How to Airbrush

How to airbrush is simple enough: you buy an airbrush then press a button and that’s it, no? Well, there’s a little more to it…

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on how to airbrush!

Whether you’re new to miniature painting, or looking to take the next step in your painter journey, airbrushing can be an incredibly rewarding skill to learn.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about getting started with airbrushing, including the essential tools you’ll need, how to clean and maintain your airbrush, best practices to achieve stunning results, and much more. So let’s dive in and unlock the secrets to mastering the art of airbrushing!

Getting Started: Essential Tools and Materials

Before you begin your airbrushing journey, you’ll need to gather the essential tools and materials.  To get started, you only need the basics, there’s no point going overboard on accessories and doodads just yet.

Here’s a list of what you’ll need to get started:

Airbrush: Choose a reliable and versatile airbrush that suits your needs.

Air Compressor: An air compressor is necessary to provide a continuous flow of air to your airbrush.

Hose: The hose connects the airbrush to the compressor.

Paints: Whatever you are using on your models is probably fine, but to make your life easier, new pots are better.

Paint Thinner: Lots of options available for this.  Try one, switch until you find one that works for you.

Airbrush Cleaner: Again, lots of options available here.  Like thinner, try them out until you like what you have.

Respirator: Protect your lungs from harmful fumes by wearing a respirator mask.  Even non-toxic paint you don’t want to breathe in.

Airbrush Connectors:  The only accessory we recommend you get right away.  This allows you to plug practically any airbrush to any hose to any compressor.

Understanding Your Airbrush

Familiarize yourself with the different parts of an airbrush, including the nozzle, needle, air cap, and trigger.

It’s a great idea to assemble and disassemble your airbrush a couple of times when you get it. This allows you to understand what goes where and how it’s suppose to work, and it’s much less frustrating than having to disassemble it when it’s clogged with paint.

Next, practice spraying with only water on a sheet of paper.  Learn how the trigger works and how changing the pressure on your compressor affects what you spray.

Understanding your airbrush goes a long way, and doing it in a safe context i.e. without paint takes away a lot of the fear away.

Setting Up Your Workspace

Create a dedicated and organized workspace for airbrushing.

You want somewhere permanent that wont require you to setup your airbrush before you can use it, and put it away when you are done.  Nothing saps your motivation quicker than having to set everything up.

Unless you want to spray enamels and oil paints, you don’t need a ventilated spray booth.  A large cardboard box or a cloth to protect your desk and wall are enough.  There are not a lot of fumes and overspray with what we work with.

Basic Airbrushing Techniques

Mastering basic airbrushing techniques is essential before moving on to more complex uses.

Base coats are the ultimate technique to take your first steps with the airbrush.   It’s a very forgiving step, and does not require fine airbrush handling.  All you need is to finish with an opaque and even coat of your base color at the end, allowing you to try out things while you do it.

You get to practice controlling the trigger to achieve different levels of paint flow and experiment with distance and angle to achieve varying results.

Unless you’re using a spray gun, primer is slightly trickier, not only in application but also requires tedious cleaning.

Advanced Airbrushing Techniques

Start with simple exercises such as creating gradients and controlled lines to build your skill and confidence.

A gradient is blending your color in with the layer underneath.  Creating controlled lines mean starting with a fine spray and end with a larger one.  To practice this, it can also be to airbrush a straight line with the same width.

Once you have a firm grasp on the basics, you can explore advanced airbrushing techniques such as masking and stenciling. Use masking materials to block off areas and create crisp edges.  Stencils are an easy way to add crisp details that are consistent throughout your army.

Cleaning and Maintaining Your Airbrush

Proper cleaning and maintenance are crucial for the longevity and optimal performance of your airbrush.  You should rinse and clean your airbrush often, making sure there’s no paint left in the cup, in the nozzle or on the needle.

As soon as your airbrush starts working slightly off, stop what you’re doing and clean it.  Don’t think you’re going to ‘work through it’  or that it will eventually fix itself  with more spraying.  This is the most classic mistake, one that everyone is guilty of doing.

As suggested earlier, there are many options available for cleaning products.  Try some out until you find one that you are happy with and then stick with it.  Changing for the sake of changing is all too classic and usually leads to more frustration than solution.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Encountering issues while airbrushing is common, and, as frustrating as it sounds, about 90% of them are solved with: clean your airbrush.

We’ll discuss some of the most common ones here:

Clogging:  Paint is not coming out.  Or coming out intermittently.  This is usually either your paint is too thick or there’s a chunk of dried paint on your needle or in the nozzle.

Inconsistent spray patterns: The paint comes out and the shape is anything other than a circle.  This is usually either because the tip of your needle is bent, or something is clogging part of the nozzle.

Bubbling:  Paint bubble up in the cup.  This is either because there’s a clog blocking the entire nozzle or because the front part (between the tip of the needle and the air intake) of your airbrush is not airtight.

Best Practices on How to Airbrush

To speed up your learning curve, here are a couple of lifehacks and pro tips I’ve learned over the years:

Paint that’s too thin is better than paint that’s too thick.  Thinning airbrush paint is hard, and while you learn this, too thin is much easier to troubleshoot and fix than too thick.

When you’re done with a color on a miniature, instead of dumping it, spray on something and practice your trigger control until you run out of the leftover paint.  Painting lines on a can of beer, trying to fill logos, what have you.

Start with thin layers of paint and gradually build up the desired intensity.  Much like painting with a brush, slowly building your colors is better than one thick coat.  This requires some practice with the airbrush, and to get better at it, try to always be moving the airbrush or rotating the miniature.

Maintain a consistent distance between the airbrush and the surface.   This is something you have to actively think about, because it does not come naturally and is often forgotten in tutorials.

Closing thoughts & Words of Motivation

Airbrushing is a versatile and captivating art form that allows you to unleash your creativity. With the right tools, techniques, and practice, you can create stunning pieces of artwork that will amaze and inspire others.

Remember, airbrushing is a journey, and patience and perseverance are key. So, equip yourself with the necessary tools, follow the best practices, and you’ll master how to airbrush sooner than you think!

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