A few years ago I decided to get into airbrushing. It’s a fairly significant investment for most, and one which begs a lot of questions and Internet research. Here at Tale of Painters we believe in sharing what we, as amateur experts (and oxymorons) have learnt over the years to encourage the wider hobby community to thrive. If you want to get the inside info on how I went from Scarebrush to Airbrush then click on, but beware… it’s not tidy!
I started as most do, worrying about cost. Its a lot of money, what if I don’t like it or worse, I like it but I’m rubbish at it!? I bought a compressor second hand off the venerable eBay, thank goodness it was a decent quality Iwata one. I bought a cheap non branded airbrush (around £15) and nothing else. My initial forays were pretty torrid. In hindsight this was a combination of not having a clue what I was doing and a poor quality airbrush making my life quite difficult. All I can say is sorry Mr B.
The compressor I use, a smart jet pro roughly £200 new.
After struggling for about a year I decided I probably could achieve better results with better kit. While some people are convinced that you can airbrush with anything, I’ve learnt the hard way that with airbrushing you get what you pay for. I decided to get an IWATA ECLIPSE CS airbrush for around £100 new. I also bought a spare needle and nozzle – there’s nothing worse than being hamstrung in the middle of a painting session due to a lapse of concentration while cleaning. The Iwata came with some super lube for the needle.
The CS Eclipse has never let me down.
I also have a few other nicknack’s. I bought a pistol grip moisture filter when I was using a poorer quality airbrush as I thought excess moisture might be causing my woes. This was not the case however, and I’ve never needed it with the Eclipse. I have a quick release connector for the Airbrush – hose joint but this is a lazy luxury and in no way necessary. It makes quick changes and cleaning a bit easier that’s all.
Pistol grip moisture filter, in addiction to the one on the compressor.
The final large item of kit I have is an extractor. My hobby area/space isn’t a permanent man cave so all my solutions need to tidy neatly away. When I airbrush, you’ll see later that it all comes out on the dining room table and takes place as the wife watches Downtown Abbey. Therefore fumes aren’t particularly endearing (plus 1 or 2 years of paint particles can prove problematic on a march out). I bought the common Expo extractor for around £100, again from eBay. There isn’t much choice when it comes to budget extractors. Fortunately the Expo is equal to a 2-3 hour session without struggling or overheating. It folds away easily and comes with a lazy susan turntable which does come in useful. The power lead is long enough and neatly retractable.
Cheap, cheerful, competent.
Two problems with the unit are that it requires a lot of rear clearance. Not a problem for me, but for those of you who would want to leave it up permanently you should be aware that not only does the front ‘hood’ fold out a long way from the unit itself, you also require at least 20cm at the rear for the hose mounting. The second issue is the hose itself. The standard hose isn’t very flexible OR very long. I gave it to my kids to play with and bought a tumble dryer hose for about £3 with 3 meters to reach any window I choose. The flat nozzle fits on the end and means I don’t have to have gaping windows in the middle of winter (Brrrr) or summer (Bzzz).
Longer more versatile 3m tumble dryer hose.
So that’s the evolution of my kit, now for how it is applied. My setup lives in a large box (pictured below) in the garage. Once a month or so I have a session, an entire evening where I get base coating, undercoating, shading and zenithal lighting done in one go. I set up on the dining room table. Set up is an important part of Airbrushing in this style. I spend a good half an hour laying everything out in the right order. Experience has told me what I’ll need on which side and at which stage. Here is the kit, fresh out of the garage and taken out of the box. In this picture you can see;
1) The big box
2) The compressor
3) The extractor with long hose & nozzle
4) Window cleaner
5) empty jam jar
6) Airbrush cleaner fluid
7) Cotton buds (Q tips for my American brothers)
8) Loo roll (I prefer kitchen roll but we’ve run out)
9) Face mask (keeps the wife happy)
10) Extension cord (you’ll need three plugs, compressor, extractor, lamp)
13) cleaning bristles
My kit all fits into the box and lives in the garage.
All will become clear. First chuck newspaper down. This stops you over spraying onto the French Oak dining table and having to find a solicitor. Open up the extractor and run the hose to a window. I’m right handed so compressor goes right side with the Airbrush rest nearest me for when I need two hands. All the cleaning kit goes left.
Right side: Compressor & lamp
Left side: Cleaning kit, paint, misc
I do almost all of my undercoating with the AB and Vallejo’s primers. I think I must have made my money back already compared to the cost of buying GW cans at £10 a time. I use GW, vallejo and tamiya through the airbrush depending on the scheme I need. I’m interested in the new Badger AB range and might try that soon as the colours look good.
Vallejo Primer beats GW spray cans hands down
I vary the compressor pressure according to feel as I go, but its usually set quite high, around 15-20 psi. If I need to switch colour mid session it’s an easy process that I learnt on youtube (I like most of you am totally self taught). Empty the gravity cup into the jam jar (or if you want to keep the paint, an empty paint pot). Fill the gravity cup half full of window cleaner, aim it into the jam jar and spray near the extractor. The AB will clean well enough for you to add a different colour and carry on, and the extractor takes away any lung damaging particles. Its a quick and dirty way of speeding up your session – but I’ve never had a problem with it, even going from dark colours to light.
Spray excess window cleaner into a jam jar rammed with loo roll
Once you’ve finished your session, a thorough clean and you’re ready to pack away into the box and into the garage ready to get onto the brushes and finish off the miniatures.
I hope this gives you an insight into a number of things. Firstly, how a beginner might go about selecting kit and getting started. Secondly if you already airbrush and struggle from time to time – to know that its not an exact science and we all evolve our own methods. Thirdly a view behind the scenes on how I get started on most of my miniatures. I still class myself as a beginner/amateur Airbrush user with a lot still to learn. I still approach complex applications with fear – but I’ve never regretted getting all my kit. If you paint a lot of minis then it’ll only be a year or so before you’ve made your money back on tins of undercoat alone!
If you’ve got any questions please feel free to ask in the comments below and I’ll get back to you as best I can.
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AB – AirBrush i think from reading again.
Thanks Rev, takes some of the fear away and maybe I should invest in an airbrush!
Thanks Rev, I just invested in an airbrush setup myself and went fairly low tech on my booth, making it very down home style. You know us American cowboys… 😉
Appreciate the tips and basic intro!
I have the same spray booth and i love it. I also fell in love with vallejo primers. It was just supposed to hold me over until spring up here in Canada when I could spray outside again, but now I don't think I'll ever go back. Great job taking the fear out of airbrushing!
- Statt Meevens
Segmentum – In answer to you question I use the Vallejo brand surface primer black 74602, it's great stuff! When I thin paints I use a thinner from Life colour which I was recommended as opposed to the more commonly available Tamiya X20 thinner. The Life colour thinner is less noxious than the Tamiya and better for GW paints apparently. Seems to work. Siph is correct AB = abbreviation for airbrush. Twyg, I'd love to see your booth, does it resemble an open window and bandana wrapped round your face?! 🙂 Zab – I think we all use this booth, the next step up is about £200 which is crazy money! Thanks for the comments, more questions welcome.
Excellent tips for anyone looking to get into airbrushing. I would like to add that an ultrasonic cleaner is also an excellent purchase for anyone wanting to clean their airbrush fuss free. I use warm water and a spot of dish soap in mine, strip the air brush and bung it on for a couple of cycles. It's great for getting out any clogs in the nozzle. I bought mine for £20 on eBay and I could justify the expense to the wife as it cleans her rings and necklaces a treat too.
That's a great idea! I may have to get myself one of those.
Yes, I do agree with Joey. I also bought myself an ultrasonic cleaner on ebay for a few euros. In my opinion it does not replace a real good cleaning from time to time but it is definitely very convenient, especially between sessions.
Secondly, I could not see a tank, if I overlooked it ignore my comment, but I have one and although I sometimes wish it would be bigger I could not imagine airbrushing without it. Thirdly one good thing to buy is a nozzle needle for cleaning, but depending on the company you buy it from they can be incredibly expensive…
Another thing I can highly recommend, is the thinner by Tamiya. This stuff is just sickly good and not that pricey.
This article made me really think about getting myself such an extractor. Although I am not so curious about the fumes since I where a mask when airbrushing and talked to some 'experts', I think it is a really nice add-on.
- Statt Meevens
I'll have to look into ultrasonic cleaners – my knowledge of them is limited but it sounds like an excellent idea!
The tank on the smart jet pro is inside the black case. It is a constant pressure system, so it clicks on and off to maintain the desired PSI once the reserve is empty. The result is a constant pressure so you can carry on for as long as you like, with the compressor clicking on an off next to you. It's not too loud either.
Much appreciated tutorial, as I am thinking about getting an airbrush for myself. Space and logistics is really whats stopping me more than the expense, so that a setup can be (relatively) mobile is encouraging.
- Brother Wolf
Fantastic piece. Certainly makes me feel better about my own choices, which mimic yours to a T. I have a dedicated room, thankfully, with my workbench near my window. I don't have to cart stuff to other rooms, but I do have to make the best use of the same space, and being able to pack away the airbrush/compressor/extractor so I can get to the matter of brushing minis is a necessity.
Again, kudos to a fantastic amateur expert for a terrific read.
A very informative and well-explained post. I really appreciate it and whenever I get to make room for an airbrush setup and the money for the kit, I'll get cracking!
Again, many thanks for the article and it does indeed take an amount of fear away from the newbies like me 😉
Thanks for the wonderfully, well-timed post! The hubby and I just started discussing picking up an airbrush kit. This is very helpful for giving us a feel for what equipment we will need, without all the experimentation and poor results.
- Statt Meevens
Wolf – one day I'll go back to having my own hobby room, but its still a dream at the moment!
Ludo – Let us know how you get on with your first experiences.
Amanda – We aim to please, glad the timing was good 🙂 good luck!
- Teje errante
Love the post, it is really helpful, I started airbrushing a few months ago, and it would have been very helpful to have a post like this.
About "Spray excess window cleaner into a jam jar rammed with loo roll", your colleague Garfy recommends this:
I have one myself, for one airbrush only, and I paid less than 10 Euros for it, and it's very useful and quite stable, so I can put the airbrush there when I do a break.
I usually wear a mask and didn't thought about the extractor, but in the netherlands (where I live now) it's too cold to open a window 😀
- Statt Meevens
I tried the airbrush cleaner pot but found it to be largely redundant – I'll give my reasons! Firstly the compressor has a rest for the airbrush for breaks etc. Secondly I find the pot overbalances easily, meaning the paint can spill potentially easily (perhaps mine was less stable than yours?) Thirdly I can bin the Jam jar if it gets too minging, and one less thing to clean is always a bonus. Fourthly the extractor removes any fumes using the jam jar method.
I don't think my mask really does anything, but my wife freaks out a bit if I airbrush without it. The only real disadvantage is that you need two hands to take a swig of coffee!
I often forget to turn the extractor on (which illustrates how quite it is in operation) and the particulate build up is noticable in the immediate working area (someone previously mentioned red dust! – I totally agree!).
I had the hoze running out the window when I wrote this article and it was -6 outside – hence the 'Brrr'!!
Thanks for the comment, much appreciated.
- Heironymus Blitzen
Been doing a bit of the old brush myself, though I am not using a vent hood (just an industrial respirator, and pointing a shop fan out the window). Check it out when you have the chance:
Rev, are you a Serviceman by any chance?
- Ciaran Dillon
Rev, just come across this but is there any chance in a tutorial in how to paint using an airbrush? I'd like to make the leap at some point but have no idea how to even go about doing a model with one!
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When you say that you use Vallejo undercoat is there a brand specifically for the airbrush or do you have to thin it yourself?
What brand is AB?
What do you use to thin any paints you need to?