Single Action Airbrush Explained!

If you have ever wondered the workings behind a single action airbrush, or simply why a specific subset of airbrushes are designated as “Single Action”? You have come to the right place! 

Like a majority of different hobbies and activities airbrushes come in a multitude of different options, styles, shapes ,sizes and so forth… In terms of airbrushing, one of the many options available is the single action airbrush.

What Is A Single Action Airbrush

An airbrush that is specified as “Single Action” simply refers to the mechanism controlling the airflow (The Trigger). 

In the case of a single action airbrush, it is precisely that, operated using 1 (single) action. This action is most commonly in the form of pressing down on a button located at the top of the airbrush.

For a little comparison to better illustrate the point. A double action airbrush (2 actions to operate) utilizes the 1st action for air flow (Pressing down on the trigger), and the 2nd action for paint flow (Pulling back on the trigger).

Where as the single action airbrush only allows for air flow at the trigger level. The paint flow must be adjusted using the needle adjustment knob located near the tail end of the airbrush

The single action airbrush operates similarly to a spray paint can. If you have ever used spray paint this should be quite easy to grasp. The spray paint can is operated by simply pressing down on the spray cap.


Well a single action airbrush is basically the same. The only difference between a spray paint can, and a single action airbrush is that the airbrush utilizes a needle that can be adjusted in order to achieve precise paint delivery.

How A Single Action Airbrush Works

Simply put, A single action airbrush utilizes the button located on top of the airbrush for air delivery, and the needle adjustment knob near the back for paint delivery / adjustment.

The biggest downside to the single action airbrush is that it is limited in terms of “on the fly adjustment” as you paint. It is difficult to achieve patterns such as the “Dagger stroke” due to the inability to control the paint flow and airflow simultaneously.

Check out the video below for a demonstration, and presentation of different single action airbrushes.

Video By Scale Model Workshop

Operating A Single Action Airbrush

Let’s go through the process you would go through, if you were prepping to paint with a single action airbrush… Assuming you already have your airbrush hooked up, with paint ready to go.

First, you would begin with your needle screwed all the way in (In the seated position). You would achieve this by utilizing the knob located near the tail of the airbrush. By spinning the knob clockwise until it seats softly.

At this point, if you were to press the button on top of the airbrush you would only hear / see air exiting the nozzle of the airbrush. This is because the tip of the needle is currently plugging the tip making it impossible for paint to escape.

Second, in order to get paint delivery, you will begin by slowly turning the needle knob (located near the tail of the airbrush) counterclockwise. It is best to adjust the needle knob while pressing the airflow button simultaneously while aiming it at a spare canvas.

Soon you will begin to see paint hitting your canvas. At this point you will adjust the paint delivery based on the distance you intend on working from the canvas. Farther away will likely require more paint (Needle adjustment knob turned out), where as Nearer will require less paint (Needle adjustment knob turned in.

Adjusting A Single Action Airbrush

We already discussed this a little bit but I want to go deeper on the topic. Adjusting a single action airbrush is as easy as twisting the knob (located near the tail of the airbrush) clockwise, or counter clockwise.

But why would you need to adjust it?

Well, the closer you are to the canvas the less paint you are going to require. So, for example, say you have just finished spraying a large area in order to achieve a desired gradient. Now, you would like to get up close to your piece in order to pull out some of the finer detail.

If you were to go straight from spraying a large portion of the piece (at a distance) to getting up close and personal with your work in order to bring out detail, without any adjustment of the needle in between, you would likely end up with so much paint concentration that it would pool up and cause what is known as spidering. Click here to learn more about spidering.

The opposite is much more forgiving. Say in this example you were working on the detail portions of your piece (Spraying up close to your work), and soon moving toward shading. Well you likely will be shading at more of a distance from the canvas.

If you make the transition without any adjustment of the airbrush it is likely to seem as if paint is no longer coming out of the airbrush. I can assure you it still is (Unless, of course, its clogged) Just its coming out at such a fine spray that it can’t cover the larger surface area enough to notice.

This is when you would turn the needle knob counterclockwise to allow for more paint delivery.

It is this need to adjust the airbrush based on distance from the canvas that keeps many away from the single action airbrush, and keeps the mobs running towards the double action airbrush. Check out this post for a breakdown of the Double Action Airbrush

Now, that’s not to say the single action airbrush isn’t a good airbrush, as it is for specific tasks. Later we will go over the pro’s and con’s of the single action brush. But if you’d like, Here is a link to my comparison between the single action airbrush, and the double action airbrush.

How To Know If you Are Using A Single Action Airbrush

An easy way to know if your using a single action airbrush is simply by how the needle is controlled. As discussed above, the single action airbrush utilizes a knob near the tail of the brush that adjusts how far in or out the needle is.

Where as a double action airbrush combines both the air control and needle control at the button / trigger. The air control on a double action airbrush is the same as a single action (Press down on the button / trigger). However to get paint delivery from a double action brush you simply pull back on the button will simultaneously pressing down.

Simply put, single action & double action airbrushes are distinguishable via the difference in needle control between each.

Pros & Cons Of The Single Action Airbrush

Even though the single action airbrush is considered to be less capable than its counterpart (The double action airbrush). This does not mean the single action airbrush does not Excel at specific aspects.

I personally believe that the single action airbrush is ideal for those looking for simplicity and only require an airbrush for the purpose of paint coverage, and some shading. however, those who are looking for excessive design capability I suggest you opt for the double action airbrush 

PROS Of The Single Action Airbrush

Great For Overall Consistent Coverage
Simpler To Use
Easier To Clean – less moving parts

For the most part single action airbrushes are much simpler and easier to use. Plus they are quite a bit cheaper than the modern double action airbrushes you see on the market today.

Single action airbrushes are most commonly employed by those who build and paint miniature  scale models. However, it’s not very common to see extensive detail done using a single action airbrush.

CONS Of The Single Action Airbrush

Unable To Change Paint Delivery Mid-Spray
Difficult To Perform High Detail
Limited Design Capability
Older Technology

Basically speaking, single action airbrushes Are more from the early stages of airbrushing. However, this does not make the single action airbrush not worth considering. The single action airbrush has its part in the airbrush atmosphere, and based on what you intend on painting it may or may not be a viable option for you and your needs

Ideal Uses 

under most circumstances the single action airbrush is okay for those who intend on painting using gradients, shadows and similar artistic design. However, it is exceptional at paint coverage, if say, you find yourself needing to paint a large area using 1 or multiple colors.

Non Ideal Uses

The single action airbrush can prove to be quite difficult when painting High detailed pieces, with a lot of thin, fading lines. for example, single action airbrushes can prove to be challenging when trying to create hairline features on a piece. otherwise known as “dagger Strokes”. 


As stated above, the single action airbrush utilizes the button, most commonly located on the upward side of the airbrush for air delivery (This button represents the single action). For paint delivery it uses a “needle adjustment” knob located near the tail of the airbrush under most circumstances.

The needle adjustment knob basically controls the amount of paint delivery. The farther you have the knob turned in, the less paint will flow. The farther you have the knob turned out, the more paint will flow.

Granted the single action airbrush is looked down upon by the community when compared to the double action airbrush. Simply for the limited control of paint delivery. Though this does not mean it is not a viable option worth consider.

Anyway, I hope you were able to find some value here! If you have any further questions regarding the airbrush do be sure to take a look around the website. Airbrush Insider is dedicated to helping all in the airbrush community!

This is Colt signing off!

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Hello, My Name Is Colt. I have always had an interest in the artistic, and creative side of things. But personally, I enjoy the process of shading and using gradients in order to achieve a photo realistic, 3D image of my choosing! That is the why I employ the airbrush every time I work! I have found the process of Airbrushing to be very therapeutic, and allows me to utilize the creative side of my brain to a greater extent! If you'd like to learn more about me, be sure to check me out over on my About Page

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