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Hey there everybody. It's coming up on my birthday and I'm thinking of picking up an airbrush rig. What I need to know is how well reaper paint sticks with bones when it's run through with a little Liquitex Airbrush Medium, or any other types of thinners? I'd hate to pick one up and find out that the largest batch of my minis can't easily be primed/basecoated without brushing first.

 

I saw Wren's Basecoating guide, but in all the page, it really only mentions one quick blurb "For those who prefer to use spray primer, the best option is to use an airbrush to apply a coat of acrylic paint to the Bones figure. Reaper Master Series paint thins well with Golden or Liquitex Airbrush Medium, and maintains its strong adhesion, though I have found that adding airbrush medium does noticeably increase the drying time of the paint."

 

This is good to know, but is there any further practical information on this I should know? How well does this compare to the other options? What are we looking at for drying time? Can alcohol be added to speed up the dry time, or does that ruin the paint in some way?

 

Thanks in advance for any advice the community can provide.

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One of the Bones figures I airbrushed onto is a display figure, so it hasn't gotten a lot of play. Though it did take me a while to finish painting it the non-airbrush parts and it was hauled around to several conventions and such during that time period, so it wasn't handled with kid gloves throughout its life. The other was something I was testing the Minitaire brand of paint on. The figure has seen a little bit of play, and seems fine. In both cases, I was impressed with how well the paint applied, and that it seemed to adhere sturdily once dry. I've seen nothing in either that makes me feel like anything is weaker about the paint.

 

My understanding is that airbrush medium is similar (if not identical) to the main component of paint aside from pigment, so that shouldn't affect the strength of the adhesion. My painting has been done with Golden airbrush medium, for no other reason than the art store in town was out of Liquitex when I went shopping for some. (The clerk also felt Golden was the superior product, but I have no idea personally.) I like it well enough that I use it to dilute my paint to greater transparency for many projects, not just on Bones. It does increase drying time in general, not just on Bones, and that's more noticeably the more of the product you use. It can also add a slight sheen to the finish of the paint if used in quantity. Also, the drying time of any paint painted directly onto the Bones surface seems slightly extended. In both cases (as well as on metal and resin figures), I regularly speed up the drying by using a hairdryer set on low.

 

I know several painters who use airbrushes who thin with 90% alcohol plus water. I don't know if any of them have done that on Bones, or if it would adhere well on Bones. There's a lot of water in the mixes the people I know use, it might not mix well with Bones's hydrophobic qualities. I don't know if you can mix both alcohol and airbrush medium together in the paint successfully. Alcohol thinning makes the paint dry pretty quickly on not Bones, which seems most useful for the layering stage of things since you can go over in quick passes to build up highlights or shadows, whereas I sometimes have to wait a moment or two with the medium-thinned paint.

 

I am hoping to review and expand the original Bones documents to try to cover additional questions, like this one, but that will likely be an undertaking of months, which is probably not helpful to you. :-< Hopefully someone else who's played around with airbrushing on Bones will see this thread and jump in with their experiences. I will try to remember to test the alcohol thinning as well as the medium. I've been a bit leery of breathing the overspray with use of alcohol, as I don't have an exhaust hood and it's hard to wear a mask, glasses and Optivisor simultaneously. Though why I think the overspray with use of medium is any safer is hard to say. ;->

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Thank you for the advice, it's very much appreciated. It sounds like this should be a fun tool to add to my arsenal. Please let me know if you have any special advice on good airbrush tutorials for minis, or other information you think I ought to know as I jump into this.

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I've used Reaper MSPs thinned with a bit of alcohol+water on Bones through an airbrush and had no trouble with paint adhesion. I thinned the paint a bit less than I would for a non-Bones mini only because of all the information on the forums saying Bones don't like thinned paint. I haven't actually tried thinning it the same as I would for non-Bones to see if it would fail.

 

(For those concerned with the health issues, I have a high-quality mask I use for all paint spraying activities - airbrush, primer, sealer.)

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@trystangst - what are the health risks of aerosolizing isopropyl? My fears have been nebulous, just wondering what the specific dangers are.

 

If you're new to airbrushing, you might want to search this section of the forums for other airbrush threads, which have some helpful hints. (Like mixing your paint up in little plastic cups and then pouring it into the paint receptacle for fewer clogs.) Go into it knowing that you might find it frustrating at first. My compressor came with what appeared to be English instructions, but which were not at all instructional. My airbrush had better instructions, but I bought a fancy expensive one, so I would hope so. ;-> In both cases, it helped a lot to search on YouTube for review and usage videos. The compressor review I found included complete assembly instructions.

 

The first time I used the airbrush, I thinned just with water and it was clog city. Very frustrating. In fact I would say the first three times that I spent more time taking it apart, cleaning and looking for clogs than I did painting with it. But by the end of that I knew the brush well, knew a few things to make sure to do or avoid for smoother operation, and could streamline my cleaning process.

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Just like Wren and Jen, I just thin my MSP's with a mix of water and 90% alcohol (9 water-1 alcohol mix). No problems... Alcohol will speed up the drying time significantly.

 

 

Use a mask!!!! either way you go with cutting the paint. I ran out of alcohol a while back and just used straight water. Results were good but i still used a mask...

 

 

 

You wont believe the blends you will get!!!! Just keep in mind that airbrushing is a learning process. Take you time and practice a lot prior to tackling your favorite mini. One practice that helped me was to just airbrush on a piece of paper. Trying to make very small thin consistent lines, doing a series of small controlled dots, line - dot -line dot, etc... It takes time to get used to the flow of the brush... Oh, and your brush will clog. Dont get frustrated! just clean it and paint until it clogs again...

 

Good luck

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If you get something like the Badger Patriot 105 you should be able to spray undiluted Reaper paint at 15-20 psi with no problem. Keep the airbrush back from the mini and spray light coats. At the right spray distance the paint should dry almost immediately on contact with the mini. Using P3 I have had luck lightly thinning without beading on Bones. The trick really is getting that instant dry distance right. So if you get an airbrush with a finer needle and must thin it is still possible to do with water. It will, however take practice.

My recommendation for a first airbrush it the one I listed above. If you get it at Michaels it should have the .3 needle instead of the .5. This is big enough for basecoating and small enough to allow you to start working on details on the larger Bones. When you are ready to airbrush details on a 28mm human figure you will need a much finer needle.

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    • By Wren
      I put together a few documents related to using Bones. I've submitted these to the Craft section of the website, but as it may be a little while before Reaper has the time available to add them, Bryan suggested that I post them here.
       
      Bones - Frequently Asked Questions
      Bones - Preparation (mould line removal, glue, putty, etc.)
      Bones - The First Coat is the Difference (this document)
       
      --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
       
      Painting Bones Miniatures: The First Coat is the Difference
       
      One of the revolutionary features of Bones miniatures is that you can paint them straight out of the package. Because this is such a departure from recommendations for painting metal or resin miniatures, it is understandable that this feature raises questions and concerns for painters unfamiliar with Bones. Painters familiar with other types of miniatures will find that there are some differences in how the first coat of paint behaves, or that there are painting techniques or substances that require a little tweaking to use as a first coat on Bones figures.
       
      The Bones material is a little hydrophobic, meaning that it tends to repel water. Paint diluted with water, sometimes even just a little water, may display a tendency to bead up or pull away from crevices or higher raised areas. The more water added to the paint, the greater this effect. The first coat of paint applied to the surface can also take a little longer to dry than usual.
       

       
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      Also, remember that when you paint metal or resin miniatures, you normally paint over a coat of primer. One layer of undiluted paint on a Bones miniature is equivalent in thickness (if not thinner) than one or two coats of primer on a metal or resin figure.
       

       
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      ADDEDUM (not pictured)
       
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      Use a Medium as a Primer
       
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      Reaper Master Series Brush-On Sealer: No significant beading. Dried quickly. Paint was less durable than with the other products, see the durability testing section for more details and pictures.
       
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      Liquitex Matte Medium: Somewhat thick. Minor beading and pulling away. Significant beading when thinned with water. Dried quickly. When paint was applied, there were still some mild occurrences of paint pulling away from higher/curved areas.
       
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      Delta Ceramcoat All-Purpose Sealer: Dried quickly. The paint layer exhibited slightly pulling way.
       
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      Testing the First Coats for Durability
       
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      I painted these ghosts in August 2012. They accompanied me to Gen Con and Pax Prime 2012, stored loose with some unpainted Bones in a plastic container I carried in my backpack. Their travels included a six hour car ride and return plane trip. At the conventions they were handled extensively by dozens upon dozens of people, including being tossed on tables. The paint jobs were stressed pretty much equally through the Gen Con trials. The ghost painted only with Reaper Master Series paint was handled a lot more than the others during the Pax Prime trials.
       
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      After the first coat I used painting techniques of thinned layers and washes with no difficulty and with the same effect on each of the miniatures. From left to right the first coat on each miniature was as follows.
       
      Undiluted Reaper Master Series Paint: Displayed the least damage during the Gen Con trials. Following Pax, has some chips at the flex point on the hood and near the tombstone. Was handled a lot more than the other figures.
       
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      I wanted to perform a similar test with the other surface preparation products I tried. First I painted on an additional coat or two of paint. Then I placed the figures loose in a plastic box with some other Bones, a wooden, MDF and plastic base, and a metal figure. After wrapping the box in a towel secured with rubber bands, I put it in my dryer on the air setting for 10 minutes or so. The green painted areas on each figure are those that were painted over the primer alternatives. The brown painted areas are Master Series Paint directly on the Bones surface. (These were part of tests for methods to remove mould lines.) The brown areas on each exhibit very little damage. Some have none, some have a few small chips or scrapes. (However it should be noted the brown area of this sculpt has far fewer surface protrusions than where the green was painted.)
       

       
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      From left to right: Liquitex Glazing Medium; Folk Art Glass & Tile Medium; Delta Ceramcoat All-Purpose Sealer.
       
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    • By Wren
      I put together a few documents related to using Bones. I've submitted these to the Craft section of the website, but as it may be a little while before Reaper has the time available to add them, Bryan suggested that I post them here.
       
      Bones - Frequently Asked Questions (this document)
      Bones - Preparation (mould line removal, glue, putty, etc.)
      Bones - The First Coat is the Difference (primer, primer alternatives, paint durability)
       
      --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
       
      Bones Miniatures: Frequently Asked Questions
       
      What are Bones Miniatures?
       
      The Bones material is a polymer plastic. It is light-weight and slightly flexible, and is very durable. You can paint a Bones figure straight out of the package, and that paint job will also be pretty durable. Bones figures are as detailed as metal figures, for a much lower cost. Bones miniatures are produced with integral (built-in) bases, but it is easy to cut the miniature off of the base if you prefer to put it on something else. It is also easy to cut the figures apart to convert them into different poses or change weapons.
       
       
      What is the bare minimum I need to know to start painting my Bones right now!
       
      If you want background on why these are the recommendations or what other alternatives might also work, read the rest of this document, Painting Bones Miniatures: Preparation and Painting Bones Miniatures: The First Coat is the Difference.
       
      Remove Mould Lines
      Remove by slicing just under the mould lines with a hobby knife, in a similar motion to paring vegetable or hand-sharpening a pencil. Files work best if you file in one direction, then remove burrs by filing in the opposite direction.
       
      Reshape Bent Parts
      Dip the misshapen piece in boiling water for a minute or two, remove and move into desired position, then immediately hold in ice water for a few minutes. NOTE: Read additional information in this document for safety recommendations!
       
      What Glue to Use
      Superglue aka cyanoacrylate works best to glue Bones to itself or other materials.
       
      What Putty to Use
      All major brands of putty tested work with bones. (Green Stuff, Milliput, etc.)
       
      What Works as a Paint Stripper
      Soak figure in Simple Green Concentrated All Purpose Cleaner for 12 – 24 hours, then scrub it with an old toothbrush.
       
      Best Primer
      None. Start with a first coat of undiluted Reaper Master Series Paint, then paint as normal from there. This is the best choice for durability and a good painting surface. Other acrylic paints that work with miniatures should have similar results. Paint can be applied with a brush or airbrush (diluted paint seems to work with an airbrush.)
       
      Best Primer if You Want to Prime Anyway
      Reaper Master Series Brush-On Primer in black or white, or Folk Art Glass & Tile Medium (also brush-on.)
       
      Best Spray Primer
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      How to Do a Wash Directly on Bones
      Thin your wash with one of the following mediums and just a small amount of water if necessary: Master Series Brush-On Sealer, Folk Art Glass & Tile Medium, Delta Ceramcoat All-Purpose Sealer.
       
       
      Can you really paint Bones miniatures straight out of the package?
       
      Absolutely! However, if you’ve ever painted metal, resin or plastic figures in the past, you may notice some differences in how the first coat of paint behaves. Paint diluted with water (even just a drop or two for a thinned base coat) may bead up and pull away from crevices. The more water you add to the paint, the more you’ll notice this effect, so water-thinned washes used directly on the Bones material don’t really work. That first coat of paint may also take a little longer to dry.
       
      Most people find that the paint applies a little better if you first wash the figure. Just scrub it with a little dish soap and a toothbrush and allow it to dry before you start to paint. Another alternative is to apply a primer or another surface preparation that works with the Bones material as the first coat.
       
      Once you get that first coat on, you can use highly thinned paint in subsequent layers and it should behave pretty much the same as on any other figure.
       
      For more information, methods to use thinned paint directly on the Bones surface, tips for quicker drying and a list of primers that do (or don’t) work with Bones, please see the Craft document Painting Bones Miniatures: The First Coat is the Difference.
       
       
      What kinds of paint work on Bones Miniatures?
       
      The Bones material is designed to work with Reaper’s Master Series and Master Series HD lines of paint. Internal testing and feedback from customers suggests that Bones also works well with the other major miniature paint lines, including Reaper’s discontinued Pro Paints, Vallejo Game Color, Vallejo Model Color, Privateer Press’ P3 Paints, and Games Workshop. Artists’ acrylic paint are also likely to work on Bones.
       
      However, please note that Reaper does not offer any guarantee or assurance that the Bones miniatures will work with any particular paint other than Master Series and Master Series HD. You are advised to test your preferred paint on a Bones figure to decide for yourself how well it works. If your paint does not work well on bare Bones, you can prepare the surface with a coat of Master Series paint and it will likely work over that.
       
       
      How do I remove the mould lines from a Bones figure?
       
      Like all miniatures, Bones figures have small mould lines as a result of the manufacturing process. You do not need to remove these to paint or use a Bones, but many people prefer to remove them for aesthetic reasons. You can remove these with the same tools you would use on a metal figure – hobby knife, files, and/or sandpaper. However, you may find that you need to use these materials in a slightly different way.
       
      Hobby knives work best if you slice under and along the mould line in a paring motion rather than scraping them along the mould line. With files and sandpaper, file in one direction perpendicular to the mould line. If you find you have burrs of material remaining, lightly file those off moving the tool in the opposite direction.
       
       
      How Durable is the Bones Material?
       
      Bones figures are remarkably durable, and not just in comparison to metal and resin figures. People have dropped Bones from a height of one storey, ground them underfoot, driven over them with a car, carried them loose in backpacks and pockets, and they’ve sustained no damage.
       
      The light weight of the material means drops and falls hit with much less mass behind them. The give of the material means it’s much better able to absorb impact, where a brittle material like resin will likely break.
       
      They’re not indestructible, but they can take an impressive amount of damage. We had several Bones figures out at the PAX Prime 2012 convention for people to examine and abuse. We bounced them off the floor, and invited dozens of people to step on them. One of the small kobolds with narrow diameter legs did break at one ankle on the third day. Another figure suffered a very small area of damage due to the friction generated by someone’s shoe grinding it across the floor.
       
       
      If Bones are so durable, is it hard to cut them up for conversions? What glue should I use?
       
      The Bones material cuts easily with a sharp hobby knife. Cuts have smooth edges and do not deform surrounding material as often happens with metal. So it is an easy matter to swap a head from one figure to another, or cut off an arm and reposition it slightly so you can customize individual figures within a unit. All it takes to glue them back together is regular superglue (cyanoacrylate). You can also use superglue to adhere Bones to metal or wood. Green Stuff and other two-part putties work well if you need to fill gaps or sculpt on additional details. Pinning is a good idea when attaching metal parts to a Bones miniature, as the added weight of the metal will otherwise make the join weaker. The plastic parts are quite stable when glued together, but pinning doesn’t hurt in plastic-to-plastic conversions, either.
       
       
      How durable is a painted Bones figure, though?
       
      Bones miniatures painted with Master Series and Master Series HD paint are surprisingly durable. You probably don’t want to grind one underfoot or drive over it with your car, but you’ll be amazed at what they can handle. Figures are unlikely to experience notable damage to the paint from regular handling, bumping against each other on the table, or getting knocked over, even when playing with the most ham-handed of players.
       
      My painted test figures survived being tossed unsecured in a plastic box with a bunch of unpainted Bones that was carried around two conventions (PAX Prime and Gen Con 2012). They were handled by hundreds of people and literally and repeatedly thrown onto tables from heights of several feet. They have some dings and chips, but the bulk of the paint jobs survived. The paint on these figures had not been coated with any sort of protective sealer.
       
      The durability of other brands of paint may vary. I have not done the same sort of extensive testing with other brands of paint. In my limited testing of how well other brands of paint apply to bare Bones, I did notice that Vallejo Model Color paints seemed to rub off the figure pretty easily. I did not notice that happening with the other brands I tested. (P3, Vallejo Game Color, Pro Paint, Adikolor.)
       
       
      Can you remove unwanted paint from a Bones figure?
       
      Sometimes painting a figure doesn’t go exactly as planned. If you would like to strip the paint from a Bones figure so you can start from scratch to paint it another way, just drop it into a dish of Simple Green Concentrated All Purpose Cleaner for 12 – 24 hours, then scrub it with an old toothbrush and it is ready to paint again. Some paint colours may leave a stain on the Bones material, but should not leave any texture or affect subsequent layers of paint. Simple Green in an eco-friendly cleaner sold in most hardware stores and some grocery stores. Brake fluid also works, though is a much more toxic material.
       
       
      Are Bones figures less detailed than their metal counterparts?
       
      Bones figures are bright white, which makes them hard to photograph. A number of people who have lacked confidence in the product quality based on the photographs in the online store have been pleasantly surprised by them once they can look at one in person. However, there are also a few people who feel the quality of the Bones is a little less than that of their metal counterparts. When available, Reaper’s online store includes photographs of painted versions of the figures that may give you a better idea, but looking at Bones yourself in person is really the only way to find out how you feel about them.
       
      I compared one of the smaller Bones, Dwarf Warrior 77011, against his counterpart, Fulumbar 14146, under magnification. The only real difference I noted between the two was that the texture of the chainmail loin cloth and the laces on the gloves were a tiny bit shallower on the Bones figure.
       
      You can see a comparison of a Bones and metal figure of the same sculpt painted identically in this thread on the Reaper forums:
      http://www.reapermini.com/forum/index.php?/topic/47477-bathalian-bones-vs-metal-challenge/
       
       
      Do Bones have sharp edges on weapons?
       
      Weapons and the like on Bones figures are cast at pretty much the same thickness as similar parts on Reaper’s metal figures. However, since Bones is a flexible plastic material, you will never be able to shave or file down an edge or a point to the same sharpness that you can achieve with a metal figure.
       
       
      Are the photographs of Bones figures in the online store and catalogue the same figures as the ones for sale?
       
      The online Reaper store and catalogue photographs of Bones miniatures are taken of production run figures – the same figures that Reaper packages up to sell.
       
       
      Can I do anything about a bent spear or sword on a Bones figure?
       
      You may find that sometimes the thinner parts on Bones, like spears and swords, will look a little bent. Or the figure might be leaning back or forward too much on its ankles. If you want to straighten those out, hold the figure with tongs or in a colander, and dip it into boiling or near boiling water for at least a minute or two. Remove it from the water, reposition the part, and immediately dunk it into a bowl of ice water for at least a minute. It should hold in the new position. If you expose the figure to heat at a later time, it may revert to its original position. For this reason, if you want to wash the figure with soap and water prior to painting, you should use cool water or wash it before you heat it to reset a warped part.
       
      Important safety notes: Please exercise caution! The Bones material may get hot when dipped in boiling water, so you should use protective gear rather than touching it with your bare fingers. The Bones material might be damaged or damage your pot if placed in direct contact with the pot surface. If you are under the age of 18, please ask your parents for permission and have them read this section before boiling Bones figures.
       
       
      Are Bones made in China or the United States?
       
      All Bones figures made prior to March 2013 were produced in China. In March 2013, Reaper installed the machine necessary to produce Bones in its factory in Texas, and began the process of transferring production in-house.
    • By R2ED
      Having recently joined the airbrush crowd, I'm discovering how much i love blasting paint through it.  Saving so so so so much time on my zenithal priming groups of minis.  
       
      Now that I've got the priming and ink through it, I'm curious about another medium going through - varnish. 
       
      I own satin and gloss varnish from liquitex. I've used them as brush on, which isn't my favorite.  I want to know: 
       
      1.  Has anyone used this in an airbrush? 
      2.  If yes, how did you thin it?  Did you use airbrush thinner or something else? 
      3.  Does it require different means to clean after using? 
       
      I'm super paranoid about clogging or ruining this new tool of mine.  I found out Stynylrez primer wasn't just pour in and go.  Made for a fun clean up with my first go at priming.  
       
      There's a ton of stuff I'm seeing on testors dullcote from the bottle and mixing it with their thinner, but I'm hoping to use what i have if it's possible.  
       
      I'm not asking what you use as much as I'm seeking specifically "has anyone used liquitex varnish in their airbrush? "
       
      And... any pictures of your results? 
    • By Heisler
      This is a long one, get your favorite beverage and put your feet up.
       
      Before I get to far there is an Airbrush Compendium thread here: https://forum.reapermini.com/index.php?/topic/62981-airbrushing-the-compendium/
      It is pinned and updated on a regular basis. There are a ton of links to airbrush threads in the forum as well as links to other forums, websites and videos.
      I constantly see questions about what airbrush to buy and why, I thought a post specifically about selecting an airbrush would be helpful. While I’m certainly not an expert airbrush user, it is a part of my painting tool set. I find it indispensable for applying even coats of paint to large areas and for some types of detail work. For vehicles it is the only tool I use for applying the primer and basecoat all the way through to the final camouflage. For miniatures I use it to prime large groups of minis as well as blocking out areas of color for uniforms (shirts and pants) and some initial shading work. It is really useful for painting busts and getting nice smooth applications of color and shading in preparation for detail painting. Those are just a few of the painting activities you can use it for.
       
      Major Airbrush Components - The parts that make the difference
      For our purposes we are only concerned with two types of airbrushes; single action and double action.
       
      Triggers
      Single action airbrushes are the simplest of the two, you press the trigger and you get paint. The better single action airbrushes will have an adjustment screw at the end which allows you some control over how much paint is flowing through the airbrush.
       
      Double action airbrushes are more complicated, but they allow you a lot more control. With a double action you get air when you depress the trigger and as you pull it back it allows paint to flow through. The further you pull it back the more paint you will get. This allows you to adjust how fine a line you paint and as you pull back the trigger farther you can widen the line. In other words, if you want to paint a large area you would pull the trigger back all the way, for a smaller area just pull the trigger back as far as you need. Since you control the trigger you can vary how much paint comes through “on the fly”. Some double action versions have an adjustment screw on the end. Like a single action this allows you to set the maximum amount of paint you want to spray. If you were painting a lot of very fine lines you could set the adjustment screw to only allow you to pull the trigger back enough to get just the amount of paint you need.
       
      Paint Supply
      There are two primary ways to get paint into the airflow; siphon and gravity feed. You can get single and double action airbrushes with the method of your choice and there are a few types out there that will allow you to switch from one to the other. You will find that the higher end airbrushes are usually dedicated to one or the other.
       
      Siphon Feed
      With a siphon feed the paint goes into a jar and the jar is mounted to the front of the airbrush. A hose feeds down into the paint jar and paint is drawn up through the hose into the airbrush when the trigger is depressed. This type tends to be a bit nose heavy with the weight of the jar and the paint. This type of feed is great when you need a lot of paint for large areas (like terrain). Not as useful for smaller work as the jar typically needs to hold quite a bit of paint for the siphon to work correctly and the jar sometimes is in the way if you are trying to do close in work.
       
      Gravity Feed
      This is a paint cup that either sits directly on top of the airbrush or on the side (the top mount is the most common). The paint cup size can vary in size quite a bit, if there is a choice, I would recommend getting the largest cup available to avoid constantly reloading paint for larger projects. The gravity feed works by gravity! Paint is dropping down, internally from the paint cup to mix with the airstream. I have played with a couple of airbrushes that have side mounted paint cups but I find the side mounts are a little heavier on the side they are mounted on and I tend to spill paint out of the cup (primarily because I don’t always put the cap on the paint cup, but that’s my personal problem).
       
      Internal or External Mix
      An external mix airbrush introduces paint into one side of the air stream. An external mix is very difficult to clog so it is much more forgiving of paint viscosity. They also tend to be much easier to clean; a supply of pipe cleaners will do the trick most of the time. Because of the way the paint is introduced into the air stream you get uneven atomization. In other words, if you paint a line one edge will have more coverage than the other edge. Its hard to paint fine details because of this. I would only use an external mix for large areas where details are not an issue.
      An internal mix airbrush introduces paint directly into the middle of the air stream. This allows for very fine atomization and a more even distribution of the paint. This allows you to paint very fine details as the paint is guided by the needle. This does require thin paint, thick paint or any kind of debris (dried paint from the rim of a paint bottle is a good example) introduced through the paint will clog the airbrush. Sometimes trying to figure out why your internal mix is clogging can be a real challenge!
       
      Needle Size
      Needle size is the key attribute for an airbrush. Without the needle you just have an expensive spray can. The needle acts as the flow limiter and directs the atomized paint down the taper. This taper determines how finely you can paint. For example, a general purpose needle, 0.7, will cover a much larger area when fully open, than a super detail 0.3 will. Conversely the 0.3 will paint a much finer line than the 0.7 can.
       
      An important note about the needle. Depending on the size the tip can be bent relatively easily (super detail needles in particular) so you need to take care when you are breaking it down or re-assembling it. A bent tip is not the end of the world though and can still be used its just not going to spray straight so you can’t use if for detail painting but you can still paint large areas or prime minis or apply basecoats with it.
       
      It is possible to straighten a needle with a little care. Take two smooth edged coins (in the USA pennies and nickels are good quarters are not) and place them on either side of the needle. I apply a pressure to the coins to hold them in place and then push them towards each other as I pull the needle between them. Just make sure that the direction of the bent tip is facing one of the coins, if the bend is straight up or down it will not come in to contact with the coins and will not have a chance to straighten. I usually have one or two spare needles on hand, but I never throw a bent one away, like a brush with a curved tip it still has its uses.
       
      Selecting your airbrush
      Now that you have an idea of what makes up an airbrush we can move on to the big question. What do you really want to do with your airbrush? If you only have one thing you intend to use it for it’s a pretty easy question. For most us there are multiple answers to this question, and it may be that it will take multiple airbrushes to achieve radically different goals. If all you intend to do is paint terrain or to prime miniatures then a single action, siphon feed, 0.7 needle airbrush is all you need. If you intend to have an air brush as part of your painting tool kit then a double action, gravity feed, 0.5 needle airbrush would be a good place to start. One important thing to keep in mind is while most airbrushes are dedicated to a single needle size some of them are capable of using multiple sizes of needles like the Harder-Steinbeck Infinity or the brand new Reaper Miniatures Vex.
       
      Example :
      Define the painting goal(s):
      I am, primarily, an army painter mostly painting both 15mm and 1/56th scale vehicles along with large batches of minis both 15mm and 28mm. Along with priming I tend to do initial painting and shading of the 28mm miniatures with the airbrush. None of those goals seem to be radically different. Can I do this with a single airbrush?
      The basic answer is yes, I could, but it makes achieving some of my goals a bit more difficult. On the other hand, my list of goals is a lot more all encompassing then when I first started looking for an airbrush. At that time my army painting was almost exclusively 15mm. Based on that I decided that I would need a dual action airbrush for the flexibility it offered while painting, a gravity feed because I didn’t need to have a lot of paint in the paint cup due to the size of the minis (and I remembered absolutely hating the siphon feed on my very first airbrush) and a detail needle, again, due to size.
       
      Based on my needs and some recommendations I went with an Iwata Eclipse (Dual Action, 0.35mm needle, 1/3 oz paint cup). This is an excellent brush and it got the job done, but priming was a pain in the butt it took forever because the coverage area of the detail needle was so small. I also found that I couldn’t really paint for long sessions, 30 minutes was about the limit because my hand would begin to cramp.
       
      A couple of years later I bought a Harder-Steinbeck Infinity Two in One (Dual Action, 0.15 needle and a 0.4 needle, 2ml and 5ml paint cup) specifically thinking that I could replace the Iwata with it. In the end I kept using both. The Iwata for detail and the HS for more general painting with the larger .04 needle. It was just a pain to swap out the needles in the HS since there was a specific tip for each needle. While the 0.15 can paint incredibly small things it clogs at the hint of the paint being too thick. Again, I found my sessions to be limited with my hand cramping up after an hour or so, although longer than the Iwata allowed.
       
      At some point in time I managed to break (well lose when cleaning) some parts in both the Iwata and the HS and replacing those parts was difficult (parts replacement is a lot easier now, I really should get both of those airbrushes up and running again) so I decided that I would try something else. This time I went with the (then new) Badger Renegade Velocity. The Velocity is a dual action airbrush with a 0.21 needle, and 1/3oz paint cup. When compared to the Iwata and the HS it is heavy and I didn’t know that till I pulled it out of the case. I was already sacrificing the larger coverage of the HS and I was concerned that my hand would cramp even faster with the Velocity. Fortunately, I was wrong the design fits much better in my hand and I have used this brush for 2-3 hours without my hand cramping.
       
      I’m now considering adding another airbrush to take care of priming large batches of figures and that initial uniform work (because that is still a pain point with the Velocity). I’m contemplating the Badger Patriot 105 or the Reaper Vex. Pricing might end up making the decision for me as the Vex is definitely on the higher end of airbrush prices. I have handled a Vex prototype at a ReaperCon and it is about the same weight as the Velocity, so I know it fits nicely in my hands (and swapping out the needles in the Vex is very easy) while the Patriot is a bit of an unknown.
       
      Airbrush Brands
      Which brand to pick? This is one of those personal preference things. First pick out the type of airbrush you want; i.e. single action or double action and either a siphon feed or gravity feed. Then you can go looking for airbrushes. The most frequently talked about airbrush brands are: Badger, Grex, Harder-Steinbeck, Iwata, Master and Passche. If you know someone that owns an airbrush, try theirs out or go into a store and see if they will let you handle them. Otherwise take a shot and just order one and give it a go. I will say that I’m not a fan of Master, while the price is right the quality is not. It is kind of like the difference between using cheap brushes and Kolinsky Sables.
       
      Other Required Equipment
      Compressors
      The other crucial item that you will need is a compressor (there are other options like canned compressed air or actual oxygen bottles). There are a whole lot of compressors out there to pick from. Stay away from the big pancake style compressor/tank combinations. While they hold a lot of air they are incredibly noisy when they are running. I was in an airbrush class one time with about ten people and one of them brought a big pancake style compressor, it was so loud that we made him put it out on the dock about 25’ away and on the other side of a wall and you could still hear it when it was running. The basic features we are looking for are relatively quiet, a tank, a regulator (which allows you to control the PSI) and a moisture trap (which is often a part of the regulator). Having a tank means that the compressor won’t be running all the time, it will run when the PSI level in the tank is to low and turns on when the tank is to low.
       
      Regulator
      Without a regulator a compressor is pretty much useless for our purposes. Fortunately most compressors come with one, but check before you buy I have seen a few that don’t come with a regulator. If you can’t control the airflow you are at the mercy of whatever PSI level the compressor can push through your hose which is likely to be way to high to work with (great for filling the tires on your car though). A lot of regulators have a moisture trap built into them, this trap keeps water out of the hose, you don’t want to be adding additional water into your airbrush after you have carefully thinned your paint! If you live in a low humidity area you can get by without one. In Colorado I have seldom seen water in the water trap in my regulator.
      A quiet compressor will allow you to run your airbrush without disturbing everyone in the house or in the apartments around you. While the compressor from Harbor Freight is really tempting, I would avoid it. It is a bit noisy and it has a tendency to overheat and shutdown, typically in the middle of painting session.
       
      You may have heard talk about the airflow pulsing if you don’t have a tank. This is mostly a true statement its just how compressors work. A tank will take care of the pulsing by storing the air and only releasing it when the trigger on the airbrush is depressed allowing an even flow of air, however, if you have a hose from the tank to the airbrush that’s 4’ or longer that will take care of the pulsing too. I ran a compressor without a tank for years without seeing the effects of “pulsing” air. A better benefit of having a tank is not having the compressor running the entire time you’re painting.
       
      What the heck is PSI and why do you care? PSI stands for “pounds per square inch” which seems like an odd measurement for air but its all about pressure. The higher the PSI the more forcefully the air flows through the brush. You need to know at least the maximum PSI number for a compressor. Something in the 30+ range is what you are looking for. The regulator is what actually determines the pressure of the air coming through to the brush so it is important that the regulator have a good range with the top end being at least 30 PSI and the bottom in a 0-5 range. The regulator on my compressor goes from 0-100 PSI. The higher you set the PSI on the regulator the farther away you need to hold the airbrush from the model or mini. Distance affects how fine a line or how small an area you can paint. You cannot create a pencil thin line from 8” away. In fact, if you are to far away the paint may even dry before it hits the surface, this will result in a rough, pebbly texture on the surface of your mini or model. The lower the PSI the closer you can be to the mini. Lower PSI requires thinner paint which is why there is no magic ratio for thinning paint it, depends on what you are doing. You can happily run at 20+ PSI when you are priming or painting large areas, but you can’t run at that same level if you are painting details or small areas. I usually try to do the bulk of my painting, even priming, in the 10-12 PSI range and will step down as low as 8 PSI for really fine lines.
       
      Hoses
      You can’t get the air from the compressor to the airbrush without a hose. If the compressor doesn’t have a moisture trap you can get an inline one for the hose to take care of it. Most compressors have ¼ fittings at the regulator and you may need an adaptor to make it fit at the airbrush end. A lot of airbrushes will come with the correct adaptor but double check. There is nothing more frustrating than not having all the pieces to make your new toy work. Even if you buy a complete “kit” double check for hose adaptors or if it even comes with a hose!
       
      Painting booths (Optional, kind of)
      The very nature of how the airbrush works means that there will be overspray. You can get an airbrush booth to help contain it or just a cardboard box. When painting in a confined area its quite possible that you will be breathing in the overspray that’s not all that good for your lungs. Painting in a large open area (outside or perhaps a garage space) can alleviate the need for a booth/box setup. To protect yourself there are a couple of options. Wear a mask, a full mask not just a little sanding mask, you need something that will filter the air you are breathing. Better yet a spraybooth with a fan that can vent out a window or in a pinch into a box that you can close up. There are a lot of DIY solutions to this problem as well just be aware that it is something you need to deal with.
       
      Thinning your paint
      Airbrushes don’t work very well with paint straight from the jar or bottle. Quite frankly I thin all the paint that I run through my airbrush including paints designed specifically for it. Thin your paint with thinners designed for it, for acrylic paint tap water is fine (distilled water if you are in an area with hard water). I personally do not recommend Windex, the chemicals (ammonia in particular) in Windex can break down the seals in an airbrush. There are folks that use Isopropyl Alcohol, while it works well I’m not a fan of it after a little research, unless you are wearing a mask. In an atomized state this stuff is really, really bad for you. I personally like Vallejo’s airbrush thinner but there are a lot of similar products out there.
      Thinning paint is more art than science. The thing to remember is that the finer a needle you are using the thinner the paint needs to be. The closer you want to be to the mini the thinner the paint needs to be. For more general work start at about a 1:1 ratio of paint to your favorite thinner and be prepared to adjust from there.
       
      Cleaning
      I’m not going to get to heavy into this subject as it’s a bit off topic. I bring it up because people in forums will say that they can paint something faster than it takes to setup an airbrush and clean it when you are done. It is either because they don’t use their airbrush regularly or they don’t take proper care of it and it clogs as soon as they pull the trigger. Keeping an airbrush clean and ready to go doesn’t take any longer than getting ready to paint with a brush. Its like any tool, if you use it regularly you know what to do, if you use it infrequently then it feels like you are relearning every time you sit down with it. If you are using it infrequently why did you buy it in the first place?
       
      If you are swapping out colors you usually don’t need to do more than run a capful of water (or whatever is used to thin the paint) through the airbrush until the spray is clear before moving to the next color (if you are shading sometimes you don’t even need to do that). At the end of a painting session I run a cup full of cleaner through the airbrush (Vallejo makes an airbrush cleaner, and I’m sure there are others), then break it down. Smaller components go into a small jar that has just enough cleaner to cover them. I pull out the needle and wipe it clean (be careful of the tip you don’t want to bend it) and set it aside in the tube it came in or in a protected spot. Then I run a micro cleaning needle through the main airway to remove anything that has built up, you can do this with a cleaning brush (or even a pipe cleaner depending on the brush) as well. Do pay attention to the warranty on your airbrush, there are tools that you can use to clean it that might void the warranty. The Velocity has a spot right between the paint chamber and the nose where  that tends to build up with dried paint and clog the airbrush. The other bad spot is the small tip where the needle comes through. I run a very fine wire through this and then put it in the jar to soak and clean it again before I start my next session. If you aren’t using a super detail needle ( 0.15 – 0.31 or so) you probably don’t need to do this. You will quickly identify areas in your airbrush that must be really clean in order to work properly especially the detail airbrushes.
       
      That’s about it. If you have questions feel free to ask or see if your question has already been asked and answered in the Airbrush Compendium thread.
    • By OneBoot
      I received a commission to paint some lovely porcelain Santa figures by a friend of mine, and I'm not sure what primer to use, or whether I need to use primer at all.
       
      Does anyone have experience with this? Is a spray primer likely to cause damage? I'd use brush-on, but given that each figure is 10 inches tall, that's a bit more hand-priming than I want to do!
       
      Here's one of them as an example (there are 7 in total):

       
      Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
       
      Huzzah!
      --OneBoot :D
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