Friday, August 4, 2017

Guide for Beginners: Airbrushing

Strap in folks, this is going to be a lengthy resource post.

This guide is a total presentation of the topic of air based painting, whether you are a total beginner or just looking for some specific information.

Before I delve into the meta game and your eyes glaze over, here's the FAQ:

Which Airbrush do I buy?
Short answer: A Gravity Fed, Dual Action, Internal Mix Airbrush. 
Whichever one falls into your price range. This setup will be the easiest for you to not only use but also maintain.

What is the difference between Single and Dual action? 
Short answer: Single action is a glorified spray can.
When you push down on the trigger paint and air mix in the brush.The paint is then atomized by air pressure and propelled out of the tip of the brush. A dual action brush allows the user to vary the rate at which paint can escape the tip of the brush resulting in a wide possible range of spray patterns.

What is the difference between Siphon and Gravity feed?

Short answer: The direction of feed.
Gravity feed brushes load paint from the top, Siphon load from the bottom or side.
Neither option is better than the other, I recommend a gravity feed because of the ease of cleaning and changing colors. A siphon brush requires individual pots for each color you want to spray.
 How much am I looking at spending to start?
Short answer: About one hundred dollars or your country's equivalent. 
This will get you an entry level compressor, an air hose, and an airbrush.
If you want to go the extra mile, shell out an additional 20-30 dollars for a moisture trap/regulator combo.
Much more is going to overload you with features you won't understand and gimmicks you don't need. Less will get you a cheap, crappy spray gun with no fine control.
Does brand name matter?

Short answer: No.
A high end airbrush does not perform significantly better than a china brand "knockoff". I have used top of the line Iwata, Badger, and Harder and Steenbeck Airbrushes, and my $35 Veda 180 runs just as well given proper use, care, and maintenance.
When you become more advanced in your skills you may want to invest in a brand name for specific features or ease of locating replacement parts. As a beginner however a knockoff is just what you need.
Do I need a spray booth?

 Short answer: Probably not. 
Unless you work in a very cramped space with no airflow and decide to use lacquer paints extensively, you can get away with working near an open window.
What kind of paint should I use?

Short answer: Pre-thinned acrylic. 
Several brands are available, I personally recommend Vallejo Model Air and urge you to stay away from Testors.

My airbrush doesn't work, help?
Short answer: It's clogged. Ctrl+F Section 3.

   With any luck that answers some of your basic questions. If you're ready to get into the real thing, read on.

Section 1: Equipment. 
Let's take a look at the the things you will need to get started air painting.

 An air compressor is basically a piston attached to an air intake. When the piston runs, air is pushed through the mechanism and compressed into a storage unit. This air is then fed through a hose into your airbrush.
The above image shows your most common compressors for modeling application.

Left: The basic bare-bones compressor. It has no attached regulator so it will simply compress air into your hose which you then spray through your brush. These offer little in the way of spray control and tend to wear out quickly due to the constant strain on the machine's parts.

Right: The same compressor but with an attached air tank. A big step up in terms of durability as the machine will only run until the tank is filled to the desired level of air pressure or PSI. This model has a combo pressure valve and moisture trap.  
I recommend this setup as your first compressor.

Middle: Top of the line brand name compressor. This particular model has a carry handle, moisture trap, two brush holders and is whisper quiet. The only down side is that it costs double what the mid range option does.

All of these compressors run on ac power and have a noise level between 60 and 90 db.
There are of course countless other options including industrial size compressors. If you happen to have one of these there are many adapters you can buy to use them with your airbrush if you don't mind the noise.
Air Hose
 Your standard braided nylon air hose. Nine times out of ten your airbrush AND compressor will include the proper hose for the given device. If for some reason yours does not, your only concern will be to buy a hose with the proper thread size.
Common thread sizes for airbrushes are 1/8" and 1/4"
Moisture Trap / Regulator

A flow regulator not only extends the life of your compressor but also allows you a wide range of spraying applications. The valve works by constricting air flow, thereby raising and lowering air pressure.
Primer for example requires a much higher PSI setting to apply than a delicate metallic lacquer.

The moisture trap prevents water from mixing in with your air which can lead to all kinds of problems and is an absolutely essential component for anyone in a humid climate.

Section 2: Parts of the Airbrush.

The rear casing of the airbrush protects your needle from impact. Some airbrushes will also have a knob on the casing which you can tighten to restrict the movement of the needle.

Needle Chuck
This part locks your needle in to the trigger mechanism. If your chuck is loose pulling the trigger will not move the needle.

 The "brush" portion of the airbrush. The larger your needle is, the more paint you will be able to spray at a time.

Needle Guide
This assembly of parts holds your needle and connects it to the trigger.

With a dual action trigger you push down for air and pull back for paint.

Air Intake
This connects your air brush to your air hose. Many different sizes are available.

Crown Cap
This part protects your tip form damage.

Very small and delicate part. Don't lose it! Most tips require a small wrench to remove.

Section 3: Care and Cleaning.

Proper maintenance of your equipment is essential and also very easy, just remember these things:

Clean out your airbrush every time you use it.
Rinse it thoroughly when you change colors and give it a full cleaning every time you are done painting.

Never allow paint to dry in your brush.
If you need to step away or take a break, always remove the paint you were working with.

Store your brush in a dry and cool place.
I store mine with its needle removed so there is no way it could possibly get stuck.

Lubricate your airbrush once a month.

I use graphite to keep mine running smooth.

Replace your rubber seals yearly.
Your airbrush should come with a small package of rubber seals, these prevent air leaks and liquid contamination. If you often spray corrosive lacquers you will most likely need to replace these more often.


Air feeds but paint does not flow: Needle clog, remove and soak. Clean with pipe cleaner.
 Air back feeds into cup: Tip clog or damaged seal. Soak or replace.
 Air does not feed: Intake blocked, soak and use pipe cleaner.
Paint splutters: Paint is too thick, add thinner.
Paint flakes off: Applying paint too thick or ambient temperature too high.
Orange peel texture: Spraying too close or PSI too high.

 If your airbrush is clogged, disassemble it then soak it in a degreaser like purple power / simple green for about 20 minutes, then give it a thorough rinse.

If your needle is stuck, DO NOT attempt to force it out. Remove the crown cap and the tip if possible, then apply lubricant and gently twist it until it comes out. 

Section 4: Start Painting.
Now that you know your basics you are ready to start painting. Gather your gear and..

Thin Properly
Your paint should be thinned to exactly one part paint to one part thinner. You will see this notated as 50/50 or 1:1. If you thin your paints much more than this the color will not cover well, and if you thin less the paint will have a hard time spraying and may gunk up your airbrush.

Set the Pressure
Set your compressor to the paint brand's recommended setting. If none is given, 25 PSI is a safe bet for standard painting. 

 Test Spray
Test for both proper air flow and paint consistency before you start on a model. It never hurts to double check your tip for dried paint either. This step can be the difference between a good spray session and a glob of dried goop blasting at your kit.
Spray Thin Coats 
Use your airbrush as a precision instrument, not a paint hose. If you are covering your parts with paint in a single coat, you are spraying too much at a time.
Over spray leads to bad finishes and cracked paint. Slow and steady wins the race.
Let It Dry 
Resist the temptation to touch your parts until you are sure they are dry and ready for more work. Most acrylic paints will be dry after 30 minutes, lacquers after 20. I highly recommend waiting 24 hours between paint types for best results.
Never touch parts without gloves.

 A short video on airbrush operation.

Section 5: Tips and Tricks.

 Top Coats

Top coat protects your work from scuff and abrasion as well as UV damage to an extent. There 3 basic types,
Gloss: Shiny and generally thick and sticky. Gloss is the go to finish for "factory fresh" model builders.

Matte/Flat:Completely absent of shine and often very thin. Be warned that some brands are much "flatter" than others, always test on spoons first. Flat finishes are good for realistic models and weathered builds.

Satin: In between the two. Mutes shine just enough for good photography. Quite overlooked in the Mecha genre, though it works very well for it. Used extensively in miniature painting.


Candy color is a 3 layer effect using a gloss base, a silver or chrome mid, and a clear color top layer.
The preparation of the surface of your piece is extremely important and any imperfection will show through in your finished work. 
I begin my candy parts with 1000 grit sand paper and wet sanding, then prime in 2 thin coats.

From an old post:

Surface and prime.

 Gloss black base, in this case Alclad.

 Several silver colors. You'll have to experiment to find the one you like best.

 Chrome spoons after polishing. You can get real fancy and use polishing compound to mirror the shine.
 Top color. Apply slowly and allow the color build up rather than trying to cover in one sweep.
You can see here the subtle differences the base silver has on the final color. 



Pre and Post Shading


Color Modulation 


Thanks for reading and I hope this guide has helped you. I will be adding to it and revising as time allows and as my own skills increase. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Blue Squadron X-wing

Did someone say bandwagon? Because im jumping on it. Despite not having seen a star wars film sice the early 2000's I do love the ship designs.
Its been a few months since ive been able to really sit down and work on a kit and having set up a brand new work space I set myself a challenge: Do something completely new, here it is.
BANDAI's 1/72 X-wing

This kit actually comes with 2 whole X-wings, a 1/72 And a 1/144 scale. A really great value for ~30 dollars.

My color palette in order of appearance.

The kit is standard bandai abs plastic so bondene is the gold standard for seam welding it.
Its primed with Alclad grey and then the panel lines are sprayed with tamiya smoke to pre shade.
The base color is Tamiya XF-80 Royal Light Grey, Contrast panels are Tamiya XF-54 Dark Sea Grey, XF-59 Desert Yellow, and Tamiya X-4 Blue.
All metallics are based in Alclad gloss black base, The engines are buffed with UvR Steel, And the turbines are Model Master Anthracite and Stainless Steel respectively.

Quite a bit of masking was required but it wasnt very difficult to do.

The blue and yellow wing details were masked with stickers that come with the kit. The stickers are very low tack and easy to remove which leads me to believe bandai intended them for that purpose.

Gotta love that metallic effect. Buffing powder is the way to go for mechanical details.

Some additional details hand painted on. Im a bit sad that you cant see the engines very well after assembly.

Rear hatch detailed with a dry brush of acrylic silver.

With that done I move on to a pin wash and weathing.
Im using MiG blue/black pin wash and various streaking grimes. For discoloration im using 502 Abteilung star ship filth and dark rust as well as some generic brand oil paints from michaels.

The difference is astounding, it really blew me away how easy it is to convey a sense of weight through grime and dirt.

At this point I also detailed the pilot. He is painted completely with Citadel paints,.

He even came with tiny little water slides for those rebel scum insignias.

The last bit of work was the base, it was completely smooth so I added some panel lines and styrene details. Im definitely still learning when it comes to scribing but im decently happy with the result.

And thats about it for building the kit. Enjoy the photo gallery!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Guide for Beginners: How do I paint? Updated!

Many years ago I wrote a very short intro guide to painting and this is it's logical evolution.
I tried my best to anticipate the questions a beginner would have as well as adding in some things I wish i'd have known starting out. There are many links in this post. Use them!

I hope this guide helps you and am more than willing to answer any more questions you may have. You can contact me at or just drop by the Plamo thread on

Let's start by learning something about paint types.

AcrylicThe "lightest" and most forgiving of the paints. Most acrylics are water based meaning you can thin them with distilled water (Not tap water).  Acrylic paints have larger particles of pigment which causes them to look goopy if painted too thick. I cannot stress enough the importance of thinning to the proper consistency. For those airbrushing I recommend thinning acrylics with 90% isopropyl alcohol as it helps them dry faster. Acrylics dry in about 30 minutes and cure in about 48 hours.

Enamel: The verb to enamel historically means to cover something with powdered glass and then fire it to a smooth glossy finish. Modern enamel paints emulate that type of finish. Enamel paints produce some incredible metallic effects if properly applied and buffed. Enamel paints are unique in that they are oil based meaning they can be thinned with a wide variety of turpenoid dilutants like odorless mineral spirits and lighter fluid. This makes them ideal for washes and filter effects. Dry time is about an hour but curing takes almost a week.

Lacquer: The rough stuff. Lacquer paints are brilliantly pigmented colors suspended in volatile organic compounds like nitrocellulose. Lacquer paints are exclusively used in airbrushing and the fumes they create are very dangerous. You should always wear a filter mask and work in a well ventilated area when working with lacquers. 
Dry time is very short at no more than 15 minutes and cure time is three to four days.

Oil: Very slow drying paints which are used for weathering, washes, and filters.

FAQ: What is the best brand of paint to use?
Short answer:Vallejo's Model Air range. It is good enough to recommend over all others. Stay away from "craft" paint and Tamiya's acrylics. They are not for hand painting.

From the comparison we can see that hand painters will want to equip themselves with either acrylics or enamels. 
Acrylics are a bit more forgiving but less color rich while enamels are more vibrant and dry to a very hard shell. Which one you choose is up to you, I've gotten decent mileage out of both so I can't recommend one over the other.
For this guide I will assume that you want to start by hand painting so go ahead and gather the following.

Sandpaper and emery board. You need 600 grit paper and a "fine" board.

FAQ: I'm a manly man and have no idea what an emery board is.
It's a nail file. You get them in the beauty section at your local drugstore. Better yet ask your wife/girlfriend/sister. They'll know.

Paints and brushes. I'm using a mix of acrylics made for miniature painting and some assorted mid range brushes.

FAQ: Is the quality of my brushes important?
Yes. Don't buy cheap brushes, they will fray and generally be a pain in the ass to use.

 A well palette or wax paper. You can get wax paper at most grocery stores in the same aisle you find aluminum foil.

FAQ: Why would I use wax paper?
Using wax paper rather than a palette will keep your paints wet longer allowing you to blend paints and giving you a longer work time. This is called a "wet palette"

Crocodile clips to hold your parts while you paint. If you don't have any and don't want to wait for shipping you can pin your parts with toothpicks and blu tack.

You can buy painting clips Here or Here

Stay away from anything you'd get at wal mart.
I recommend a rattle can primer made for miniature painting. Tamiya and Mr Hobby both make incredible spray primers but they are very expensive for how much you will waste from over spray.

Gloss or Matte Top Coat.

It's your call as to which finish. Again, Tamiya and Mr Hobby are awesome but uneconomical. 

FAQ: Why is there floor wax in this picture?
Future floor polish is nothing more than clear acrylic and that makes it a great choice as a gloss top coat. You can even hand paint it.

And lastly a foam block to stick your clips or toothpicks into. You can buy these at craft stores in the silk floral section.

Start off by giving your parts a gentle sanding with your 600 grit paper and smooth them out with the emery board. This will prepare the surface of the parts for primer.

Now spray your primer and allow 2 hours to dry.

 Put some paint in your palette and thin it about 60%
Your first coat should be heavy enough to cover the part in color without leaving any marks. If you are getting brush strokes then chances are your paint is too thick. Thin it down more and try again.

Now wait 30 minutes for your first coat to set. Your next coat should be thinned 1:1 paint to water and how many coats you do depends on how dark you want your colors to be. 2-3 is usually plenty and more than 5 gets too thick.
Here's our lovely spoon after just 3 layers.

When your parts have dried to an acceptable color, paint on a thin layer of future and you are done!
Id let the parts sit for a day or two before you assemble. This is very important, I can't count the number of times i've been impatient in wanting to see my finished work and paying for it by having to sand down, strip, and repaint half my kit. Just be patient.

You can detail up your kit by using a small brush to contrast paint raised details. A frame will look  great in base German grey and silver.

 Faces take a steady hand to detail but it's nowhere near as daunting as you may expect.

The difference a panel wash makes. 
The product i'm using here is MiG's panel line wash.
It's ready to use right out of the pot which makes it very beginner friendly and easily cleans up with a turpenoid like odorless mineral spirits or lighter fluid.
Even if you don't want to paint your kit, giving it a wash will really bring out details with very little effort. Just make sure to top coat after or you'll rub it off over time.



More FAQ:

Do I take my kit apart to paint it?
 Yes you do. It is very important to paint your parts individually so that your kit doesn't stick together. First break your kit down into it's Sub Assemblies. Most kits have 7 of these. The torso, head left arm, right arm, left leg, right leg, and accessories.
 Here we see Barbatos broken down into his major Sub Assemblies. This will be the first step for painting after you build.

Here our parts are further broken down into their individual state and pinned up for painting. Note that even the joints are separated so their full range of motion can be painted.

I'm forgetful and i'm worried that once I prime my parts I won't remember what color they are supposed to be painted.
Use some toothpicks and masking tape to make yourself reminder flags!

This little life hack has saved me a lot of grief when working with large batches of parts. 

I hope you found this guide useful and if you have any ideas about how to make it better please contact me!