If you are looking for a definitive guide to learning to use an airbrush, you have definitely come to the wrong place!
I’m writing this from the perspective of a doll artist who has wanted to incorporate airbrushing into my work for some time, but was too intimidated by the equipment and the process to even try. A week ago, I decided to overcome my nervousness and dive in, and I am so glad I did! Even after just a few days practice I am feeling so much more at ease, and confident that I will be doing amazing things with this tool given time.
Because I know quite a few other artists who are in the same place I was a week ago, I wanted to offer a mini-guide to getting started with the airbrush to help them get over that hump as well.
By the way, I’m not a spokesperson or reimbursed in any way by any of the products or tutorials I link to here—guess I need a tutorial myself on how that works, LOL!
Part 1: Choosing Your Equipment
Getting started with an airbrush is not cheap. You need the airbrush itself, a compressor, a hose, a stand, airbrush cleaning fluid, and specialty paint. You’re easily looking at a $400-600 investment just to get started. I did a lot of research on different brands and models, and everything I read made it clear that you get what you pay for. So yes, you can get combo deals that include everything for less, but read the reviews carefully. I couldn’t see the point of investing $300 in equipment that was going to leave me frustrated by clogs on a regular basis and chose each piece of equipment individually.
Nicolle’s Dreams has wonderful Youtube videos on getting started airbrushing. Her advice was particularly relevant because she is also a doll artist and uses her equipment for the same purpose as I do. A doll artist isn’t going to want the same equipment as a muralist. She goes into a lot of detail as to what a doll artist should look for in an airbrush and why in this video tutorial.
She also has a great video tutorial on choosing a compressor.
After watching the video tutorial, I knew I wanted the following features in an airbrush:
-.2mm needle size
-double action trigger
-internal mix system
I ended up choosing an Anest Iwata HP-B Plus Airbrush.
Everything about it is essentially the same as the HP-A+ model that Nicolle’s Dreams recommends, except that it has a slightly bigger paint cup, and I was able to find one for a bit less $$ than the A+ model at the time. I remember being VERY confused when I started comparison shopping—Iwata has a TON of different brand names and model numbers and it was hard to compare apples to apples even within Iwata, which has an excellent reputation for making top quality, long lasting airbrushes. I found this site helpful in breaking down the features of the different Iwata models (yes, all those tabs are ALL Iwata models!)
I also wanted to get the exact compressor Nicolle’s Dreams recommended, but doh! it wasn’t available in the U.S. I knew I needed a compressor with these features:
-Air pressure of 20-30 PSI
-A storage tank to hold compressed air so that it isn’t constantly running
I went with the Paasche D3000R 1/8 HP Compressor.
I suspect it might be the exact same compressor as the one Nicolle’s Dreams recommends, just made for the U.S. market, as it is identical except for the color. In any case, as highly as Iwata’s airbrushes are recommended, reviewers seemed less enthusiastic about their compressors. Passche compressors got very solid reviews.
Neither my compressor nor my airbrush came with a hose, which is necessary for the air to travel from the compressor to the airbrush. I chose this Iwata hose as you should choose a hose that is made for your airbrush rather than your compressor (if they are different brands.) It seems that all compressors have the same size 1/4″ threads to attach at that end, but different airbrush brands have different thread sizes, so I would have needed an adapter had I chosen a Paasche brand hose to connect to an Iwata airbrush.
If you’re a tightwad like me, you may be tempted to skip the airbrush cleaner and stand. Fortunately, my husband is also an artist and while it had been many years since he had worked with an airbrush, he stopped me from making this mistake. You need a holder because there’s no way to set down your airbrush without spilling paint everywhere without one….you need cleaner because water alone won’t properly clean your needle. Pete talked me into getting this Iwata Spray-Out Pot, which has a holder built in and allows me to clean my airbrush right at my desk without making a mess.
I think the “odorless” claim on the Iwata Airbrush Cleaning Fluid is a lie, but it does clean thoroughly.
So that’s the end of Part 1 of my guide, and takes you to where I was at two months ago—all the right equipment in hand, and scared to use it! Part 2, in which I’ll discuss actually setting this all up and starting to paint, will be coming in the next week or so.
Do you have anything helpful to add? Questions about anything I might not have been clear on? Please add your comments! (They are moderated, so it may take up to 24 hours for comments to appear on the site.)