Airbrush Setup

21 Mar

Wanting to improve the quality of my builds, I finally bit the bullet and forked out for a complete airbrush setup. I read the excellent guide written by my mate John from The Painting Bunker, then we hooked up and spent a few hours driving around Brisbane together picking up all the bits and pieces.

John’s advice was to spend MORE on the compressor and LESS on the actual brush. That sounded a little counter-intuitive to me, but he made sense. According to John, and he – literally – is the expert, you should expect to trash your first airbrush due to a variety of reasons. So spending $100+ on a brush isn’t too smart. Instead, I bought a $60 job from Supercheap Auto.

There are effectively two functions of an airbrush that you need to make a decision about. One is how the paint feeds into the brush. There are Gravity Fed and Syphon Fed brushes, and they’re pretty self explanatory. The Gravity Fed brushes have a little “tub” attached to the top of the brush and when you press the trigger, the paint drops into the brush and out the nozzle.

The Syphon Feed has a jar that attaches UNDER the brush and has a little tube in it. When you press the trigger, the paint is syphoned UP the tube and through the brush. There’s pros and cons for both. The Gravity Fed brushes allow you to use every single drop of paint, meaning you use a greater percentage of the paint you’ve mixed. The Syphon Fed brushes need more paint, since the tube might not reach the bottom of the jar, or it may not be able to suck every little drop of paint – so you get more wastage.

The second feature is single or dual action. With single action, you press the trigger and air and paint flow through the brush. This can be a slight problem, since the brush may drop paint into the brush before the airflow is constant. That means that the brush will kind of “spit” a dollop of paint out each time you press the trigger.

With dual action, you press the trigger which starts the flow of air. Then, you gently pull the trigger to the rear, releasing the paint into the already flowing airstream. This means that the paint exits the brush in a more constant stream from the get-go.

So while most people will tell you that a Gravity Fed, dual action brush is the best, it really depends on what YOU want and how YOU work. Admittedly, you get better control and efficiency if you use one of these, but I know guys with syphon fed and single action brushes that swear by them.

The compressor is a different matter. It seems that the performance of the brush is mostly dictated by the compressor. Here’s some info for beginners: Air compressors work by the movement of a diaphragm that basically pumps air through the hose. But the movement of that diaphragm makes the air move in a “pulse” kind of pattern. Sure, it’s small, but that pulse is transferred to the flow of air through the brush.

To counter that pulsing, you can get a compressor with a holding tank. They’re more expensive, but they remove that pulsing. The way they do that is by having the diaphragm pump the air into the holding tank, and then a regulator pushes the air out the other end – in a smooth, steady stream. That means that when you paint, the paint comes out nice and steady.

I purchased a Sparmax TC-610H compressor (with holding tank) from my LHS and it set me back $325. I’m sure they’re cheaper in America, but John tells me this compressor should last me 20 years, and it’s something I will NEVER outgrow. I hope he’s reading this!

Next, I apparently needed a whole bunch of accessories. A quick-release coupler so I can take the brush off the airhose without having to unscrew it, a desktop cleaning station for a quick clean between colours, a stand so I can keep the brush upright while I’m working, plus acrylic thinner, demineralised water (for cleaning), brake fluid (for cleaning) and mineral turpentine (for cleaning). All up, I spent around $460 and I’m good to go. Except I don’t know what I’m doing, haha.

So in the next week or two, I’ll hook up with John again, and he’s going to give me some lessons on how the brush works, how to get great results with it, how to clean it all properly, and how to do some weathering on my cars.

If you haven’t visited John’s site yet, get yourself over there and take a look. John paints wargaming miniatures, but his painting skills are second to none. He’s been published in a UK magazine, and in 2012 he won awards at the Queensland (Australia) annual model show – including Best Overall Paintjob. The time and detail John puts into his painting is truly remarkable, and I can’t wait to be taught by The Grasshopper of airbrushing.


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Posted by on March 21, 2013 in Tutorials


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