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Which airbrush should I get?

I only have experience using a dual action, gravity fed airbrush. Based on research, I felt these were the best / most efficient brushes, so that’s why I got one. I'd recommend against any other style for miniature painting.

I jumped in the deep end and picked up a Harder & Steenbeck Infinity, which is one of the top end brands.  Every airbrush behaves differently and at the time, recommendations of painters indicated it was a good idea to start off with something expensive rather than get a cheap one, then get an expensive one as the muscle control will be different for each airbrush.

On reflection, I’m not 100% sure this is necessary.  While yes, the sensitivity of each brush will vary, especially depending on how cheap you go, you can still learn the techniques / basics using a cheap airbrush before you commit a large amount of money to something fancier.

The only caveat would be to make sure it’s the same style (e.g. dual action gravity fed, single action, syphon feed etc.).  This way you’re learning on the same style of airbrush and don’t need to learn something new later, which defeats the purpose of practicing on a cheap one.

Now, why did I choose a Harder & Steenbeck?  Because it is easy to take apart and clean.  A common issue mentioned when I bought my airbrush was cleaning.  Various models were not easy to take apart and access the various components that needed cleaning, or had a higher risk of damaging more fragile components like the nozzle.  Plus, well, German Engineering.


When looking at compressors, I suggest getting one with some kind of tank / reservoir for the air instead of a continuous pumping one.  There are several reasons for this:

-          Helps maintain consistent pressure during painting sessions (continuous pressure ones have an issue where there will be slight variations in the pressure as the pump works.

-          Helps reduce the load on the compressor, so they are less likely to overheat / burn out

-          Choose an oil-less compressor.  It means needing little to no maintenance.

Dual action airbrush basics

What are some key things you need to know about dual action airbrushes?

The two main points you need to think about / learn is how to use the trigger.

-          Pressing down on the trigger increases the air flow / pressure being sent through the nozzle.

-          Pulling back on the trigger controls the amount of paint being allowed out the nozzle

Why did I choose a gravity fed airbrush?  Mostly because it seemed like it was the least wasteful in terms of paint usage as well as allowing the most freedom to access a model while painting without components possibly getting in the way.

Mixing paint

This is always an interesting topic.  When I started out, a lot of people kept mentioning that you want a skim milk consistency to the paint.  Problem with this is two fold.  Not everyone knows what that is and it’s not always true either.

You do need to thin your paints so they are more fluid.  I primarily use Vallejo Airbrush thinner with my Vallejo paints as I prefer using the dropper bottles to control the amount I put into the cup.  When doing so, I’ll add a few drops of thinner to the cup first (quantity will depend on the starting paint. Thinner paints / airbrush ready paints need fewer drops compared to a denser / thicker paint).  After that, I add the paint.  I then use a synthetic brush with a plastic handle (so as to avoid scratching the metal of the cup) to mix the paint and thinner properly.

You can also mix it by “back blowing” some air into the cup.  This is done by covering the nozzle (I usually pull the needle all the way back and pinch my fingers over the nozzle) then putting some air through the airbrush.  Since you have the nozzle blocked, the air pushes the paint mix back from the nozzle and into the cup, mixing it with bubbles.

In terms of how thick you want the paint, that depends on what you want to achieve.  Doing a base coat you can have a thicker consistency, wheres if you want to leave some of the underlying colours to come through the layer you're putting on, you want to get closer to a wash in consistency.

Something to look out for when you thin your paint a lot / too much, is that you’re more likely to get what is referred to as spider webbing.  This is when the paint is too liquid and doesn’t dry as it hits the surface, the air pushing it then causes it to spread out from the center in tendrils so it looks more like a splotch.  You can adjust this by either making your mix thicker or by reducing the air pressure and / or paint going through.

The nozzle / needle size also affects how thick you want your paint.  The smaller the nozzle size, the thinner your paint needs to be, otherwise it will clog the nozzle, which is always fun to clean up (/sarcasm).  You can get away with a lot more with larger nozzle sizes and higher air pressure.

Air pressure

This is an area I can’t really talk to as I tend to jsut leave my compressor set to the same PSI most of the time.  I tend to use around 12-16 PSI, but once again, it really depends on what you’re trying to achieve and what paint you’re putting through your brush and what needle size you’re using.

Cleaning and maintenance

Proper cleaning the airbrush is the single most important thing you need to do.  While it’s possible to clean your airbrush if you accidentally leave paint in there to dry, it’s better not to.

After each colour I use, I add a bit of water into the cup, then “back blow” some air.  This helps push any larger particles back into the cup.  I then tip the contents into a spare paint cup / mug (there’s no point in getting those big particles out of the nozzle only to try spraying them back through).  I repeat this a couple of times, then just add a bit of water to the cup and spray it out into a container until the water added to the cup is clear and I am not spraying any colour out.

I find this generally does me for the most part.  I only do a full on take apart and clean when I run into problems like nozzle blockages or on rare occasions when paint has travelled back along the tube for the needle and dried there causing the needle to get stuck.

When doing a full on clean, you should have a couple of things.  A small airbrush cleaning brush (usually something that looks like some twisted wire with nylon bristles) and a nozzle cleaning tool.  The latter is usually a pointed metal thing that you can use to push paint out through the nozzle (well, you can on airbrushes where you can remove the nozzle from the body like the Harder & Steenbeck anyway).

Some people recommend an ultrasonic cleaner.  I had one, it didn’t do much for me, but it was a cheap Aldi one, so a higher quality one might be better.


There’s no paint coming out!

-          This is most likely due to a blockage.  Check for tip dry (paint that has dried on the tip of the needle, causing a blockage or there was a chunk of paint that has gotten into the nozzle that is too large to go through. – to fix this, check clean off the paint from the needle (if dry tip) or try blowing the paint back into the cup as mentioned above.  If nothing is coming through after than, then you probably need to take the airbrush apart and clean out the nozzle.

My paint is bubbling in the cup!

-          This is another indication of a blockage, follow the steps above.

Paint isn’t going where I expect it to!

-          This is probably due to one of three things.  Tip dry.  This is the easiest to fix, simply clean off the needle tip.

-          The other two options are a bent needle or a damaged nozzle.  If the nozzle is damaged, you’re pretty much going to have to get a replacement.  If the needle tip is bent, there are a few options you can try to straighten it, but none that I’ve actually tried.  There are needle filing tools you can buy (but I’ve not used one).  These file down the needle back into a point.  There are other options too, best bet is to Google or youtube how to fix a bent airbrush needle.

I’m not getting any air when I press on the trigger

-          This isn’t one I’ve encountered really.  I know my hose has a “tap” that you can screw down to reduce the air flow to the point of blocking it completely, so that’s one thing you can check.  The other is that the air duct has become blocked somehow, in which case you’re going to need to do a thorough clean of the airbrush and probably need to replace some of the rubber o-rings to prevent it happening again.

My airbrush is spluttering!

-          This one is most likely due to moisture in the compressor.  Because of how compressors work, they condense a lot of moisture out of the air as part of their workings.  It’s important to regularly check your moisture trap (assuming you have one) and to try draining your compressor tank.  This is less of an issue for compressors without a tank as they won’t get the build up, but you should still have a moisture trap on it.



Have something you'd like to add or any questions?  Please comment below.

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Thanks for that Kref, very comprehensive. I bought a cheapie on Wish: Little pump and double action hand piece.

The main thing holding me back is lack of confidence and knowledge. Youtube is full of tutorials, but I think you learn more by doing, which is a bit trial and error. Vicious cycle.

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48 minutes ago, Thenothas said:

Thanks for that Kref, very comprehensive. I bought a cheapie on Wish: Little pump and double action hand piece.

The main thing holding me back is lack of confidence and knowledge. Youtube is full of tutorials, but I think you learn more by doing, which is a bit trial and error. Vicious cycle.

it's a steep learning curve for airbrushing. A cheap airbrush is fine to help build some confidence up, but they aren't that useful for much more than priming and base coating.

Best option to start with is probably to see if a friend has one you can try out to see if you like the idea of using one and want to use one more often.

I definitely recommend getting a higher end brush at some stage though, as people I've spoken to have xommented about the night and day difference it makes.

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  • 8 months later...

I know this is a while ago but I thought I would interject for anybody that does read.


Iwata Neo airbrush I found to be an amazing entry level brush. They can be found for anywhere from 80-110 bucks.   Anybody selling them can get spare parts.


Easy to clean and .3 or .35 needle (can't remember) 

I ended up using mine for about 2 years as I found for everything I was doing it was way more then capable and as my skill improved the airbrush was up to the task.

I wouldn't say it's great for ultra fine detail work but for say batch painting undercoats, base coats and shading it's great and let's face it for most average Joe's these will be the majority of uses for their brush

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