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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