For years the art of airbrushing has been in decline. Some even call it dead. But a few dedicated souls remain still invested in the craft. Those few who remain however, hold the passion of thousands.
In this article you'll find a few great airbrushes and airbrush kits. Iwata, Olympus, EFBE, Badger, Harder and Steenbeck and Paasche, they are all good manufacturers and and all of their devices need some TLC and proper handling, as long as you know that, you'll be fine.
1. Iwata HP-CS
Iwata is a beloved choice. It features gravity feed and dual action.
Both beginner friendly features, recommended by professionals but not only for beginner airbrush artists. Professionals use higher end Iwata models too. It will last you years. The 0.35 needle tip will allow you to vary between a spray of a hairline to 2" (50-mm) round.
Limited only by the 1/3 oz. sized cup. The downside is that the nozzle and needle get warped easily so you need to be careful and consider that or be aware that replacing those parts is relatively costly. Airbrushes are delicate instruments that need proper thinning of paint.
If you fail to adjust your device appropriately you will have problems. If you follow the dotted line, you'll be fine. You can thin too much and you can thin too little.
As said on the manufacturers site:
"Automotive artists, fine artists and students will appreciate how well the Eclipse CS sprays heavier acrylics and Medea Textile Colors, while maintaining high-detail spray characteristics"
Although costly, the Infinity CR Plus 2 in 1 is highly recommended. The craftsmanship is beautiful and the presentation is in a classy, professional looking case.
A great tool for painting miniatures or bigger objects with the thicker needle. Although they now have representation in the states one might still struggle to find a local shop for repairs or spare parts.
Great device but I would rather go with a more mainstream choice just to be safe.
The Iwata-Medea Revolution CR is a great versatile airbrush perfect for model work. 1/3 oz gravity-feed cup with a bulkier 0.5mm needle and nozzle. The larger nozzle means an easier time with heavier paints. A professionals favorite dual action, internal-mix and gravity feed design coupled with a great price.
It's a great airbrush for beginners. Powerful and simple to use, although not as delicate as the Iwata Eclipse. A large cup that although might make it harder for you to control the smallest detail will allow you to work longer. The combination will allow you to define for yourself what kind of airbrush artists you are, with fine detail or a wide 1-1/2″ spray pattern.
It's truly versatile. From makeup, Gundam modeling, camouflage, bicycle helm customization to spray painting your van. It will do anything. For even finer control you could remove the tip guard but be careful not to damage the needle. It's still a delicate instrument.
Great American budget airbrush for beginners. The single action makes it simple to use and the professionals choice when doing large amounts of repetitive work.
The siphon feed makes it easier to clean and a great tool for large paint jobs.
Although not the best for detailed work, this is a simple to use wider spray brush that you could use for special effect prosthetics, small furniture, simple accents on cars, coating a rifle or model kits.
You can expect 1/16 to 1.5 inch wide patterns.
Keep in mind that the the set doesn't include an air compressor which you need to buy specifically from Paasche or try to find the parts for hooking it up with an air compressor that wasn't made for it.
If you want American, and if you want an artisan's tool, but still not pay multiple hundreds, then this is a great entry level tool into professional ability.
From the thinnest of lines to a 1-1/4-inch sprays. With the double action trigger that both beginners and seasoned users love.
The gravity feed which is excellent for not wasting paint which beginners are often prone to do. Relatively easy to clean if not among the simplest.
The instructions and manual could better but luckily there's YouTube and forums.
Overall it's a great choice but not perfect. Maintenance and materials used are also important. You can make detailed work and you can decorate cakes but only if using the appropriate paints.
From mere millimeters to 3 inches wide, an upgrade from the Paasche TG-3F, in a beautiful wood box packaging. A more premium airbrush made in the US, perfect as a gift.
The box although great isn't anything too fancy. But more importantly it's a quality device. Set includes 3 head sizes .25, .38, and .66millimeters. It comes with multiple needles.
With the smallest head you can even do model painting with pristine precision. Or decorate cake or small furniture pieces with the larger heads. It's main appeal comes from the beauty of the design. As far function goes you might be better off with cheaper alternatives.
Another great company with a long history in America. Badger is the last among the big 3 of airbrush companies. The Air-Brush Co 105 Patriot features a dual action trigger and gravity feed.
Which as we know allow for allows for efficient painting, making sure none is wasted. The dual action also enables us greater control over the spray and subsequently the resulting work.
It's a powerhouse of a tool with proper paint thinning and a good compressor you'll be able to use any medium from the hardest, to the driest and simplest.
The only downside is that with Paasche we've been spoiled, unlike other airbrushes on the market it only comes with a single needle and nozzle at .50mm. Due to the nature of the large needle, it's not the best tool for miniature painting. Think cakes, guns and small furniture or special effects instead.
The Sotar is Badger's response to Iwatas Micron in the 90s. SOTAR stands for State Of The Art Results. And although I'm not sure maybe the 20/20 stands for 20 20 vision? It's really lightweight which is important for control over the device and spray.
One of the cool things about it is that you can remove the head for cleaning without the tip falling off.
And with Badger's patented limiter you'll have an easy time clearing a clog if the nozzle should need it. From millimeters to a 3/4-inch spray pattern.
Like the Micron, this is a great tool for miniatures, model painting or artistic cosmetics.
The gravity feed holds 1/12 ounces and due to the light weight makes it a really fun and simple to use tool for detail orientated work. Please note that the feed doesn't have a lid and this is a very delicate device, the needle can get bent easily so be careful with it. It's the ultimate tool for the professional illustrator.
Dual action trigger. Single needle and nozzle .50mm and regulator but with additional replacement parts. Suitable for most mediums with a generous 3/8 ounce gravity feed cup.
Adjustable needle seat. Smooth trigger action. Slightly heavier than the Patriot. Numbered collar. Delicate instrument with many fine delicate details that need to be handled with care.
Great airbrush for someone in need of fine detail like miniature painting or an artist. But with so many small and moving parts you need take more considerate care of it than other airbrushes when disassembling.
So not a great beginner airbrush. As with finer instruments, proper thinning procedures must be followed to ensure long lasting quality. Also note like with any device you ever buy, read the manual before you start using it. To have a good experience you need to forward the needle and seat it in the paint tip. Also before using paint, use water or cleaner.
10. Iwata-Medea Micron - A Man can Dream
With a tiny needle and nozzle combination of .18 millimeters you could tattoo butterfly wings. Although, please note, that's a joke. Please don't try to tattoo a butterfly.
The micro-line spray pattern goes up to 3/4 inches which is perfect for miniatures or model painting. With a tiny 1.8 ml gravity-feed cup you'll have supreme control over your creation.
The feed is easy to clean and with a high quality stainless steel needle you'll experience the most comfortable switch between spray distances. Possibly overpriced? Maybe. But you know you'll get consistent, reliable quality with Iwata.
What paint do I use?
If possible get paint or decorative material that's made for the purpose you need it for. If you want to decorate cakes, get food paint. If you want use your airbrush to apply makeup then clearly use cosmetic paints and not industrial ones. These choices will normally be prethinned and will need no further preparation.
What about using primer?
"You don't have to prime previously painted surfaces if the paint is in good shape—no chipping or peeling. Interior walls usually don't need priming except in the case of stains, repairs or a paint color that's drastically different. Interior painted woodwork usually needs spot priming at a minimum. " - as seen on FamilyHandyman
Iwata and the Copycats
The Iwata airbrush designs are not patented. This means that other companies can make their own models of this distinct look. Although these airbrushes might look like the similar they are not the same. The materials used and the quality assurance Iwata has is simply better. Everyone with experience from professional to amateur will tell you to stay away from the knock offs. Every person I've seen who has bought a cheaper model has ended up saying that they regret going that route. I've read of a man who bought 3 cheap knockoffs and each of them broke. His 4th and last airbrush was Iwata. Those 3 airbrushes were equivalent in cost to the Iwata he ended up getting.
- Harder and Steenbeck Infinity CR Plus 2 in 1
- Badger Krome
- Badger 360 for large areas.
How to choose an airbrush?
There are essentially 4 steps to picking an airbrush. Although there are various choices quite often the answer is the same regardless of your purpose for the airbrush.
Type of Surface
- For a finer stream of paint you need a needle. A 0.15 needle is the smallest but also possibly the hardest to handle.
Covering Large Areas
- For something that acts like a spray gun you need a wider nozzle. The Badger 360 can go from needle point to a wide spray of 3 inches.
Type of Paint feed
Gravity feed airbrush
- Limited volume of paint
- Smarter For Beginners
Siphon feed airbrush
- Better for bigger jobs
- Easier to clean
- Great for spray tanning
Side feed airbrush
- Better for multipurpose jobs
- The optimal choice
Type of Trigger
- Better For Beginners
- Prefered by artisans
- Better for automated, repetative work.
- Better for typical paint sprayer feeling
How the Paint is Atomized
- Better for more accurate work
- For Beginners
- Better for rougher, uglier jobs
Will the airbrush clog?
It can and will clog if you do not take good care of it. This means you need to clean it after each use properly.
Wrapping it up
For beginners and professionals alike I would suggest a gravity feed airbrush with a smaller cup you'll be able to make the finest works of art. Dual action, if you haven't already developed a preference because it's the most versatile for any technique you want to develope. Last, but still equally important is the internal-mix which I would recommend over an external solution. The simple reason being that the spray pattern is far from precise and I believe most people who opt for an airbrush will prefer a fine instrument and not a blunt tool. As said before in this article you can not go wrong with Iwata because their brand has proven time and again to be the most reliable, capable and trustworthy over decades.