Airbrush Guide Part 3 – Basic Tips & Tricks

This is what we want to avoid if at all possible.

So you’ve bought your compressor, you’ve bought your airbrush, what now?

You want to use it right? Wrong! There are going to be some useful bits you could do with getting hold of before hand that will make your life easier, and hopefully stop you rage quitting when you get your first clog. Because you will get them, and it will piss you off. Immensely!

I’ll begin with a caveat, this whole article is based on you using acrylic paint, I’m sure most of you will be, so read on.

First up, flow improver. This is something I’ve only recently started using but it really makes a difference. One drop in the hopper of paint, and it makes things go much more smoothly. Don’t put too much in though, as it dilutes your paint and is a mild retarder, so the paint won’t dry on the mode immediately. I got some Windsor and Newton improver from my local art store, and Vallejo do their own, but use whatever brand you like.

This is the one I use, decanted into a glass dropper bottle.

Foaming cleaner. This stuff is gold dust for cleaning out your brush after use. Harsh enough to strip the paint without damaging the chrome finish.

This stuff is amazing, absolutely essential.

Cellulose Thinners. This stuff is TOXIC, so don’t fuck about with it. I just use it now and then to clean out the nozzle when I’m doing routine maintenance. Much the same way as Next Level Painting use Hoppes #9 gun oil. but I’m in the UK, and stuff like that isn’t that easy to come across. If you’re unsure about it, don’t buy it, just get some airbrush cleaner fluid. You have been warned!

Some airbrush pipe cleaners, perfect for working paint out when you do your maintenance. Get in to all those nooks and crannies with these.

Different diameters for different jobs.

Airbrush cleaner is optional, I don’t actually use it much but I do keep a bottle handy for the odd soak now and then.

Superlube is something you’ll be glad you bought, you hardly need any so one tube will last you a life time. Useful for your trigger, needle, and any moving parts.

Get yourself some dropper bottles too, at least one for water so you can manage how much you’re adding to your mix, but if you can, transfer all your Citadel/P3 paints to droppers too, it will make your life easier in the long term. Citadel do their own air range, but they’re in pots, why I don’t know.

Airbrush paints. In a pot. Un-fucking-believable.

A respirator/filter  mask will come in handy too, stop you breathing in those fumes and paint, plus make you feel like you’re in a cyberpunk novel. If you have room, set up a spray booth too. Other members of Corehammer use old boxes with a filter to catch the back spray that seem to work out just fine.

Varnish, can be used for a myriad of purposes, gloss, satin, matte, if you’re just setting off, you’ll want to be using it at the end of the process to seal and protect your models I’d imagine. I use Liquitex gloss and matte medium, diluted with a bit of water to a thinner consistency, they go through an airbrush fine. The gloss is gloss, the matte is matte, there’s a difference though between matte and something like Dull Cote or anti shine from Army Painter. Matte is more like your Citadel Purity Seal, it doesn’t kill the effects on your models, at this stage that will be metallic paint and possibly something like blood effects. Anti shine will kill these effects, stop the blood looking wet and the metallic paint shining, so bear that in mind when you decide which route you want to go. There are air ready varnishes from Vallejo and the like, just work out what finish you want and play with the consistency. Those Liquitex mediums are more like PVA glue so take much more to thin than say something that’s designed for airbrushes.

A final thought that comes in handy is one of those airbrush holders/spray collector cup. Great for resting your brush on and squirting an extra paint/cleaner into to avoid it going everywhere.

Oh and some pipettes, the plastic ones. Useful for putting the weirder stuff in the hopper like floor polish and lifecolor paint.

Right, actually using it, what do you do?

There are a few basic points I’ll just mention, the rest is basically trial and error, mostly error at first, but just take your time and practice.

That cup at the top is your hopper, you put paint in that, point it at your model, then pull the trigger to make paint come out the end and hopefully on to your toy soldiers.

I’d mess about with some water in it first, just to get the feel for the pressures, trigger bite point, how it feels etc. Once your comfortable, it’s time to get some paint in it.

Different paints need different techniques to get them to go through an airbrush. P3 and Vallejo Game/Model are really thick, so a bit of water and some flow improver will get them through. Your air paint lines are already thinned in theory, but I always tend to add a drop or flow improver to help them along. Consistency really is something you have to experiment with, just use your head. Thick paint wont spray, too thin and it will spider when it hits the surface.

Your first steps with your brush will likely be priming, being able to prime your models in the house is a bonus, because its not affected by the weather. I use Vallejo airbrush primer across the board, the black, grey and white and love all three, but use whatever you’re comfortable with. Buy some airbrush ready primer though, so you’re not fucking about mixing it up to get the right consistency.

These have been pre shaded, you can see the black in the shadows but white on the raised surfaces.

You can add another dimension to this stage with pre-shading your models, so get some grey or white over the black from above so it picks up all the lighter areas and leaves black in the shadows. You can do this on your vehicles too spraying carefully around the panel lines.

This is a pre shaded tank, you need a steady hand but it is worth doing on some projects.

If you can master those you can do anything else, it’s literally just the exact same process only with colours. Watch your air pressures too, you don’t need much at all, the lower your pressure, the finer line you’ll get up to the point it starts sputtering then wont actually push the paint.

There are weathering techniques you can use it for too, but I’ll save that for another day, just concentrate on getting your paint through it, smoothly and in the right place for now.

Tips & Tricks

  • Water should always be the first and last thing through your airbrush on every session
  • Add your water and improver to the hopper first,  BEFORE the paint, helps stop thick paint clogging the brush.
  • Keep a manky paint brush handy to stir your paints.
  • Put your finger over the end of the closed crown and gently pull the trigger, this will blow air backwards and mix up the paint in your hopper nicely AND blow back paint/cleaner when you’re cleaning at the end of your session.
  • Several thin passes is much better than one thick one, you want an even coat without clogging up any detail.
  • When priming your models do it slowly and do it in REALLY thin layers so it grips the model. If you plough one thick coat on it you run the risk of chips.
  • Break your airbrush down every few weeks and give it a really good clean and lube, paying attention to the nozzle section.
  • When you do break it down, do it over a cloth and take your time, familiarize yourself with all the bits and where they go

This isn’t the only way to do stuff, it’s just one way, all this is, is me telling you, how I do it so you can get on the road to developing your own style and techniques with the minimum of fuss. Take this as a starting point, see how you get on, there are a wealth of Youtube tutorials and online resources at your fingertips to lead you further.

One thought on “Airbrush Guide Part 3 – Basic Tips & Tricks

  1. A magnetic parts tray is really handy when stripping down an airbrush

    If you use vallejo primer let it stand for at least 24 hours to de-gas after priming, other wise its rubbery and can damage easily, once de-gassed aint going no where.

    Super lube is ok but pricey, homebrew an alternative: goto lloyds the chemist and buy a 200ml bottle of glycerol, get a pippette and suck up some washing up liquid, add 2 or 3 drops to the bottle from your pippette, and stir (dont shake!), you have just made super lube for under £2, eliquids work well as well, basically anything with glycerol/glycerin in will do

    silly putty (the proper stuff in eggs, not wacky putty or any other fart in a jar slime) makes for great masking material as well as for holding mini’s and…
    If you have a crown cap and want to back flush, grab some silly putty jam it on the bugger and back flush away, if you want to be fancy roll a turd out of green stuff and when still soft jam it on the end and remove, once cured you have a tool to back flush on your crown/prong caps.

    Isopropyl alcohol is an alternative to cellulose thinners,

    Dont forget to empty your water traps,

    Keep any old needles you have for your brush to help with cleaning much less likely to damage anything clearing clogs with that than a reamer.

    Dont over tighten, if its got an o-ring finger tight is enough!

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