Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Getting started with airbrushing

One of the most common subjects of discussion and frustration in Facebook groups — after D-Day stripes — is airbrushing. Newcomers want to know which airbrush to buy, and once they have one in hand, they struggle with its use.

If you struggle, don’t feel bad. Airbrushing is one of the most challenging tasks in our hobby to master, in part because there are so many variables:

  • Your airbrush
  • The cleanliness of your airbrush
  • The paint you use
  • The thinner
  • The paint to thinner ratio
  • The air pressure you spray at
  • Your technique
  • The weather

If you’re new to airbrushing here are a few suggestions based on my experience over the years.

Purchase any double-action airbrush

There are many airbrushes on the market in every price range. And modelers are quick to offer suggestions for all of them. If you’re new, the best advice I can offer is to start with a double-action airbrush in the $30-$50 price range. I want to suggest the Iwata HP-CH that I use, but the $150 price tag is a bit much for a beginner. You can always upgrade as you build experience.

Select just two or three paints

When you’ve purchased an airbrush, your first decision will be which paint to use. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the choices. You’ll find modelers who are strong advocates for each paint on the market, as well as some who will tell you avoid this paint or that paint at all costs. 

My advice is to but one color from two or three manufacturers so you can use them yourself and choose the brand you like the best. I’d probably recommend:

  • Tamiya
  • MRP
  • Mr Hobby
  • AMMO by Mig

In addition, purchase each manufacturer’s own thinner for now. There are alternatives, but if you’re beginning, best to keep it simple.


Before you even think about using your new airbrush on a model you care about, spend a few weeks learning how to spray each of the paints you purchased. Your goal is to simply explore the characteristics of each paint given these two variables -- air pressure and paint-to-thinner ratio.

You’ve probably seen YouTube videos where modelers are pouring paint and thinner directly into the airbrush and mixing by eye. If you’re new, you’re better off building your experience by counting drops of paint and thinner and writing them down for future reference. When you find a combination that works for you, you’ll want to be able to use it over and over. You’re not mixing a lot of paint at this stage, just enough to see how well you can spray the paint. 10-20 drops of paint and thinner will be sufficient for you to apply overall coats of paint and fine lines.

Practice, practice, practice

When you’ve found a paint manufacturer and thinning ratio you like, the next step is to practice on old models. Your goal is to reach a point where you can apply paint to your model with consistent results. When you’re ready to commit paint to a model that’s important to you, the last thing you want is an unpleasant surprise, so taking time to continue to master your airbrush and paint is important.

I hope you find these ideas helpful. Airbrushing is hard, but if you’re diligent and persistent, there’s no reason why you can’t use your airbrush with good results.

P.S. On final thought.... For all that is holy in this world, please, please keep your airbrush clean! A little extra effort after each airbrushing session goes a long way to ensuring your most valuable tool can give you the results you seek.

No comments:

Post a Comment