Monday, March 17, 2014

Airbrushing Lessons Learned (the hard way).

I've had this blog up for a few months now. I think it’s a good time to review a good few things that I have learned about airbrushing along the way.

1.      PSI matters. I first started out shooting at 35psi. As long as I was spraying from about 6 inches away it was fine for things like priming or coating with a varnish. I was pretty frustrated that I was unable to get any detail work done though. I was given some friendly advice and dropped my PSI down to between 15- 20psi and my airbrush kept clogging up…. Which leads to number 2

2.      Thin your paints! Seriously even Vallejo Model Air needs a bit of thinning out. I use Vallejo airbrush thinner. I am sure that others work just fine and I know some people use Windex. Personally I don’t want to use a respirator when I airbrush so I will stick to thinners that don’t contain ammonia.

3.      Equipment really does matter. I started out with a Masters G22 airbrush. This is an inexpensive airbrush made by TCP Global that costs $29.99 and is basically an Iwata clone. At first I thought it was the bee’s knees. I thought I had cracked the code to not paying over $100 for a “real” airbrush. Let me tell you how wrong I was. I was lucky enough to have a friend pay for his finished models with a Badger Patriot 105. It’s honestly like night and day. The trigger pull is smooth and responsive. There is no play in the trigger on the Badger (which is extremely important for control). The Badger has a wide cup opening making cleaning much easier as well.

As for compressors I still have a relatively inexpensive Harbor Freight model and it works. I have had 4 hour painting sessions and it has held up just fine. For $89 I think this was a good buy. My only complaint is that the compressor sometimes jumps up in PSI for no reason. I’ll be painting along at 20psi and BLAM out of the blue I’m up at 30psi. It’s gotten to the point where I can hear the difference and adjust the regulator but still a weird quirk.

4.      Clean your airbrush regularly. No joke even when you think you are done you’re not. Don’t be lazy and just wipe out the cup and run some cleaner through it when you’re done for the day. Spend the extra 10 minutes and break it down and clean it. There is nothing quite like getting all set in the right mind frame, mixing your paint. Finding the right music to keep you in the groove. Turning on the compressor and pulling down the trigger only to have a clog because you just didn't get that one little dab of paint off the needle…..

5.      Primer matters. I started off using a cheap primer and thinned it some. Not a good idea. It ran and flaked off the models. I now use Vallejo primer in grey. It works well and covers fantastically. I will caution that a little goes a long way and I have had to strip a good few models where I thought I was good to go and sprayed way too much primer on them obscuring detail. Cure times are very important here too. Do not be tempted to keep painting just because it looks and feels dry. Primer needs a few hours to cure. Trust me on this one the results are immensely different.

6.      Head phones! Get a good pair. Between the noise of the compressor and the noise of a spray booth fan you will either be cranking your music load enough to piss off your wife and neighbors,  or make yourself go deaf in the process. I have a pair of noise canceling headphones and everyone is happy. My wife because she doesn't have to listen to music over the TV, and me because I can’t hear her yelling from upstairs that it’s time to call it a night…

I hope this has been helpful to people. Please let me know if you have anything to add or something that is just flat out wrong in your experience. 


  1. Nice tips Sir. Do you use the brush for washing too and how does it compare to the brush method? Thanks

  2. I have not used the airbrush to apply washes yet. I have been using oil washes for the last 6 or so months and love them. I have watched a few YouTube videos on how to do it but I can't see how it would be any better.