Wargaming Tradecraft: Airbrushing Overview and Introduction


Airbrushing Overview and Introduction

·       Over the next month, I’m going to share my airbrushing experiences with you. By no means am I a master, as I’ve only been airbrushing for 3 or 4 months now but, like most things, we all develop our own techniques. These guides are intended to give you a comprehensive understanding of how everything that goes into airbrushing works – from the airbrush itself to compressors and tanks, as well as various paints and thinners. I’m going to look at sourcing supplies, features to look for, setting up and maintaining your tools as well as some examples of using the airbrush and exercises to practice with it.

If you have any questions over the next while, I'll do my best to answer them all, experimenting if need be. Please post in the comments or send me an email and I'll get back to you.


To give a brief rundown, here’s what’s involved in getting yourself setup with an airbrush:

  • Airbrush / Gun
    • You’ll need something to do the actual spraying. There are many brands out there with different features. I’ll talk about the different types of guns, sourcing them, differences in quality, features, how to clean them and what you need to know to use them.
  • Air Source
    • After spending some time talking about air brushes, I’ll focus on the compressor and tank which fuels the brush with air. There’s some key things to look for and you don’t want to get something too cheap while avoiding the ones that will bankrupt you. Compressors can get hands on, and a little dirty, but I’ll cover what you need to know to protect your investment and how to get the most out of it.
  • Upkeep / Maintenance
    • I’m not just going to talk about finding and using these tools – you’re going to want to make sure they last. You’ll also need to know a little about fixing and cleaning them when things go wrong.
  • Paints / Thinners
    • There are paints specifically designed to be used in an airbrush – not only are these expensive for the nicer ones, (up to $40-80 a bottle for some beeeautiful metallics) but you already have a fine selection of paints. I’m going to discuss the differences with airbrush paint and why you can’t just use your regular paints as well as multiple ways to adapt cheaper paint or what you already have.
  • Practice and Use
    • As with everything, practicing will improve your abilities. There’s some things to know about how to actually use the airbrush. Some theory, some practical. After talking about everything you need to get started with airbrushing, I’ll finally look at how to actually airbrush.

What’s the big deal about airbrushing?

Airbrushes allow you to paint areas and blend colours very cleanly, avoiding the tedious process of blending multiple colours together. You also end up with a more natural appearance to what you’re painting.

An airbrush won’t help you paint super fine details such as eyes, trim, etc… but it will let you do larger areas, base highlight/shading and smaller areas with practice. In addition to that, you can paint terrain quickly, apply even washes, base coats, and so on.

What’s the process of airbrushing?

The following is a basic overview - I'll go into further detail about everything in the coming weeks.

1. Connect an air source of some kind (usually a compressor and/or tank) to an airbrush.

2. If you're using a compressor with a tank, turn it on to fill it.

3. The output air pressure will need to be adjusted to a level the airbrush is rated for. A higher pressure usually allows for a finer (better quality) mist and works better with thicker paints.

4. Paint is thinned if it’s not designed for an airbrush and added to the reservoir.

5. You use the trigger to pull the airbrush’s needle back / press it down, allowing paint and air to mix in the nozzle, spraying out as a fine mist.

6.  Aim the airbrush at the surface you’re painting while varying the amount of paint, the air pressure and the distance from your target.

7. Rather than mixing colours together, you’re working with overlapping gradients and layering tints. A larger spray will have a bigger gradient than a finer spray – it creates a wider overlap, but a more gradual blend of colours. Since you're using very thin paints, you can add layers ontop without wiping out the colour below, and instead tinting each layer with a little of the colour you're spraying until it's solid enough for you.

8. Practice!

Here’s some further reading for you:

I've read a few other people talk about airbrushing, and The LeadHead seems to cover it the best.

I'm not going to go in depth and review specific makes and models of airbrushes... mainly because I'm not going to promote any products that I haven't actually tried. (makes sense, doesn't it?) There's a lot of different products out there (an overwhelming amount) and I'm going to cover tips for finding the right airbrush for you. (Mainly - go to a local shop and buy what they recommend if they seem to know what they're talking about and online reviews sound positive. That way you get local support for any issues you might have. Failing that, search online and see what a lot of other people are using.)

If you DO want to read about an overwhelming amount of product information, I'll link to a couple articles from Maximum Heresy that look at many different products from a few different brands:

Misc Tips: http://www.goldenpaints.com/technicaldata/airtips.php

Forums and lots of info: http://airbrush.com/

Take a look at the Wargaming Tradecraft Techniques Page for links to the entire Airbrushing series and other tips, tutorials and information.


  1. I've always wanted to try my hand at it so I look forward to more posts on this.

  2. Same goes for me. I'll be keeping an eye on this for sure.

    Ron, From the Warp

  3. Agreed, nice article and looking foreword to see this develop in the future. It is such a big step it's nice to see someone elses journey and always open to hints and tips!


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