There have been a great many sources out on the interwebs on the airbrush. Tutorials, Intro guides, cleaning, master classes, and all manner of opinion on the subject. Today I thought I would give a little piece of my experience on dealing with the overwhelming subject that is the airbrush, and let you make your own decision on how to proceed. I hope this guide eases the burdens on what to buy, where to buy it, and gets some more brushes in the hands of painters everywhere.
Types of AirbrushThere are many different types of airbrush. Single action, double action, internal mix, external mix, siphon feed, gravity feed, etc. If I just blew your mind, let me put you at ease a little bit by explaining a little bit about each.
Single Action and dual action are best described as how much paint gets pushed through the brush. Single action is literally on or off, just like a light switch. The Games workshop spray gun is a perfect example of this type of airbrush. At best it’s good for primer coats, or base coats of paint. Dual action airbrushes incorporate controllable flow into the equation. Depressing on the trigger engages airflow, but pulling back on the trigger controls how much paint is pushed through the brush. Going back to our light switch example, think of this as a dimmer switch, which allows you to control how bright it is in a room by moving the switch. Dual action brushes are by far the preferred method tool of the trade, and the most common brush used today.
External mix and internal mix describe where the paint gets atomized and expelled onto your material. External mix is just like it sounds, the paint mixes outside of the brush mechanism. Again, I’ll use GW’s brush as the example here. This style of brush isn’t very prevalent any longer an you’ll have a harder time finding one of these brushes any more. Internal mix airbrushes atomize the paint inside the body of the brush. Virtually all dual action brushes are internal mix brushes.
Siphon and gravity feed describe how the paint is delivered into the brush it’s self. Siphon feed brushes typically have a large bottle with a tube coming out the top that connects to the bottom of the brush. The brush then uses the air pressure to pull paint into the brush to mix. This style of brush is popular if you’ve got to use a lot of paint, or you do a large mix that you can keep in the bottle for later use. Gravity feed brushes have “cups” that are on the top of the
brush that you pour paint directly into. Smaller quantities of paint, but you don’t rely on air pressure to deliver the paint into the brush.
If your mind is still blown, let me give you a little help. I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you that 95% of miniature painters use a dual action gravity fed brush. “Okay?!?!” you say, “Well, that’s great and all, but where the hell do I begin to look for that kind of brush?” I reply: “Let’s start with the most obvious topic; who makes airbrushes?”
Though there are MANY airbrush manufacturers out there, It really boils down to “The Big Three”. Though there are other manufactures out there, the most popular, and easiest to get a hold of are the following:
- Patriot 105 – Great starter airbrush good for all around usage
- Renegade Krome – Hobbyists airbrush, capable of very small detail work
- Sotar 20/20 – Exact same mechanism as the Krome, but smaller cup and trigger is closer to the front of brush
- Infinity – Super fine detail and very nice brush, but pricy and replacement parts have to come from overseas (if you live in USA)
- Most Popular models
- Iwata Eclipse – comparable in price, quality, and performance as the Patriot 105 again, a great starter brush ( I started here)
- Kustom – Newer brush, to compete with the Krome and appeal to the hobbyist and motorcycle custom painter.
- Paasche VL - A versatile and great starter brush.
Paasche VLTCP Global
- A cheaper alternative for those on a smaller budget is the Master series by TCP Global. The G40 model is one of the best for wargamers as it comes with a smaller needle good for details with the added bonus of extra needles and tips that can be purchased allowing the one airbrush to perform multiple roles.
Master Performance G40
Air DeliveryAnother category where there are literally hundreds of ways to choose. Price and size vary in all of the following methods. Please note however, that there are other considerations for air delivery. Pressure regulation and line moisture are topics that I suggest you research before jumping right to the “cheapest” method. Having said that, here are the most popular choices for getting air through an airbrush:
Compressor – essentially comes in 2 flavors
- Tankless – great little compressor that will most definitely do the job. As cheap as $40.00 new. Many different varieties such as oil less, dual piston, etc. All have advantages and disadvantages, but all will give you a good source of air.
- Tank – Preferred if you plan on doing marathon sessions. Compressor only turns on when tank is almost empty. Shuts off when tank is full again. No potential for pressure loss from a diaphragm tank less compressor. More potential for line moisture.
Spare tire – Yes I said it. You can use a spare tire and fill it full of air, run a line from your tire spigot to your airbrush and use it. Downside is no pressure regulation, and longer you use it, the lower the pressure will get as tire empties. Also the cheapest way to get compressed air.
Air Tanks – Virtually same as the spare tire method, just an official air tank vs…a tire
So, that pretty much covers the basics of what you will need to get started. I’ve compiles a few links to various storefronts or other sources to help you get started on the decision making process. TPC Global - http://www.tcpglobal.com/ – One of the biggest painter supply stores on the market..they do a custom line of tanks that is economical and they work really well (Search the TC-20T) Coast Airbrush - http://www.coastairbrush.com/ - Another great supplier of airbrush needs.
Amazon – Nothing more to say here..they sell the world, and at good prices
Craigslist – Don’t underestimate the power of bartering, I’ve seen some great deals on brushes/compressors here Web Airbrushes – http://www.webairbrushes.com/ - Primarily a Badger house, they offer some great deals if you keep your peepers open. Also a great way to get the Miniataire paint line.
Now that we’ve touched on the hardware, let’s discuss paint. Let me start by saying that I am only touching on the most popular manufactures for miniature painting. This is by far NOT a definitive list, and I encourage everyone to expand their horizons to other manufactures. There are entire lines of paint dedicated to airbrush so feel free to get your Google on and give some of them a shot.
Everyone has their favorite. My job here is to tell you how to get it through the airbrush.
- Games Workshop – HUGE color range, but a bit thick. Use the thinning recipe below to get it to go through your airbrush
- P3 – Not as extensive color range as GW, but still high quality paint, that is easier to mix thanks to dropper bottles. Same thinning recipe below applies here
- o Vallejo Game/Model color – The Game color line is an EXACT replica of the old GW paint line, and needs to be thinned per the recipe below. The Game color line falls more into the military mode range, but still offers a great color selection. Both require the thinning recipe below
- Vallejo Model Air – This was one of the first lines of paint to be formulated to be shot straight from the bottle, and it does work. The pigments are a little thick on the White and Metallics, to thin it a bit with water or Airbrush medium
- Reaper – an absolutely INSANE selection of paints, based in a Triad system for Base, Highlight and Shadow. The same method applies for thinning these paints.
- Minitaire -Badger’s new paint line color formulated by Mathew Fontaine – a multiple Golden Demon winner, exclusively for airbrush. Very nice, entire range can be used right out of the bottle
Thinner recipe (Mathew Fontaine’s
15% rubbing alcohol (91% or better) to 85% water
Thinning your paint:
1 pt paint to 5 parts thinner
I hope this little tidbit of information has eased your mind and provided you the little push you may have needed to get into airbrushing. As an aspiring airbrush artist myself, I’m constantly learning new things that this tool can do to make me a better hobbyist. If I can stress one thing after you make your purchase that would be practice. I’ll say it again, practice. If it didn’t become clear the first two times you read it, PRACTICE!! You aren’t going to paint competition winning miniatures just because you decided to use an airbrush instead of a traditional brush. This tool takes practice to master just like your standard paint brush did. There are a multitude of videos out there on airbrush technique. I’m not talking about how to paint your dreadnaught either. I’m talking about videos on control, paint flow, and application practice. Don’t let that scare you either. Start small and be patient and I promise you before you know it, you will love your brush, and begin pushing yourself to learn new techniques. I look forward to hearing about your airbrush success stories, and until next time this is Aceldamor saying, “I’ll catch you on the flipside!”