Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Airbrush and air compressor - a new toy and few tips for beginners

Piston type air compressor TC-20T
I was recently a little bit upset with my old air compressor, which resulted in rapid impulse for purchasing a new one.
Before I decided to buy a new one, I went through a painful process of  collecting information and making the decision.
Why painful, you may ask? Actually, I have a feeling that the same problem appears whatever device you would like to buy - no matter if it is a photo camera or an air compressor. Once you decide to try a new thing, you have to jump into a new world full of new terms. There are endless numbers of products features you are not sure you are going to need... As a result you decide to visit one of the forums to ask experienced people for help (it is always better to learn on somebody else mistakes). And then it starts... You give a simple, generic question "what is the best option for a beginner with limited funds." In response you receive tons of useless answers, i.e., some people try to show how experienced they are talking about their (ultra great) devices; other smash your proposal (if you gave one) without giving any reasonable alternatives; finally, what I liked about the problem with choosing an air compressor, some people suggested to build one yourself -"look I made one from a fridge compressor" - needless to say - a great piece of advice for a beginner ;)

OK, so after relieving my frustration - ehhh I should say motivating my post - I decided to write a short post about airbrushes and air compressors from my (very limited) experience. It is always important to look at such devices in the proper context. I would like to look at them from a perspective of wargammer modeling in small scale (15mm) - and not from a point of view of professional modeller who works with large scale models. It will cover only basic things that I've learned so far - so from the beginning sorry for being subjective. If you have your own experience go ahead and share with use :)


If you just start your adventure with airbrushing, I would recommend you to buy a simple, cheap, China-made airbrush. Why? It takes time to learn how fragile some of the airbrush components are. It often takes "one airbrush" to learn ;)

I bought K53 Double action airbrush for around €14 (the symbol might be different depending on providers), and frankly speaking it seems a reasonable choice for small-scale wargaming painting. It has a double action mechanism, which means that you press a trigger to reveal air and then pull the trigger to apply paint. I think that nearly all China-made airbrushes have this mechanism nowadays. In my airbrush the fluid cap is small (2ml), nevertheless it seems quite enough for 15mm models. When we talk about paint caps, there are two possible mounting points: above (e.g., mine) and below. The second options is frequently criticized by other people (however, I didn't have a chance to try one). Finally, you have to choose a nozzle diamater. For 15mm scale I would recommend 0.2mm.

My cheap - but still good enough airbrush
As I told you there is a high chance that you will damage your first airbrush. I did so even though I watched a tutorial movie with a guy that advised to proceed with caution while mounting a nozzle. I was really careful couple of times, but after a while I used to much force and I broke the thread of the nozzle. Without this tiny part the whole airbrush is useless :)

Advice #1: buy a cheap airbrush - China-made airbrushes are really cheap, but good enough to do the job. Moreover, it is highly probable that you will broke your first one. It is a very delicate device and you will need some time to learn that well ;) I destroyed the first one, and had to buy one more :)

Advice #2: seal threads with teflon tape - you don't want to reduce air pressure because of some air leakages. Remember to seal the connection between the air compresor and airbrush.

Advice #3: keep your airbrush clean - Usually when you finish painting you would like to skip that part. However, it pays off. Only clean airbrush works, and if you don't clean it just after the painting, you will have to put much more effort further on. You can also buy a special set of brushes and wires to help in cleaning your airbrush - I found them useful, but if you clean airbrush after each painting you can live without it.

Jar for wastes

Very handy thing because of two reasons. You have a place to put your airbrush on, and sometimes you can use it to get rid of unused paint that is inside the airbrush. I bough mine for around €10.

Air compressors

Your airbrush needs the compressed air to produce a stream of paint. There are plenty of air compressors models available that can do the job... Generally, we could divide them into two groups by taking into account the type of mechanism used to produce the air pressure: membrane and piston based. Instead of air compressor you can also use some other sources of compressed air like air cans. Personally, I don't think they are worth they price. I love to spent as much time as I need to paint models, and I wouldn't like to be limited by the amount of air I have in the can.

My first air compressor was a membrane-based one - AS-200, which costed me around €25. Here is a short spec of it:

  • efficiency: 10 [l/min]
  • pressure: 28 [psi] = 1,91 [atm] = 1,93 [bar] = 1,97 [kg/cm2]
  • max. time of work: 30 [min]
  • dimensions: 135 x 105 x 60 [mm]
  • weigh: 0,59 [kg]

It is a very small black box, which I find to be its main advantage. OK, and now time for disadvantages... It is quite noisy (although people say that membrane-based compressor are quiet). Of course it is not a type of noise you can't stand, but it is a high-frequency one which I personally don't like (a kind of loud "buzz" sound). The second problem is the max. time of continuous work. If you are a wargammer you usually paint whole platoons at once. This takes time. It's really annoying when you feel that you are loosing air pressure somewhere in the middle of your work. The next problem is the lack of reduction and pressure measurement. You never know how much pressure you have, and you can't control it. This is a huge disadvantage in my opinion.

For my new compressor I chose the Royal mini air compressors TC-20T for around €66. It has a following spec:
  • efficiency: 23 [l/min]
  • air tank 3,0 [l]
  • continuous pressure control 0-4 [bar]
  • max. time of work 20 [min]
  • dimensions: 340 x 150 x 320 [mm]
  • weight 6 kg

As you can see it is more than twice more expensive, but I have to say it is worth its price.
So what are the main benefits? First of all it is really quiet - I mean "quiet". You can easily use it at night. What is more it has a 3l air tank. Whenever, compressor fully fills the tank, it turns off for a while. It gives a couple of benefits. First of all, you can work in complete silence for a while. Moreover, it increases the max. time of work visibly (I have never had a problem with the max. time since I started using it). Finally, it gives you the airflow with constant pressure. There can also find models without a tank, but I really recommend you to buy one with a tank.
The second feature which is obligatory in my opinion is the reduction with the pressure measurement. It gives you a nice control over the air pressure. For instance, I use the Vallejo primer which is a little bit to thick. I don't want to dilute it too much, so I can easily increase the pressure and find the optimal settings to achieve a nice stream of the paint.

Advice #4:  Buy a good enough compressor from the beginning -  Don't waste money on a cheap compressor. If you are not sure whether you will like airbrushing, then, I'm gonna tell you that as a wargamming enthusiast you will love it! So, better wait for a while and collect more money to buy a resonable one. 

Advice #5:  Buy a piston type air compressor - It's totally subjective point of view, but from my experience piston type compressor are just better.

Advice #6:  Invest in tank if you can - An air tank is a really useful thing in air compressor. It doesn't increase the price of compressor much, but it makes it a real monster :)

Advice #7:  Air pressure reduction with measurement is obligatory - Make sure your air compressor has a reduction mechanism. It will help you much.

OK, that's all I wanted to share with you for now. If you have your own experience with airbrushes, compressors, or other supporting devices go on and share with us.


  1. Cheers for the tips. Just picked up a compressor and airbrush on ebay for $140. Seems a solid purchase.

  2. Compressors that claim high horsepower but low air flow performance typically run hot with a shorter lifespan. These are occasional use compressors, and not ideal for a shop setting.

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