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Miniature Airbrush – Your Guide to Airbrush for Models

miniature airbrush


Those who dedicate themselves to the model making hobby would like to give their miniatures a realistic look. Designing is particularly easy with a miniature airbrush pistol. This technique can be learned quite quickly and can produce masterly works of art after only a few exercises. Large quantities of model vehicles, figures, or miniature buildings can be embellished in a very short time. When you airbrush miniatures, patterns, accents, and subtle color transitions are easy to apply. In this article, we would like to give you an overview of what you need for airbrushing in model making and which tricks you can use to achieve an optimal result.




Airbrush for Model Making

In order to create a really realistic image, you need a color scheme in model making that looks as real as possible.  Amazing effects can be achieved with the airbrush technique.  Certainly, perfect works of art are not possible right at the beginning, but after some exercises on paper, you will quickly achieve success.


Many pros of the Airbrush technique predestine it for use in model making:



  • Uniform application of paint
  • No brush strips
  • Finest color gradients possible
  • Small parts, as well as corners and edges, are easy to work with
  • Very thin paint layers are possible
  • The high strength of the ink application
  • Very large selection of basic and effect colors
  • Unlimited possibilities of color gradients and effect designs
  • No odor nuisance if water-based paint is used



  • Acquisition costs
  • Careful and therefore time-consuming cleaning of the airbrush gun after each use necessary
  • The partially aggressive color for primers can attack the surface of plastic models and thus make them unusable (test primer absolutely necessary!)
  • Primers have a filling effect, sometimes very fine details of the model disappear
airbrush miniatures


Required Material for an Airbrush in Model Making

To start airbrushing you need some equipment. This includes the airbrush gun, the compressor as a compressed air source, and the paints.


Compressor or another Compressed Air Source

Usually, an airbrush gun is operated by means of a compressor. There are special airbrush compressors for this purpose, which are equipped with an air pressure regulator, manometer, water separator, and sometimes also with an air tank. Airbrush compressors work particularly quietly and are often handy and relatively light.

Some model builders use a compressed air bottle to operate their airbrush gun. This is quite possible but from a financial point of view rather than not recommendable. The bottles are quite expensive and quickly empty. The purchase of a compressor is often worthwhile already after the 3rd model, which needs to be beautified.

CO2 cylinders are NOT an option for the operation of an airbrush gun.  Carbon dioxide displaces oxygen in the lungs and is heavier than air. So it collects near the ground and is a real danger for children, pets and the artist himself. Ventilation of the workshop is of limited help!


Which Airbrush Gun is suitable for Model Making?

The basic principle of all airbrush guns is the same. Inside the gun, a stream of air carries paint with it. The atomized paint passes through the nozzle to the outside. Different is the placement of the paint cup and the possibilities of regulating the air and paint volume.

The paint cup can sit on the gun. This type is called a flow cup system. Thanks to gravity, the paint flows into the air stream and is swirled there. The flow cup system is often associated with the Double Action System described below and in this combination, it is an all-round tool. If the paint cup is placed underneath the gun, it is called a suction cup system. Here, the negative pressure created by the airflow sucks the paint out of the paint cup. This system is particularly suitable for primers due to the larger paint cup.

The regulation of the airflow and the amount of paint is done in double action as well as in single action by a lever that can be operated with one finger. In the Double Action version, pressing this lever adjusts the airflow, and pulling it adjusts the amount of paint. The lever is therefore provided with a double function (Double Action).

In the Single Action principle, the amount of ink is fixed by means of a rotary wheel. The lever serves only to regulate the airflow. This principle is quite easy to use and quick to learn, but unfortunately also unsuitable for detailed work, fine color gradients, and effects. A Single Action suction cup airbrush gun is ideal for primers. With a Double Action Airbrush with a flow cup system, you create lifelike art with the finest details and realistic effects.

model airbrush



Value for Money Tip for an Airbrush Gun: GANZTON SP180K

With the all-tone SP180K, you get a solidly crafted airbrush gun to get you started. This double action gun with a flow cup system provides a good spray pattern. From coarse textures to fine effects it is versatile. For less than $50 the full tone SP180K comes with some accessories. In addition to the connection hose for the compressor, the package also includes 3 nozzle sizes and the matching 3 needles. As well as a pipette and quick coupling.

In order to use the airbrush gun with any standard compressor, a water separator is included in the scope of delivery, which can be easily installed on the airbrush gun. This prevents water from getting into the compressed air and prevents paint stains.

The nozzle is changed by loosening the screw connection. Then the nozzle is unscrewed and the needle is pulled out of the airbrush. The new nozzle and needle can be inserted the same way. A cleaning set and an airbrush cleaner are not included in the delivery.  These articles should be purchased at once. For thorough cleaning, the whole Sp180K can be easily disassembled.


Product recommendation follows



  • Large scope of delivery (pipette, connection hose, 3 nozzles and needle sizes, water separator)
  • Can be used with any compressor
  • Good spray pattern
  • Versatile in use
  • Easy handling
  • With 9ml relatively large paint tank



  • No German operating instructions
  • Rather unsuitable for very fine work
  • Caution is required when processing solvent-based inks. The seals do not survive the necessary aggressive cleaning agent for long.
  • With almost 350g somewhat heavier



Timbertech Airbrush Set for Model Making: Airbrush Gun with Compressor

If you need a compressor in addition to the airbrush gun, we recommend the 11-piece airbrush set from Timbertech. For about $90 you will receive a high-quality airbrush gun and a good airbrush compressor. Due to the handy, light, and quiet compressor and the very good spray pattern of the airbrush gun, this airbrush set is especially suitable for model making.

With the 3 nozzle sizes 0.2 mm, 0.3 mm, and 0.5 mm, already included in the set, primers as well as filigree details can be brushed. The oil-free compressor has a manometer, a pressure regulator, and an air filter. It works very quietly and can even be retrofitted with an air tank, which then allows noiseless to work for a longer period of time.


Product recommendation follows



  • The large scope of delivery: airbrush pistol, compressor, connection hose, pipettes
  • The extremely good price-performance ratio



  • Very efficient
  • Can be retrofitted with an air tank
  • Oil-free and therefore low maintenance
  • Handy, light (3,6kg)
  • Works very quietly
  • Suitable for nozzles between 0.2 and 1.0 mm
  • Easy regulation of the compressed air


Airbrush Gun:

  • 3 nozzle sizes with matching needles for versatile work
  • Delivery in a suitable storage and transport box
  • Versatile in use
  • Very good spray pattern



  • The disassembly necessary for cleaning is somewhat difficult and only possible with the enclosed tools

Airbrush Colors and Primer for Model Making

Almost any water-based acrylic paint is suitable for model airbrushing. This also has the advantage of being odorless and harmless to health. Solvent-based paints can also be used. However, you should make sure that your airbrush gun is suitable for this. Often the seals do not withstand frequent use of such paints. It is also important to wear a breathing mask when working with solvent-based paints.


model making airbrush


In addition to the special model making airbrush for miniatures color sets with various basic colors, many manufacturers also offer special effect colors for model making. For example, you will find metallic colors, colors for rust, dirt, flaking and aging effects, camouflage colors for model cars, and color sets for realistic imitation of wood and leather.


Product recommendation follows


Primers are necessary for model making when the substrate is much darker than the paint to be applied. A primer is also used to achieve better adhesion of the airbrush paint on the surface. For primers there are special primer colors also called primers, you can find them in the colors white, grey, and black.



Airbrush in Model Making – Step by Step Instructions

In the following airbrush instructions, we assume that you have already familiarized yourself with your airbrush gun. You should also have already gained some experience on paper. Before you go to your model it is useful to master the basic exercises like circles, dots, and fine lines. You also know how your spray pattern changes when you change the distance to the surface, move your hand quickly or slowly and vary the amount of paint and/or air.


airbrush for miniatures


Prepare Workplace

  • Unfortunately, paint mist does not only adhere to the object to be sprayed but also to everything in the vicinity. Therefore, it makes sense to free your workplace from everything that should not get paint. It is best to layout the work surface generously with old newspapers or the like. There are also spray boxes for model making available in the trade. These make some of the tedious covering work easier.
  • In addition, your airbrush workplace should be free of dust and fuzz, which could settle on the still slightly moist paint.
  • Good lighting is of enormous importance for the fine work in model making. With a daylight lamp, you can distinguish really fine color nuances and turn your model into a realistic image. Right-handers place their lighting on the left and left-handers on the right to avoid shadows.
  • Get all the tools and equipment ready. Paint pots and solvents should have a firm stand. The airbrush gun should not fall off the table (if in doubt, an airbrush holder will do very well). The compressor should be placed in such a way that its vibrations and noises disturb as little as possible.
  • Pay attention to a comfortable sitting position to protect your back.
  • Even if you work with water-soluble paint, it is important to ventilate your workshop well. Otherwise, the fine mist of paint could damage your lungs in the long run (similar to the smoke of a cigarette).
  • When working with paints containing solvents, a breathing mask, protective gloves, safety goggles and particularly good ventilation of the work area are mandatory!


Use of an extraction system: For model making there are extraction systems at moderate prices. These small boxes open at the front have a suction device in the rear part and a turning plate in the middle. They protect the environment and your lungs by sucking off the fine paint mist. By placing your model on the rotating plate, you can easily spray it from all sides.


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  • When using the airbrush technique in model making, all those parts are masked that should not get any or at least the paint just sprayed on.
  • To protect larger areas (approx. 20 cm x 50 cm) you can work with conventional masking film. The film recommended for the hobby area has an adhesive crepe tape on one side for fixing.
  • For smaller areas to be covered, masking film or a liquid masking film is used. Masking film is a kind of self-adhesive film. The shape of the part to be covered is transferred to the foil, cut out, and glued to the model. Masking film is only suitable for straight surfaces, as it must be firmly attached to the edges, otherwise, the paint will get under the film. MAskier foil is carefully removed immediately after spraying. This is the only way to avoid smearing of the paint and frayed edges.
  • The liquid masking film protects windscreens, windows, and all other parts of your model that are not completely flat. It is applied relatively thickly with a brush, as soon as it appears transparent it is dry and the airbrush work can begin. Before you remove the masking film layer with tweezers, your airbrush paint should be dry.
airbrush for models


Priming of the Model Making Parts

As already mentioned, a primer is not always necessary, but sometimes it is useful. A primer has the following advantages and disadvantages:



  • Acrylic paint dries very quickly and thus allows you to paint over or add to your pictures within a short time
  • You can paint either transparent or opaque depending on the acrylic paint and thinner
  • Acrylic paints can be easily diluted with water
  • Even though some additives are contained in the acrylic paint, it is not harmful to your health
  • Acrylic colors are available in different viscosities: You can fill with thick paint and pour with thin paint



  • Primer paint is relatively aggressive and virtually eats into the surface. With metals, this property helps to create a good base for the airbrush. With plastic models, on the other hand, this may be a problem, as the surface is too rough.
  • The primer layer represents an additional filling, the smallest details of the model can disappear.

The primer is also called primer. Primers come in white, grey, and black. If you want to apply a primer to make the red or yellow shades shine better, it is best to use a white primer. Silver looks best on a black background. For all other colors it is best to use a primer in the shade grey.

Primer paints are available as universal paints that can be used for many surfaces. A test priming on an inconspicuous spot or on a waste piece is recommended.  You can also find special primers in specialist shops, for example for plastic, metal, polystyrene or wood.


The actual application of Paint

  • You should not make the first attempts on a complex or expensive special model. It is best to practice on old models first.
  • In general, injection is carried out at right angles to the model. The paint application should be thin. So try to adjust the amount of paint to a minimum. Start with the corners and edges. Only when these are readily sprayed, the surfaces can be touched.
  • Spraying the model in one go is not a good idea. Unpleasant color noses develop very quickly.



Tips and Tricks


Painting of Kits:

Kits are best painted directly on the spray branch. You can hold the spray branch in a free place and paint the parts without any problems.

If you already have some parts that are difficult to hold on to, you can fix them on a tape or double-sided adhesive tape to be able to paint them better.


Drying on the Chemistry Stand:

After you have finished your airbrush work, you can hang the model parts on a chemical stand to dry. You bend a thin wire into simple hooks, which leave only a tiny color-free area that is often hardly visible.


Bulk Parts:

Mass parts can be dried dust and fluff-free in a cardboard box.


Correct errors:

Airbrush Cleaner is usually used to clean the airbrush gun. It dissolves hardened paint. You can also use this property to correct minor defects in your airbrush work.


Clean Airbrush Pistol

After finishing the work, your airbrush gun should be disassembled and thoroughly cleaned. When changing the color, it is sufficient to blow the airbrush gun several times with water or Airbrush Cleaner. Make sure that you remove all water/cleaner from the airbrush gun before filling with new paint. Spray until only air comes out of the gun.


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