 

These methods require some basic knowledge or experience, but they’re generally easy to master. Brushing and rolling have been traditionally used to cover any surface.

Spraying is a more advanced approach for coloring large areas faster. But an airbrush is better when you need to cover intricate details to achieve the best possible finish. 

To determine how these two weigh against each other, we will do an airbrush vs. spray paint comparison so you can make informed decisions on the best painting technique to use.  

Airbrush vs. Spray Paint

Airbrush and spray paints provide varying results where coloring intricate details are involved. If you need to cover a large surface in less time, thin layers of spray paint will give you smooth, glowing finishes. But if you want to apply various color gradients on miniatures and model kits, an airbrush will provide fine details even on the most complex materials and surfaces.  

What is an Airbrush, And How Does It Work?

An airbrush is a type of sprayer used to apply paint on finely detailed lines. It’s much more like a spray paint can, only that the way it operates differs slightly from a spray paint can. 

An airbrush relies on compressed air to atomize the paint through the nozzle. The more pressure is applied to the airbrush, the more the paint will be atomized, and the more it will turn out fine and even. 

Using an airbrush gives you more precise control over your work by creating broad color strokes and determining how the paint application turns out. In a nutshell , it helps you have a flexible spray pattern.

What is a Spray Paint, And How Does It Work?

Spray paint is an aerosol formula in a canister that administers paint on a given surface through a pressurized nozzle. This equipment has two primary components: a solvent that transforms the paint into liquid form and pigments that provide it with color. 

After application, the solvent evaporates, allowing the paint to harden, dry, and cure. 

The combination of pigments and solvents produces a suspension, and the aerosol can is held under pressure to enable the paint to come out through the nozzle in a fine mist

Spray paints can be applied on wood, glass, plastic, rubber, metal, and fiberglass surfaces. It is generally used to complete quick projects and creates graffiti-like art such as the ones for painting cars. Spray paint also serves as a protective coating on delicate surfaces.

Airbrush vs. Spray Paint the Similarities

The most noticeable similarity between spray paint cans and airbrushes is that both require spraying to add color to a surface.

Airbrushing and spray painting are similar in that they involve spraying paint onto a surface. However, there are some critical differences between the two methods of application. Each has different characteristics that set it apart, so one shouldn’t be confused with the other. 

For example, an airbrush relies on air to atomize the paint, while spray paint cans use a pressurized nozzle to release the paint in a fine mist.

In addition, an airbrush is more suitable for more detailed work, while spray painting requires less complicated work and covers broader surfaces. 

Overall, airbrushing and spray painting are great approaches to applying paint. One gives you more control and precision throughout the process, while the other provides better flexibility and coverage on large surface areas.

Spray Paint vs. Airbrush: The Differences

Airbrushing has been around for some time. It’s the technique most used in various artworks like painting and sketching. 

Spray painting is another popular method of paint application, but unlike airbrush, which uses compressed air, spray paint is applied to a surface through a spray can via a nozzle. 

You can create beautiful intricate artwork using either method, but that’s as far as their similarities go. The significant difference is in the type of paint used with each technique and the painting equipment.

Airbrushing generally uses water-based paints like acrylic and gouache, while enamel and similar oil-based paints are ideal for spray painting with spray cans.

This means that spray painting is more durable than airbrushing and more suitable for use in outdoor environments and on projects not subject to wear and tear.

Control is another factor that differentiates the two painting methods. 

With an airbrush, you can easily control how much paint you apply on a surface and the depth of coverage. This allows you to achieve the desired outcomes even on the most intricate details of your work.

All the same, any paint work requires attention to detail and fine control for clean and smooth surfaces.

On the other hand, it’s more challenging to control the amount of paint you can apply with spray paints, which can affect the quality of your finished work. 

Airbrush vs. Spray Paint: Which One Is The Best?

When it comes to spray paint vs. airbrush space art, none is better than the other. Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, yet they provide excellent results depending on the project. 

The one you choose depends on your desired results based on your project specifications. You can even try both simultaneously to reap the combined advantages. Otherwise, the following factors can help you decide better. 

Airbrush vs. Spray Paint: Ease of Use

To use an airbrush, you must hold it closer to the substrate in a parallel position. It’s the best way to gain more control over the amount of paint applied, thus making your work more manageable and efficient. 

This differs from using a spray can, where you are supposed to maintain the correct distance or position from the substrate to allow the paint to be evenly distributed over the surface. This comparison shows that an airbrush is much easier to use than a spray can. 

Spray Paint vs. Airbrush: Versatility

As we have seen, the airbrush wins when it comes to controlling the paint application process and especially if you need to paint fine details without drips and paint lines

With this tool, you’re entirely in charge of the flow of paint, type of pattern, and color density making it ideal for more detailed work and intricate designs. 

However, this level of control also comes with its set of limitations. You can only maintain control on specific surfaces and from specific angles. 

For example, you can’t use an airbrush on curved surfaces or large areas otherwise, the paint will form pools and run. 

Where spray paints fail to offer control over the application process, they make up for it with versatility. Spray paint is the only method that allows you to quickly cover large surface areas of any type with relative ease. 

This allows you to apply spray paint on nearly any material or surface, including walls and furniture. But since you cannot control the paint flow, achieving a smooth finish can be challenging, especially if you’re a beginner. 

Airbrush vs. Spray Paint: Cost and Maintenance

Cost is crucial when choosing between an airbrush sprayer or spray paint. Airbrushes, especially high-end models, are more expensive. In addition, you must separately buy a compressor that can double the overall cost. 

But while the upfront costs of an airbrush may be high, it’s more efficient and economical in the long run. The same cannot be said for spray paints, which you must purchase with every project you undertake, and much of the paint may be lost during application. 

Again, on maintenance, spray paint is the ultimate winner. Spray paints don’t need any maintenance or cleaning save for a quick nozzle unclogging after painting to prevent paint particles from drying and blocking the nozzle. 

But even this is only necessary if you have leftover paint in the can. Otherwise, once you’re done painting, you can dispose of the empty canister. 

In contrast, an airbrush has a small nozzle, and other internal parts which must be cleaned regularly to ensure proper functionality otherwise, it will be clogged and blocked, and this, in turn, may affect the quality of your work.

Spray Paint vs. Airbrush: Durability

As with every painting project, preparation is vital. For the paint to stick and last longer on the material, the surface should be adequately prepared and all contaminants removed. 

However, spray paints are more durable than airbrushes though certain types of airbrush paint brands last longer too. They include Tamiya, Vallejo, and Testors, to mention a few.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Spray Paint?

Here is a quick summary of what makes spray paint tick:

  • Easy application: Convenient for a wide variety of artworks with excellent finishes. 

  • Color: Spray paints are available in a wide selection of vibrant colors.

  • Affordable: It costs less initially than airbrushes and can be applied in thin layers to cover broad surfaces. It’s a great option if you’re on a budget. 

  • Better surface coverage: You can use spray paint to quickly paint large-scale artwork like murals. 

  • Convenient: Spray paint takes a limited time to dry, allowing you to wrap up your project quickly.

Let’s now explore some of the challenges associated with spray painting in summary: 

Disadvantages of Spray Paint 

  • Toxicity: Spray paint contains chemical solvents that may be toxic and requires proper ventilation, careful handling, and wearing of safety gear. It’s best done outdoors otherwise, precautionary measures should be taken when working indoors. The fumes from the paint solvents can also be hazardous to the environment and cause pollution. 

  • Susceptibility to misuse: Spray paint is easy to use, so it can be easily misused to cause vandalism and damage to property. It’s also flammable and, if abused, can cause a fire.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Airbrush?

Airbrush is a painting device similar to a spray gun and a spray can. It’s used to apply professional paint on small details on limited surface areas, such as painting pictures on vehicles. 

If you’ve ever seen a car with a nice picture on its hood or door, it was probably painted using an airbrush. The main advantages of using this device include the following:

Airbrush vs. Spray Paint
  • Consistency and better control.

  • Ability to paint complex surfaces and create fine detailed lines that you would otherwise not achieve with spray paint.

  • It’s cleaner and more efficient with little to no splatter and, therefore, suitable for delicate projects that require a high level of neatness.

The main disadvantages of working with an airbrush include the following:

  • Expertise: This device is a learning curve. You need some experience to use it more accurately and achieve professional results.

  • Equipment requirements: It requires good quality equipment for the best results. Advanced airbrush models and compressors perform better than traditional ones. 

  • Time-consuming: Airbrushing is much slower than spray painting and thus unsuitable for larger areas. 

  • Expensive: Good quality paints that work well with high-end airbrushes and compressors are costly and may not be the best choice for artists on a budget.

  • Cleaning and maintenance: You must always clean the airbrush equipment after each use to prevent the paint from drying and blocking the nozzle. This can be time-consuming. 

What Else Should You Know About Spray Cans and Airbrushes?

With spray paints, you can achieve your desired color theme with a specific range of colors. And even with these, it’s unlikely that you will get the color shades you envisioned, even if you have a thousand color options. 

With an airbrush, you can purchase a single can of paint and have it prepared to meet your needs. Most paint shops provide paint choices that can be mixed and matched to produce your desired shades. 

In addition, spray cans tend to have low-pressure levels that lead to runs and much waste. This makes airbrushes more economical long term than spray paint. 

Still, it’s worth investing in airbrush equipment if you will use it regularly otherwise, you’re better off buying spray paint if you will only work on a single project per year.  

Finally, airbrushes are expensive, and having that pricey equipment sitting idly in your garage unused doesn’t make economic sense. 

Common Rules for Spraying Paints 

When working with an airbrush or spray paint, it’s best to know and follow the necessary rules to ensure your paint is thoroughly cured to produce a decent and very smooth finish. 

If you pick equipment you’ve never used and don’t know how to operate, you may experience some difficulty after the job is complete. That’s why learning the basics of the equipment you want to use is recommended. 

It’s also advisable to always test your work on a different object before you move to the main project. Take your time to experiment with the equipment on a few different surfaces until you’re confident enough to carry out the main task. 

Finally, regardless of which application method you use, follow these basic painting rules for the best results:

  • Always use appropriate primers to make the paint bond better on the substrate and prevent chipping or peeling.

  • Apply several thin coats of paint to achieve the best possible texture. A minimum of three coats is recommended for each project. 

  • Always add a clear coat: After applying the required number of coats of base paint, add a clear coat to give the project a beautiful shine that will improve its durability. 

  • Understand the conditions necessary for each type of paint to cure. Read the instructions in the user manual to understand how and what factors influence the drying time of the paint you use. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. 

  • Buffing should only be used where applicable and where you’re sure of the outcome. Use only the appropriate materials and instruments for buffing to avoid damaging your project. 

FAQS: Airbrush vs. Spray Paint 

Is spray paint the same as airbrush?

No, these are two different approaches used in paint application. Spray paint comes in a canister that releases paint as a mist through an air-pressurized nozzle. On the other hand, an airbrush utilizes compressed air to atomize and apply paint to the surface.

Does airbrush paint wash off?

It depends on the material. For example, artworks made of fabrics such as a T-shirt must be passed through a heat setting to bond the paint with the fabric permanently.

This professional process requires large heat press devices that press the material and the paint together. This process is expensive yet necessary, without which your airbrush paint will wash off the fabric.

Do you need to prime before airbrushing?

In most cases, a primer is necessary to boost adhesion and surface texture, while in others, the step is entirely optional. It depends on the type of paint you’re using.

Some paint brands contain primers that require no separate priming otherwise, in most cases, you’ll need to prime the substrate to enhance the quality of your miniature painting. 

Does airbrush paint need to be thinned?

You can thin some specific airbrush paints to achieve optimal spray ability. For example, metallic pigments, white paints, and thicker formulas tend to clog and may require thinning to balance the texture.

Thinned paint should be well blended to have the same milky viscosity. If you experience clogging or lumpiness with a specific paint brand, it could be a sign of inconsistency, not airbrush malfunction. 

Can I use spray paint on my airbrush?

No. Spray paint and an airbrush are different devices formulated differently and are not interchangeable. Spray paint is made to be used with a spray can, while an airbrush can only be used with an airbrushing tool. You cannot use spray paint in your airbrush paints and vice versa. 

Final Thoughts

If you are planning some painting project anytime soon, you may opt to spray paint or airbrush. For hobby pieces and other DIY artworks, we recommend spraying paint. But airbrushes and painting guns are best suited for commercial pieces for professional use. 

Investing in expensive airbrushing equipment for small DIY pieces is not advisable. Such projects are also cheaper with a hired professional painter, where the best results are guaranteed. 

But if you’ll be doing regular projects and feel airbrush equipment is a worthy investment, go ahead and purchase them. Just follow the rules and instructions on usage, and you’ll have more control, flexibility, and better quality outcomes. 

While at it, refer to this guide on airbrush vs. spray paint to inform each step you take in the painting journey. With that said, we hope we have addressed some of your most pressing queries on spray painting vs. airbrushing. 

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