I have vague memories of simple airbrushing in primary school. A metal tube was used to blow paint onto a piece of paper and create unusual effects. The cardinal rule was do not inhale! As an adult this advice still serves, but we’ll get to that.
It was Forge World who popularised the technique for me. Those expertly painted tanks and monstrous kits achieving effects that we as hobbyists could never seem to emulate with regular brushes alone no matter how hard we tried. How many ‘Eavy Metal vehicles were in fact painted using air brushes? My own experience with airbrushes is still basic and ongoing but I am making progress and if what I have learned thus far can help you avoid the few stumbling missteps I have made on my journey then I have achieved something! I will go into each of these in more detail in future articles but for now here is an overview of what you need to know.
An airbrush works by atomising paint using compressed air to create a vacuum which draws the paint into the airstream for delivery. The amount of pressure required depends on how thick the paint is. The thicker the paint the more pressure required. If you are using an airbrush for fine miniature work you will be working with pressures between 10-50 psi.
An experienced and talented airbrush operator can blend one or more colours almost seamlessly without the need for blending or feathering and also much more quickly. If you want to be able to do more than just basecoat your miniatures then these are the effects you will need to learn.
Airbrushing done correctly requires the right sort of kit. The starting point is the airbrush itself. I am not talking about the super basic kit such as the Games Workshop hand flamer spray gun. Whilst this is good for base coating especially large areas such as terrain with the right modifications it is not a precision airbrush.
There are a number of different types of airbrush but the best is a dual action trigger airbrush. This allows for the greatest measure of control over the application of paint. By pressing down on the trigger you release the airflow and by pulling back on the trigger you release the paint. The amount of paint you release is determined by how far back you pull the trigger.
A large part of the control you have over the paint will come from the airflow. Although you can purchase cans of propellant for airbrushes these are next to useless. You cannot create a smooth consistent stream of paint with what is essentially an aerosol can. In order to get that strong, smooth and consistent flow of air you require a compressor.
This is a pump that pushes the air through the airbrush at pressure. They tend to be loud and get hot but they are essential. The best kind of compressor has an auxiliary storagetank which stores air under pressure that can be bled off when needed. This has the advantage of not requiring the compressor to be running all the time and allows you to have a ready air flow available all the time that does not require you to wait for the pump to run up to speed.
Attached to your compressor should be a moisture trap. This sucks the excess moisture from the air that is comprising your air flow. Excess moisture can change the consistency of your paint which if already thinned could make it too runny or even clog up your airbrush with water droplets.
Lastly should be the pressure gauge which will allow you to change the pressure the air that flows through your brush is under. For finer layers you will want to work with lower psi, 10-20psi, for larger areas or for thicker layers you will require higher psi, 40-50psi
An airbrush is a precision instrument made up of many components. In order to keep it in good running order you need to take care of it. To do this there are a number of tools and you will need.
The first stop is some airbrush cleaner and a pipette. The pipette will make handling the airbrush cleaner much easier as generally this comes in bottles and trying to tip this solution into your reservoir can get messy. Every time you have finished using a particular paint you should clean your airbrush thoroughly. Paint that dries inside your airbrush can restrict the flow of air and paint as well as contaminate your colours if they are different enough. This also means you should try and get through using the colour you are on quickly to reduce the time this has to happen.
If you are unfortunate enough to find dried paint in your airbrush you will need to dismantle it for a thorough clean. Small brushes will be invaluable if this is the case. More delicate work can be done using a Q-tip soaked in cleaner. (Q-tip is an American term for Cotton Bud - Al)
Atomised paint and airbrush cleaner can cause extensive damage to your lungs if inhaled. You should never hold the airbrush or model you are painting close to your face when working. Work in a well-ventilated area and if using lacquer paints always use a facemask. Also be aware that compressors can get very hot even if on for only a short time. Do not pick up or touch your compressor until it has had a chance to cool down.
Thinning paints is a pain. Some paints such as lacquers need to be thinned in order to use but with acrylics there are several range of paints that have been specially formulated to be used straight from the bottle such as Vallejo’s Model Air range or Badger’s Minitaire. I have recently started using both and already I have noticed an improvement in my ability to manipulate the paint and in the amount of time it takes to clean the brush after use.
Right now I am still at the basing stage but some brief trials of the air brush formula paints has given me the confidence to attempt to use then to paint my Eldar vehicles. Keep watching the Conclave to see how that works out.