A bit up in the air

It doesn't take too long in the miniature hobby to hear about airbrushes, and the wondrous things you can do with them.  I am not expert by any means, but since I've started using airbrushes I have found a few things they can do nicely (especially easily blending from one color to another.

But this isn't about what you can do with an airbrush (and I am still a beginner with one), but more about just getting started with one.

Of course the place everyone today starts to look is the internet, and one thing I read over and over again was not to get a cheap airbrush, you wouldn't be happy with it.   But none of these actually talked about what the cheap ones were (so you could avoid them) or gave real comparisons.

The very first one I tried was a cheap one, and it was a complete piece of crap.

This was Games Workshop's attempt to make a cheap airbrush (or spray gun as they called it) back around 2012.  At the time I was working on my Grateful Undead Vampire Counts army, and I had stolen the idea from my son (no, I don't get all my ideas from him, even though he wants to claim I do) of using static grass for fur.  The problem with this is you can't paint it with a brush, as it makes it a matted mess (which is cool for his werewolves), not a look I wanted for my dancing teddy bears.

The sculpting sucks, but the fur worked
I knew I wanted them painted in bright, primary colors, and thought it would be easier/cheaper to use an airbrush rather than buy separate spray cans for each color.    It worked, I painted up fifteen of these (my first versions (not pictured) were better sculpts, but ended up being too large.  I did end up with two troops of them however.

The spray gun lasted just long enough to paint these.  After the last color I was cleaning in the laundry sink in the basement and it fell off into the sink (a plastic sink, not metal or anything hard) and broke off the air attachment.

These did not stay on the market for long, and I recommend avoiding them like the plague (even if you want to play Nurgle).

A few years back I wanted to get a little more serious into airbrushing, so I asked for and got an airbrush set I found on Amazon.  Once I got it, I immediately ordered a bunch of accessories for it, like cleaner, a cleaning pot, cleaning brushes, and some airbrush paints.  (On a side note, I highly recommend getting this kit for whatever airbrush you buy - I use these tool ALL THE TIME with it). 

I was happy with these brushes, though it took me a while to figure out what each was good for (it was amazing how much faster it was to basecoat some minis using the 1/3 oz cup 0.3 mm nozzle brush than using the 1/16 oz cup 0.2 mm brush.  The single action .8 tip siphon feed was even better for priming when I didn't care about any detail at all.

I later got a master g23 - which had .2, .3 and .5 interchangeable nozzles/needles, and it quickly was my goto brush.

Last year, I saw a sale at Badger for their birthday - get any of their airbrushes for $55.  So I thought I would upgrade, and go with a 'real' airbrush instead of a cheap one.  (I actually bought two, thinking one could be a prize at the War Kings GT (except the tournament was in May, and I didn't get my airbrushes in until July!)

So, now I can actually do a comparison between a 'cheap' airbrush and a 'quality' one.  (Apparently Master are chinese knockoffs of Iwata brushes).

So first the Master airbrush

The G233 is a gravity fed, dual action, internal mix airbrush (and my little bit of experience says you want all three of those) with 0.2, 0.3 and 0.5 needles.

The brush comes in a clear plastic case with custom foam inserts.

The ones I got in my starter kit also had custom cases - a nice way to keep and store them.  It is a little annoying that this comes with three needles (and nozzles for each), but doesn't have a place in the case for the two that (0.2 and 0.5) that don't come installed.  Plus if you switch out, there isn't something to keep your 0.3 needle and nozzle in that is labeled as such (and personally, I can't tell the difference between 0.2 by looking at them).

The brush has chrome finish, and comes with a coupler/air control valve that allows you to control the amount of air going to the brush (though I haven't used it (yet)).

It has a chrome plate finish that does scratch up a little, but is fairly easy to keep clean as paint doesn't want to adhere to the finish.

Then there is the Badger airbrush
I ordered an Xtreme Patriot 105, which is a 0.3 mm gravity feed, dual action, internal mix airbrush.

This came in a soft leather pouch instead of a hard case.  A little disappointing there, as there is no real protection for storing it in the pouch.

It has a brushed metal finish which has a nice deep look to it, but it does seem a bit harder to keep clean as paint does want to adhere to it more.  It also has a cup cover and protective rubber tip for the nozzle (though it does not have any other nozzle/needle sizes available).

The nozzle is a bit different shape, and it has a air control dial under the paint cup (as opposed to the separate couple for the Master airbrush).

There is also an alternate control dial

Once I got my badger airbrush in, I was excited to try it.  So I get out my compressor, and instantly find out that it won't work with the badger brush - the air hose connector is not the same size.

A little more research shows that all the major airbrushes (Badger, Iwata, Pasche and Aztec) use different size air hose connectors.  Master is the same size as Iwata.  I found a set of couplers and ordered them (again from Master - badger did not have one available on their site).

It turns out I did have an air hose I could use - it came with the siphon feed master brush to attach to a can of propellant (like the GW spray gun).  It was a thin, plastic hose - but the one I got with the Master kit as a nice braided hose, and I much preferred it.

Once I got the adapter, I was then able to hook up the brush and give it a try.

Now the Badger brush did come with a little bit of instructions, while Master only came with a near worthless "How to Airbrush" pamphlet.  So learning how to actually use either airbrush has been watching youtube videos and trial and error.

The first time I tried the Badger brush, it kept clogging.  I used the same mixture in the Master brush and it worked fine.

I wanted to do a bit more of a controlled test - using the exact same paint on the same models to see how they worked.  I dug through my box 'o bones minis, but I think I've used up all my duplicates from the first three kickstarters (and have yet to go through the fourth one).  I then thought that some of the minions from Hellboy would be good, and checking through the kickstarter box - I have six copies of five different poses of Nazis - perfect!

I then picked five Valejo airbrush paints that seemed to fit nazi uniforms.

For each color, I used each brush with 10 drops of paint straight out of the bottle.  The minis were taken straight out of the box, no work was done at all with them - no cleanup, washing or priming.

While I know most nazi uniforms were tan or grey, I wanted at least one to stand out a bit, so used a darker green for these guys with machine guns, gas masks and long coats.

The following pictures show each miniature and the paint used.  Then there are two painted with the badger airbrush on the left, and two painted with the master on the right.  There is pretty much no difference (to me) on any of them except for the last.

For the last pair, the Badger brush ran out of paint before it could finish both figures.  This was in part due to me trying to adjust the spray a bit on it (as I'll talk about below).

So the end results seem to be pretty much the same.  10 drops is just barely enough for two figures - in all cases I ran out of paint on the second one and had to work harder to get the final bits done, failing on the last figure.

The Badger brush has a much more sensitive trigger than the Master one - to the point that I didn't feel like I had as much control with it.  It was either on or off, I couldn't really control the amount of paint coming out.  However, it also meant that it did not take nearly the pressure on the trigger in order to use it - so for simple basecoating a large amount of figures, this would actually make it easier to handle and use for longer periods.

Because it seemed to go closer to an all-or-nothing (though not like a single action airbrush) it felt like the badger brush was using more paint.  There were a couple of colors that I actually had enough of the master left to start a third one - this never happened with the badger.

The badger seems to be a bit more adjustable than the master, with the air control dial.

Badger is made in America, vs Master being made in China.  If you need to get it serviced, you can easily send you airbrush back to Badger (in Illinois), but if there is a problem with your Master - well I guess you can buy a new one.

The Master G233 is less than $30 on Amazon (I don't know anyplace else to get it), while the Xtreme Patriot 105 is $120 there.

I've been happy with my Master airbrushes, but the Badger is a little more comfortable to hold.  I don't regret getting it, but at this point (with my limited skill set) I'm not sure it would have been worth the full price on it.

So, I agree, don't go "super" cheap on an airbrush - stay away from the spray gun styles with canned compressed air (and yes, badger does make one of those).  But I also don't think you should spend $300 or more to get started either.  I'm very happy with the little compressor and kit I got from Master.  If I were a professional and used it every day for several hours, then I would probably want a compressor with a tank - but for what I do use it for this works very well.  The way I look at it, if you like your airbrush and want to do more, you can always upgrade to better ones.  But in the hands of a novice, even the best tools are not going to give better results (and often the best tools are also the hardest to use).

Because it is all fun and games . . .


  1. A while back I picked up a compressor + airbrush set from Harbor Freight (https://www.harborfreight.com/1-5-hp-58-psi-compressor-and-airbrush-kit-95630.html) with a coupon, struggled around with it for a while, eventually bent the needle trying to unclog it, and gave up. Once GSW put out their own extremely affordable airbrush (http://www.greenstuffworld.com/en/airbrushing/656-dual-action-gsw-airbrush-05-mm.html) I gave it a shot again, and have since really enjoyed airbrushing at the base coat level. I recently started air priming (using Vallejo's line of primers) and don't know how often I'll go back to spray cans, apart from big projects I don't care much about.

    Which is to say, airbrushing is pretty cool, and ultimately cheaper and simpler than I thought it would be. I learned a lot about the mechanics involved from the GSW brush, though there's plenty I don't understand - PSI adjustment for different tasks or paints, for example.

    Thanks for the threading tip, I didn't realize that would be the case, looks like I might have gotten lucky on my threads matching when I switched over. Also, because it doesn't look like you mentioned it but you've got one on the Chinese model, 100% suggest getting a quick release adapter, with how often airbrushes need cleaning.

  2. Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained. airbrush compressor

    1. Thanks. I have found that the Badger airbrushes are more durable and easier to clean (at least internally). Several of my Master airbrushes are now clogged and I can't seem to get them cleared/cleaned, but I haven't had that issue with the Badger ones (They have a birthday sale in January each year - any airbrush for the age of the owner - so last year it was $56 for one - less than half price for some of them. (though it can take up to 6 months to get it)

  3. I recently found an online website named Machinery Surgeon, where you can buy different paint such as airless paint sprayer, paint spray gun for cars, etc... Also all these paints seems really good at affordable prices.


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