Airbrush Guide Part 1

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.

My first airbrushed face up!

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
-gravity feed
-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:
-Moisture Trap
-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.)



3 Replies to “Airbrush Guide Part 1”

  1. Hi,
    Do you use thinned Liquitex matte medium to seal and matte varnish for finishing? If so, what do you find works best to thin the products? Thank you.

    1. Hi Karen,
      I have used Liquitex matte medium as a primer, and thinned it with water. Figuring out the perfect consistency when thinning has been one of the most challenging aspects of using the airbrush—I find that using an eyedropper to add a little bit of water to the matte medium in a mixing cup helps me get it closest to that milk-like consistency that sprays best. (I’ve also been really pleased with Vallejo thinner for airbrushing with acrylics, but haven’t tried it with the Liquitex medium yet.)

      I did find that using the Liquitex as a base coat created a rougher texture than using Mr Super Clear. By “rough” I don’t mean anything really unacceptable, but it was different enough that I decided to stick with MSC for priming and sealing my dolls. I have continued using Liquitex matte medium as a base coat for eyelids and for accessories that I want to paint, and been very pleased with it, as well as with the varnish as a top coat for eyelids, lips, and pretty much everything else except the doll’s “skin.” I don’t think using as a base/top coat it would be bad in any way, it just wasn’t the porcelain-like texture that I’m used to getting with MSC.

      1. Thank you. I, too, have tried mixing with distilled water and have gotten the roughish texture. Also have mixed with Liquitex airbrush medium. Again still getting the roughish texure. The Liquitex matte varnish with the thinner does smooth it out a bit on the final finish but it is not as smooth as the MSC texture. I have read of another person who mixes with rubbing alcohol but I think that may affect the WC pencils and pastels when doing layers. I thank you for doing this series and look forward to further installments.

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