I have 5 airbrushes, each with a particular purpose. ill run you through what i use and why, but understand that its my opinion and I’m sure others will give you equally effective advice.
I am an experienced airbrusher, and have produced some good results (bear in mind I have no artistic talent) with some basic techniques. I have been “shooting” for a few years and really enjoy the hobby, just remember, my input is by no means final or definitive. Others have wonderful feedback and all should be considered. There are many people on here who can easily blast me into dust with their talent and their ability, so this is designed to help get the novice started.
In terms of airbrushing, lets talk about everything ELSE you need first, and then lets talk brushes. Here is a list of things you need to consider.
Air supply – while not just a cheesy 80’s band, its also the second most important consideration in your airbrushes, and maybe the first. In the world of air pressure, compressors come in a variety of build types and i’ll throw my .02 in below.
Tankless airbrush (silent) compressors – The recommendations here vary, but most will say that a standard tankless compressor is typically sub-par. A compressor without a tank has to constantly run to provide air pressure, and that makes them far more prone to wear down and breakage quickly after a few years of use. Additionally, they typically cant handle high pressure ( over 35 PSI, which on a double action airbrush is almost never used, but on a syphon fed airbrush, shooting at 40 or even 50 PSI is routine to get large jobs done). Additionally, because there is no tank, the air pressure is not constant, and can create “pulsation” in the air stream, which can create splatters and inconsistent spray patterns. in all, while they may be silent, they aren’t a wonderful choice, but rather a clutch choice if no other option presents itself.
Traditional high-pressure air compressor – A compressor with a tank is a better way to go, but if you get a traditional compressor, like for a garage, the noise level can be a big problem. Also, you may end up buying extras for the compressor, like an additional pressure regulator that can regulate pressure down to the levels that air brushes use, (typically very low, around 20psi), adapters, hoses, and fittings. That means that the high pressure air compressor, that is noisy as hell, that you purchased to save a few bucks on you didn’t save that much money on, making it a less attractive options.
Airbrush compressors with a tank – While the most pricey, these compressors are typically “silent” (it should be noted that they aren’t silent at all, they just sound about as loud as a noisy box fan or a dryer during laundry time) but often offer a tank to hold air, so the compressor doesn’t have to run all the time, and provides a consistent air stream so there are no pulses in the air stream. The only downside to these air compressors are they comparatively, they are a little more expensive, clocking in often at the 125-300 dollar range depending on what you’re purchasing. I have been using a Global Direct TC-20T for a while now (just under 3 years) and it does a good job. Just be sure when your searching, you look for a TC-20T, because the “T” on the end designates the 1/3 gallon tank feature. They do make a standard TC-20 without a tank, and I wouldn’t own it.
The next thing you will need is a place to use your new equipment. If you intend to use your airbrush inside, a spray booth is almost a necessity. Get a spray booth with an air filter and a fan, with a duct to blow the waste outside is a great place to protect your family and friends, as well as pets in the house. On that note, you will also need a respirator mask, so you don’t end up breathing in all the by-product of the airbrush. Remember, acrylic paint may be non-toxic, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t dangerous to breathe in, and the cleaning agents you spray through the airbrush are toxic or can be, so make sure you follow safety precautions.
The next thing to make sure that you keep in mind is what you are going to shoot through the airbrush. Vallejo and Badger both make wonderful sets of paints pre thinned for use in most airbrushes, and I actually prefer badger paints (thanks Lester Bursley!) to Vallejo, but both are amazing. Additionally, it’s a good idea to get a matte finish, and some basic colors of inks to give your models depth. Additionally, Flow-Aid, Dillutant, and Drying Retarder from Flow Aid are also highly recommended, as you will use them to create a mixture to add to the paint to help keep it from building up on the tip of your airbrush as often, and to allow you to dilute paints that aren’t flowing as smoothly through the airbrush as you like. For more information on this, I highly recommend checking out APJ (awesome paint job)’s youtube channel, as well as schnauzerface minis youtube channel.
You are also going to need something to clean your airbrush with, and I recommend badger airbrush cleaner, and Regdab (badger spelt backwards) needle juice, as its basically airbrush oil and will lubricate the internals of your airbrush, as well as also help prevent paint from building up on the tip of the airbrush. (This is commonly called tip dry, and when that happens, you need to stop and clear the tip of your airbrush, otherwise, paint wont come out, as its clogged and blocked off.)
In terms of the air brush itself; I have 5, and ill walk you through what I own and why I own them.
Badger 200NH – this is a syphon fed (has the bottle underneath) and single action (meaning that the trigger has only one function, to push air pressure through the brush. A double action airbrush allows you to control the amount of paint pushed into the airbrush in addition to pushing air pressure through it.) This brush handles large jobs, like base coating a play board all black. it has a large needle and can disperse paint in an 8″ pattern from about a foot away. Basically, it covers a lot of area very quickly, and with a bottle adapter, you can cover a large area without having to constantly reload and refill the airbrush. With it, you can easily cover big projects, like game boards base coats and large areas. In the below picture, i used the 200NH to coat the board (after preparation) with the black base coat and the basic outline of the planet in the corner.
Iwata eclipse – this is my oldest airbrush, and my most hated. I know many people love iwata, but for me, its an overpriced airbrush that does the job well, but is very costly to maintain under normal wear and tear, that’s why this brush is a back up for me.
Badger Patriot 105 – this brush shoots paint with a lot of different capabilities and has a very small ultra fine needle for details. i got it mainly as a medium detail brush that can run fine detail at very low air pressure, but is also versatile enough to have a fan nozzle, and a large needle with a large gravity fed cup to allow moderate to large scale projects with minimal refilling. my complaints with this brush are that its trigger can sometimes feel a little stiff until it gets broken in, but man, it’s a good brush for the money. I used the Patriot 105 to do most of the detail work on this Stormwall model from Privateer Press:
(also, please understand that the lighting kind of drowned out the white on the stormwall. there really is more definition in the model that you can make out in this picture.)
Badger SOTAR 20/20S – this is a really good airbrush, and by far my personal favorite. the SOTAR stands for “State of the art results” and it means it. This brush will go toe to toe with any harder and steinbeck, or grex, or iwata eclipse III brushes on the market. I am a big fan of Badger in general, because they are american made, and all parts are american made, and ken schoefield, the CEO, is one of the coolest dudes i have ever got the pleasure of meeting and working with. The SOTAR is designed as an illustrators brush however, and that comes with some drawbacks. This brush runs low air pressure extremely well, and will create pencil line thin lines very easily, however, the paint it shoots has to be extremely thinned down, even “Air brush ready” paints will need to be thinned for optimal results, and that means that it takes a lot more “fidgeting” to get it to really work for you. once you get it dialed in, this brush is absolutely bad ass, and will get an amazing amount of work done. In terms of technicalities, this brush is a double action gravity fed, and the “S” model has a super small cup on top (the paint reservoir is commonly called a cup on gravity fed brushes) capable of only holding three or four drops of paint, while the “F” variant has a more traditional sized cup on top for slightly larger jobs. I used the Badger SOTAR 20/20F to provide the details and light sourcing on this Celestial Fulcrum model, once again from Privateer Press
Badger Renegade Krome – This is my newest brush, and my second favorite airbrush, and the workhorse of the fleet. This brush is all steele, making it big and heavy. Its loaded with options, and has the same needle design of the SOTAR meaning it can produce the definition that the SOTAR can, but its study construction and larger cup make it the brush i lean on the most. Gravity Fed, and a wonderfully smooth trigger like the sotar (which is adjustable for tension) means this brush shoots extremely well. What it doesnt do as well as my sotar is shoot low pressure as well. Bear in mind, the thinner the paint, the lower the air pressure to prevent splattering and the Krome doesnt fair as well here. What the Krome does really well is shoot airbrush ready paint almost flawlessly, because it does handle higher air pressures more easily and seems to keep the paint moving really well. I used the Krome to do the pin striping because of its extremely consistent spray patter, and its ability to hold a lot of paint in the cup at one time, makes things like engines and pin striping easier to do. I used it on my Lambda and Devestator:
The last thing ill give you is a few points that I learned over time. The first is don’t buy a cheap airbrush because its cheap. Buy an airbrush that will work for your intended purposes. If you aren’t sure where to start, the Badger Patriot 105 is probably the best bang for the buck you can possibly get. Around 100 to 150 bucks, you can get needles from ultra fine to large, and it handles all kinds of pressure pretty well, making it wonderful for the beginner, and it will grow with you as you become more advanced. I have helped many friends get started, and every time I have recommended the Patriot 105 from Badger, and every time, they have loved it and continue to use those 105s today. I can’t recommend enough, that you start with this airbrush. Some will say to start cheap, and there is logical sense in that, but I will always recommend starting with a low cost, but very good product. The patriot 105 fits the bill.
The second point I have learned is to invest in cleaning products. Badger airbrush cleaner, or Vallejo (the only reason I don’t recommend Vallejo is because its more expensive, its one hell of a cleaner) to get your brush clean. Do not use brushes or cleaning pads on your airbrush. Clean it by shooting the cleaner through it until its clean when it sprays out. Once you’re done with the brush for a full session, then take the needle out, the nozzle apart, and put it in an ultrasonic cleaner in a solution of simple green and water (about 50/50) and let it do the trick. If you don’t have an ultrasonic cleaner in your home already, you can get them on amazon for about 30 bucks.
The last point is highly caution against using windex or other ammonia based cleaners through your airbrush. Amonia wont hurt a badger airbrush, because they are all metal and don’t use plastic or rubber seals, but ammonia will break down the seals used by other companies and might cause problems later on. Additionally, I DO NOT want to breathe in atomized ammonia when cleaning my airbrush.
I hope this extremely long document helps. There are great sources to use, and if you have questions, you can always PM me or just reply to this thread, im more than happy to help.
Airbrushing is a hell of a lot of fun, and if you want to get into it, you will produce stunning results in no time. Even I have won a few awards for this guy: