Lets get started with …. Age of Sigmar

A few people have said that they’d like to give Age of Sigmar a try, but starting from scratch with the game is a bit daunting.  4 pages of rules sounds great … but that means you just have 4 pages of rules, without all the examples and pictures you often have in a full rules book to help ease people in … and to be honest, while I love Games Workshop games, they aren’t great at being able to pick up and play.  They are a bit more aimed at gamers of previous editions or other games who can take some of the basics for granted, or for store demos (and sometimes the massive enthusiasm of the staff can be a bit daunting).

I’m not a big AoS player, which in some ways helps putting this sort of guide together!  I take less for granted, and I still double check the rules in the same way another new player does.

Now, before we get started, I think I need to say what we AREN’T going to cover!  That may sound a bit counter-intuitive, but if you are here to find out about X, Y and Z, and I’m not covering Y and Z, lets not waste time!

This is a genuinely simple introduction to the core mechanics of the game.  its not going to cover things like points values and how to pick armies. Its not going to cover deployment for missions in any sort of depth.  Its not going to cover multiple units and how bonuses and buff can add synergy.  Its all about understanding the basic rules of the game.

Its going to go through a basic turn with a single, iconic model on each side.  Those models are going to be limited to close combat types, not ranged weaponry too.  

What do we need

So where do we start?  First, lets make sure we have enough basics for a demo!  Well, a few miniatures, some normal, six sided dice, a tape measure , and at a bare minimum, you’ll obviously need the free rules!  You can find the free rules and the original war scrolls for the WFB armies here:

https://www.games-workshop.com/en-GB/Warhammer-Age-of-Sigmar-Rules

Now, the introductory war scrolls were a bit of a silly farewell to WFB.  They have some odd rules and aren’t tremendously well  balanced compared to the newer forces like Bloodhound, Stormcast, Ironjawz Orruks, and so on. Ignore them and just grab the free rules!  We’ll look at a very simple turn with a single Stormcast and a single Bloodbound- models available in the standard starter sets and are pretty straightforward.

We’ll look at a Stormcast Liberator – one of the iconic chaps with a hammer and shield.  

You can find the rules for them in a free PDF here:

Click here for your free PDF download

As a note, you can pick up these lads in a snap fit 3 for £10 box, in the Storm of Sigmar mini starter, in the £75 Age of Sigmar box, or get one free in with the “get started with Age of Sigmar” magazine.

As his opponent, we’ll look at a Blood Warrior!  The counterpart of the Stormcast, imbued with the power of the dark gods.

You can find the rules for them in a PDF here

Click here for your free PDF download

As a note, you can also pick up these lads in a snap fit 3 for £10 box, in the Storm of Sigmar mini starter at £20, and in the £75 Age of Sigmar box, so its a good set of rules to know to begin!

War scrolls

Before we start going through the rules, lets take a look at one of these war scrolls.

Lets break down how these war scrolls work.  Some of it might not make too much sense right now until we start playing and go through the main rules, but if we know this stuff, the rules themselves make much more sense, and looking at models on the GW site makes more sense in terms of their effectiveness.  We have to start somewhere.

At the top of the war scroll, it has the name of the unit, followed by a quick description of what the unit are like in the fictional Age of Sigmar universe.  It doesn’t have any impact on the game directly, but I get very excited about this sort of thing – I like the stories we tell with the game, and these fictional elements bring it to life – you’ll often hear this referred to as the “fluff”!

Now, lets look at the information inside the black circle.  This is all the key information that describes how these models are going to behave on the battlefield, regardless of what weapons they have.  These statistics (or stats) are an abstract way of describing how strong, how tough, how well armoured, how fast, and how courageous they are.

  • Move is how far the model can move each turn in inches.  You’ll need a ruler or a tape measure for this – you can get quite ornate measuring tools in the game, but a basic tape measure is fine.  In this case, the model can move 5 inches a turn as standard.
  • Save is a representation of how well armoured the model is.  In this case, the model is pretty well armoured, and the stat is “4+”.  Where you see a + after a number like this, it refers to a dice roll on normal six sided dice, the same you’d roll for monopoly, risk, or snakes and ladders.  A “4+” means you need to roll a 4 or more.  For a save, that means if you roll a 4 or more after your model has taken a hit, he can ignore it!  The armour “saved” him.
  • Wounds are a representation of just how tough the model is.  How many times can they take a hit from an enemy that their armour hasn’t absorbed?  In this case, the blood warrior is a tough cookie, able to take two lethal hits through his heavy armour before he collapses.
  • Bravery represents the morale of the unit of troops, really.  How likely are the troops likely to run away if a battle isn’t going there way?  How likely will they be to hold their ground if a terrifying demon approaches?  In this case, the value is 6 – we’ll cover how effective this in later in the rules.

Now that covers all the more passive stats – they only affect the model.  How does the model interact with other models on the battlefield?  Well, its a battle!  With their weapons!  To the right of the black box you can see a section listing the weapons available to the models in the unit.  In this case, there are just Melee (or close combat) Weapons.  Our Blood Warrior has a Goreaxe.  Incidentally, if the names like Blood Warrior, Goreaxe and so on are putting you off already, I’d give up right now.  That sort of motif runs through the entire game! 

The Goreaxe has a range of 1″, meaning you need to get your model within 1″ of the enemy model to be able to hit them!  In the basic game, we measure from the actual model itself and bases are just decorative.  Because of all the time and effort people put into making the models though, you’ll find a common rule for courtesy is to do all measurements base to base – thats particularly true for tournament play, and is mentioned in the General’s Handbook which covers all the more detailed ways to balance armies and play more competitively.

Our Blood Warrior has 2 attacks with the Goreaxe, so he’ll get 2 chances to deliver a hit.  

His roll to hit is a 3+, so with each of his 2 attacks, he’ll roll a dice and hope for a 3 or better!  You can think of this as his skill with the weapon – is he accurate enough to land a blow on the enemy in the confusing ebb and flow of a battle?  Whenever you see a dice roll (indicated by the +), remember that the lower the number, the better the statistic, as you need to roll that number or better.  You have 5 chances to roll a 2+ – 2,3,4,5 and 6.  You only have 1 chance to roll a 6+ – a 6!

His roll to wound is 4+ – you can think of this simulating his strength with the cursed axe.  He’s landed a blow past the enemy defense, but can it cause some damage or is it just a glancing blow?

Rend is a interesting one.  Some weapons are naturally better at tearing through armour than others (or rending it apart).  The Goreaxe doesn’t have a value here – it doesn’t affect the armour save. This value is what we call a modifier, though, and you’ll see it as as something like a +1 or -1.  If the + or – is in FRONT of a number, its a modifier, and we add or subtract the number from another dice roll.  If you look at the Goreglaive (a special weapon for one man in a whole unit of these blood warriors), it has a value of -1.  Any successful wounds caused by this weapon mean the enemy’s armour save to avoid them has one subtracted from the dice.  Remember our Blood Warrior had an armour save of 4+?  Normally that means roll a 4 or more.  If he was hit by a Goreglaive, though, he takes one off his dice roll, so a roll of four would only have a value of 3 – it wouldn’t be enough!  As you can image, the bigger the negative value for rend, the worse the enemies chances of making an armour save are!

Finally, we have a Damage statistic – this is the number of wounds that the weapon causes after a successful hit and roll to wound.  The Goreaxe will cause one wound, which is pretty standard.  Only really big or magical weapons generally do more than that.

You are probably starting to get a little feel for the rules already as we are going through these stats!  You know we’ll be measuring in inches to see how far the model moves, and you’ve got a feel for how when combat starts, we roll a number of times based on the number of attacks to see if you hit.  Depending on the number of times you’ve hit, you roll to wound.  Each successful roll to wound causes the a number of wounds based on the damage statistic.  And your opponent gets to try to save those wounds by rolling his armour saves.  You may not hit at all!  You might cause 2 wounds, and they may both be saved – or you might cause 2 wounds and cut down your opponent easily!

Its going to feel very random for this one on one example.  As you play with bigger and bigger numbers, though, the randomness isn’t as much of a factor.  If you have 10 blood warriors in a unit in battle against 10 stormcast, you’ll roll 20 rolls to hit.  Statistically, the 3+ dice roll to hit will mean you’ll generally see around 66% of those pay off – around 12 or 13.  It doesn’t mean you can’t be lucky or unlucky, just that the odds are much more in favour of the numbers coming out around the averages when you make more rolls.  With just 2 dice, its pretty easy to get a couple of low or high rolls!

Now, we’ve actually covered all the basic statistics on the war scroll that you’ll see again and again.  How they move, how armoured they are, what weaponry they have.  But that’s not the whole story.  A wizard may have no armour save at all.  He may have nothing but a dagger as a weapon.  But his special abilities may be more potent than 10 blood warriors!  We need to look at the smaller text under the main stats to see what really unique things this unit can do.

You’ll usually see a Description entry as the first thing under the main stats.  This is rather important, as it isn’t the fluffy description like the one under the top of the page – rather, it describes how we can field this unit.  How many models can it include, which of the weapons listed can they have, and in what numbers.  In this case, it says we should field 5 or more blood warriors, 1 in ten can carry a goreglaive, and the unit can either have 2 goreaxes or a goreaxe and gorefist.

Its particularly important to pay attention to the description field when putting your models together.  If you assemble 10 blood warriors with 2 gore glaives, for example, you aren’t going to have a valid unit – you can only have one gore glaive for every 10 warriors.  Its probably to too much of an issue with mates or if you just want to paint them … but if you want to play a game in a tournament, or just a pickup game in a GW, having a “legal” army stops a  lot of problems.

In a classic moment of “do what I say, not what I do” though, I’m going to ignore the description field in this example.  I’m going to go through things with a single warrior on each, not the minimum 5 blood warriors, for example! 

The Chaos Champion and Icon Bearer entries are pretty specific to the followers of chaos.  You’ll usually see an entry for a leader of the unit (the Chaos Champion in this case), and any special rules like different weapons – its most common that they will get an extra attack.  The chaos champion would get 3 attacks, not 2 like a normal blood warrior.  You often see an entry for some sort of standard bearer option (or Icon Bearer in the case of Chaos), and if you have a standard, it normally makes your troops a little braver – you add one to the units bravery statistic if you have an Icon Bearer and he’s still alive!

There is then an Abilities section, and this is the stuff that really makes a unit unique and gives it its own character.  In the case of blood warriors, that unique character is those of frothing lunatics like norse berserkers … and their abilities reflect that!  No Respite means that if an enemy unit has attacked and killed one of your men … he hangs on long enough to have a go attacking back before falling dead on the ground.  If the blood warriors are armed with a Goreaxe in both hands, they get to roll again if they roll a one to hit.  It’s worth noting on that sort of roll again bonus, you only get one roll again – if you roll a 1 the second time, its just a fail – you don’t get to keep rolling again!  Otherwise games could go on with nothing but rerolls forever! Finally, (and this one is how our lad is kitted out), if you have a gorefist you do something a bit odd when you make your saving throws -for each saving throw you make, you roll another dice!  on a roll of a 6, you cause a “mortal wound” back (as long as the enemy are close enough, and not shooting you with bows or something).  Mortal wounds are a bit brutal – you don’t make hit, wound or saving throws for mortal wounds!  They just cause damage!

OK!  We’ve almost covered the whole Warscroll!  There is one more entry, which are “Keywords”.  For a one on one battle like this, Keywords don’t make much difference.  Often Abilities rely on keywords though.  A blessed weapon might cause double damage against an enemy with the Daemon keyword, for example.  A Chaos Lord might inspire all those with the Chaos Keyword within 6″.  For a particular scenario, you might only be able to pick chaos forces with Khorne as a keyword.  Often keywords are used to help build forces that match the narrative particularly well.  That’s beyond the scope of this introduction though!

Lets start a game!

OK, lets look at the free rules now, and kick something off!  The first page is all about setting up a bigger game, and covers setting up the table (without much exact guidance).  We’re going to run a very small table for our two lads -24″x24″ , and not worry too much about the rules for terrain or cover.  A big game is normally done on a table that is 4′ x 6′ – the free rules say that it can be any size, and the amount of scenery doesn’t matter, but it will actually alter the game dynamics quite a lot.  If you use a smaller table, you are making it much harder for troops with bows to make more of an impact.  If you have no terrain, you can’t hide from ranged weapons.  If you have lots of terrain, its hard to actually shoot things at a distance.  A smaller table also means fast troops can get into combat quickly, but it also makes it harder for fragile fast troops to avoid getting caught by slower enemy troops as they have no where to run.  That’s where you need to start looking at more advanced tutorials and looking to see how seasoned veterans set up their tables.

In this case, we want a simple example and we have 2 close combat chaps who want to get stuck in!  So we make it simple and ignore the first full page of rules!  Onto deployment!

Deployment

Deployment is easy in this case!  Both players roll a dice.  As an example, I rolled a 1 for the stormcast, and a 5 for my Blood Warrior!  The blood warrior divides the table into two halves, and then the stormcast picks their half.  Its a nice way of avoiding the terrain favouring people – if you pick a very biased split for the two sides, you opponent will pick the better half!  With a barren 24″ x 24″ table, though, it doesn’t really matter!

The Blood Warrior deploys his one model first, at least 12″ away from his opponents side of the table in theory.  Of course, that wouldn’t give us any room at all on our small table, so we’ll make it 8″ for the demo.

The stormcast then deploys his one model in his side of the table, again officially 12″ away from his opponents side of the table (so there should be a total 2′ buffer in the middle).   In our smaller game, we’ll have a 16″ buffer.  Both lads are setting up as close to the middle as possible!  They want to get stuck in.

As a note, you deploy troops unit by unit, until you don’t have any more units to deploy!  All models in a unit have to stay within 1″ of each other.

Technically, you now pick your general!  The general gains a special ability to inspire others around him, and it can activate certain general abilities on the war scroll.  Killing the enemy general is one method Age of Sigmar can use to balance otherwise unfair games too.  In this case, with one man each side, we’re going to ignore generals.

Battle Rounds!

Each Battle Round comprises of a turn for the first player, and a turn for the second player.  Unlike many games, it isn’t always player 1, then player 2.  At the start of most Battle Rounds, you roll a dice each, and roll again if its a draw.  The highest roll decides who will get to go first. If you want a mostly close combat enemy to advance into bow range, for example, you may choose to go second!

For the very first turn of the game, the player that finished setting up first (the blood bound in this case), gets to choose whether to go second or first. This is a really neat idea – it means a small elite army who has finished deploying earlier gets to choose how the game starts, and makes up for being out positioned by the chap with loads of units in his army.

There are six phases to each players turn in age of sigmar.  

  1. Hero Phase! This is for the really funky bits that your uber heroes and generals can do.  Inspire troops, cast spells, that sort of awesome stuff.  We have two basic troops, so the hero phase won’t be a worry for us.
  2. Movement Phase!  We’re happy with this!  The player gets to move unit by unit up to the move value on their war scroll.  Each model in the unit can move up to that distance, and has to be within 1″ of each other in the same unit.  For both of our guys, that’s 5″ and they don’t have any mates in their units to have to stay near.  Simple!  If you aren’t going to shoot or try to charge into close combat, though, you can run here instead – you roll a dice, and add that many inches to your move this turn.  If you do run, thats it!  Your chap can’t do anything else.  You can’t move within 3″ of the enemy unless you are charging.  If you start within 3″ of the enemy, you can either stay where you are, or retreat – its like a run move in that you can’t do anything else if you bugger off!
  3. Shooting Phase!  Not a problem for us, as we don’t have any ranged weapons!  If they did, you can fire weapons model by model at the targets of their choice.  The whole unit doesn’t have to fire at the same thing, so you can pick and choose your targets.  You don’t have to split your fire though!  Crush your enemies tactically!
  4. The Charge Phase!  This is where you can try to charge a unit into combat at a unit within 12″.  You get to roll 2 dice (known as 2d6), and add up the total to find out how far you can run.  The first model you move has to be able to get within 1/2″ (thats a half inch) of the enemy, or the charge has failed, and the unit can’t move at all.  Units within 3″ of the enemy are locked in combat already and can’t charge anyone!  As mentioned already, units that ran or retreated can’t charge either.  Once you have decided to charge all of your eligible units, its over!
  5. The Combat Phase!  This is really a bit odd in how it works, so I’ll cover this when we get to it in our demo!
  6. Battleshock Phase!  This won’t be a problem for us!  Essentially, we roll a dice, and add one for every person killed in that unit this turn (in both the shooting and combat phases) – lets say 7 people had died, and we roll a 6, for a total of 13.  If we had a 10 man unit of blood warriors (now down to 3), with our bravery of 6, there is a difference of 7 – so another 7 people run off in terror (and are removed as if dead!).  As there are only 3 left, the unit would be gone!  Big hordes of units like goblins add 1 to their bravery for every 10 men left – so if they lost 3 men from a unit of 60 (leaving 57), they’d add 5 to their bravery value.  Its all a bit mathematics for this, but its actually pretty easy, and generally its not a worry for most units unless they lose more than 2 or 3 men or roll 5 or 6s on the dice.  Its not a problem for us as with one person on each side, if we lose a person, its game over!  No testing morale in the gladiator pit!  To the death!

One note on the battleshock phase – all units who lost men that turn have to test on BOTH sides.  Not just the current player.

The Combat Phase

I’me covering the combat phase separately, because its a bit weird, to be honest.  You move troops.  Both players get a go, even in the other players turn!  Its generally the hardest phase to get your head around, though it’ll be easy in our example with only one combat to deal with.

Basically, the player whose turn it is picks a unit within 3″ of the enemy.  They may have just charged in there, or it might be a combat lingering on from a previous round.  He can move each model in that unit up to 3″ towards the closest enemy model.  He then picks targets for each of his models.  This is a bit tricky.  You aren’t too worried about picking individual models as wounds are allocated to units as a whole, but if there are different enemy units – like a hero and some troops within your melee weapon range (1″ for our example lads), you can choose who to attack, or even split your attacks if you have more than one.  Once each model’s attacks have been allocated, you can start rolling the dice for each set of attacks.  We covered the process when we looked at the war scrolls – roll all the hit rolls for each type of weapon to find out how many hit.  roll all the wound rolls to find out how many cause damage.  look at the damage rating for the weapons that wounded to find out how many wounds have caused.  The other player then makes armour saves for those wounds (with any rend modifiers for the weapons)!    Wounds are then allocated to a model by the player commanding the target unit.  Once that model is dead, he starts assigning wounds to the next model in the unit, if any are left.  Wounds have to be assigned first to an already wounded member of the unit.  Phew!

Now comes the tricky bit!  The second player picks a unit within 3″ of the enemy to attack back!  That might be the unit the first player just battered … but it might not!  It might be another encounter entirely, where player 2 is getting the jump on his enemy.  It can make the combat phase very tactical, as your choices determine the order of strikes.  Some players absolutely adore this – it lets them make the decisions on who to sacrifice and who to prioritise.

After that attack, it goes back to player 1, and so on, until all the eligible units have attacked.  At that point, the turn is over!

One quirk we haven’t covered, and doesn’t apply to our example game – if you have a unit already in terrain, you often get a +1 bonus to armour saves.  They are hunkered down, defending a wall or behind trees.  Defending a fixed point is a definite advantage, and can be worth staying put rather than hurtling forward!

One note – while shooting happens every player turn if in range, effectively once close combat starts it happens in both the player turn and the other player turn as well!  The hurly burly of melee is lethal, and you’ll find lots of casualties.

Example Game!

Right!  Lets finally start our example game, if you’ve managed to stick with me!

Battle Round 1 – Blood Warrior turn!

The Blood Warrior had deployed first, so he gets the choice of whether to go first and second. Given the close combat nature of the two, and the distance, the smart move would be to pick second.  He’s a frothing maniac though, and so its the player – he’s going to go first and try to chance a long distant charge!

Hero Phase – doesn’t apply!

Move phase – our Blood Warrior moves his maximum 5″ straight towards the Stormcast.  We deployed 16″ apart (and you can now see the reason for the standard 24″ buffer!) so that means he’s in a potential charge range of 11″!  Its a long shot, but possible, as the 2 dice rolled for a charge give a range of 2-12″.

Shooting phase – doesn’t apply

Charge phase – praying to Khorne, the blood warrior rolls the dice, and gets a mighty 10″.  That’s good, but not good enough – he’d still be an inch away, not within the half inch needed!  He doesn’t move any further.

Combat phase – no units are within 3″ of each other.  No combat!

Battleshock phase – no casualties, no battle shock!

I’ll skip mentioning the irrelevant phases going forward, but remember them for your own bigger trial games.

Battle Round 1 – Stormcast Turn

Move Phase – equally eager, the stormcast moves 5″ straight at his enemy!

Charge Phase – The stormcast prays to sigmar, but doesn’t roll as high as the Blood Warrior did, getting a 7.  However, he’s 5″ closer – only 6″ away now!  That lets him charge within the needed 1/2″

Combat Phase (Stormcast) – The stormcast has only one unit to pick, so he selects his newly charged liberator.  He has 2 attacks, needing a 4+ to hit with his warhammer … and gets a 4 and a 5!  2 hits!   

He now needs to roll to wound.  As he got 2 hits, he rolls twice, needing a 3+ with his warhammer … and gets a 1 and a 5 – that causes 1 wound with a warhammer. 

The Blood Warrior rolls his armour save, and gets a 4!  He passes!  And as he made a saving throw, he gets to test his gorefist special ability.  He rolls a dice, and gets a 6!  The stormcast suffers a mortal wound, taking damage without any chance of a save!  First blood to Khorne!

Combat Phase (Blood Warrior) – the Blood warrior player can now pick a unit to strike back, and obviously only has the one choice!  He needs a 3+ to hit, and rolls a 2 and a 6!  Thats one hit!  He now rolls to damage, needing a 4+ and gets a 5!  Thats a wound!  It’ll finish the stormcast if he doesn’t pass his saving throw!

The stormcast rolls his save … and gets a 1!   Its all over … except for the Liberator special ability with the shield.  He can reroll armour saves of 1!  And when he rolls again …. he gets a 6!  He’s OK this turn!

Battle Round 2

We now have to see who gets the choice of first and second turn this battle round.  The Blood Warrior player gets a 5!  But the Stormcast player gets a 6!  He chooses (unsurprisingly!) to go first!

Battle Round 2 – Stormcast Turn

Move – the players are locked in combat within 3″.  Unless one side retreats, moving is not an option!

Charge – again, in combat!  No charging!

Combat (Stormcast) – With only one option, the stormcast player picks his liberator.  The two models are right next to each other, so no pile in moves of 3″ needed.  The stormcast needs 4+ to hit … and gets a 4 and a 6 with his 2 attacks!  He now needs 3+ to wound with his warhammer … and gets a 3 and a 5! Two wounds!

The Blood warrior still has two wounds, so only needs to make a single save to strike back … and if lucky with the gorefist might even finish the stormcast now.   But he rolls a 2 and a 3!  Two wounds!  It finishes him!  The battle is over!

Conclusion

I hope you have a feel for the game, enough so the rules and war scrolls make a bit more sense.  The game is pretty straightforward – the complexity builds as you add more and more troops with abilities that start to interact.  A wizard might be able to cast a spell that adds a bonus that stacks with a bonus from a nearby hero, turning run of the mill troops into legends.  But if you get the basics understood, it all makes more and more sense, and expanding into more complex narrative and matched play games makes sense too.

Painting 101 – Lesson 0 – Picking the models – Practical!

Well, I’m 2 theoreticals in, and not actually made any start at all.  In honour of a hopeful Easter hobby weekend though, I am making a mini start (pun intended), and picking some models to illustrate the concepts I’m discussing.  the final goal is to paint Roboute Guilleman, so that’s one model, but what will our practice ones be?

I’m actually going to do 10 models (including the primarch) in total, but here’s the twist for the other 9.  I’m going to do three more models, but I’m going to do them three times each in different styles to match different armies and concepts.

First off, I’m going to do the plastic Inquisitor Greyfax from the first Triumvirate.  I’m also going to do 2 metal female inquisitors, which I see as similar models in lineage, Greyfax being their spiritual successor.  I’m going to do the armour on all three in the silver and gold of the Greyfax box art, but the robes on the metal Inquisitors will match the 2 armies of sisters of battle I own – green and white respectively.

Second, I’m going to do Canoness Viridya in Resin thrice over.  One version will be an attempt to match the box art/blanche artwork, while the other two will match my sisters armies with white and green on one, and silver and white on the other.

Finally, I’m going to do a new plastic Cypher, as well as two metal Cyphers.  A plastic and metal one will be done to GW imagery, but then the third will be done with a touch more work and made to look like his Inquisitor persona.  I’m thinking I might go silver and gold armour rather than black, and replace the skulls and DA imagery with Inquisition icons.

So why am I doing this?  It should illustrate resin, metal and plastic minis.  It should highlight differences and similarities working with the different models, and show different outcomes to similar starting points!  And the range of techniques should help us prep for the big guy as the finale!

I’m going to revisit this post with some illustrative photos of the models in question, so do check back!

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.