What You Need To Start Airbrushing - Part 1 - The Airbrush

Hi All!

I'd like to introduce you to airbrushing!

"What's airbrushing?"

I'm so glad you asked!

Airbrushing is painting magic, that's what it is! I was introduced to the technique by another local artist, Ean Kools. He used one in some of his work and let me try it out at his studio in Cambridge, Ontario, Underground Gallery. I. WAS. HOOKED. Instantly! This handy dandy little device delivered paint so easily and so smoothly it was like painting with a Photoshop brush with finger controlled, variable opacity. Awesome, right!?

Basically, the airbrush is a precision tool that delivers paint through the use of a constant air flow and a paint source. Some airbrushes come with a machined cup in the top for paint (these are called gravity feed airbrushes). Some come with a connection below the airbrush to accept pre-filled paint bottles (these are called siphon feed airbrushes). Both achieve the same goal and both have their merits but I'll discuss pros and cons of both in a later post.

I picked one up for myself about 3 years ago and I haven't looked back. I only wish I'd been introduced to it 20 years ago. I can't imagine where I'd be right now if I hadn't fiddled with traditional painting techniques for almost 20 years. EVERYTHING I was trying to achieve, the airbrush delivers. Damn.

Any who, I digress. Enough with "If only's". Let's get on to the basics of what you need in order to start airbrushing.


But of course! You need the airbrush itself (well, duh? ;) )

There are many brands to choose from: Iwata, Badger, Harder and Steenback and Paasche to name a few. Many have been around for a long time and have great industry track records. While I can't speak for most of the vendors on this list (buying airbrushes from ALL companies is cost prohibitive) I will vouch for Iwata. 

I began my career with an Iwata, HP-BCS, siphon feed airbrush with a 0.5mm needle and nozzle (this refers to the opening that the paint flows through). It came with a couple of siphon feed paint bottles and I picked up a couple more just for good measure. My initial idea when I began my journey into airbrushing was to fill those paint bottles up with my favourite colours and let fly!

Red Fracture - What you need to start airbrushing - An airbrush - Iwata HP-BCS siphon feed airbrush

The airbrush was solid; the mechanics easy to use and clean; the paint bottles worked really well and after fumbling through the growing pains (growing paints. Ha! ) of learning to use new equipment I was away to the races!

After using the Iwata HP-BCS, siphon feed airbrush for a few months I came to a realization that changing out colour bottles over and over was becoming cumbersome. The infeed connection had to be cleaned constantly to prevent cross contamination of colours and I was losing too much paint every time I swapped. Thus...

I picked up an Iwata, HP-CS, eclipse gravity feed airbrush. This model comes with a paint cup in the top and accepts as little as one drop of paint. Now I had the opportunity to use as much or little paint as I wanted and I could mix the paints right in the cup to achieve my desired colour from a selection of base colours. Also, cleaning is a breeze. Simply blast out the remainder of the paint (which is always very little) and flush with water. Success!

Red Fracture - What you need to start airbrushing - an airbrush - Iwata eclipse CS airbrush

My eclipse HP-CS also has an added bonus. It comes with a smaller needle and a small nozzle (0.35mm to be exact) and allows such fine control of the flow that I can draw a pencil thin line on my artwork if I wish. For a detail guy like me, it is fricken amazing!


Good question.

There's no right or wrong airbrush, only right or wrong applications.

I wouldn't use a fine detail airbrush like the Iwata Micron series of airbrushes for doing a wall mural and, knowing what I know now, I wouldn't use my Iwata, HP-BCS, siphon feed airbrush for doing fine detail work; the 0.5mm nozzle doesn't give that level of control nor does fine detail work require ounces of paint.

Here's my advice.

1. Ask yourself what you're trying to achieve / What's your end goal?

1.Testing / Playing - is airbrushing right for you?

Pick up something inexpensive and on the low end for performance. Don't jump right in to an Iwata, Custom Micron that'll run you $600+. Don't risk the financial hit if you're not sure about airbrushing just yet.

Grab a coupon for 50% off from Michaels (or comparable vendor in your area) and pick up a badger airbrush instead (this is the brand I tested at Ean Kools' studio). They're relatively inexpensive to begin with and work the same as all other airbrushes but the line carried by Michaels is for hobbyists and messing around. It'll give you an idea of what airbrushing is all about.

2. "I'm doing this!" or the, "I've had a taste and I want more!" approach

This is where I began. I had a taste of the airbrush and I wanted more. I knew I was going to continue on with airbrushing so I started with something middle of the road; nothing so expensive that it would break the bank but at the same time, capable of producing professional level work.

As stated above, I started with the Iwata, HP-BCS, Siphon feed airbrush and moved on to a gravity feed in the Iwata Eclipse line. They've been excellent for allowing me to play and grow and now, move in to producing professional airbrush art. I would recommend either of them for beginners and intermediate level painters.

2. What is your budget?

1. Limited funds - If your budget is restricted, pick up something that is designed for hobbyists, use a coupon to pick up an airbrush for half price or alternately, hit up kijiji (or comparable online sale site) for something used. I've crawled kijiji several times for old airbrush equipment and people are on there selling it all the time. This may not be ideal for first timers because if something in the airbrush needs cleaning or replacing you may not know how to diagnose the issue but, on the other hand, beggars can't be choosers. You'll have to take the good with the bad.

2. Mr. "Money Bags" - If you've got the funds and don't mind shelling out a few extra dollars, get a mid-line quality airbrush that will allow you to take your practice from a beginner level up to a professional one should you so choose. What will it hurt?

Also, should airbrushing prove to not be your thing (as if), you can always recoup a portion of your purchase by selling your equipment to the folks above ;)

Now that you've given it some thought by assessing your end goals and your budget, it's time to get on the net and do a bit of research to find the airbrush that's just right for you. Will it be an Iwata or a Badger? At the hobby end of their airbrush lines or are you ready to go full pro? Hopefully I've armed you with enough info to make that decision easy :)

And that ends part one in this series; the Airbrush - What it is and what you need to think about before buying one. In part two I discuss compressors; come and see!


 Part 2: The Compressor
Part 2: The Compressor

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