Maybe you love the airbrush makeup finish and want to achieve it at home, or perhaps you are a makeup artist exploring the best options for the needs of all of your customers. Whatever the reason, remember that your finish is only as good as your tools so bring yourself up to speed on all you need to know with our ultimate guide to choosing the best airbrush gun. Below we review five airbrush guns from industry leaders Badger, Iwata-Medea and NEO CN and unveil which one trumps them all for flawless finish, usability and price.
What are the advantages of an airbrush gun for makeup application?
Those that are converted to airbrushing will already be up to speed on the benefits, but let us break them down:
Natural coverage – An airbrush gun application is much more natural because you can still see the skin despite the coverage. This means it still feels light even when a couple of layers are applied, making it a great go-to for makeup novices.
Natural color – thanks to the clever cup system, mixing shades of foundation for the perfect pigment is really easy and means that the user can achieve a colour as unique as their skin tone. It’s not just the feel and aesthetics that make airbrushed makeup so popular, but the fact that it has a strong staying power – up to 24 hours!
To learn more about airbrushing makeup, watch the tutorial here.
What to consider when choosing the right airbrush
When you start shopping for your airbrush gun, you might realise it starts to get technical because there is a lot to get up to speed with quickly including lots of industry jargon. Let us break it down for you by telling you what to look for:
PSI – Without getting too technical, when it comes to airbrushes it’s all about the pressure – as long as you pick a tool that can handle the optimal pressure requirement, then you can use it for makeup projects. Therefore, it’s good to know that, pressure is measured in PSI (pounds per square inch) and PSI controls how far makeup will project from the gun, so the bigger the surface area, the bigger the PSI. For the face, a PSI of 30 to 40 is all that is needed (whereas 70 PSI might be used for the body). Don’t be tempted by systems that are upwards of 100, they are strictly for paint based applications.
Single action Vs double (or dual) action – When it comes to functionalities, it’s best to know a little about how airbrushing works. The much-coveted airbrush effect is created the moment air and pigment meet. In each gun, there is a tapered needle which serves to thrust both this pigment and air forward – in each case, the needle rests on a nozzle which the user controls. One type of nozzle is a ‘single action’, which means that the gun sprays like an aerosol – simply push down and spray. Another type of airbrush is ‘double action’ which enables the user to control intensity and flow of pigment by allowing for the trigger to move back and forth. In this case, the trigger is pushed down for air and back for makeup.
This second type of gun, the double action, is the type most commonly used in makeup airbrushing since it offers far greater control during passes (which, by the way is the technical word for airbrush strokes). Dual action offers better control for blending and fading and a lot more versatility in terms of detailing.
Gravity feed Vs Siphon Fed – An airbrush will either rely on gravity (through a top fed cup) or a siphon to get makeup into contact with air. Generally, gravity fed are favoured by makeup artists because they reduce the amount of overspray usually associated with the increase in air pressure necessary for siphon fed.
Determine your makeup type – Very often the compressor might not be powerful enough for particular brand or makeup, or the needle and nozzle are too small for thicker formulations. Before shopping, be aware of what makeup you plan to use with the equipment and work from there. Common types of makeup include water-based, alcohol and chemical – determine how your preferred makeup type is formulated and work from there.
Does my skill level matter?
Yes, when it comes to airbrush guns, your skill level makes a lot of difference. After all, you did not learn to drive in a formula 1 car so it’s probably best you don’t learn to airbrush with the daddy of all airbrushes.
Novice – The fact is, novices need airbrushes that forgive mistakes while professionals need a product that gives complete and utter control over every variable (and it’s this control that will serve to simply confuse any beginner). Our advice is to start with a typical beginner’s airbrush (more suggestions below) and work your way up.
Professional – If you are a professional you will already know a lot about airbrushing and might have even worked your way through a few guns. User experience is a great way to learn what does and doesn’t work for you, so when you read our reviews you can pair them with your expectations.
Below we’ve selected five products which we believe fulfil the needs of both those just introduced to airbrushing and those already in a long-term relationship.
The best airbrushes
Badger Air-Brush Co Sotar 2020-2F Large Gravity Feed Airbrush with Fine Head
First appearances – When this gun is first unboxed, what is immediately apparent is the weight. It’s very solid, not too heavy that it can’t be managed, but a reassuring weight that suggests that this gun is of a high standard. In fact, what contributes to the weight is the fact that (trigger aside) it’s fully made of machined metal. So, while this gun has a higher price than some competitors, you might just be making an investment into a product that will perform for many years. The downside, however, of this weight, is that it might not be the ideal airbrush gun for beginners who are still practicing their grip and strokes.
In use – Because of its fine needle, this gun is superb for intricate work. In fact, accuracy and detail were clearly at the core of the design process – which was undertaken by a team of illustrators. In fact, this multifunctional airbrush is not specifically designed for makeup but for a wide range of artistic functions which makes this the perfect choice for contouring, highlighting and other detailed applications.
Verdict – Excellent for detailing! This gun can spray a hair line of ¾ inch (19mm) which means it can be used for eyebrows and even eyeshadow. Better still, because it’s specially designed for paints, including acrylics, you can be sure that it will not easily succumb to clogging from your makeup.
Badger Air-Brush Co 105 Patriot Fine Gravity Airbrush
First appearances – Not only does this gun require unboxing, but also taking out of the padded case that accompanies it. Despite the price, which is at the lower end of the market, this gun feels really sturdy in the hand. Doing the trigger test, you can see that the trigger pulls back smoothly and releases consistently although the trigger is a little stiff. However, we found that it did ease up with each use and, once up and running, we found it easy to control each pass.
In use – This airbrush really came on to its own when it came to cleaning, since the needle can be removed without the need to remove the handle. However, disassembling the whole machine for a soak did require more skill and tools to loosen the mechanisms which are assembled very tightly.
Verdict – Again, this gun is used for intricate areas although it can be converted to work with other surface areas. It’s the perfect gun for airbrush beginners since it comes with three needles which allows for a range of experimentation.
Iwata-Medea Eclipse HP CS Dual Action Airbrush Gun / Gravity Feed
First appearances – Iwara-Medea position themselves as one of the industry leaders of airbrush guns, and work to create products that serve every type of user (from novice to professional). This HP CS Dual Action Airbrush Gun is significantly light, weighing in at just 0.6 pounds, making it the perfect go-to for makeup artists who might be managing many projects in quick succession.
In use – The main benefit of this set-up is the fact that the gun is dual action, meaning you press for air and pull back for makeup. It’s this dual action function that allows for a wide range of strokes and applications, as opposed to a single action which only allows for the same consistent spray the entire time.
This airbrush comes with a large 1/3 oz. gravity-feed cup which makes it perfect for larger makeup jobs, like tanning. What’s more, the cup is actually designed in a specific funnel shape which makes not only for a more efficient product flow but also for easy cleaning.
Verdict – It’s worth nothing that this gun comes with a needle size of 0.35mm which is considerably small and perfect for intricate detailing. However, due to the small needle size, we found that it does require some skill spraying thicker silicone based makeup consistently – this can, however, be overcome by replacing the needle (we suggest 0.4mm).
NEO CN Gravity Feed Dual Action Airbrush
First appearances – Again, this dual action airbrush puts you in control with the ability to regulate both air and makeup – making it a totally versatile gun for a wide range of cosmetic applications. In fact, this airbrush gun is perfect for those who frequently switch up their projects since it comes with two different sized cups, both large (1/3 oz.) and medium (1/16 oz.). This means it is capable of housing both foundation and tanning products.
In use – The PSI is adjustable from 5 to 35, making it ideal for all airbrushing makeup applications. However, it would be nice to have made this product with the potential to go fully to 40 PSI or even higher for a flawless tanning finish.
This gun is specifically designed to perform with small air compressors, with low air compression, meaning that it is the ideal tool for mobile makeup artists and tanning professionals. It’s totally light and compact, and easy to transport with ease. What’s more, the gun will hold 1/32 oz. of product without a cup attached making it even more streamline and portable.
Verdict – All these functionalities aside, this gun also performs well in another category and that is price. The NEO CN is positioned at a lower price market, making it accessible to both the professional wanting to add a new bit of kit to their collection or the novice experimenting with the best airbrush.
The only downside we can think of is that, when in use, the trigger is very smooth but it’s recess design means that the grip isn’t fully optimal when used over longer projects. One improvement would be to re-design with a ridged trigger.
Iwata-Medea High Performance Plus C Dual Action / Large Gravity Feed Cup
First appearances – The Iwata-Medea C model was so popular that Iwata-Medea upgraded it with some improvements to the user experience. The new plus version is a carefully considered gun which has really sought to pay attention to little details that make for better ease of use. Some changes include a larger 1/3 oz. (9ml) cup as well as a large 0.3mm needle and an improved handle design which makes it comfortable for various projects. On top of this, the trigger is taller and more tilted for better control.
In use – The large gravity feed cup means that the makeup is in a position where it wants to be fed through and sprayed, which means less air is needed to manage projects and less air allows for better precision. Another plus is that the new design of the tapered cup means it is easier to clean and maintain, while the mechanisms are easy to reassemble after cleaning.
Verdict – A great update to a classic airbrush, the only negative is that this gun is developed for use with an Iwata compressor, which can be bulky for those who require their airbrush guns to be portable. However, this can be overcome with a gun to hose adapter which can make the gun compatible with various other (smaller) compressors.
While our five airbrush guns all impressed, one piece of equipment really stood out because it offered excellent control for both professionals and novices. Our favorite airbrush gun is the NEO CN because it offers the following outstanding benefits:
Great user control – allowing the user the option to control PSI within tolerable ranges especially for cosmetics.
Two cup sizes – The NEO CN offers two cup sizes for multiple projects, including makeup and tanning.
Portable – This airbrush is also designed to be completely portable – holding cosmetic products even without a cup (up to 1/32 oz.) and performing with small, portable air compressors with low air compression. Because of this, it’s a great choice for cosmetic professionals who are required to work on location.
Price – It’s not just functionality that makes this product outstanding, it’s also the lowest priced airbrush we reviewed and yet it performs as hard its competitors. This means it’s a great entry price gun for those new to airbrushing or a very reasonably priced piece of equipment for those looking to upgrade.
We are totally convinced that it’s the best gun for a smooth flawless finish (without breaking the bank) and hope you will be too.