Airbrush - how to choose an airbrush for painting - ADVANCED

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Airbrush - how to choose an airbrush for painting - ADVANCED

Post by Armortek » Sat Nov 07, 2015 11:13 am

Although rattle cans and brushes can produce perfectly acceptable finishes on Armortek models, airbrushing is the most flexible, realistic, and perhaps enjoyable route to a great finish. The equipment isn't cheap and the skills required may seem daunting but in comparison with the value of the model and the time most builders spend in construction, airbrushing is a great investment. It is after all, the finish which largely makes the model.

This Knowledge Base Topic is intended to provide some guidelines for anyone considering airbrushing for the first time and to demystify the subject. Airbrushes are simple bits of kit and the basic skills are quickly learnt. There is no reason to think of airbrushing as an unapproachable and esoteric skill, only for experts. Anyone can blow paint onto a model but it is a skill which is fun to do and skill will quickly build up into a personal style which will enhance any model. Here are some guidelines:

Air Supply No air, no airbrushing! Don't waste time with alternative air supplies - buy a compressor. Anything else will lead to expense and frustration in equal measure. There are some quite good and relatively cheap hobby compressors on the market and you won't need very high pressures. Do get one with a tank. Without it, the compressor has to run constantly and pressure can vary. Fine lines and large area coverage require different air pressure settings and a good compressor will have a pressure setting valve and gauge.

Type of Airbrush Airbrushing can seem challenging to start with because you've got to balance at least four variables, air pressure (regulated by the air brush itself but maximum set on the compressor), paint quantity (needle control), paint consistency and type, distance from your subject, needle size..... It all seems confusing but you soon get a feel for how the paint is laying down, so always do a test spray. The more control you have over these variables, the easier it is. (Sounds counter intuitive but simple isn't necessarily good).Single action air brushes seem to offer simplicity but as you gain experience, you'll wish you had a double action (down for air, back for paint). You'll get the best control and the results will show.

Paint Supply Gravity feed or suction? It doesn't make much difference whether the paint cup is above, below or to one side of the airbrush but some find that airbrushes with a fixed cup on top are more intuitive to use. Do get an airbrush with interchangeable cups - too small and you'll be filling up constantly when doing a base coat, too big and it becomes unwieldy. For the same reason (base coats v detail), it's good to find one of those deals where you get a couple of needle and nozzle sizes. The three most useful for one sixth scale are: 0.2, 0.4 and 0.6mm. Incidentally, with a 15ml cup and a 0.6mm it is perfectly possible to apply a full base coat to the largest of Armortek models and it will do it with more paint economy and precision than with rattle cans.

Water trap Compressors generate heat which can lead to condensation affecting the air supply, particularly in cold weather. A water trap is absolutely essential. If you don't fit one to your air supply and empty it regularly, you very quickly start getting some really unhelpful effects on the model.

Makes of airbrush Budget governs this. It's like most things in life, you get what you pay for. Most people starting with budget airbrushes either give up or move to something more capable. The two most respected brands are Iwata and Harder and Steenbeck. They score on three counts, quality and precision of manufacture, wide availability of spares and wide choice of models and accessories. At least for the airbrush, it's helpful to buy from a supplier who is prepared to give advice and after-sales service.

Health and Safety Airbrushes produce potentially harmful aerosols. Get a protective mask, no ifs or buts. The disposable, paper type masks are useless. All full face mask isn't necessary. The best option is a half mask, with replaceable filters. This one is recommended:

How do I learn? Easy really, just start spraying! The key bit of knowledge is simple really - it's to know the effects of varying the air pressure, distance from the subject and the paint flow. Each has an effect and in combination they can produce anything from the finest of lines to area coverage and all steps in between. These basics are easy to acquire and become quite intuitive. It's like touch typing - seems impossible to a beginner and after a bit, you wonder what all the fuss was about. Warning - the world of airbrushing instructional videos is full of the boring, the irritating and the downright weird. Avoid them at all costs or you will want to attack the screen. There is almost too much stuff out there and everyone will have their preferences but some good starting points include:

This article from Fine Scale Modeller (which you can find online with a bit of searching):
This excellent DVD, which is very cheap (£2.50 in UK and free with H&S airbrushes):
pic 4.jpg ... p-dvd.html

This DVD is still available and is thorough, if a bit slow and repetitive:
There are also a number of subscription websites with excellent instructional videos. Flory models operates from UK but has an increasingly international membership and the videos are excellent in production quality and helpfulness, even if Phil Flory can be a bit long-winded. There are six videos on basic airbrushing skills and others on paint mixing, problem diagnosis and other related subject:
Home page is here:

That's it. As ever, any comments or additions welcome.