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Airbrush and Airbrushing Tips

As with any hobby, you have certain tools that help you along to finish a given project. When it comes to modeling, an airbrush can become your best friend. If you’re new to modeling the word "airbrushing" can be quite intimidating for many. Hopefully the information on this page will help answer some common questions you may all have on this intimidating subject matter.

What can an airbrush spray?
Any paint that can be thinned to the consistency of milk can be sprayed through an airbrush. However, if some paints are thinned too much, they won't perform properly, so some judgement should be used in selecting the right airbrush for a particular job.  

What is a single-action airbrush?
A single action airbrush is the simplest type of airbrush to use. When the air control button is pushed down, paint is sprayed at a pre set rate. This rate is easy to change, simply stop spraying for a moment and turn the color valve slightly. Single action airbrushes are very useful on large area coverage such as on large (1/24 & 1/25)scale models. Acrylics and enamels can be sprayed with a single action brush if thinned properly.

Most single action airbrushes are external-mix types. They mix the air and color outside the tip and are therefore less likely to clog if heavier materials are sprayed.

There is a miss conception when shopping for an airbrush for the first time that a single action airbrush won’t give you professional results. This is not true; a single action airbrush if used correctly can give you professional results just like a double action airbrush can. There is a great deal of single action airbrushes on the market today that have different tip sizes to give you more control over the paint especial for fine detailing.

If are a beginner or you have kids that want to get started airbrushing for the first time, We highly recommend you starting out with a single action airbrush first.

What is a double action airbrush?
All double action airbrushes are internal mix types. The paint must be thinned more in these because the air and paint are mixed inside the body of the airbrush.

How is a double-action airbrush different?
Slowly pulling back on the air button will gradually increase the amount of color sprayed. Thus, you are able to control such things as the width of the line, the intensity of the color and all while you continue spray.

What kind of air compressor should I buy?
It really depends on how much you will be using it. The really small table top hobby compressor are great for very small jobs and there very quite, but they will continually turning on and off on you because of the small air tanks that come with them. This extra turning off and on all the time puts strain on the little piston motor.

I personal recommend you buying a 2-gallon air compressor at around 100 PSI. Having a larger tank size and larger piston motor will ensure you hour of continues air floe without having your compressor turn off and on all the time. The only down side of having this type of compressor is the noise. It’s much louder than a tabletop compressor, but if you can get pasted the extra noise, than this type of compressor is right for you. You can buy these types of air compressors just about anywhere, like Home Depot or Lowes Home Improvement Center. Cost is about $125.00 for a 2-gallon air compressor. They are well worth the investment especially if you are planning on using it all the time.


How are paints and air mixed?
Paint is fed into the air stream either by siphon or gravity. Siphon feed airbrushes work just like sucking soda up through a straw and it takes one or two seconds to get it working. Gravity feed airbrushes are quicker because the color cup is located on top of the airbrush and the fluid flows directly down into the airstream. This is a nice advantage when making a lot of color changes.

How much air?
Generally, thicker paints should be sprayed with a higher air pressure than thinner paints. If the paint is thinned like for Acrylics and enamels, then a lower pressure may be used.

Most airbrushes will work just fine at 15 to 45 PSI, depending on the fluids being sprayed. Acrylics and enamels paints will work fine around 15-20 PSI if thinned. If using very little thinner in your paint mix, than a higher PSI will be needed to prevent clogging.

Will I need a moisture trap?
Yes and no. This really depends on whom you talk with and what type of paint you are using. I personal use acrylic paints all the time on my models without a moisture trap and I have never had a problem. Enamel paints are much more sensitive to moisture than acrylics, so I do recommend using a moisture trap if your planning on using enamel paints all the time. A moisture trap attaches directly to your compressor and are very easy to install.

Keep in mind, if your painting in an area that is warm or humid. I would install a moisture trap regardless of that type of paint you are using.

When you’re ready to start painting, spray air through the airbrush (without paint) for a few minutes before you begin painting. This will clear condensation from the air hose.

After you are finished using your air compressor for the day. Always drain your air tank of any moisture that might be trapped inside. By doing this will prolong the life of your air compressor and keep your tank from rusting inside. This is very important when using your air compressor in a warm or humid climate.

Is it necessary to use a pressure regulator?
YES, A pressure regulator controls air output to the airbrush and becomes a necessity when your techniques and or paint require you to control the airflow (PSI). Having a compressor that has a pressure regulate gives you a wide range of pressure setting allowing you to experiment with a wide range of paints and techniques.

An airbrush can be a very complex tool, especially a double actions airbrush. Most new hobbyist never take the time to read the manual or do some basic research on the web to get good results. When all else fails, read the instruction manual. This advice is especially good for anyone who just purchased an airbrush for the first time. Most instruction manuals are written to help the user get started without any problems. The old saying goes, “practice makes perfect”. Play with your air pressure and the thinning of your paint mixture to get the best results your looking for. Most new users are recommended to start with a single actions airbrush first. Double actions airbrush’s can be very intimidating for the beginner and are recommended for the intermediate and advance user.


INTERNAL MIX: Indicates that air and paint mix inside the airbrush, producing a thoroughly atomized "fine dot" spray pattern.
EXTERNAL MIX: Indicates that air and paint mix outside the airbrush producing a larger, coarser spray pattern than internal mix airbrushes.
DOUBLE ACTION: Refers to airbrushes on which the trigger controls both air and color (down for air, back for color). This style airbrush allows for varying line widths while spraying.
SINGLE ACTION: Refers to airbrushes on which the trigger controls only the air flow. The amount of fluid is regulated by turning the needle adjustment screw. When the trigger is depressed, a pre-set amount of paint is sprayed.
GRAVITY FEED: Refers to airbrushes with top-mounted color cups in which gravity draws paint into the airbrush.
BOTTOM FEED: Refers to airbrushes on which paint enters through a siphon tube or color cup attached to the bottom of the airbrush.
SIDE FEED: Refers to airbrushes on which a small color cup fits into the side of the airbrush.

When finished painting with your airbrush. It’s always a good idea to clean your airbrush ASAP. Most problems start when you don’t thoroughly clean them right away. When cleaning, always fully disassemble your airbrush and let soak for at least 5 minutes in your favorite cleaning solution. Make sure you thoroughly clean the nozzle and needle very well.
When your airbrush is fully cleaned and reassembled. Hook your air supple to your airbrush and blast some air into your airbrush to remove any cleaning solvents that might be trapped inside. Remember, it’s always easier to clean wet paint from your airbrush than dry paint.

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