Airbrushing Accessories

So, you’ve found a compressor and decided which airbrush you want to start with.  Excellent, you’re half way done.  You still must think about what else you will need to use it, such as:

  • Safety
  • Cleaning
  • Thinning
  • Primers and Paints
  • Skill

Safety

This guide will cover safety broadly.  There are mixed reports about what is and isn’t toxic, and what you can and can’t breathe specifically.  Some paints contain cadmium; other cleaners are highly toxic.  Choosing which chemicals to sniff is not in my interest.  I do not use a mask all the time, but breathing in any particulate will not be great for your health.  Beyond that, you also need to protect yourself from your loved ones, who will be mighty unpleased if you overspray your primer all over their treasured belongings.

Spray Booth

Probably my favourite accessory is the spray booth.  It isn’t essential in a lot of circumstances, for example well-ventilated areas where overspray isn’t a big concern, but in my confined quarters, it is very noticeable when the hood isn’t extracting.

Much like HS Eng compressors, Masters has rebranded and released the Spray Booth in the US for $90.  There are a few different styles, some do not have the extraction duct (incidentally, do not use it like the picture or you will simply spray paint your own face), and some come with LED lighting.  The duct is essential.  The attachment on the end lets you route it out through a crack in the window, or you can remove it and exhaust it straight into a cardboard box.  The LED lighting is detrimental; it is often tinted blue, meaning you might see what you’re spraying, but you won’t be able to tell if the colour is right.  If you are exhausting the waste air and paint somewhere disposable, you can also remove the filter for better airflow.

There is another simpler option available, which will help with the overspray, but not with the exhaust.  Available on Amazon for around $0.50

Gloves

Do you want to show up to work tomorrow and have to explain to everyone why your hand is blue?  I sure don’t.  While they aren’t necessary, they are useful.

Any latex or nitrile gloves will do, as you won’t be shooting a lot of super toxic stuff through the brush (that will hit your hand).  Amazon has a box of 100 for $10, which will last you for a solid 6 months (depending on how much you’re painting, obviously).

Masks

Masks are trickier.  You don’t want the absolute cheapest ones available as they simply won’t work, but they aren’t something I would spend huge amounts of money on.  They also last forever, so a simple pack of 5 for $6 will last a long time.

If you are doing extensive spraying in an enclosed environment or using lacquer based paints, put on a mask.  It can be concerning when you blow a rainbow of colours out of your nose after extended painting sessions.

Cleaning

Welcome to the real hobby of airbrushing.  Cleaning and maintenance will be more than half of the time you willspend with your airbrush in your first year.  This isn’t a joke; cleaning your airbrush will be the difference between you painting and having endless problems.

Picks

The below image is the search result you will get for “Airbrush Cleaning Kit”.  This is absolutely NOT what you want.

Why?  The brushes on the left have jagged barbs on the end, which will scratch the coating off the airbrush cup.  They are also too big and rigid to do anything useful.  The things on the right are equally useless.

This is the set you want, available from Amazon or eBay for around $10.  The big needle on the left will get into your nozzle and clean it out; the 3 brushes are soft and will get out everything else.  They will clean the cup and the nozzle, with no real chance of damaging the airbrush (assuming you are somewhat gentle; you can break the nozzle with that cleaning needle).

Cleaning Solution

Maintenance of your airbrush is a separate topic, but regardless of which way you go about it, you will need a good cleaning solution.  Many paint manufacturers make their own, or you can use common household cleaners (you should*).

Isopropyl Alcohol (Isopropanol, IPA) is a good cleaner for airbrushes, as it won’t damage the coating of the metal, and is mostly safe for the seals.  IPA is also known as Acetone Free Nail-Polish Remover.  Get the cheapest and purest stuff you can.

Ammonia Free Window Cleaner is another one that people turn to, as is the Vallejo airbrush cleaner.  Both are simply a weakened ethanol derivative, the same active ingredient as Simple Green, 2-butoxyethanol.  Get whichever you can find that is cheapest, there is no need for brand name ethanol.

Acetone is amazing, but unless you have PTFE seals and a good electroplated surface on your airbrush (such as in the CRPlus versions in Harder & Steenbeck brushes) you will damage your brush.

Cleaning Pot

You need something to eject paint into while rinsing, and the dedicated cleaning pots are well-priced.  These don’t work as well with the Badger Airbrushes due to their sizing, but they are still better than not having them.

Don’t get a brand name one; there is no point.  This is another Masters one at $14.

Thinning

If cleaning is the real activity in airbrushing, thinning is the bonus round.  Learning how to get your paint to flow properly comes from knowing how much to thin; it will determine how fast your airbrush will block.  It is a time consuming and downright annoying thing to learn, but once it clicks (and I guarantee it will), you will be in a MUCH better place with your airbrushing.

You can thin with water, alcohol (or household cleaners), specialist thinners, or a combination of mediums and thinners.

Water – I avoid this, simply because it doesn’t help with tip dry (which is the devil – it is the start of a blockage, which is now the bane of your painting).

Vallejo Thinner – This is the same chemical make-up of Vallejo Cleaner, so why not simply use window cleaner or simple green?

Isopropanol – I avoid this, as it can cause paints to thicken as it breaks the bond with the medium.

Make your own – There are products, like stop-dri and flow-aid (available at art stores), which, while good, are not a complete solution.  These mixed with some window cleaner can be fine.

I find it best to use whatever thinner is recommended by the paint manufacturer.  Vallejo, use Vallejo – Tamiya acrylic, use Tamiya x20a – Citadel, use Vallejo as they don’t make one.  Unlike cleaning, you want the thinning to go smoothly, because well thinned paint will stop blockages and give you longer run time with the brush.

Post cleaning and prep

You’ve cleaned your airbrush of paint and done a great job.  Now, you have a perfectly clean airbrush.  Great right?  Wrong.  You now have an airbrush that has had its oils removed, giving your paint the perfect surface to stick to.

Badger and Iwata both make a “Needle Juice”, which is bath oil of some description – experiment if you want to, but one bottle of either will last forever.  Iwata is about double the price of Badger.

After you have run cleaner through the brush, a few drops of needle juice, followed by water, will give you more precious time without tip dry.  It can also be a general lubricant throughout the airbrush on deeper cleans.

Primers and Paints

The focus of this advice is specifically on water-based acrylic paint.  There are numerous solvent based parts to the site, but acrylic paint provides a lot of advantages and is where our knowledge lies.

Primers

Primers have two primary jobs: to attach itself securely to the model and to provide a surface that paint can then attach itself to.  There are secondary benefits too, such as showing you where you missed a mold line or pre-shading/zenithal highlighting.

Acrylic primers are Badger Stynylrez and Vallejo Polyurethane Primer.  Both are cleaned with water (though require more cleaning through the airbrush), both are available in many colors, both are ready to be sprayed straight from the bottle, and both are fine to paint on with a brush.  However, both are intrinsically weak due to their chemical make-up and will provide no real strength for the paint to adhere to the model.  Vallejo is terrible for this, as it will simply lift right off.  What does this mean for you?  Well, when you get to masking models with tape, or even liquid mask, you might ruin a lot of previous work.  You cannot sand the primered models without lifting the primer itself – which is a problem if you find a mold line or want to smooth out a join.  For the vast majority of applications, both are fine – I recommend the Badger Stynylrez above the Vallejo PU Primer.

     

Solvent primers also exist and are very good.  Mr Surfacer is an amazing primer when mixed with Mr Leveling Thinner and goes through the airbrush beautifully.  It is super terrible to breathe though and will require a mask and high extraction.

        

To begin, just get an acrylic primer – if you are doing work on resin or metal or you are just super impatient, consider using a rattle can primer in those circumstances.

Paints

All paints can be airbrushed, but not all paints can be airbrushed without preparation.  Citadel Air, Vallejo Model Air, and Vallejo Game Air  can all be dropped straight into the airbrush cup and you spray immediately.  These are the easiest and fastest way to get started, as you need not worry about thinning and can instead worry about painting.

Other paints will need to be thinned, which is covered above.  What isn’t covered is the advantages of the bottles and pots.  Citadel/Games Workshop paints come in little pots, which is fine if you’re using a brush, but less fine if you’re using an airbrush.  There are two immediate options available – transfer all your GW air paints to dropper bottles, or use pipettes.

Skill

I wish I could link you to this to purchase, I’d buy it myself.  Skill with your airbrush comes with experience and looking after it  If you clean it well and don’t drop it, or put it in an ultrasonic fully assembled, you should get many trouble free years from your brush.

 

Plastic Glue

There are numerous different types of glue, and all have their uses.  This article aims to

Plastic Glue

Plastic glue slightly dissolves the opposite parts being joined, and welds the pieces together as it dries.  There are generally two types of plastic glue, thick and thin.  Thick plastic glue is useful for larger joints where you need a slightly longer working time, whereas thin plastic glue is better for a tiny dot to secure a small object – both can be used for either application.

Use (officially):

  1. Surfaces to be joined do not need to be pinned(*) or smoothed
  2. Apply a small drop of glue to one side
  3. Touch it to the other piece and remove
  4. Let the pieces sit for 10 seconds
  5. Touch pieces back together and hold for 20 seconds until set
  6. Wipe any squeeze-out off immediately

While the above is “The Proper Way”(*) to do things, it is absolutely not the only way.  Steps 3 and 4 are completely optional in practical application, use what works for you.

Pros:

  • Strongest joint
  • Good working time
  • Goes through paint(*!)
  • Doesn’t need smooth surfaces
  • Doesn’t need pinning

Cons:

  • Will mark any pieces of plastic it comes in contact with(*)
  • An unbreakable joint means that separation will require sawing/cutting
  • Can “string”(*) where melting plastic and glue creates strings that will blow onto different parts of the model causing damage
  • Squeeze out(*) can create an obvious change in the surface
  • Squeeze out over paint will dissolve the paint and be highly noticeable(*)
  • Does not work with resin or metal
  • Avoid using this(!2) on clear plastic canopies(*!)

Tips:

  • Going through paint means you do not need to worry about sub-assemblies (generally), there is nothing wrong with cleaning the areas to be glued though.
  • Clamps should be used carefully, as the glue can warp the pieces and make further assembly more difficult(*!)
  • Plastic glue can be used in conjunction with super glue(*) to reduce working time and clamping
  • There are different applicators available as well, brushes, bottle tips, and needles – all come down to personal preference

Brands:

There are numerous different brands of plastic glue

https://www.amazon.com/Revell-39604-Contacta-Professional-Glue/dp/B000KJPUL0

https://www.amazon.com/Testors-3507AT-Liquid-Plastic-1-Ounce/dp/B00005CA7S

https://www.amazon.com/Testors-3515CT-Clear-Parts-Cement-1oz/dp/B0006N6ZHS *

https://www.amazon.com/Testors-3509C-Plastic-Cement-Value/dp/B00JDMWVSU

https://www.amazon.com/Tamiya-87038-Extra-Thin-Cement/dp/B000BMYWYC

https://www.amazon.com/Tamiya-TAM87012-Plastic-Cement-20ml/dp/B002CDPZDK

https://www.amazon.com/NYA-Tamiya-Limonene-Cement-40ml/dp/B002TZ6K4Y

https://www.amazon.com/Tamiya-Paints-Finishes-Limonene-Version/dp/B00GB12WUS

https://www.amazon.com/Games-Workshop-Citadel-Plastic-Thick/dp/B004CDA3GC

https://www.amazon.com/Toys-Child-Plastic-Glue-Model/dp/B012W6AC34

https://www.amazon.com/HOBBY-Cement-Deluxe-SUPPLY-R6SG5EB-48Q20205/dp/B01H0NQZ8U

https://www.amazon.com/Creos-Gunze-MC129-Cement-Non-Corrosive/dp/B002DTDLUC

https://www.amazon.com/Just-One-Push-NET-2g-Gundam-Hobby/dp/B002DTDLWA

https://www.amazon.com/Mr-cement-Glue-Plastic-Model-23ml/dp/B000WI8VFQ

Beginning Airbrushing

To begin airbrushing, there are numerous things to be considered by the modeller, specifically;

  • Airbrush selection
  • Compressor selection
  • Other required items
  • Location / Noise / Safety

There are a few types of airbrushes available.  This page will only deal with the most relevant type for painting models.

Action

The “action” of the airbrush is how it provides the two basic elements, the air and the paint.  Single action airbrushes only give you control of the air, much like an aerosol can; you press the button, and paint comes out at full speed.  Dual action airbrushes allow you to select the amount of air, and more importantly the amount of paint that can flow past the needle.

You want a Dual Action airbrush

Needle size

The “needle size” of the brush will determine two things; how thin a line you can paint, and how quickly the nozzle will block.  There is a lot more to it, but ultra small needles (0.15mm) will not provide the novice airbrush user with anything that a 0.3mm brush doesn’t.  Very large needles will deliver a lot more paint, but remove the flexibility to do more fine detail work.  The needle sizes of two brands can’t be directly compared, a 0.35mm Iwata needle will perform more like a 0.22mm Badger needle, rather than a 0.33mm one – the size of the needle is not as relevant to the spray pattern as the taper of the nozzle itself.

There are also “2 in 1” kits, which allow you to swap the needle and the nozzle to give the airbrush a smaller (or larger) needle for fine detail work.  For the beginner, this isn’t necessary.

You want a needle size between 0.3mm and 0.5mm

Compressors

There are a few ways to get air moving through the brush, the most common being a compressor.  Shop compressors can be used with the correct fittings and pressure regulators, but so can compressed cylinders of air, or even compressed nitrogen (*).  Hobby compressors are the best step forward, of which there are two types: Tanked, and tankless.  A compressor without a tank gives Direct Delivery, meaning as the compressor “compresses” to generate the air, it will pulse the air out creating irregular patterns in spray.  A tank or reservoir will deliver relatively consistent pressure.  This may not seem like a lot, but any difficulty you can remove from airbrushing will greatly increase your chances of successfully using one.

Pictured above is the AS186 compressor from HSEng, one of the world’s most prolific compressors.  Master Airbrush has rebranded this and sells it for $100.

Sparmax has a similar model, which is slightly better but much more expensive.  Badger has rebranded one for $240.

Iwata makes a compressor with a tank too, but it is 4x the price.

You want a compressor with a tank, ignore brand names.

Price

How much you want to spend on your airbrushing setup will depend on how you begin.  Basic beginner setups can be had for as cheap as $56, where more flexible starter setups that allow you to grow more will run closer to $145.  Resale value on airbrushes is low, as people will not know how well you have taken care of them.

Airbrush Brand

On this page is a selection of brushes from the three main suppliers for hobby craft, Badger Airbrush Co, Iwata-Medea, and Harder & Steenbeck.  From each manufacturer, three brushes have been selected that are relatively equivalent to the other brands.

Brand selection doesn’t matter in any real sense; all the airbrush manufacturers listed produce quality products and support them excellently.  If there is any differentiator, it is your location and accessibility to manufacturer support and spare parts availability.

Not that you cannot get assistance from these companies outside of their native regions, but they are all similar to each other at the lower end, and will all provide you an excellent starter brush.

Badger Airbrush Co – The Americas

Badger airbrushes have been around for a long time, and are widely known as reliable workhorses.  They have a vast range of brushes to suit most applications, and are the cheapest of the big brands.  One special condition of note is that Badgers use a non-standard hose fitting, so get a converter if you need one to attach to your compressor.

Pros: Strong and reliable brushes, many 2 in 1 options available, excellent customer support, very cheap.
Cons: Weird air connector, rear feeding needle, no nozzle protection, non-standard in almost every way.

Basic Brush – Patriot 105 *Editor’s Choice*

  • 0.5mm needle
  • $75
  • Solid starter brush, robust and simple
  • The AK47 of airbrushes
Intermediate Brush – Renegade Krome

  • 0.22mm or 0.33mm (2 in 1)
  • $110
  • Excellent growth brush, stick to the 0.33mm needle
Advanced Brush – SOTAR 20/20

  • 0.22mm or 0.33mm (2 in 1)
  • $120
  • High end brush with excellent flexibility

Iwata Medea – Australasia

Second only to German engineering is Japanese engineering, and the Iwata brushes really show that in their construction and smooth movement.

Pros: Well-engineered brushes, standardised connections.
Cons: Neo isn’t made BY Iwata, ordinary customer support, problematic spare parts.

Basic Brush – Neo CN

  • 0.35mm needle
  • $56
  • Removable paint cup
  • Tool-less nozzle removal
Intermediate Brush – Eclipse HP-CS *Editor’s Choice*

  • 0.35mm needle
  • $145
  • Very forgiving brush
Advanced Brush – High Performance Plus C

  • 0.3mm needle
  • $185
  • Ultra detail friendly

Harder & Steenbeck – Europe

German engineering excellence, these brushes are balanced perfectly and have a mechanical feel that is impressive.  CRPlus means the plating used is safe against harsh chemicals, Silverline means it has an alternate coating that is hypoallergenic, Solo/2 in 1 references whether the brush comes with an extra needle/nozzle set.  These brushes also come with integrated quick release kits which are essential, even if you only have a single brush.

Pros: Highest level of engineered brushes, simple naming conventions, interchangeable parts and upgrade kits, outstanding customer support.
Cons: More expensive brushes

Basic Brush – Ultra

  • 0.2mm or 0.4mm (2 in 1 available)
  • $90
  • Simple and flexible
Intermediate Brush – Evolution

  • 0.2mm or 0.4mm (2 in 1 available)
  • $150
  • Removable trigger mechanism
  • Removable paint cup
Advanced Brush – Infinity *Editor’s Choice*

  • 0.15mm or 0.4mm (2 in 1 available)
  • $237
  • Removable trigger mechanism
  • Removable paint cup
  • Versatile brush

Brand doesn’t matter, you cannot go wrong with any of the above brushes.

Alternative option – HSeng are a Chinese firm making low cost airbrushes and compressors, and can absolutely be a budget option to consider.

HS-30 – Dirt cheap brush, wide spray pattern, low control.  Good for priming and base coating only.  Do not get this as your first brush, you will quit airbrushing.

HS-80 – Cheap brush, tighter spray pattern and control.  Good for beginner and intermediate work.

Additional Resources

So you’ve decided on an airbrush and found your compressor at the best price you can source it for locally.  Fantastic, I hope this guide has been beneficial in doing that.  What you now need to consider are all the extra items you will either need or want to make your airbrushing experience successful.  Fortunately, this guide covers that.

How to strip paint from models

Stripping miniatures is something which every hobbyist will want to do at some point, either because they have purchased a load of cheap models second hand, made a mistake in their own painting, or just want to scrub some miniatures so they can start again.

There are two main considerations with stripping paint off the models, the material the models are made out of, and the toxicity to the hobbyist!

Metal models

By far the easiest models to strip because they are nigh-on indestructible.

Acetone

Also known as Nail Polish Remover.

Use: Put the acetone in a sealed glass container and soak the models.

Time: Results will take place almost immediately, a stiff scrubbing brush can get the majority off a model after an hour or less soaking.  Metal models can stay in the acetone for years without issue.

Safety: Extremely flammable, hazardous to breathe, will dry out hands.  Use in a well ventilated area.

Cost: Low.

Availability: High.

Warnings: Will destroy plastic and resin.

Alternatives: Biostrip

Plastic models

Also relatively easy to strip with only acetone and heavy solvents to be careful off.  There are lots of options here, and almost everyone on the forums have their “perfect” paint stripper.

Biostrip20

Use: Paint a thick coat of Biostrip on the miniature, let sit for an hour, rinse off under running water.  Light scrubbing with a toothbrush and/or reapplication and soak as necessary.

Time: Plastic models can sit in Biostrip for a month or potentially more.  Metal can soak indefinitely.

Safety: Safe to touch, but will superhydrate your hands.  Low odour, safe for the environment. Wear gloves if you have a lot to strip or your hands will hate you.

Cost: Moderate. 1 tub should do around 100 miniatures.

Availability: Average.  Biostrip.co.uk will sell to Britain and Europe, Australia and New Zealand have a stockist at DiscountGW.com.au

Warnings: Will destroy resin.

Alternatives: Isopropyl Alcohol, Dot3 Brake Fluid, Simple Green, Super Clean, LAs Totally Awesome