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"Best Airbrushes for Miniatures & Wargames Models" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP07 Sep 2019 2:35 p.m. PST

"Searching for the best airbrushes for miniatures & wargames models can be rather arduous. Even within a specific brand or model, there are many considerations to make. How do you know you are selecting the correct airbrushing kits, especially when committing so much money? We'll show you below by cutting the chaff out of model airbrushes…"
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Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP07 Sep 2019 5:49 p.m. PST

Wow, who knew airbrush selection could be so complicated?

That is a good article. Wish it provided similar details and ratings for the "honorable mention" air brushes.

Would like to see similar recommendations and comparisons for the small, airbrush compressors too.

Bowman08 Sep 2019 7:37 a.m. PST

Wow, who knew airbrush selection could be so complicated?

It's not.

Pick an airbrush with a dual action trigger finger control and a gravity fed cup design. If you are a beginner, buy one of the less expensive models first. And start with a .35 to .40mm nozzle tip. Get the fine tipped .18 nozzle once you are more familiar with airbrushing. I happen to own the #1, #2 and #6 picks, according to this author. In my opinion, all the top 10 and Honourable Mention airbrushes should be fine.

All the brushes will take a bit of hands-on experience to get them to do what you want. In my opinion, the tool is not as important as the hand that wields it… a point. A beginner painter may not appreciate a Windsor and Newton #7 Sable brush right away, but they will progress faster without struggling with poorly built paintbrushes. Same with airbrushes. The time you spend with them is more important than slight differences amongst brands.

Bowman08 Sep 2019 7:48 a.m. PST

Here is a good example of the tips and techniques needed to become a good airbrusher. You'll see that brand choice is not as important.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP08 Sep 2019 3:52 p.m. PST



wmyers08 Sep 2019 4:20 p.m. PST

Now for Top 10 Compressors for Miniatures.

Bowman09 Sep 2019 9:12 a.m. PST

I can't give you a run down of the 10 best compressors, but I can tell you what to look for.

First, are you going to be doing other things with your compressor like auto work and such? If so, the industrial compressors have step down equipment to attach an airbrush for miniature use. I don't do that and know nothing about that type of set up. But there are many on TMP that do just that.

If you are using this mainly for miniatures you only need a low-medium pressure compressor and all the brand name airbrush companies make good ones.

But here is what to look for:

Most compressors have a range of about 20-35 psi. That is fine for most conditions. But once you get better and have a fine small nozzle airbrush you will want to go down even further in pressure. You may find that 10-15 psi works best for this. The more expensive ones will let you dial down to those low pressures directly. Others have a "bleed valve" that let you bleed out some air to reach lower air pressures. They both work fine, but bleed valves have their own issues.

My Iwata Smart Jet has auto shut off technology. This means once the compressor reaches the desired pressure it turns off. This is great as it reduces wear and tear on the engine and makes it last longer and heat up much less. However, if you use your bleed valve, the extra air is always leaking out, so the auto shut off mechanism never comes into play as it is always compressing. I got around that by getting extra tubing and getting a secondary air tank. There are internet websites showing you how to "hot rod" your compressor, sometimes by using a plastic soda bottle. This is only an issue if you become an expert and need to paint a lot at 10 psi for extreme detail work.

Compressors made by the airbrush companies are very quiet. My Iwata is extremely quiet and someone in the other room can't tell it is on. Plus, with the auto shut off, it only runs about half the time.

All airbrush manufacturers use different attachment screws (annoying). Good compressors will come with converters for all the major airbrush manufacturers. Stick with the brand names.

All the brand names should have small moisture traps. You really need this. I also have a second mini trap on my brush line and they both end up with water condensing in them, especially if brushing a lot on a humid summers day.

All the brand names have air intake filters to clean and dry the air entering your compressor. This is only important if you'll be spraying in a space with dirty air.

Use a painters respirator or better yet get a dedicated spray booth. All airbrushing creates a fine aerosol that you don't want to breathe in. But a mask should do the trick. As for spray booths, I have this one and it works great:


Hope that helps. I'm sure I may have missed something and others will chime in.

I'm not an Iwata salesman but they do make good product and their parts are available easily throughout Canada and the US. However, the competitors also make good products. Here is a very short comparison of Iwata compressors. Mine is the one in the middle:

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP09 Sep 2019 6:05 p.m. PST

Thanks for all the detailed info.

I really appreciate it.

I want/need an airbrush and compressor, so your info will be very helpful indeed.

wmyers09 Sep 2019 8:44 p.m. PST

Bowman, thanks for the info! I have my olde compressor from when I was a kid and first got into airbrushing. That's a few years ago. It's not that quiet …

I have been mostly painting figures so haven't needed to use it much – I used to build a lot more models (armour, planes, automotive).

I know the Iwata stuff is very well made, as most Japanese equipment is. I will have to check out their air compressors – it would be nice to have a newer one that does not run continuously.

I know all about the individual hose connections and the annoyance that can cause. My Badger and Paasche airbrushes are fine, but I bought one at a local farm shop (Peavey Mart, believe it or not. The price was right and the quality of the build seems quite good but I haven't been able to try it and haven't really gone out of my way to find an hose adapter.

I believe Michael's might sell an Iwata compressor or two and with their 50% coupons, it might be an idea to pursue (if the model is applicable).

That's a good video, thank you!

Bowman11 Sep 2019 4:33 a.m. PST

That brush is probably a Chinese knock off. A lot of Americans I know buy similar airbrushes through Harbor Freight and give them good reviews. Maybe one could chime in about the adapters.

wmyers11 Sep 2019 9:16 a.m. PST

Bowman, maybe you could explain a bit more about the psi levels.

The olde compressor I have has a bleed valve but no pressure gauge (I've never attached an external one to it to gauge the pressure).

The Iwata Ninja is supposed to be a low pressure compressor – I believe it only goes to 18 psi.

You stated 10 – 15 psi might be best for fine tip work. Would that low of an amount work for medium and large tips/needles?

Do you thin your paint the same, regardless of psi?

Thank you, again, in advance.

*I'm asking about the Ninja as I believe that is what Michael's has and if I can get one that works for 1/2 price, that's an option – mind you, considering I do have a compressor that constantly runs, the Ninja is probably not something I need*

Bowman11 Sep 2019 10:31 a.m. PST

The olde compressor I have has a bleed valve but no pressure gauge (I've never attached an external one to it to gauge the pressure).

That must be real old as it is "olde". Lol.

I don't know anything about this but here is a conversation on Dakka-Dakka that should push you towards the correct direction.


Three advantages to going this route.

1) You already have a compressor and a sizeable tank.

2) Due to the noise you'll be running this in your garage, I assume? Then you will have better ventilation and might not need to worry about paint aerosol beyond a simple filter mask.

3) Also with a big tank, you turn on the compressor and it fills the tank. Turn off the compressor and you probably have a long time of air brushing available. Just keep an eye on your pressure gauge. This should never wear the compressor engine down.

The Iwata Ninja is supposed to be a low pressure compressor I believe it only goes to 18 psi.

You stated 10 15 psi might be best for fine tip work. Would that low of an amount work for medium and large tips/needles?

Short answer is yes. Low pressures with small nozzles give you a very fine line. Too much air will blow the paint everywhere. A larger nozzle will give you a thicker line. Depends what you want to do.

Imagine painting camouflage patterns on 15mm WW2 Japanese tanks. You'll need low air pressure and a fine needle. I'll say this is a skill that a bit of time with your brush will give you.

Imagine you want to prime your figures using Badger Stynylrez primer. Then 20-25 psi with a regular nozzle will work faster. This is super easy and one of the best uses of an airbrush. Especially during humid weather.

Do you thin your paint the same, regardless of psi?

Yes, if I'm using my normal paints. I wish I could say it is always successful. Knowing how to dilute your paint is a skill all of its own. Sometimes I've done this well and sometimes I've clogged my brush immediately, Lol. You may want to start with Vallejo Airbrush paints As they are pre-diluted. Or there are helpful videos on YouTube.

Basically the more watery your paint is, the more you'll create "spiders" with higher air pressures. You'll have to check out some airbrushing videos to see what that means. Plus how close you are to your figure/model makes a big difference too. Think inverse square law here. Moving twice the distance away from the painted surface will reduce the pressure 4 times. But it also increases the spray area……a much thicker line.

And how well you use the double action control makes a lot of difference. Pushing down increases the air and pulling back increases the paint coming out. Like I said it's a learned skill.

Now, I play with 28mm figures so my tanks are 1/56 scale. So I use me Iwata with the bleed valve open (about 10-15 psi) with a small nozzle airbrush to paint the same camo patterns.

Happy to help.

Walking Sailor Supporting Member of TMP11 Sep 2019 1:21 p.m. PST

Disclosure; my air brushing skill level is limited to priming, base coat, and varnish. However, I have used a lot of air compressors.

link You can see that this has all the necessary accessories; the knob to control the output pressure, the gauge to read it, and a filter/water trap with clear bowl and drain. This one says 58 psi, I have an older one of these that shuts off at 24 psi (extra pressure can be useful for cleaning). Mine is quiet enough to have on the work bench (more on that below). $70 USD

link link These are the same compressor head on different tanks. Measure your space. Pressure is adjustable, the two gauges measure tank pressure and output. You will need a filter/water trap (and plumbing).The tanks will dampen the pulses from the compressor, I haven't found that to be an issue (see disclosure above). They are enough to top up your car tires. The $10 USD that you save buying one will not cover the cost of the 25 foot air hose (and the air chuck) that you will need to do that but, you will want that hose so that you can put the compressor in the closet to run it. They are louder. There will be noise complaints if anyone else is at home. The big box stores also have them, check prices. That's where I got mine (torpedo tank, on sale). $60 USD

link This one stays in the garage. BECAUSE IT'S LOUD. Loud enough to roll it out the door before plugging it in. It doesn't have a water trap/filter, or a hose, or connectors, or accessories (blow gun, tire chuck et al.). $140 USD You don't need it, stick to one of the above.

About that disclosure, the guys are correct. It's more about operator skill. Once you get the tools use them to get better with them.

Bowman11 Sep 2019 2:13 p.m. PST

Walking Sailer,

The first example looks like a knock off of my Iwata, complete with the carrying handle (very useful by the way). I can't tell, but I assume that the water trap valve can be kept open to be a bleed valve? Going up to 58psi is not useful to me as I don't use it for anything beyond airbrushing. How low can you go with the pressure?

Oh ya, almost forgot, what varnish do you airbrush with? Do you use it straight out of the bottle?

Walking Sailor Supporting Member of TMP11 Sep 2019 7:13 p.m. PST

Now I use the second compressor in an empty garage, wearing a mask. No over spray on cars or my lungs. That's very important.
Next up, one of those air brush spray booths link So I'm not so weather dependent, and waiting for everyone to leave.
So I dug out the little compressor, and I can crank it up to about 55 psi. Useful to blow it out if you haven't thinned or mixed your paint right (but you didn't hear that misuse from me).
The drain is a spring loaded plunger, it cannot be used as a bleed, but you don't need it to. "Steam gauges" are most accurate in the middle of their range. They are not accurate at the ends of their range. (Can you remember when speedometers started at 2 mph? … 5 mph?) This gauge is marked with five segments between each labeled 10 psi increment, except from 10 psi down there are only four segments to the peg. It has a sintered bronze filter, I can unwind the knob until it cycles off from the back pressure on the filter, then listen to the pressure bleed off, and it cycles between these two points without the needle lifting from the peg.
I screwed on an airbrush*, dry. Flat out it holds at 22 psi. It will hold at any lower setting. Mix and thin accordingly.

Varnish. At my level I buy the flavor of the day as the brands cycle through my FLGS. I do follow the orthodoxy of gloss first (it prevents decal silvering, if you're using them), then flat (and let's see what this starts again). Thinned as necessary

*Paasche H series link a single action, syphon feed. Notice that no single action or syphon feed gun was even mentioned in the OP cited article, I didn't think it was still made. That is the action of the quart size automotive spray gun. Where again I was shooting only primer. "A man's got to know his limitations"**

**Magnum Force (Dirty Harry 2) An under appreciated bit of wisdom.

Bowman12 Sep 2019 8:37 a.m. PST

Thanks, WS.

wmyers12 Sep 2019 9:29 a.m. PST

Mine is like the first one Walking Sailor linked to. It does not have a tank on it to hold the air, it's a constant running (like the Iwata Ninja).

Ideally, I'd like one with autoon/off that only runs when it needs to fill the tank.

I have a lot of 1/48 vehicles to build (I prefer the way 1/48 looks with 28mm WWII figures' large proportions another semi-unrelated topic that gets argued/discussed a lot) so I do have a need to start using it again.

I only use water soluble paints but I did get some automotive paints for cars so I have wanted to get one of the airbrush booths like WS linked above. They really seem overpriced for what they are (I've made my own in the past with a furnace filter and fan in a box but that, aesthetically, only goes so far …).

Harbour Frieght has some good prices but wrong country.

However, we do have an Uncle Weiners link

(Yeah, I know, it's literally like being in an Appallachee Don YouTube link or Marshall Brothers YouTube link video out here.

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