Airbrushes and Warhammer 40k

An airbrush is a great addition to any modeler's arsenal

Why?

When most people start off painting Warhammer miniatures they buy the necessary 4-5 specialty brushes, a paint set, canned spray paint, and maybe some extras such as Future Floor Polish and magnifying glasses.  These essential tools are all anyone would ever need to get fantastic results and will satisfy most people for years to come.  However, for someone who wants to paint large scenery, vehicles, and many figures in short order then adding an airbrush can make the job much easier and even cheaper in the long run.  An airbrush is a great addition to the modeler’s bench as not only can it be used for quickly laying even base coats on even the largest models, it can also be used for many other projects that most hobbyists partake in as well such as car models, RC, touch up work, and hundreds of other applications.

Simply put there is only so much a modeler can do with canned paints and a brush.  Having a hobby/professional grade airbrush can expand the number of painting techniques at the user’s disposal.  Detailed battle damage, kicked up dirt and dust, and blending can be very easy to do with a proper airbrush set and can instantly add more pop to the final product.  Buying cans of paint can be costly, especially if they are purchased from the local Games Workshop retailer as they can cost upwards of 15 dollars per can.  Just getting the basic 3 colors can be a 45 dollar investment which run dry after a few boxed sets.

Wonderful results such as these would be much harder without an airbrush. (From Heresy-Online, LeeHarvey)

Over time an airbrush not only gives better results by providing a smoother finish, fine adjustment, and offering custom mixtures but it also uses any paint already in the modeler’s paint rack.  Pull any color, dump it in the hopper and instantly lay a great coat.  No more running to the store to get just the right spray can.

Serious modelers need an airbrush, but it can be a daunting task to separate the good from the bad.  Many Chinese knockoffs are out there that will splatter in the case of airbrushes and break within a year in the case of compressors.  This guide will provide concrete recommendations and will provide all the information needed to make an informed purchasing decision.  The initial cost can be somewhat high, but in the long run it is a no-brainer.

What will it cost?

Before we get into any details, it would be best to explain the cost related to getting a good airbrush set up going.  At the bare minimum two things are needed: a compressed air and an airbrush.  The later is actually the easier part the figure out, but there are many ways to go about getting compressed air and it is were the cost comes into play.  A decent airbrush will be roughly 70 dollars with a top of the line model running around 120 dollars.  Compressed air will run between 50 dollars to 300 dollars and up depending on what method is best suited for the user’s budget, space, and needs.

This means a decent set up will cost between 120-500+ dollars. There are kits that are below the 120 dollar price point, but they will not provide good results long term and will need to be replaced within a year or so.  It is worth it to buy the good stuff the first time.

Airbrush, there are hundreds of them!  Which one to get?

When I first looked into getting an airbrush I was bombarded the multiple brands with hundreds of model numbers.  The information was scattered and everyone seemed to cling to one brand or another for whatever reason.  It was hard to get concrete reviews on the brushes without “fanboyism” coming into play.  Most articles simply listed the specifications and technical aspects of airbrushes without giving any recommendations.  To a newbie it can be hard to try to absorb all the information and then make an informed decision.  Therefore, I will briefly explain the main components of an airbrush and then tell you what one to get in the right budget range.  No vague banter, real recommendations.  Let’s start with the specs:

Single versus Dual Action: Simply put, single action only sprays at a constant pressure/volume which must be adjusted with a screw.  This means the painter must stop to adjust the flow and then start again.  Dual action lets the painter feather the trigger to adjust the flow on the fly.  We want a dual action hands down.

External versus Internal mix: External mix atomizes the paint/air mixture outside the body of the gun.  There are very few benefits to this style of mixing and can sometimes cause splatters.  Very few airbrushes are external for a reason.  We want our air/paint to be mixed inside the housing.

Gravity/Siphon  Fed: Siphon fed uses the pressure from the moving air to pull the paint into the gun.  This lets the paint sit below the gun instead of on top which can make it easier to see what is going on since there is not a hopper in the way.  Gravity fed uses gravity to pull the paint into the gun which places the hopper on top of the gun.  This method means the gun can be used at lower pressures for smaller detail work.  We want a gravity fed gun since we are working on such a small scale, low pressures are going to constantly needed.

Other things to look for: Metal internals are a must as plastic tips and nozzles will be destroyed with enamel paints.  This is a tool and an investment, do not invest in plastic tools.  We are into Warhammer, what would the Emperor think he saw you using plastic spray guns on his men?  We need tips that get down to what they consider “hairline” for fine details and we need to be able to spray as wide as 1″ for good vehicle/terrain base coverage.

“This is all well and good, but that doesn’t tell me what airbrush to buy!”  Most guides will end here leaving poor newbie airbrusher without any direction.  So to put it bluntly, if you have the money get an Iwata HP-CS which will run right at 120 bucks.  This is the number one workhorse airbrush on the market.  Practically every professional airbrush artist uses this as their main sprayer.  It can do virtually anything from laying a great base coat to doing fine details.  It is the best compromise between high precision and high volume.  Get it, you will love it.

If budget is an issue look into the Badger 100LG which runs around 70 dollars shipped.  It has around the same specs but is considered slightly cheaper in quality to the Iwata.


Badger on the top, Iwata on the bottom.

Compressed Air

So, we have now spent 70-120 dollars on a great air brush, now we need something to make it work.  Airbrushes work by forcing air through them, so we need a source of compressed air.  The cheapest route is to get a 10-15 gallon air tank that is used to inflate flat tires at your local hardware store for around 30 dollars.  These can then be filled at a gas station for a few cents or even for free.  However, these are usually unregulated and unfiltered and by the time a regulator and filter are added, it would have been better to just buy a compressor.

Poor man's tank. It can be filled at a local gas station and may last for several hours of painting. 30 dollars.

So, we have axed the extremely cheap route and that leaves us with getting a proper compressor.  A lot of people already a general purpose compressor sitting that their house.  I’m talking about the kind that is used to power pneumatic nail guns, impact hammers, chisels, and spray guns.  These come in many sizes with the most common being the pancake compressor and the small 5-10 gallon shop compressors.  These guys can easily be found at any local hardware or big box store for roughly 100 dollars for the pancake and upwards of 200 dollars for the larger version.

That might sound great, but they are very noisy.  I mean VERY noisy.  If you happen to live in an apartment or have anyone in your house then they will be far too loud.  We are talking around 110-120db, which is between a power saw and a rock concert… So, unless you want to wear ear muffs while painting or you want to build an insulating container for it then I would proceed to the next step.

This is the pancake compressor I own for small jobs around the house. It is FAR too loud for airbrush use.

The best route to go for the hobbyist painter is certainly to get a compressor made specifically for airbrushing.  However, many of the airbrush compressors that are on the market are complete trash.  I want you to listen to this, and listen carefully: You must get a compressor with a tank.  Over half of the airbrush compressors on the market are sold without a tank and have to run constantly while the airbrush is on.  This causes many bad things to happen: 1. heat builds up and can cause self-damage to the compressor and can change the spray of the paint 2. they tend to pulsate, meaning a sprayed line will look like this ooooOOOOooooOOOOooooOOOO.  Clearly this is not what we want.

We need a decent, tanked compressor that is also quiet.

Here are our options:

Cheap:

Paasche D3000R, a great light duty airbrush compressor.

Option 1: The Paasche D3000R is a single piston compressor with a 1 gallon tank.  It operates between 15-60 PSI and comes with a regulator and filter.  This is everything a hobbyist would need for 170 dollars.

An alternative to the Paasche that can be found slightly cheaper.

Option 2: Airbrush Depot TP-20T.  This has practically the same specs are the Paasche but it costs 150 dollars.  A dual piston model can be had for 180 dollars which will fill the tank faster.

Higher End: The sky is the limit at this point.  Iwata makes some great compressors in the 300+ dollar range that have tanks and they climb as high as several thousand dollars.  For our needs, we really do not need anything more than the cheap options.


What now?

So there we have it.  For right at 300 dollars for the Iwata and the dual piston compressor we have a great airbrush setup that will provide years of service and eventually save us money.  Some accessories you may need to buy are 6’+ of hose, a mini filter to place right behind the gun, and of course a well ventilated area and a good painter’s mask.  Some great websites to purchase the products I have listed are:

http://www.tcpglobal.com and http://www.dixieart.com.

Both websites provide a large range of airbrushes, compressors, and accessories.  I hope this helps anyone that is looking to start air brushing!

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8 Responses to Airbrushes and Warhammer 40k

  1. Bryan McWhirt says:

    Do you think the Iwata is absolutely the best? I was looking at the Badger 360, but I read it can be difficult to get super fine lines with it, and yes Im aware you don’t airbrush the details of the troops. Im very new to W40k, in fact I only JUST bought a 10 unit squad of space wolves. The thing is the airbrush will not only be used for minis but also larger models and laptop and computer cases and who knows what else. The 360 is grav or syphon fed which was the main reason I was looking at it. Thanks for any further advice, Im off to check out the rest of the site.

    • subyman says:

      I can’t come out and say that Iwata is absolutely the best, but it is what most of the pros use and I have had great results with it. In my opinion, it is worth the extra 20-30 dollars to go with the industry standard. One of the main reasons I ended up going with the Iwata is because my local hobby lobby carries a full line of replacement parts. I do not have any Badger dealers near by, so everything would have to be ordered off the internet if, for example, I bent the needle.

  2. Eddie says:

    Great article.. thanks for that. Exactly what I needed to know.. what’s the best air brush and compressor to get :)

  3. Travis says:

    What a great article! Thank you so much for this, what a great head-start for looking for my new brush/compressor combo.

    I bought a GW spray gun and found it woefully inadequate even for basecoating – wish I had of read this first!

  4. John says:

    Great article. I am not sure I even need an airbrush, but was looking at an IWATA Revolution CR kit, that uses canned air. I figure I can try it out and get a compressor later if I need to. Any thoughts

  5. Ashli says:

    Howdy! This article could not be written any better! Looking through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He continually kept preaching about this. I will send
    this post to him. Fairly certain he’ll have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  6. Sonny Stjernberg says:

    Really nice article, but its also really hard to find retailers in Sweden* that sells proper airbrushes and I cant figure out wich compressor to buy

    (*Or websites that ships to sweden)

    • subyman says:

      Sorry I can’t be of help to my international readers. Decent air compressors and air brushes are really hard to find in stores. I’ve only had luck online.

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