Getting started with Airbrushing! First, the Essential Tools! (Part 1)

Well, I decided to join the airbrush crowd!  This is going to be my first post in a series of learning how-to posts on the topic.  I’m really keen to update these with any insights I get from the experts.

Anyway, I decided to do some research on how to get started, and what gear I’ll need, what gear will be very useful, and what are just bonus extras!  There are 2 absolutely essential pieces of kit without which you can’t do anything.  The first is the airbrush itself, and the second is a source of compressed air.

EDIT – as a general note, you are investing in your long term hobby here.  If you get a cheap airbrush and compressor, you’ll end up replacing them.  work out how much you can afford, and try to go for the most high quality kit you can.  It’ll pay off over years of hobby.

Airbrush

Well, after some fairly basic research, I’ve going for the entry airbrush known as the Iwata Neo.  Iwata have a great reputation, and the Neo is less than £50.  What key features should you look for?

Well, the airbrush should apparently be gravity fed if possible – the paint should sit above the airbrush itself.  This lets you use small amounts of paint, which is perfect for minis.  Siphon fed (where the paint sits under the brush) can be better for painting at odd angles and using larger amounts of paint – but you tend to waste paint in the pot, especially when just doing 28mm scale stuff.  Side fed is sort of a half way house and quite rare.  The consensus from all the sites I’ve checked is go for gravity fed.

EDIT – chatting with some airbrush experts, the other reason to go gravity fed is that they work at lower pressures.  That means you can use the brush close to the mini, and do much finer work.

You can also get two sorts of triggers on an airbrush.  You get single action, where you pull the trigger, and air and paint come out.With dual action, you press down for air and back for paint.  It lets you have much more control, so you really want to go for dual action if possible.

Next is needle size.  The smaller the needle, the finer the spray.  It sounds like you want to go as small as possible for mini painting, right?  Not necessarily!  The smaller the needle, the more you need to thin your paints, for one thing, and just like normal brushes, you’ll want an airbrush needle that matches the work you’ll be doing.  You don’t want to use a Detail brush to basecoat a tank, for example!  For minatures, I’ve heard you should look in the 0.2 to 0.5 range – with a 0.3 needle being a great all purpose choice.  As you get more experience, you may pick up a small range of airbrushes, and flick between them for different types of work.

Why did I pick the Iwata Neo?  Its a brand with a reliable reputation, is a gravity fed, dual action brush with a 0.35 needle.  It meets all my starting requirements!  And the 5 year warranty is pretty much unheard of!  It gives you a really reliable starting airbrush.

Compressed Air

There are 3 possible options here.  You could use cans of propellant (compressed air), which isn’t ideal.  It can be useful in a pinch, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for a longer term option.

The better option is a compressor, which you can get either with or without a tank.  If possible, you should go for the latter.  Having a tank means the airflow is much more consistent – if doing a lot of airbrushing with just a compressor you can apparently encounter the occasional pulsing effect on the airflow that will affect your work.  For shorter periods though, either of these options will work fine.  In addition, if space is a factor, going for a model without a tank will save quite a lot of room!

EDIT – Again, chatting to experts, another thing to ponder is the range of pressure the compressor can provide.  The thicker the liquid you want to work with, like lacquer, the higher the pressure you’ll need.  Most entry airbrushes need 15-30PSI which will be fine with most compressors.  Another useful trick is with a higher pressure, you can try and clear a blockage with a higher pressure blast, rather than having to stop and clean the brush from scratch, saving painting time!  Obviously this trick only works with a dual action brush, where you can blow just air down the brush.

I’m going for a FoxHunter KMS Airbrush Kit AS186.  The AS186 has got a fair number of great reviews for reliability, is pretty cheap for a compressor (under £100), has a tank, and in this case actually comes with two cheap airbrushes for practising – one a side gravity feed, and one a siphon type.

EDIT – this compressor has a max pressure of 4 bars, or 58PSI, which will be more than adequate for what I need it for, I believe.

Assuming the compressor comes with the right connectors, you have everything you actually need to spray paint.  However, you’ll need more tools than this to do it safely, effectively and consistently …. which I’ll cover soon.

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