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ISO: entry level airbrush recommendations


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Looking to try airbrushing. I want a decent starter brush/compressor set up that will be useful for a while but not break the bank. Any suggestions?

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The airbrush I use the most is my Badger Patriot. I have a fine needle in it, and it's a real workhorse — usable for anything from basic priming to quite fine line work. It's very easy to maintain too, which is important: if an airbrush is a pain to disassemble and clean, then the chances are good that you won't end up using it much.

For really fine work, I have a Badger Sotar 20-20, which is a fantastic brush, but I probably wouldn't recommend it for an absolute beginner.

As far as compressors go, you'll want one with a reservoir tank (it doesn't have to be very big), a pressure gauge, and a water trap. I use a small no-name compressor that I got from the local model shop, and it does the job just fine.

I also have an inline water trap on my air hose, which prevents any water that has condensed in the line from suddenly splurting out all over my precious paintwork.

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Easy bit first - @MojoBob has it right on compressors - tank, gauge, water trap.  I used to use a Paasche D3000R.  When Reaper released their Vex compressor, I went with that and passed on my Paasche to a friend.  It never gave me issues and the Vex hasn't given me issues either.  Vex has a nice shield around the actual compressor, and some airbrush holders.  It's also a bit expensive and i think it may not current be available.  Though, it looks to be a branded Paasche DC600R or something darn similar to it.  Expect to pay 150-250 depending on the particular bells and whistles for something good.  Tankless compressors provide a less steady pressure.  Avoid the canned air, they'll get pricey quickly.  Now, this is the expensive bit.  you can get around by getting a lesser compressor at a lesser cost, but if you stick with it, you'll want a good compressor.

The little usb recharging compressors (like a small soda can) are cute and portable, but struggle to even put out 20psi.  I usually go with 25psi.  they're not bad for travel, but i've found them only really good for spraying ink and water.

 

As for brushes, for learning and day to day abuse, I use a Master G233 Pro.  it's inexpensive, it's not too hard to get replacement parts, and it's pretty easy to disassemble and reassemble it.  I've got really good badgers (patriot, sotar 20/20, sidewinder), a vex, and an iwata.  these are all better brushes performance wise, but harder to clean and more expensive.  if i'm just priming or sealing stuff, no need to put that wear and tear on my expensive brushes.

 

My keys for choosing an airbrush are dual-action and gravity feed.  Dual-action means the trigger is actually two controls - push down for air (more down = more air) and pull back for paint (more back = more paint).  Gravity feed means that the paint feeds from the top (or the side) of the airbrush.  This allows lower pressures and more control.  Siphon-feed you'll see a lot too, these are when the paint is below the airbrush and is drawn up into the brush from a straw basically.  This requires higher pressure.

There's also another airbrush distinction that comes up a bit - internal mix versus external mix.  most airbrushes you see are internal mix - the air and paint meet inside the brush.  better air/paint mixture, but needs a bit more cleaning.  external mix you'll see in siphon feeds frequently.  clean up on these is a breeze and pretty trivial since the paint is never inside the brush.  they also tends to be a bit all over the place in terms of spray pattern.

 

My balanced price/performance recommendation is the Master SYNCHKG044368 kit.  airbrush, mini compressor, hose all for about $70.  First upgrade would be a better compressor.

 

When you get your brush, first shoot water through it to get a feel for the operations of the brush.  then take it apart, clean it, and put it back together.  When you're comfortable with that, get your paint, your solvents, q-tips, fiddly little pipe cleaner things and go.  before you actually put paint into the brush, think through what you're going to do in detail - where will you put the brush down? what will you do with the paint left when you've painted what you need? how will you hold the model? 

my biggest caution - paint drying in the brush is troublesome to clean up.  move with purpose and make sure that the paint doesn't idle in the brush.

also, if you know somebody local who you can visit to try airbrushing and/or borrow a compressor, that's probably the cheapest way to try with the least commitment.


get a mask too - you don't want to breathe in aerosolized paint.  nitrile or latex gloves let you move the model and not have to scrub your hand down afterwards.  some sort of back drop can manage the mess outside -- i use a cardboard box i cut two sides off of outside.  inside you'll want a booth with filters and fans, those can be gotten readily for like $100-300.

 

thin your paint, flow improver is your friend, tip drying is your enemey.  good luck!

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Holy cow! You airbrush at 25 PSI? I totally agree and avoid those cute little compressors like the plague, getting a good one off the bat will make the whole experience better. I typically airbrush at 12 PSI and sometimes as low as 8.

 

There are a host of good airbrushing threads in the forum when you are ready for paint. This is the post to start with: Airbrush Compendium

Edited by Heisler
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23 minutes ago, Heisler said:

Holy cow! You airbrush at 25 PSI? I totally agree and avoid those cute little compressors like the plague, getting a good one off the bat will make the whole experience better. I typically airbrush at 12 PSI and sometimes as low as 8.


Iwata recommends 15-30psi; badger says 30psi.  i think i tried ~15, but wasn't satisfied with coverage with how thin i needed the paint to be.  now you've got me wondering if i want to revisit that setting and experiment with it a bit.  

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You do have to really thin out your paint to run at a low PSI, as long as you thin with airbrush thinner or something similar. Thinning that much with water won’t work very well. At low pressures you can get so much closer to your model.

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On 1/22/2024 at 10:20 AM, Heisler said:

Holy cow! You airbrush at 25 PSI? I totally agree and avoid those cute little compressors like the plague, getting a good one off the bat will make the whole experience better. I typically airbrush at 12 PSI and sometimes as low as 8.

 

There are a host of good airbrushing threads in the forum when you are ready for paint. This is the post to start with: Airbrush Compendium

 

Stynylrez and a lot of other primers recommend 20-30 psi. Normal paint generally doesn't need it up that high though. It's not that you always set the airbrush that high, it's that you want a compressor that's capable of going that high for the occasions you do. You can always turn it down to whatever you want, but a compressors max psi is all it will ever hit.

 

Which is why as long as someone doesn't need the quietest possibly compressor I always recommend getting a "quiet" not airbrush compressor. They cost around the same as airbrush compressors, tend to have 2-3 gallon tanks, aren't too loud as long as no one is sleeping, and can fill car tires and run a nail gun. If I ever need to airbrush up to 125 psi I'm set...

 

 

As far as Badger compressors (and compressors from most other airbrush companies) like the Vex one go... There is nothing wrong with them, but Badger did a video a while back that was pretty much straight up saying not to buy a compressor from them. They are rebranded no-name compressors that they buy for only slightly less than retail due to the retail already being so low. They them mark them up higher so they don't lose money. They said they only sell them because people wanted to buy the compressor and airbrush from the same company regardless of the price and strongly recommended that people source compressors themselves.

Edited by cmorse
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I do airbrush Stynylrez at 12 PSI, never had a problem doing that (I do thin it a little bit, not much). I do not disagree with anybody on the pressures they use. It’s a matter of preference and how close you want to be to your work. Absolutely get a compressor that is capable of a good PSI range.

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On 1/24/2024 at 12:17 PM, mikem91 said:

I think stynylrez at 125psi might just chew up most minis 😉

 

When it's set at 125 you are shooting minis with nails, not stynylrez... or, if you actually want to put out a lot of paint for something larger than a mini or a model, you have the option to.

 

That said a 2 gallon tank at 125 psi is going to last longer than one sitting at 20 psi before it needs to kick on again when the airbrush is set to 12. Typically I leave to compressor set to 100, the compressor's built it output regulator set at 40, and moisture trap regulator combo set to whatever I've actually using. All on quick release of course, because I really do bring it outside to put air in my car tires when I need to.

 

Speaking of car tires and Badger though, in one of the manuals I have they suggest using spare tires in place of buying canned air.

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On 1/27/2024 at 6:52 PM, cmorse said:

Speaking of car tires and Badger though, in one of the manuals I have they suggest using spare tires in place of buying canned air.

 

my most recent car does not have a spare.  not even a donut.  nor a provision to store one. it's got a patch kit and road side assistance.  not really thrilled with that....

Edited by mikem91
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An better alternative to a compressor is a CO2 tank (i.e. the kind used in soft drink dispensers).  They are cheaper to buy or rent, do not require water traps, have steady pressure, and run absolutely silently.  Of course you still need to charge it periodically (which is cheap to do), but a CO2 tank is still a viable option IMHO.

 

The Egg

Edited by Egg of Coot
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