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Basic Painting - Airbrushing - Paint Brand Comparison

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Basic Painting -

For painting you have basically three choices: airbrushing, spray painting, or hand painting. Airbrushing gives the best finish but takes a lot of work. If you buy an airbrush the instruction manual should have some basic painting techniques and explain how to use the airbrush. Always remember to gently depress the trigger or else you will probably get a splatter. Also be sure to have an even, constant movement or else paint will pool. You should begin spraying off of the model, then move onto it, and then finish off the model. This will ensure even coverage. Always wear a breath mask and goggles when airbrushing, and make sure your painting area is well ventilated.

Spray painting is a quick and easy way to cover large areas of the model. Spray paint comes in many different sizes and colors. I've used everything from Krylon to Model Master. Always test a spray paint before using it on a model. Some paints can go on extremely thick and all detail may be lost. The best thing to do is start far away and work closer if it isn't hitting the model. Just don't spray from too far or else you may get a textured surface on your paint. I would suggest between six and eighteen inches depending on the brand. You have to experiment on scrap first. Either spray paint outside or use goggles and a mask. You can also rig up a spray booth that can be used with spray paint and airbrushing. It is basically a five sided box with an exhaust fan that pipes out the excess spray through a venting tube. A good thing to have if you need to paint inside.

Hand painting is kind of the last resort. It is often messy and goes on pretty thick. This is best to use on small details that can't really be sprayed or where brush strokes won't show. I really don't suggest using it on large areas as you will get stroke marks and uneven coverage. I was forced to do this on a lot of my old models because that was all that I could afford. Make sure you have a variety of brushes to use. Get a lot of different tiny brushes because you will find that you use these most often. Make sure you clean them really well and then when they are still wet, swipe them across a bar of soap and shape the bristles to the proper shape. This will make the brush keep its form during storage and help preserve the bristles. When you need to paint by hand make sure you brace yourself so your hand does not shake. I like to put my elbow on the arm of my chair and the underneath of my forearm on the edge of the table. This keeps it extra steady.

If you have a very tiny piece to paint that is difficult to hold or will have a surface that doesn't need paint, get a little piece of sprue and glue it to the surface that doesn't need paint. This will help keep the part from getting fingerprints and will allow you paint the entire part at once. This is basically the same idea as painting the piece while it is still on the tree except that you can cover as much area as you need.

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A good assortment of brushes is useful. There are many different types of paint available. See below for a comparison.

Airbrushing -

Airbrushing is an incredibly diverse subject. Airbrushing can be used for everything from wide painting of entire hulls to small detailing of blast marks. I like to use it to do details only because airbrushing is a lot of work and for covering large areas you can just as easily use an aerosol can of paint as long as they make the color you want. Airbrushing is far superior to hand painting and even aerosol cans. It makes a nice even coat that really can not be matched. If you use an internal mix airbrush as opposed to an external mix airbrush it will make an even finer coat. I did not have an airbrush for the longest time so most of my old models are hand painted. I now use a Badger 175 airbrush that came with 3 separate needles and tips, Large, Medium and Small. Large is good for thick paints and wide coverage. Whereas the Small is better for thin paints and fine detail work. Thinning down paints to be used in an airbrush. All paints are different so you must experiment to find what works bets. Finer quality paints take less thinning whereas lower quality will often take more. This is because the pigment in the cheaper paints is not as finely ground and needs to be broken down. For thinner based paints you can use specially made airbrush thinner. This makes for a nice clean breakdown. I usually use very little thinner because I like a nice thick coating. I'll probably use anywhere from 1 to 2 parts thinner to every 4 parts paints. For water based acrylics you can use water to thin it down but that doesn't always work very well. You can actually use windshield washer fluid to thin it out. Don't worry about the color, that won't make a difference. I usually use the same ratio for thinning acrylics. Like I said, all paints are different and depending upon what tip you are using, different amounts of thinner are needed. I suggest just experimenting. If the paint won't come out at all, use more thinner. If the paint flies out and runs everywhere or is transparent, use less or add more paint. To make an airbrush work, you need a source of pressurized air. You have a couple of choices when it comes to this. You can use small tanks of compressed air, but those are expensive, run out fast and lose pressure when you are using them. You can also use CO2 tanks like what they use for paintball. This is very similar to the idea of the air tanks but you can refill them pretty cheap. The other choice, and the one that I use, is to get an air compressor. I use a Campbell Hausfeld. You can find it at Wal-Mart for around $90. The advantage to an air compressor is that it is a constant source of air that can automatically refill itself. Make sure you get a compressor with an attached air tank. If you don't, the airflow will fluctuate and not work as well. The other good thing about getting a tank is that you can fill it and then airbrush in silence until it runs out. The only disadvantage to compressors is that when they have to refill themselves they are kind of loud. Other than that they are the best choice. If you live in a warmer/moist environment make sure that you get an in-line moisture trap. This filters moisture and other particles from the airflow before it gets to the airbrush and ruins your paint/tool. Cleaning your airbrush is the most important thing to do when you are done using it. If you don't it will die very fast. Make sure you expel all remaining paint when you are done and run lots of appropriate thinner through it. After that, disassemble it if possible and clean all parts by hand. Your specific airbrush should have care instructions in the manual.

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Badger Crescendo 175 & various accessories Always disassemble your airbrush and clean it Campbell Hausfeld 2 Gallon Compressor

Paint Comparison -

There are many different types of paint available to today's modeler. They come in thousands of colors, several different size bottles, and many different lines. There are basically two types of paint: enamels that require paint thinner or mineral spirits to clean, and acrylics that need water to clean. I prefer the acrylics for their ease of use, lack of smell and overall less health hazards. I often get the question: "Which brand is best?" or "Should I buy this kind of paint?" I personally prefer the water-based brand Polly Scale by Floquil. However, should you like to learn about the other brands out there, I will share my experiences and thoughts on each type:

Brand Name & Type Picture Size & Price (Suggested Retail) Airbrushing Hand Painting Overall
Craft Paint (Delta, Anita's, Plaid, Country Colors, Apple Barrel, Americana, FolkArt Click To Enlarge

2 oz. (usually)
Price: (depends on brand) .25-$2.00

Not recommended. Too thick and thinning is difficult. Ok for small details only. Larger areas will show brush strokes. Can be transparent so multiple coats may be needed. Cheap and a lot of colors, but not worth the hassle. Can achieve better results with less effort for just a little more $.
Floquil Railroad Enamels Click To Enlarge

1 oz. bottle
3 oz. spray
$3.59 bottle
$5.19 spray

Very smooth, thin coat. All detail shows through. Does not need thinning. Stinks to high-heaven. Pretty good. Flows smoothly, but may need a second coat. Good overall, but is very smelly and needs paint thinner to clean.
Humbrol Super Enamel Click To Enlarge

1/2 oz.

Needs thinning, dries slow. Dries very slowly, but very durable. Not for large areas. Probably my least favorite. Horrible container design, slow drying and needs paint thinner to clean. Nice range of colors, however.
Model Master Enamels & Acrylics Click To Enlarge Size:
1/2 oz. bottle
3 oz. spray
$2.69 bottle
$4.49 spray
Not bad after thinning. Can go on thick if not careful. Not bad. Usually only needs one coat. Not for large areas. An overall good brand. Lots of colors in several lines, but enamels require paint thinner to clean.
Polly Scale Railroad & Military Acrylics Click To Enlarge Size:
1/2 oz. - 1 oz. bottle
$3.29 - $4.29
Excellent. Goes on smooth with no thinning. Does not obscure detail. Good for small to medium areas. May require second coat. My favorite brand. Easy to clean with just water, goes on thin, smooth, and even. Overall the best.
Tamiya Acrylics Click To Enlarge Size:
1/3 oz. - 3/4 oz. bottle
3+ oz. spray
$1.99 - $2.79 bottle
$4.99 spray
Pretty good after thinning. A bit smelly. Good for small to medium areas. Usually only one coat is needed. A good overall paint that has many colors and cleans easily with water. Just needs thinning to airbrush.
Testors Enamels & Acrylics Click To Enlarge Size:
1/4 oz. bottle
3 oz. spray
$1.39 bottle
$3.59 spray
Not recommended. Needs thinning and even then it doesn't always cover nicely. Ok for small areas but can be thick and gooey. Cheap and usually worthless. Not good for airbrushing or painting. Does not last long after opening.
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