When I first started airbrushing I wish there had been a post telling me what to do. It was all trial and error to start off with. (Rather a lot of error in fact!)
I often hear people say, ‘Oh, I would like to try airbrushing, but I have no idea where to start.’ So, in this post I hope to provide some answers to those question. As always, if there is anything more you would like to know then please do get in touch. I’m more than happy to ask questions, or offer advice.
I first started airbrushing to basecoat models, in the long run it’s a lot cheaper than using spray cans. Once I had become a bit more confident with it, I started to try new techniques, and now I treat airbrushing as just another tool that is different to using a brush. If you have a look at my post on painting Horus Heresy Era Iron Hands you can see a practical example of this.
The first question is often ‘What do I need?’
Airbrushing need not break the bank, in fact that’s one of the biggest selling points for it.
You don’t need to buy a very expensive airbrush when you’re starting out, especially if you just want to use it for basecoating. In fact, I would suggest that for your first airbrush I would get a cheap on from eBay to practice with.
The only thing you should make sure is that it is gravity fed. This means that the cup in which you put your paint should be above the main shaft of the airbrush so that the paint can flow down into the airstream by the force of gravity. The result is that the stream of paint is more even and consistent is it doesn’t need to be fed into the airbrush using pressure.
I used a cheap airbrush at first, but once I started experimenting more with an airbrush I splashed on out on Iwata Revolution CR, which is about £100 and I would recommend to any intermediate airbrusher. It’s a good example of a gravity fed airbrush:
The other thing that you will definitely need is a compressor. Again, starting out you can go for a cheap one from eBay (there are plenty of cheap compressors that come with cheap airbrushes to practice with)
I personally went with an AS186. This has the added benefit of a tank underneath (the black bit in the picture), which means that you don’t have to stop when the compressor starts taking on more air, as there’s always enough in the tank to keep airbrushing.
So the next thing to have a look at basic airbrushing principles. These might be considered tips and tricks.
The first thing to look at is the airbrush itself. One thing that a lot of people don’t realise is that the cap on the end cap:
That the end cap is designed to stop the needle from getting damaged. If the needle gets damaged than your airbrush will either have flow problems, or will spray at a funny angle. However, with this cap on the paint tends to dry on this inside of it as you’re airbrushing an clog up. It’s better to take this off and you will have better flow from your airbrush, but I would remember to replace it when you’re not using the airbrush. (I’ve damaged a needle twice now from just dropping the airbrush, and they can be a few quid to replace.)
The next thing I would suggest is to always thin your paints, even if they call themselves airbrush paints. The exact consistency is always a little bit of trial and error, so I will often spray on to a piece of tissue until I’m happy with it.
You can see from this picture the kind of consistency you want. It’s often more watery than you would expect, compared to normal paint. I would also suggest using the thinner for the paint range you are using (Tamiya thinner for Tamiya paints, Valleje thinner for Vallejo) this ensure that it mixes properly, as there is already some of the thinner material in the paint (it’s what makes it paint and not just pigment). However, I actually use Vallejo for Citadel paints, and this seems to work fine.
Always put the thinner into the airbrush cup first, then the paint. This helps to stop too thick paint clogging up the airbrush. Then you can mix it by covering the end of the airbrush with a bit of tissue, and pulling back gently on the trigger. Be careful not to apply too much air or the paint will spit out of the cup. (You can always put the cover over to cup when you do this, but I prefer to leave it off so that I can see the paint).
Something that you need to consider is the pressure. Too high pressure and the paint will dry before it leaves the airbrush, and too low and it will dry before it gets to the model. Again, play around with pressure on your compressor.
A good compressor should have a pressure gauge like this, which you can adjust by lifting up the black knob and turning. Spray the airbrush into the tissue again until you are happy with the flow. I tend to stick around 20psi as you can see in the picture. Different brands of paint will vary, and it will depend on how much you thin them, but this is a good rule of thumb.
When I’m airbrushing I always keep a bowl of water next to me, and a dropper.
I use this to clean through the airbrush each time I’m finished using a colour. Keep putting water through it, until the water comes out clear. The dropper is useful for this, and is also useful for putting paint into the cup.
Once I’m done with the airbrush, and maybe every half an hour, I will clean the airbrush by running airbrush cleaner through it. Again, do this until it’s clear. I typically use Vallejo Airbrush Cleaner for this, but there are other products on the market.
There are things called airbrush solution, but this isn’t typically a cleaner. I use this every ten minutes, and with an old paint brush, to clean the end of the needle. This ensure that no gunk builds up and dries on the tip, which would affect the paint flow. It’s a good idea to keep your airbrush as clean as possible.
The last thing I would suggest is getting an airbrush station as shown in the pictures below. When I first started airbrushing I would spray into a box, which works, but you can start to breathe in the paint, which isn’t particularly healthy. (In fact a good face mask is a decent recommendation too).
You can pick one of these up on eBay or Amazon for about £60:
As you can see, you get a vent which you can use (with the aid of the motor) to direct the fumes out of a window.
So that’s the basics of airbrushing. Obviously I haven’t covered anything, but hopefully it’s some useful tips to get you started.
If you have any questions about things I haven’t covered, or want more clarity than please do comment below.