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.

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