This is very interesting and discussed subject. It’s been and probably will be – an object of much controversy, opinion impacts and sometimes even feuds. Latter one is predominantly brand related. But not only. The airbrush subject is reliant on many sub-options, like where one is located, perception of that particular stage of the modeling in general and of course – personal budget. Nowadays, money are most important. They are melting faster, compared to what we had back in a day. And that is not only because everything is more expensive. It is actually. But also because there are a lot of options and various add-ons to everything. Manufacturers explore the buyers mind to its limit and provide us with what-not, just to make more out of each and every one of us. It is enough to see how many equal models are available with the sole difference of decal options and different boxart. But that is still enough to tempt a modeler to get “just one more” and stash it. Airbrush-wise it is more or less the same. But this has its differences too.
Firstly, because the airbrush is meant to last. This is the most important difference between a decal set, a model or a sandpaper piece. The airbrush is a tool that requires a long term engagement. Pretty much like buying a car. Thus, the investment should be considered wisely and one must know exactly how far he/she will go using that airbrush. Usage is the path to eventual airbrush exchange at a later point, but also brings experience. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that if you are not using it you will save it for later, but on the other hand it doesn’t mean either – go buy an expensive tool and use the hell out of it.
There must be a clear and thought-through idea, on how often and for what applications one will use an airbrush. Airbrushes that are high-end tools with small nozzles /by small I mean .2mm and less/ are far from suitable for priming and clear coats. Maybe you can use them for clear coats if you are working in 72nd scale. But it is a maybe. Those airbrushes cost more, usually featuring delicate parts that are also – too expensive to exchange.
On the other hand, using a general-usage airbrush /.4-.5mm nozzle/ might not suffice the needs for small scales and for fine work on larger scales, like hand-painted stripes on a Me-109 in 48th and even 32nd scale. Of course, many might think that .3mm or .35mm – which are in general most used airbrushes – will be just in the middle and will cover both of the situations described above. The only thing that you have to add to solve the equation is experience. And that is too, close to the truth, but it is not an absolute.
The airbrush must first fit in your hand, to give you the right feel, to be of the right weight and to reacts to your body accordingly. By the latter one I mean the right amount of tension applied to the trigger, which is one of the reasons that I dumped the most expensive airbrush that I ever had. If the tool does not correspond to one of the factors mentioned above, at some point you will be either disappointed in it or you will consider upgrading. Which might be actually downgrading in terms of pure specifications, just like in my case.
There are of course, modelers that can do miracles with simple, rugged and rather cheap airbrushes. Panzermeister36 – as he is famous in YouTube society – is one of the best modelers I know. He uses Badger, which you can find brand new for under $70. This is .5mm airbrush, which is – more or less -considered an obsolete design and it is not that marketed as Iwata, Sparmax or Harder & Steenbeck. It does offer comfortable feel and reliability and in the same time many use it on a regular basis or started airbrushing with it. But it is not an all-round tool per se. However, if you see Panzermeister videos, you will see that he managed to master the Badger airbrush to the point where he probably won’t need anything else for the rest of his modeling career. I trust that the reason for that is because the guy managed to get a decent airbrush and combined it with a talent and experience, which gave the perfect combination for success.
Many others found that same formula using Sparmax. That company produces airbrushes for other brands as well, so you might not know that you are using one currently. It might have Tamiya on the side for example. However, they are better than Badgers in my opinion and quite reliable too. But are not the only option for decent airbrushes either. So in general, it is important to find the right one for your own goals and stick with it, to add “mastering” to the process. Because the tool is as good as its master’s hands and experience.
High precision tools? Yes, they do help. Harder & Steenbeck and Iwata are leading brands when it comes down to quality tools. But as in my case, H&S might present more of a challenge than help. The trigger with those is somewhat flimsy and the prices of spare parts are insane. Interestingly, back when I bought mine, the prices in US were lower compared to Europe, and the H&S are /or were at that time/ a German brand. Prices not only for the spares, but for the whole airbrush. Ridiculous, isn’t it?
The problem with high precision tools is often the fragility of their needles and nozzles. And the corresponding price tags. Besides, the smaller the nozzle – the higher the number on the tag. But the narrower the opening, the narrower the production range of the airbrush. Which is a tricky way to look at it. You may be able to produce fine lines, nice mottling and almost handwrite with such airbrushes, but you cannot paint general areas easily. Actually you can, but with a lot more time and it is generally annoying. With that though, comes the need to clean the airbrush more often, which brings the risk of damaging the needle or the nozzle if you disassemble it in full. So we are back at square one – the price of the parts. And let’s not forget the base price of the tool itself.
And back to the beginning, the money that you pay. That is probably the most nasty bump that you can hit on the road. If it wasn’t for that, either one of us would’ve owned and used five or ten airbrushes. Maybe even more. But that is not the case. It is possible to have 2-3 Badgers, but that is comparable to a price of a decent Iwata. So in general, one must choose between a brand, a price, a needle/nozzle size and tool features. I won’t even start on grip options and flow controllers.
So to choose the right one depends on your own perception. There are some points to be made and they are valid whatever your preference might be. Don’t go for the cheapest option. That will come at a price at a later stage. Don’t go for the exact opposite too. That will limit the usage and will limit the risks you would dare take while airbrushing. And without exploring the boundaries, you can never find the abilities of the tool. Neither your own.
What is important is to have a reliable tool. One that will work even if you mess it up a bit. And one that you can supply with spares when the need comes. And it will happen, trust me. You can expect it sooner than later. What makes the real difference, is that having a good airbrush provides you with the sole option to turn that plastic into a decent copy of the reality. Because even the best and cleanest build, featuring metal, resin and improvements of any kind, will look simply as a plastic chunk if its not for the paint and the appropriate transfer of that over the model. And the medium used to do that is the airbrush. This is what turns a jar of paint into a camo scheme. Via your hand.
Compressors are another subject, but this is a whole different matter. When it comes down to the airbrush, it is good to take a moment to think about the things written above. It might be confusing at first, but then when you sleep over it, you will see that sometimes less is more and not always getting the cheapest means that you made the best financial decision. Neither is paying for overpriced tools with features that you will never use. It is very individual. Because it is pretty much like buying a glove.
So choose wisely!