Miniature Painting Tools

I got a new toy this week – a rather expensive Iwata HP-BH, with a tiny 0.2 needle for detail work.  Having tweeted excitedly, a rather arrogant individual decided to lecture me about how dual action airbrushes were too complex for painting minis, despite the fact I’ve happily been using an Iwata Neo and two cheaper dual actions for some time now, and that most of the articles and my research recommends duals.  It made me step back, though, and really think about the importance of our tools in what we do, and how the right tool for you is far more important than the RIGHT tool that everyone is shouting about … and also how the right tool for you isn’t the right tool for everybody.

Lets start with the main tool we use to apply paints to miniatures … brushes!  I had another interesting discussion this week about the best brushes.  Brushes have so many quirks!  There are probably 4 main factors in choice of brush – the material of the bristles, the shape of the bristles, the shape of the handle, and the length of a handle.  I don’t think anyone would argue that Kolinsky Sable is the best material for bristles – it maintains its shape really well, and responds really well to a maintenance regimes of good cleaning, brush soap and conditioner.  Artificial bristles can be pretty much as good, but don’t tend to last.  The shape is very important for some particular painting tasks – the round ended GW stippling brush is fabulous, as is the slanted Army Painter dry brush, for example – but the general brush shape is standard.  The length varies, though should always come to a fine point – the idea behind a tiny ultra detail brush isn’t that you can paint a finer line – its so your visibility of the tiny details isn’t obscured as you do so.  The shape of a handle can make a massive difference – I find the triangular feel of the Army Painter brushes really stable in my hand, though I find it difficult to paint curving lines as smoothly.  In terms of handle length, the length tends to determine the heft in your hand, and the balance, and is a very personal touch.  It doesn’t often make much difference in terms of general technique, as you’ll hold it close to the point for control, except for slapping paint on tanks with a larger brush.

Most longer term hobbyists will swear by one brand for their general purpose brushes, and pick up specialist brushes from a range of suppliers for individual techniques.  I use expensive Windsor & Newton Series 7 brushes for my absolute top quality models – commanders, painting contest entries and the like. Generally, I use Army Painter brushes for regimental work, GW stippling brushes, and the wonderful slanted army painter dry brushes and … even a Games & Gears Katana brush for freehand bits occasionally, though I really wouldn’t recommend the rest of their line.   Its the combination that works for me. Some use series 7s for everything, others like Rosemary & Co brushes (which aren’t far off W&N for quality but much cheaper), other swear by the round GW brushes where I use triangular Army Painter ones.  It is very much a matter of taste.

I’ve written a whole series about airbrushes, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here, except to say that it is really important to find a brush that works for you.  Some people love Iwatas (like me), while others love badgers, and others like simple cheap single action brushes.  Partly it depends on how you want to use the airbrush – if you just want to chuck down a simple one colour primer, a dual action probably is a bit much, though for really even coverage a single trigger can have some sputter on initial trigger pulls compared to a dual with separate airflow…. though the pain in maintaining and cleaning it has to be taken into account.  Its funny how individual taste with the various brands can go – I really like the Iwata trigger action, and definitely like the level of control with the duals.

Applying decals is another area where tools can matter.  While most decals can be applied using simple water and applying it onto paint, varnishing the area first and using dedicated transfer solutions to ensure smooth application can really make a difference!  I don’t use transfers much myself – I like folded insignia or pads, or airbrush stencils, but using a dedicated solution makes a heck of a difference.

In short, you can’t do a great piece of work with rubbish tools, generally.  Adequate tools can get great results, but won’t generally last as long.  And great tools aren’t cheap, but you can really guarantee consistent results.  I wish I could say they guarantee great results, but thats down to you!  So much of the final choice is down to what effects you want to try, and your personal ergonomics.  A tiny handed person isn’t going to get on with large brushes, while a larger chap is probably going to favour a little more heft to their brush.  Just accept that what works for you won’t work for everyone, and bear that in mind listening to their recommendations too.

 

Hobby Roundup (Week 11)

Well, still not huge amounts happening in my hobby world directly due to very limited spare time!

I’ve just sent a fair chunk of my 40K into storage at the folks (so they may see use against my brother!), as hobby space has become a bit of an issue – I have a little time to paint, but very little time to play.  Painted armies sent away for now include Valhallans, 2 armies of Sisters of Battle, Grey Knights, Tau, and Necrons, joining the bulk of my Eldar and Harlequins.

I still have a fair few forces to play with if I did fit a game in, though apart from my ultramarines company, they are only part painted, including Tyranids, Silver Skulls, Imperial Fists, unpainted Eldar, Crimson Fists, Crimson Slaughter, Fallen Angels, some inquisition bits and pieces, Dark Eldar, and Orksies, plus a small force of Space Wolves from the campaign set, so I’m not exactly struggling for options just yet though!

A load of airbrush stencils have arrived from Anarchy Studios!  Loads of hex grids, dragon scale grids, diamond grids, some special effects, and loads of dungeon and starship floor grid tiles.  Awesome!  Looking forward to adding really great effects really quickly!  All part of upping my painting game while minimising time! I thoroughly recommend them, and hope to do some airbrush use guides here soon!

Adventures with Airbrushing! Learning Curve! (Part 7)

Well, the booth is set up.  The airbrush is here.  Paints are here!

Now, the smart thing to do is:

  1. Get a piece of card.  Try the brush with water on the card, and get a feel for the pressure, where you get overspray, where you get a good spread, and just practise working the trigger for a bit.
  2. Once you feel confident with the flow, grab another bit of card, and do the same thing, but this time, use paint to really see the way the spray works.
  3. Then, and only then, move onto some test models, ideally metals you can easily strip, and get a feel for evenly spreading the paint over the erratic shapes on the models.

Of course, smart is not my middle name.  I instantly grabbed a plastic Tyranid Carnifex that’s been sat primed white for ages, and sprayed it Ochre!

It worked well!  I was pretty cautious with the trigger, and whoosh!

I then moved straight onto spraying metallics, which are notoriously difficult to clean, as I discovered by cleaning the airbrush afterwards. 🙂  Even allowing for cleaning time, though, I basecoated 30 marines with a clean even cover in minutes … far more effective than if I’d done it by hand.  Rock!

Amusing anecdote.  I got a quick release coupler for my airbrush.  Brilliant, especially as I can plug my airbrush off the hose for cleaning awkward angles without emptying the air tank!  Huzzah!  It has a built in pressure regulator – basically a tiny screw that opens or closes the valve to allow air through.  If you loosen that enough with a full tank of pressure …. ping!  #replacementpartordered

What have I learnt so far?  Well, discipline with cleaning the brush pays for itself a thousand times over in time.  Run a little cleaner through before you start (especially if the cleaner contains airbrush lubricant).  Clean the brush properly at regular intervals, even if spraying the same colour.  It really avoids a lot of problems with clogs, and each individual clean is pretty easy.  Avoiding having to strip the brush makes a huge difference to hobby time!

Moisture traps are invaluable.  The amount of water mine catches – with a moisture trap on the compressor already – was a big wake up call.  For about £3, its probably paid for itself in my hobby time avoiding problems.

Plan your airbrushing.  If you are spraying lots of models, make sure you have a spot for them to dry as well!  if you are changing colours through a session, start with the lightest, so if a tiny amount makes it through the clean, it won’t affect the darker colour coming next.

If you have a lot of models to do for the same colour, try spraying them at once, rather than having to set the brush up each time, especially if adding thinners and changing the consistency – it can slightly alter the shade, which isn’t ideal!  Or you can forget exactly which colour or mix you used…..

I love my new airbrush!  I feel like its giving me my hobby time back!  There is a bit of a learning curve, but I would say for doing basic sprays it isn’t as hard as I thought!  The impression on line is that an airbrush is an arcane art – thats true for the complex stuff, but the simple stuff?  Not too bad!  Worth looking into!

Getting started with Airbrushing! Setting up your Spray Booth! (Part 6)

Lets start off by saying this article focuses on setting up your spray booth.  If you aren’t using a booth and spraying outdoors, then this probably isn’t going to be of interest to you!  Obviously, I’m setting the booth up next to a window so I can pop the exhaust out – its actually being set up in my garage with a nearby oil heater so there is plenty of ventilation anyway too!

There are lots and lots of posts on the internet about choosing a particular spray booth.  There are lots and lots of posts about maintaining the filters.  What I didn’t find were any good articles about how to set up your booth in the first place to try and maintain its condition and longevity.

Its a spray booth – you are going to be spraying lots of paint, and there are going to be oversprays!  The filters will pull loose particles out of the air, but lets face it … you are going to be painting the inside of the booth a lot as well as your models.  You can use airbrush cleaner on the booth (generally!) but that sounds rather dangerous and a lot of work!

Now, I imagine I’ll be editing this post lots over time as I find out how effective these measures are, but this is how I’m setting up the insides of my spray booth!

Clingfilm.  Lots and lots of clingfilm.

Why clingfilm?  Its cheap, disposable, transparent, and easy to apply and remove.  Let me explain!

The sides of my booth are translucent to allow light in for better airbrushing.  If I cover them with cling film (using some masking tape to apply tightly), I instantly protect the sides for overspray while allowing light in … and its easy to replace if the paint builds up.

In the base of the booth, I am using a cheap cutting mat.  The lines help me set up for consistent distances, which is especially useful as a beginner.  However, I don’t want to lose all the lines to overspray … so I’m covering the mat with clingfilm.

The rotating table in the middle of the booth (on my cutting mat)? Again, a quick layer of clingfilm lets me keep it working without getting too gunked up.  Easy to maintain, easy to replace, nice and cheap!

I’m also setting up a solid wood paint station (the old GW one) next to it … so I’m not tempted to start messing around too much on in the spray booth – I want to keep it for airbrushing, not damaging it with modelling knives!

As my booth doesn’t have an integral light, unfortunately, I’m setting up a cheap LED light next to it – that will given me good illumination even in the winter months – and the clingfilm will let that light in!

EDIT – An alternative solution is to reuse dry cleaning bags as an all in one booth cover, and its easy to fix into place with magnets.  I like the modular nature of clingfilm in some ways – I can replace a panel here or there, rather than the whole thing, but this is a lot more environmentally friendly and easier to do in one go every so often.  Certainly worth thinking about, particularly as most gamers have a stash of spare neodymium magnets.

Getting started with Airbrushing! Protective gear (Part 5)

Protective Masks

OK, this is a topic I find difficult, because its probably where you get the most pushy advice.  People shout things like:

  • “You must wear mask!”
  • “You must wear a respirator!”
  • “You must wear  full level 5 hazmat suit before you even look at a post about airbrushing or you will die horribly as your lungs explode.”

Its terribly prescriptive, and doesn’t really take your particular needs and setup into account.  And if you are anything like me, being told “this is the one true way” tends to make you irritated.   So lets look at the risks and mitigating factors to take into account.

Assuming you are using standard acrylic paints and nothing too fancy, the particles are entirely non-toxic in themselves. They can build up in the bronchus (and can eventually lead to complications like Bronchitis) and won’t clear themselves out of your lungs, which we obviously don’t want.  In addition, certain thinners and cleaners may contain other chemicals in their own right, and these may cause nasty effects.  Horrible, right?

Lets look at mitigating factors too.  If you are following this series, you are probably either spraying outside, or with a spray booth extracting the particles and fumes out of a nearby window.  That helps!

You are also using an airbrush cleaning pot if you have any sense – this reduces or removes the worst of the chemical fumes when sorting out your brush.

You also need to think about how often you will be spraying, and for what sort of period.  I have 2 small children – hobby time will be erratic, and for comparatively small periods – chemical exposure will be pretty minimal!  If I had 3-4 hour painting sessions every day or so, it’d be a very different story.

One thing that is pretty individual too is the pressure you spray it – if you use a high PSI, you are going to end up with a heck of lot more airborne particles than a low PSI.  The longer distances you spray at, the higher the PSI you’ll need, and the more particles in the air.  The more particles and fumes in the air, the more protection you should have.  I’ve found that the most fervent supporters of massive masks tend to use fairly high PSI levels.

Another key fact is that filters run out.  The dearest, most expensive mask will do little to protect you if the filters expire. (Well, or the filters will block up entirely and you won’t be able to breathe in it!)   You need to maintain any mask or respirator, or swap it out fairly regularly.

Another factor is that if you are following this series, you are just starting in airbrushing.  You may have a bad experience.  You may find it isn’t for you.  You may suffer from claustrophobia in a big mask!  Spending a fortune isn’t ideal, especially at this point.  We’ve looked at entry level airbrushes, and spray booths.  What should we be looking for here?

Well, as we are dealing with fumes from cleaners, we probably want to look at respirators, not just dust masks (though with a booth and airbrush cleaning pot, and irregular usage, you could probably get away it – certainly a lot of airbrushers I’ve talked to or read their blogs do!).  You can spend a lot on these, but there are a fair few available for around the £25 mark that should do the job.  I’m actually settling for a disposable option, rated as respirators at around £10 for now.  If I find I’m using the airbrush a lot, I can upgrade later.  I can pop them on quickly, swap them out easily, and I have minimal exposure to fumes anyway with the cleaning pot, booth and small number and length of sessions.

Protective Glasses or Goggles

Well, bits of paint in the eye aren’t pleasant, and its always possible to accidentally spray yourself in the face!  I wear glasses, so there’s an element of protection already … but those are expensive and I want to keep them safe.

Honestly, I think a simple set of protective glasses for a couple of quid should do the job, generally.  Again, if you are doing a heck of lot, it’s probably worth kicking it up a notch but I’ve gone for a simple set of protective glasses that fit over my normal ones.  Cheap .. but will help keep the eyes safe.

Protective Gloves

These probably aren’t too big a deal unless you are doing a lot of airbrush work and needing to mess about cleaning the brush all the time with colour changes…. or if you are a seasoned professional worried about getting paint on you hands and accidentally transferring it to your models.  If you do go for these, definitely go for nitrile gloves, not latex – most airbrush cleaners will eat through latex!  You can pick up a box of 100 for just over £5.

Apron

Sounds silly, but unless you have hobby clothes, have a simple apron ready to pop on and save your clothes!!!!  Cheap, quick, easy!  Like hobby should be!

Getting started with Airbrushing! Putting the information together (Part 4)

This article isn’t really about the overall physical setup.  Its more about how to take all the advice, videos and websites out there (including these articles), and how to put it together, as well as some suggestions on good places to check!  You’ll have your own goals, price thresholds and needs.  There isn’t one solution for everyone, which is why you need to check multiple places, and get advice from people who do what you want to do.  These articles aim at a new beginner in airbrushing 28mm miniatures, mostly Games Workshop, who wants to save some hobby time with quick basecoats, and maybe some simple shading, possibly adding simple stencil and masking effects.

Practise, Practise, Practise

First, let me start with the most common piece of advice when it comes to an airbrush, which I find totally useless and infuriating.

You just need to practise, practise, practise.

Of course you’ll get better at anything if you practise.  It’s meaningless.  Worse, it implies that you’ll need to invest huge amounts of time before you’ll start getting any half-decent results.  There are some airbrush maestroes out there, doing tremendously intricate work with tiny needled expensive airbrushes (take a look at @NigelSBartlett and @Celsork).  Yes, that takes a heck of a lot of practise.

Speeding up getting basecoats on minis and vehicles especially?  Honestly, everyone I’ve asked says that isn’t so bad.  Doing a basic job on big bits of terrain?  Yeah, really not too difficult either.  You will get out what you put in, but an airbrush can reward your hobby time even if you aren’t a commission painter and don’t have hours a day to spend.

Besides, saying practise in itself doesn’t give you the information you need.  What do I need to practise?  What is best to practise on?

If someone asked me for advice (given I haven’t really started yet!), I’d point them at this utterly magnificent blog post, that genuinely felt helpful to me. It’s the General’s Tent, and basically suggests – start by priming your miniatures.  Move on to trying to paint big terrain bits, where the techniques are simplified by the size of the piece, and honestly people don’t look as closely at terrain.  Move onto painting minis, getting more and more complex.  And finally, paint your dream piece that you have waiting for you as a special treat.  It might be an Imperial Knight, a Titan, or the Millennium Falcon.  Thats a heck of lot more useful than “Practise”.

As a personal note, I would suggest admitting to yourself that you will make mistakes, so do what you can to alleviate things.  If you spray acrylic paint all over a model and screw it up, it helps to be able to clean it off and start again … and thats a lot easier with metal minis!  Starting with metals, and keeping a few metal minis on hand to use as test models for trailing new paint schemes or new fluids like varnish just makes sense to me.  Thats a heck of a lot easier if you play Infinity with all their metals, of course!  And you can strip resin and plastics if you are careful.

Don’t take these suggestions as prescriptive!  You need to plan a pattern of escalating airbrush usage to get you where YOU want to go.  If you just want to go as far as some simple one colour basecoats, cool!  Start with airbrush rated primers, try some simple one colour basecoats, then maybe some simple masking to do multiple colours on the minis, or mixing colour into the primers to save you extra time.  Bam!  You’ve got to the point you wanted to get to.

Don’t get me wrong, you will practise a lot.  But think about what you need to practise, make sure you have good materials to practise on, and focus on practising what you need to achieve your goals with the airbrush.

Resources for Getting Started

A commission painter I really respect, @PaintySim,  thoroughly recommends this youtube video as a brilliant introduction to airbrushing.  Its a massive dump of information, and you’ll get more out of it if you go back periodically as you try new things and pick up more and more – by Ken Scholtfeldt from Badger Airbrush – don’t worry, its still just as useful if you use Iwata or another brush!  There are a whole range of useful follow up videos too.  I struggle a little bit with video guides, as I generally like text, but seeing someone do things is really useful.

EDIT – as it happens, another top airbrusher, @Alan_Kasteli (or leonidas on this site) had actually sent me a link to that video over a year ago, before I got all excited for airbrushing again in August!  Shows how very useful it is!

If you can find any cool people willing to show you how to do things, or demonstrate new paint ranges, you’ll learn a lot faster than trying to go solo, even with demonstration videos  – Painty often goes through some tricks of the trade down at Dark Sphere in London and you’ll learn a heck of a lot if you catch her.

There are some great websites dedicated to airbrushing.  One problem is often information overload, and you’ll find advice on one may contradict advice on another.  Thats true if you ask airbrushers you know too – just like painting minis with a brush, there are a wide range of techniques and options, and some work better for some people than others.  Take airbrush cleaners, for example.  Some people swear by Iwata Medea.  Others find the chemicals horrible, and prefer Vallejo cleaners.  Others recommend 91% alcohol as a cleaner – still others recommend 99% alcohol.  To some degree, it doesn’t really matter – it’ll all get your brush clean … but some options will work better with your nose, your skin, your chosen paints, and maybe even the materials in your airbrush, and certainly with your wallet.

I’ve found the Airbrush Guru to be really informative.  There are so many options and things covered here that its best if you have at least a rough question needing a specific answer than a general introduction.

Ive found Paul Budzik’s Airbrush tips for Modelers to be absolutely brilliant.  Lots of fascinating facts about the history, clear descriptions of different types of airbrush, lots of video demonstrations (and his site in general is a treasure trove of modelling techniques).

If anyone has any suggestions, I’m happy to add them here.

Choose between Time and Money

At the end of the day, there is a big tradeoff with airbrushing between time and money invested.  You probably have loads of paints already.  Want to use them in your airbrush?  Well, different ranges use different grains of pigment, making them more or less likely to clog … and thats after you’ve experimented with thinners like water, dedicated thinners and mediums.  And you might need to add paint retarders to stop it clumping while you paint.

If you spend money on dedicated airbrush paints, like Vallejo Model Air or Game Air, it’ll just tend to work.  The pigment is ground fine, the consistency is right.  But you’ll have to pay for it.

Want to thin the normal Game or Model Vallejo paints?  You can pretty much guarantee the Vallejo thinner will work.  Want to thin GW paints?  Its all water soluble acrylic, so any acrylic thinner or water should work, shouldn’t it?  Well, it won’t always, and you’ll to spend time and effort experimenting. If you stick within a range, it’ll be safer, though might be dearer.

Want to use cheap distilled water to thin?  That’ll normally work just fine.  Once in a while, you’ll find the pigment doesn’t move right, and you need to use a mix of water and medium or thinner.  Again, it’ll cost you time and effort – you’ll learn loads, and not make the mistake in future, but you have to weigh up a cost of time against money.

If you have the money, and are time poor, invest in airbrush paints, invest in thinners and varnishes and medium (and maybe even cleaner) from the same ranges, and you’ll get consistent, comparatively easy results.  If you are time rich and cash poor, spending the time to experiment is going to be much better for you in the long run.

Take your goals into account too.  If basecoating and simple work is as far as you want to go, you aren’t going to need more than an introductory brush, or at most a workhorse brush like the Iwata Eclipse.  If you want to start doing detail work, you’ll probably need to spend a lot more on an airbrush with amazing control … and you’ll need a very small nozzle and needle, and that’ll mean definitely using airbrush grade paints to avoid clogs.  The more involved the work is, the more you’ll need to spend to get good results.

If you want easy win stencils, you can quickly pay a company for them, or you can look at techniques and methods of making your own.  Making your own will be more flexible in the long run, and probably be cheaper.  It’ll also take a lot more time, and probably more experimentation.  Again, its ease against cost.

Summary

Talking to people you trust (and that might be messaging on Facebook, tweeting on twitter or going for a beer) is going to get you to a solution you feel comfortable with.  Articles like these give you information and options, but you need to understand what you want to invest (in terms of money and time) and what you want to get out of using an airbrush (in terms of what level of detail you want to reach with it one day).  Thats really the key!

Getting Started with Airbrushing! Bonus extras (Part 3)

Well, in the first two posts, we’ve covered the bare essentials and the stuff that will make a real difference to you on a regular basis.  But it doesn’t stop there!  There are even more things you can buy for airbrushing that are sort of bonus extras.  Now, some of these may be essential depending on your style of painting.  Others will be pointless.  In general, though, for a beginning user of an airbrush, like my good self, they really aren’t needed.

Quick Release Valves

You can fit quick release valves onto your airbrush.  These basically are designed to let you pop an airbrush off the pipe without losing the pressure in your tank, and let you plug a new airbrush in super quickly.  If you are a hardcore painter with multiple airbrushes, this is kind of essential.  If you are hitting lots of clogs and need to clean your brush by hand lots, its really useful.  If you are a new airbrush user with one brush who is cleaning the pot regularly, its really not needed.  They aren’t dear, coming in at < £10.

Extra Moisture Traps

Most modern larger compressors have an integral moisture trap to try and minimise any droplets of water entering the compressed air stream from the air.  Additional bits of unpurified water can bugger your airflow and also build up mineral deposits in the brush.  If you are getting unusual clots with well thinned airbrush grade paint, this could well be the cause.  If you have a fairly humid climate (like airbrushing while its raining outside … so anyone in the UK) its probably worthwhile – and I’d go as far as essential if you have a small compressor without one.  If you do get one, though – remember to include it in part of your cleaning routine and empty the thing!  They tend to come in a £2 to £5, so won’t break the bank.

EDIT – one suggestion, if your booth is pretty static indoors, is to invest in a dehumidifier rather than worry about a moisture trap.  If the air is dry, you won’t get any water issues with the compressor, and its better for mixing and storing paints in the room too.  A good dehumidifier is pretty expensive though, so I think this may be more for someone who does a LOT of airbrushing indoors rather than a beginner.  Unless its a beginner with lots of money.  In which case, jealous!  If you do go for a dehumidifier, though, don’t forget to empty it regularly, and to replace the desiccant if you haven’t gone for a refrigeration variant.

Nylon Brush Sets for Cleaning

Honestly, I think if you are doing adequate regular cleaning with a good cleaner, and are disciplined enough to clean while paint is wet, you shouldn’t need these.  The second most damage to airbrushes comes from sticking this sort of thing down the nozzle (the first seems to be breaking the nozzle or stripping the threads when removing the needle for cleaning by over tightening or using the wrench wrong).  They aren’t dear, but honestly – I’d wait until you absolutely have to do a deep deep clean before you look at anything like this.

An Apron

Sounds silly, right?  If you have limited time, like me, and don’t fancy having to change into disposable clothes to use your brush, its really useful!  With an airbrush, you are likely to get paint flecks on your t-shirts and possible your trousers.  Chuck a cheap apron on, and you are a bit less likely to be replacing your wardrobe every two minutes.  If you have hobby clothes for painting anyway, you really don’t need this, but it comes in useful if you need to do a little bit here and there.

Old sheets/Rugs/Tarps

OK, you have your booth set up inside!  Thats great!  However…. you may occasionally have the odd accident, or paint particles escape because you forgot to turn the extractor on at first, or … you get the idea.  Putting down an old sheet, or mat, around the booth to catch those accidents?  Well, you don’t have to, especially if you re setting up somewhere like a garage, or just using the airbrush outside.  If you are setting up inside, and are a married person like me?  This may save vital organs and relationships!

Stencils

Once you have your airbrush, you need to do things with it!  It’s quite nice to have some easy wins, and airbrush work could be tailor made for larger pieces like terrain or tanks.  You can get some awesome stencils to do airbrush effect, or put numbers on tanks.  It can be a good way to get easy wins for your new hobby tool!  There are huge numbers of stencils available, but they aren’t always cheap – take a look at this selection at Dark Sphere.  Do you need stencils?  No.  But they can help achieve specific effects easily – I’m looking at some of the hex stencils for basing my infinity squads, for example.  If you are struggling to get real use out of your airbrush, these may be just what you need.  Flame effects?  Dragon scales?  Diamonds on Harlequin vehicles?  All easier with stencils and some practice.

Masking stuff

There are lots of options to mask bits of a model you DON’T want to spray.  There are various paint on masking liquids that dry and let you peel off for precise work. Tamiya do ranges of masking tape in loads of different widths, and if you are happy to cut stuff to size, you can pick up masking tape direct cheap from DIY stores. Don’t forget the easy option of blu-tac as a quick flexible option!

EDIT – one suggestion for something is magic putty!  Not as sticky as blu-tac and and not as easy to pick up, but naturally goes into great curves and shapes for spraying camo patterns.

Clips, Pegs, Stands

To spray stuff well, you’ll need to hold them.  Wooden pegs, cheap plastic clips (like washing line clothes pegs) or surgical scissors can all work, as can rotating Tamiya stands.  You’ll need something to get the best coverage on your minis!  This is larger a matter of individual taste, how heavy the minis you are painting are, and how far you want you hand to be from the paint!  This really doesn’t need to be dear – most booths come with a small rotating stand that might do the trick for you.  One useful trick to hold small items like shoulder pads in place on the booth is to use cheap double sided sticky tape.

Mixing pots (EDIT – a great new suggestion)

Airbrushes, especially gravity fed ones, use tiny amounts of paint.  Its really useful to be able to mix up and store larger amounts sometimes.  There are lots of options – cheap plastic shot glasses, cheap dropper bottles, or jello shot glasses – the latter come with lids so are better for storing paint than normal shot glasses, and are really wide which can be useful for brush work for touch ups.  Any of these will work, and really aren’t too dear!

Fluid Retarder/Slow Dry (EDIT – oops, missed this!)

Not as essential for airbrushing as thinners and cleaners, but its often really useful to use a fluid retarder in your mix.  Why?  Well it stops the fluid getting grainy over the course of a longer session as it dries (particularly true with Tamiya acrylics, apparently), and it means the paint in your brush stays wet longer, which is a godsend for cleaning it out!   It also means you are a heck of a lot less likely to get clogging too!  Its not essential, but a good bonus item to look into!

Getting Started with Airbrushing! Very useful tools to invest in (Part 2)

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!

Airbrush Cleaner

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.

Paints!

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.

Pipettes!

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!

Cotton buds!

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.

Gloves

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!

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.