Well, last article we looked at the really critical bits – the airbrush and source of compressed air. Without those, you can’t airbrush anything. There are a lot of really useful bits of kit that make airbrushing practical and safe, though, and that’s what we’re looking at here.
A Spray Booth
In a pinch, you can make a basic spray booth from a large cardboard box. However, a proper spray booth is invaluable. Why? Well, the extraction of paint particles from the air means you can actually use your brush safely inside the house without finding your walls and carpet going gradually acrylic technicolour, and its a lot safer on you health. If careful, you can even get away without using a mask all the time with a good booth!
Key points to look for in a booth are the dimensions of the booth itself, and the length of the extraction hose. That’s going to need to pop out of a window from where you intend to set up, and the dimensions of the booth obviously need to fit in your hobby area! Some booths fold up if storage space is an issue, or if you’ll need to move the booth around. Its also worth checking the noise level of the fan if that might be an issue.
A useful bonus feature here is lighting – some booths come with LED light fittings which make working much easier. Its worth getting one of these if you can spot one for a reasonable price.
A common booth is the E420 chassis, and its what I’ve gone for. Its a small booth for about £65 and you can get variants with light kits fitted. It folds up for transport or storage, has a quiet fan, and the hose runs about 67″ which should be fine for me. I didn’t find one with a light kit though.
Honestly, after the airbrush and compressor, the booth is probably your best buy.
An Airbrush Cleaning Pot
This is a real key to making sure your airbrush stays clean, and that you minimise exposure to more toxic chemicals used to clean the brush. Basically, this is a glass pot with a valve for the end of you airbrush to go into, and a filter to allow the air to escape while catching chemicals and pigment. Fill your airbrush pot with cleaner, spray it into the pot, and there you have it, a clean airbrush. Better still, the cleaner is all trapped in the pot and can generally be reused. The pots aren’t dear, ranging from £10 to £20, and it will really make cleaning your brush easier, extend its lifespan, and be good for your health too. Thoroughly recommended!
Of course, the pot itself is useless without cleaner to run through the brush! Most of the major paint lines also often airbrush cleaners too. Tamiya does, Vallejo does. I’ve opted for Vallejo mostly for ease of accessibility, but most of them should do the job just fine. Vallejo was recommended to me by a couple of long term airbrush users as having worked for them.
EDIT – actually, I’ve been gifted Iwata Medea cleaner, which matches the brush. Its particularly potent, use using the cleaning pot and/or a mask is very important!
Its important to remember that these are pretty potent chemical solutions though, and much more dangerous than paint in the air. You really need a superb booth and/or a good airbrush cleaning pot to use them safely with compressed air.
Airbrush Paint Thinners
These are pretty much essential for two main reasons. First is thinning your paint, unsurprisingly. Even when using airbrush paints like Vallejo Model Air, you’ll want to thin your paint sometimes to put down several very fine coats. If you are using standard GW paints or the like, you’ll definitely need some of this stuff – and it’ll come up from time to time. A useful trick with a badly blocked airbrush is to soak it in paint thinner over night, then run through the airbrush cleaning process with the cleaner and pot again. Don’t soak your airbrush in cleaning solution – it can lead to all sorts of issues. Its a way of dealing with a serious blockage, not a regular part of your cleaning routine.
You’ll hear lots of weird and wonderful recommendations of what you can use as a paint thinner. Windex is often mooted, or alcohol. There are two good options I’d recommend from my research – Vallejo Airbrush thinner (go for the 200ml bottle) which can be used for the blockage cleaning trick above, and for just thinning paints you can always use distilled water – the massive bottles you can get for household steamers will do the trick. Tap water or mineral water will lead to deposits building up in the brush and lead to hard to clear blockages. Most of the pros I’ve been talking to use about 50/50 vallejo thinner and distilled water to get the desired consistency.
You probably already have a huge selection of paints from painting with brushes already, and they may be fine, especially for general work. If you want to do fine work with a thin needle, though, you’ll need paint designed for airbrush work with fine ground pigment in the medium. Stuff like GWs paint has lots of pigment, but it isn’t that fine ground – even when thinned, you are more likely to get blockages, particularly with fine needles.
Investing in at least some choice paints designed for the airbrush will save you time. You’ll almost certainly need to use other lines of paint to follow painting guides and things, but getting some basic primers and key colours to go through your airbrush is well worth it! In terms of primers particularly, you DO NOT want to thin them down. That undercoat needs to cover and stick – its the base for everything else. Thats doubly true for metal minis.
I’m going with my main paints for now, but am investing in some Vallejo primers. There are some cracking premixed ones, but you can add colour to the grey or white options. I’ll probably look at picking up some of the Vallejo Game Air line for specific projects.
I’d point out that the cheeky Forgeworld chaps used Tamiya paints to do their Alpha Legion paint jobs. So even the top bods invest in specific paints!
EDIT – one note on the various paints and additives like cleaners and thinners. Its all for acrylic paints generally when painting 28mm minis, so it should all be fine from any of the major manufacturers … except when it isn’t. That can be a painful bit of trial and error, so sticking to one provider as much as possible really isn’t a terrible idea. Its why I’m primarily going with Vallejo.
These are dirt cheap – you should be able to pick up a hundred disposable pipettes for a few pounds. You want 2ml or 3ml in size – and they are fabulous for loading your airbrush. It’ll save you time, save you paint, and let you mix much more repeatable paint mixes. Seriously, if you want to do any more than prime minis with premixed primer, you should pick up some of these!
Seriously, for cleaning the needle of your airbrush without risking life and limb (those things are pointy), you’ll thank your lucky stars you picked up a stack of these. Cheap and easily available, there’s no reason you wouldn’t have these to clean specific bits of your brush. Its a no-brainer.
Mask and Goggles
Well, you sort of have to recommend these, don’t you? I’m not too worried about goggles as my glasses take care of it to a large degree, but certainly for any extended sessions or work without a booth, you definitely need a mask. Even with a booth, a mask isn’t a bad idea. Acrylic paint is non-toxic, but you don’t want it building up, and thinners and cleaners can be more damaging.
EDIT – two of my friends who use airbrushes don’t bother with masks … but they have very well ventilated areas set up, use booths and neither are professional painters, so the airbrush is only used periodically. Talking to commission painters who use their airbrush a lot, get a respirator with replaceable filters – at least one has suffered bronchitis from airbrushing without protection for his lungs.
You don’t need gloves for general airbrushing, any more than you do while using a brush. Its not a bad idea when cleaning your airbrush though (or scrubbing models clean of paint with biostrip or dettol). If you look for disposable gloves though, don’t look for latex gloves. Many of the airbrush cleaners and lacquer cleaners on the market will eat through them. Go for Nitrile gloves. It protects your hands, and can avoid irritating finger prints on models if you are as careless as me.
Paper Towels (EDIT)
Of course, almost an essential will be paper towels. loads of em. Kitchen roll will do, but invaluable! You probably have a ton for regular painting, but definitely recommended! Cheers for the suggestion!