On this page I have tried to explain how to do basic painting with an airbrush. While experts can do amazing things with these, it can also be used by the amateur to paint larger things more easily and than using a paintbrush. It also eliminates the lines paint brushes tend to leave, and you get a much denser colour with a single coat.While some people would lead you to believe it takes huge amounts of skill to use, you will actually find with a bit of trail and error on an old model kit, it will allow you to get the hang of the basics, then its just practice.Please note: Unless you are using water based acrylic paint, most other model paints give off some fumes. The wearing of a proper mask that removes fumes from the air is recommended. However a dust mask is also recommended for even water based paint as a certain amount of dried overspray dust can be inhaled while working.
This picture gives you a rough idea of what you will need. I have two airbrushes, a very cheap airbrush which is a single action type, which I use to base coat things I paint or just larger areas. I also have a finer twin action airbrush for the detail work.The single action, (black one in the picture,) means you just depress the trigger to release a fixed amount of paint and air. This type tend to spray a wide fan, but you will also find they tend to release too much paint for any finer work. The twin action airbrush, (silver one in the picture,) means you depress the trigger to release the air and pull it back to release the paint. The spray pattern can be altered from a very fine line, up to about three quarters of an inch, by carefully balancing the trigger. This does however take practice, on any old bit of plastic.As for paint, its best to use model paint. I tend to use Humbrol and Revell who make a wide range of colours, but this paint is classed as enamel, so requires a special thinner and cleaner. I tend to buy three little tins at a time, and thin them 1:1 to use in the airbrush. I then store the pre-mixed paint for the twin action airbrush in a plastic container, with label of whatís inside. The paint for base coating I keep it in screw top jars that screw directly onto the single action airbrush base. This allows larger areas to be sprayed without having to keep topping up the paint.As I have an extractor in my workshop, I made up a very basic paint spraying booth. It has a base, back and sides. In the back it has a filter sheet with the extractor pluging in behind it. The vapour and dust are then sucked away from me while working.I also have a rotating table, which is extremely useful as you can rotate your work while spraying, without fear of it falling over. This is a very old one my dad got for me ages ago, but unlike many of the modern version itís all cast iron, so weighs a ton, but also means you know its never going to move accidentally.The last thing you need is a source of air. The cheapest way for small projects is to buy air in a can. Itís cheap, and easy to get hold of. Next up is a hobby compressor, they cost more, but if you do a lot of airbrush work, is cheaper in the long run. I have a large compressor as I also spray anything from car body panels, to whole cars, to gates and odd things people ask me to. I turn the pressure down and it works a as well as any of the other methods.
First thing to do whatever you are going to paint, is clean it. For best results I find it better to wash a bought model kits in warm soapy water. Some say itís not needed, but I prefer to clean it first, than find the paint hasn't stuck properly when done.So the item I am spraying is one of my bio helmets, which is cast out of polyurethane resin. This has a slightly oily surface so needs cleaning. I use cellulose paint thinner. Two reasons for this, one it removes any oily deposits and two, it just softens the surface a tiny amount, meaning when you spray the base coat it sticks much better to the surface. I place the mask on the stand, and wipe it there. I have my single action airbrush ready for use, so when I have cleaned the bio, I give it a few minutes to allow any thinner to evaporate, and then start spraying.First off, spray round the edges, and deeper areas. If you do these to start with, you can see there covered properly. With these areas done go on and spray the rest of it. You only need a light coat of paint, don't go spraying heavy to the point of runs, this coat is just meant as something for the others to key to, and also giving it a solid base colour to work from. Also the base colour can affect the final coats colour. For most colours including black just use grey, unless itís going to be white, then use white.
Once the grey base coat has dried, its time to apply the first colour. For this bio I want it to look like tarnished metal when done, so my first colour is silver. Again spray the item, round the edges and deep areas first, and then finish it off all over. Remember nice thin coats, and if you have missed an area, or itís looking a bit thin, leave that coat to dry, and then do those areas again in ten or so minutes when itís dry.If you keep touching it up while the paint is wet, this can lead to heavy deposits of paint which can run, or take ages to dry, meaning the whole process takes far longer.The model paint I am using take about ten minutes to go tacky dry, but needs leaving overnight until its safe to handle it. While each coat is drying, if I have finished with that particular colour I wash the airbrush out using paint cleaner recommended for that paint. Never use cellulose thinners or any industrial paint cleaning products unless you know the seals in the airbrush can withstand it. If you use cellulose thinners with standard rubber seals, they will expand and be ruined. Once they stretch they don't ever shrink back to the size they were before, and you end up getting air bubbles coming back through the paint reservoir and that means paintings over till you get new seals. (Yep, I done this with my new airbrush, as my old one had synthetic seals)
With your silver coat done, its time to change to the twin action airbrush. My one has a small reservoir on the top, as itís known as gravity fed airbrush. I prefer to use gravity fed airbrushes oppose to suction which have a cup hanging underneath, as I find you don't have to worry about the cup underneath when spraying very close to the surface of something. The last thing you want is to spray something, then drag a glass jar across the wet paint ruining it.For the next stage I use a matt dark grey, as this adds depth to the paint job. For the look of tarnished metal you need to stand back and look at what you are painting, and try to imagine what it would look like if it was real tarnished metal.First of all I get a thin line about a quarter of an inch thick, with the airbrush by letting out a bit of air and tiny bit of paint. (Do a test on something spare to make sure itís the right thickness.) I do the edges and any crevasses or ridges or low spots. I then go round and also add a few random blotches. By blotch I mean hold the airbrush about six inches away let out full air and paint and just wave it around (this is real technical,) till I have something that looks like a shadow on the top. You can just see them in the pictures. I also add shadow as we'll call it between the cheek sections, as this helps to add depth here as well.
With the dark highlights done, its time to add the final coat of paint. This is going to be a light metallic grey; the reason for this will become clear near the end.Now adjust the airbrush spray pattern so itís at full fan, but half paint release. Spray from about four inches away and go either side of the areas you previously done in dark grey, making sure the edge of the new coat just reaches the middle of the dark grey, but without covering it too heavily.When you have done all the areas that were dark grey, hold the airbrush away at around six inches again and let out full air and paint, and give the entire surface a very light coat of paint. This bit is just down to how it looks to you. You want enough of the silver coat to show through for the shine, but enough of the darker areas to give it depth. This is trial and error and each one you do, you will improve on, till you have the tarnished metal look how you like it. Leave the whole thing to dry overnight, and then the next day get a very soft cloth and rub gently all over it. This does two things, it removes any overspray dust that would have settled while you were spraying it, and it also rubs around some of the silver paint pigment. You really only find this with silver model paint, (proper silver car paint in a can won't do it,) but even when fully dry a certain amount rubs off. We use this to our advantage, as by gently rubbing the silver, it blends the other colours sort of together. (You can remember this and use it on top of other colours for a shiny look. Its not proper shiny, but itís a great added effect.)
Now if you are reading this and live in the UK, Humbrol make model paints and in the range are a line called Metalcote. This is a great way to get proper shiny blended in effects. You can spray or brush this on, and when its dry it can be polished to a shine. I find if you airbrush three or four coats on, rubbing each coat gently once dry, you can actually get the surface reflective shiny. Itís a great paint to use for shiny effects or used as an overspray on other colours.The only downside to this paint is you find it rubs off on your hands for a while if you handle the object. It seems no matter how much you polish it, it still seems to come off on your fingers. Its actually a very small price to pay for such a great effect and as for most things like my mask, its a display item, so apart from the odd person who comes round and has a look at it, itís not handled. If youíre like me, you will try airbrushing, and not look back. Where once I would have spent ages painting something with a brush, I now spray it in a fraction of the time. So have a go and experiment and hopefully you to, will find its not as hard as its made out to be, and soon creating master pieces for yourself.