Painting: Getting Started with as Airbrush

Once you go Airbrush, you never go back!

We’ve got a guest editorial on how to get started with an inexpensive airbrush setup By Sean Ireland

There isn’t another tool available that can get your models painted and on the table quicker than an airbrush.  Even if you aren’t interested in advanced techniques for highlighting or weathering, nothing gives you a better start on painting an army than laying down a base coat with an airbrush.  I can’t imagine painting my Leafblower Imperial Guard without my airbrush.

Taking into account how an airbrush can help up your painting game it’s not as common a tool in a hobbyist’s collection as I think it should be..  It’s not surprising it’s not a well-used tool as it’s not the easiest to get started They are hard to find, as most of the gaming stores in my area don’t carry airbrushes.  If you can find a store that carries airbrushes, the turnkey packages out there can be expensive.  I am going to share the setup I have so you can see what a complete setup needs and how it doesn’t have to break your bank.

In a later article the use of an airbrush will be covered, today we are just doing setup.

There are two basic components you will need.

  • Airbrush
  • Compressor

For an airbrush you want the “dual action, gravity fed” type.  Dual action gives you control of the amount of air and the amount of paint the airbrush puts out.  This is important when you are using the brush for laying down highlights.   Gravity fed means the paint is fed just like it sounds, by gravity.  The reason you want this is because you run at a lower air pressure than siphon fed airbrushes giving you greater control of where your paint goes.

As far as what brand to use I recommend picking up an off brand on eBay  I started with an inexpensive airbrush and after some time  bought an Iwata to see how much better it was and I really couldn’t see much advantage over my off brand model.  Most of the off brand airbrushes on eBay are around $40 to $60 and often come with multiple needles.

The second item you will need is an air source to drive your new airbrush, a compressor.  For a compressor I didn’t go with a hobby compressor and I ended up using a traditional pancake compressor.    The hobby compressors work really well and are very quiet, so you can’t go wrong if you pick one up.  They are a bit on the expensive side, though.  Just like an off brand airbrush, if we do a bit of shopping we can get an air source that is much cheaper.

There are a few obstacles with using a normal “garage style” compressor for your air source.  The first is air pressure.  The air pressure on most standard garage compressors is just too damn high.  While they may have an integral regulator that can control the air they are not usually exact enough for our purposes.  We can fix that with an in line digital regulator.   A digital regulator lets you set the exact air pressure going to the airbrush.  I tend to stick to around 30 psi.

The next obstacle is that of the quality of the air.  For air brushing we need very clean air with no moisture or oil.  A bit of paint or water could cause problems when laying down that coat of paint on a tank you spent hours preparing.   An in line “desiccant dryer” will solve this problem.  It’s a filter you install in your airline that pulls any oil or moisture out of the air stream.  The filter is a consumable so you will have to exchange the filter about every six months, though they are pretty inexpensive.  The last problem is that of air hose size.  Most garage style compressors use ¼” connectors while your airbrush has a ⅛” connector.  A simple adapter can fix this problem.

With buying a few parts you can have compressor that works just as well as any hobby compressor for less than half the price.  You do have to contend with the noise factor as garage compressors are loud, though if you get one with a large enough air tank it can fill up and run off the stored air.  I typically will start my compressor when I want to use it, leave while it fills up, and come back and paint off the tank.

To make it a bit easier to find the parts I’ve described I’ve included some links to the parts I use in my setup.


The below is a pancake style compressor from harbor freight.  They frequently go on sale in the mid $60 range.

Digital Air Flow Regulator

Inline Filter

Sean Ireland has been utterly addicted to playing with toy soldiers for the last 15 years.  He maintains a hobby blog at and can be reached on twitter @spireland.

I can tell you from experience, Airbrushes are like magic. They speed up painting exponentially, and can achieve effects you just can’t do by hand. 


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

2 Responses to “Painting: Getting Started with as Airbrush”

  1. Douglas of Wolfbrothers June 25, 2012 5:46 pm

    Would be cool to see MORE airbrush articles. Most posts and videos dont go much past this point.

    • Sean Ireland June 26, 2012 11:02 am

      I’m going to do another one with an intro on how to use one in a few weeks.