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:
- Primers and Paints
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.