Monday, July 20, 2015

Buying Your First Airbrush and Compressor

 by Antoine Rizzotti

An airbrush is one of the most important tools in scale model painting. Airbrushes with fine nozzles and tips are typically designed for using inks.  Many types of economical airbrushes and compressor kits are available on the market, but it can be difficult to choose the best one for your application. So, before buying your first airbrush and compressor you should understand some of the features and uses for the equipment involved.
What to consider when buying an airbrush…
First of all, read as many reviews of different airbrushes as you can.  The folks who post these reviews can help you make sure that the airbrush is still supported by the manufacturer, understand the difficulty level for setting it up, and also about where to find the best price.

You should also understand your application; whether the airbrush you need should be a single action or double action. If you are looking for spreading color quickly over a large solid area, like a wall, then single action airbrushes are the best option. For excellent color fading and blending, chose an airbrush which has push and pull control, i.e. double action. Double action allows you to precisely control the amount of paint that is applied and can be an excellent tool for scale modelers.

If you need to paint for long periods without changing colors, an airbrush with a large bottle would be a good choice and is typically found on single action units. Also, if you need to spray at any angle or even upside down, choose an airbrush with a paint bottle attached to the side.

If smooth flow of small amounts of color is required, an airbrush with a paint cup on top, also known as “gravity fed,” would be a good choice. Gravity fed airbrushes are also good because they allow for faster cleaning and color switching. Most often, you’ll find that gravity fed airbrushes are also double action.

The combination of needle and the nozzle size also needs to be taken into consideration before buying an airbrush. If you’re not sure how big or how small you’ll be painting, choose an airbrush that provides multiple nozzle sizes. If you decide to go with a double action airbrush, find one with an adjustable needle stop. These are super handy because they will stop you from accidentally pulling too far back on the flow lever and over painting a piece.
Things to consider when buying an air compressor...
Every airbrush also requires a compressor to provide air. As when choosing an airbrush one has to choose an air compressor that fits their application.

Look for a compressor which creates minimal pulsation because pulsation can cause your paint to come out uneven or in uncontrolled gouts. Pulsation can be mitigated by buying a compressor with an integrated tank. The space in the tank absorbs the pressure pulses created by the compressor motor, smoothing out the overall airflow.

Moisture is something which may also interfere with painting. A moisture trap between the compressor and the airbrush will help here. Many airbrushes come with these built in for a little extra cost. Spend the money and save yourself some headache.

Choose a compressor kit having necessary PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) and CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute) value. Different types of painting require different PSI and CFM value. Typically, applications like house painting will require high CFM values and applications like painting scale models can be handled by compressors that run in the 10-50 PSI range.

A good regulator, which can come with a built-in moisture trap, is also a necessary feature. Regulators allow you to dial in the correct PSI for your application. Spending a little extra money here can save you a lot of time later.

Another feature that can save you headache later, is a pressure switch. After filling, if the tank pressure drops below a certain PSI the pressure switch trips, turning on the compressor motor and re-filling the tank. This keeps your motor from running constantly and will increase its longevity.

Portability of the compressor may also be a concern. If you have to put it away in a closet or regularly take it with you, you’ll want to make sure that you can carry or store it wherever you need to. If you’ll never take it anywhere and have a garage to store your compressor in, feel free to get an industrial unit with a good regulator. You can fill the tank in the afternoon and paint all night on the stored air!

All compressors generate heat while it is running and too much heat can damage the mechanisms. If you decide on a large compressor, choose one with auto-shutdown technology in case heat becomes a problem during long paint sessions.

Lastly, compressors also produce noise. If you live in an apartment or very close to you neighbors or will be painting at night, noise can be a big issue. Take a long look at the rated noise level of the compressors you feel fit your application best. Finding the perfect compressor but not understanding the noise output can make painting with it at night impossible. You would only be able to use it half the time!
I hope this information will help anyone who is considering an airbrush and compressor purchase in the near future.  Please feel free to comment below.


  1. Some additional tips (from experience).

    1) Read about how you break down your airbrush for cleaning. There are some really nice airbrushes that are horrible at breaking down. (all sorts of parts and seals). You will need to clean them ALL the time, so knowing what you are in store for is important.

    2) Get a quick disconnect so you can pop and swap airbrushes. (without the hose flying everything and hitting you in the face and knocking over your paints and models).

    3) Buy SPARE NEEDLES. You will bend needles when you start out. Always good to have a spare or two.

    4) Airbrushing is as much coaxing the airbrush to work with you, as it is actually airbrushing. Learning to tame the beast is a long process, don't give up!

  2. Awesome advice. I have not dipped into the airbrushing world yet so I found lots of great info here.

    1. They make your hobby life much easier and faster. If you have the spare $$$, pick one up!


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