Miniature Painting & Sculpting Hobby Blog

Getting an Airbrush for the Hobby

Monday, July 9, 2012

When I started off in collecting all my tools and paints for the hobby, I decided to look into getting an airbrush.  I've always been interested in getting one and I figured now was as good a time to get one.  Picking one out, however, wasn't as simple as I expected.  There's a lot more to selecting an airbrush and it's definitely useful to know a few things about an airbrush before you select one.  I did a lot of research, read through forums and people's reviews on their airbrushes.  I won't say that I'm anywhere near an expert on airbrushes, but I've gathered a bunch of notes from my research that I'd like to share.  Hopefully for any of you that are interested in getting an airbrush, this may be of some help in getting you started!

What to look for in an Airbrush 

So you want to get an airbrush, but where to start?  There are a few things that you need to know about an airbrush that will help you to determine what you want to get.  We'll go over a few features of an airbrush that will be essential to your decision on picking one out.  


There are two types of airbrushes: single action and double action.

Single Action

An airbrush works by using a trigger to spray paint.  A single action works by controlling only the airflow through this trigger.  The paint flow is controlled but can be adjusted through a separate mechanism.  You can't get much in the way of detail with a single action, but you can get a good basecoat using one.

Double Action

A double action airbrush allows you to control the airflow as well as the paint flow through the trigger. The control of the airflow is done through pressing the trigger and by pulling back on the trigger you can control the amount of paint flow.  This gives you more control over detail than a single action, but has slightly higher learning curve.  

Overall, single action airbrushes tend to be cheaper than a double action.  If you're looking to use one for basecoating a large number of miniatures, a single action is an economic way to go.  It can also be useful for getting a good smooth coat on a vehicle with large surfaces.  If you want to use one for more detail work, a double action will give you that ability to do so. 


The feed is the container where you'll be "feeding" your airbrush with paint.  The two common types of feed you'll see are gravity and siphon feeds.
Gravity Feed, Dual Action Airbrush

Siphon Feed

The siphon feed uses a large container that generally attaches to the airbrush from the bottom.  It uses a tube that sucks paint through the airbrush.  In comparison to the other feed, this can hold a large amount of paint.  Sizes can range from 20mL to 60mL (there may be more sizes ranging outside this, but this can give you a general comparison of sizes to the other feeds).

Gravity Feed

The gravity feed comes in two positions, the top and the side.  The top reservoir can come in a variety of sizes, that can range from 1mL to 7mL.  Usually top feeds are not interchangeable, but you can find some that can switch out sizes.
The side feed is, of course, attached to the side.  One of the benefits to a side feed is that with some airbrushes you can switch the position to either the left or right side of your airbrush depending on your preference.

Nozzle/Needle Size
If you're looking to do detail work with your airbrush, you'll want to look at the needle size.  For airbrushing miniatures, you'd want to look at needle sizes at .55mm, .35mm, and .2mm.  A .55mm needle size will be too large if you're wanting to do detail work, but is good for doing basecoats.  A .35mm is a good midrange to use that can get you good coverage as well as getting some detail in.  For very fine detail work a .2mm needle is what you'll want to use.  If you take a look at the airbrushes you're interested in, you can find that some have the ability to switch out needle sizes so you won't need to be stuck with one choice.

Brands of Airbrushes

There's a variety of airbrush brands to choose from and at this point here, I can't tell you which one is the best or which one you should pick.  I got an Iwata HP-SBS airbrush mainly because I wanted to pick from a known brand and I managed to pick one up off eBay at a pretty good price.  Some of the big names you'll hear as well as find in art stores are Harland & Steenbeck, Badger, Paasche and Iwata.    Any one of those are good to pick an airbrush from, but if you're looking to save money with your first airbrush as well as have a quality close to name brand, there are also Chinese clones that you can get through eBay.  You definitely don't need to go all out on your first airbrush, skill doesn't come as part of an airbrush!
If you like charts and want some suggestions on where to start based on your preferences, DickBlick has a good comparison chart on airbrushes.

Who Uses Airbrushes

If you want to see some samples of airbrushed work, there's a number of pros out there who you can check out.

Please feel free to leave comments with additional tips and suggestions for airbrushes.  If you've also been using an airbrush for your hobby, I'd love to know what kind or airbrush you have and your thoughts on it.

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3 Responses so far.

  1. Very nice article! I'm looking to get an airbrush myself. It would really be a great asset for speeding up painting time and still getting good results.

    The model I want to get is this one: . All I would need to add is an air compressor. That will actually be the most expensive part, since the cheapest they go for on eBay is $90.

  2. Kelly says:

    Excellent article! Another good link:

    Matthieu Fontaine's article on airbrushes is excellent as well, and there's a few great tutorials on how he uses it. Interestingly enough, while he used to be a big H&S fan, like Les Bursley, he's also been recently converted to Badgers too.

  3. @Euen: Thanks! Airbrushing does really help with the speed of painting, especially basecoats. I was able to get twenty Grey Hunters primed (with airbrush) and basecoated in a couple of hours.

    @Kelly: Thank you! I love Matthieu Fontaine's work, they're just so awesome. That is definitely a great article on airbrushes as well, I'll have to look through it. I'm surprised that he switched from H&S to Badger, I may have to check it out, I have had my eye on the Badger Krome.

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