I confess, I’m addicted to speed. Lately, I’ve become obsessed with speed painting miniatures. The challenge is to assemble an army from raw metal to fully painted while maintaining quality. Fully Painted has pushed me to paint more models than ever before, completing 2000 points of miniatures since we started this campaign. I’ve achieved good results with my Trolls and Khador, but I crave even more speed. How fast can I go? Well, I’m willing to “cheat” to find out.
Ace up My Sleeve: Airbrush
Let’s face it; Warjacks and Warbeasts are large models. Trying to apply a smooth coat of paint with a brush, even a large one, can be a daunting task given the vast surface area. So, why not take a shortcut?
However, keep in mind that while cheating means speed, it also means spending money. There’s a saying: “Good, fast, cheap. Pick two.” If we want both good and fast, cheap is off the list. Airbrushes designed for miniatures don’t have to be overly expensive, but better ones often come at a higher cost. The key to control is opting for a double-action airbrush (DAAB). A single-action airbrush is like a glorified spray can, and it’s not suitable for precise work. So, if you’re considering a single-action airbrush to save money, beware of its limitations.
Double Your Action, Double Your Fun
A double-action airbrush allows you to control both air and paint simultaneously. Push down for air and pull back for paint. DAABs provide more control, and with practice, you can paint only the parts you want without excessive overspray. This means you can leave some parts of the model primed, saving even more time.
Now, let’s talk about the cost. Personally, I use a Paasche VL Millennium, which I purchased at Dixie Art. It’s a versatile brush with some useful features. Many painters remove the rear guard for speed, and the Millennium has a cutaway to clear jams, making it a good choice. You can get a basic Millennium for around $42 or opt for the upgrade kit, which includes hoses and bottles, for $59. It’s a reasonable investment, and the VL is beginner-friendly, durable, and has affordable replacement parts.
The challenging part is air supply. You have to choose between compressed air in a can or a plug-in compressor. I prefer compressors for several reasons. First, they offer an endless supply; once you buy it, you only need to plug it in. Second, there are no additional fume issues compared to compressed air cans, which contain chemicals. A compressor may cost around $120, so your total investment for base coating an army could reach $180. However, there are tricks to make it more affordable.
- Ebay: Many people enter airbrushing and then sell their equipment when they realize it’s not for them. You can expect to save 40-50% off retail prices, but be prepared for potential repairs or replacements, and remember that compressors are heavy, so shipping costs may eat into your savings.
- Timing: In the United States, stores like Michael’s often offer 50% off coupons for a single item in the local paper, typically around Thanksgiving and Christmas. You can use this discount to get a $120 compressor for $60, reducing your initial investment.
- Share: Consider sharing airbrush equipment with a friend. You won’t need an airbrush for every detail of miniature painting, so splitting the cost and sharing tools can be a cost-effective solution.
- Mix: Combine options 2 and 3, or 1 and 3, to further reduce your costs.
Now that we’ve covered the essentials let’s discuss the learning process and how to make the most of your airbrush.
Learning to Use Your Airbrush
Before you dive into painting your miniatures with an airbrush, it’s essential to practice and familiarize yourself with the tool. Start with these exercises:
The Sweep (Step 1: Basics)
Begin with a strip of cardboard, about 4-5 inches wide and a foot long, primed in your standard color. Load your airbrush with paint and start at the top, gradually fading from your starting color to your desired color in the middle. Practice making even passes, mimicking the motion of a spray can, at a distance of about 3-5 inches (you can get closer for finer detail). Aim to cover the cardboard evenly without overloading any area with paint. Avoid drips by being patient and moving the brush steadily. Focus on mastering this basic control; speed will come with practice. Remember that the airbrush is analog, so don’t force the trigger; feather it.
Morse Code (Step 2: Intermediate)
Once you can apply a smooth base coat, it’s time to learn finer techniques. Practice creating dots and lines of varying sizes without smudging them. This skill will help you target specific armor plates and fine details.
True Art (Step 3: Advanced)
Advanced techniques are best learned from experienced airbrush artists. Seek guidance from others who have mastered the craft.
Troubleshooting Common Issues
When you’re new to airbrushing, you may encounter three common problems:
- The Pool: Applying too much paint in one area due to lingering in one spot for too long. To avoid this, keep the airbrush moving, allowing the paint to dry.
- The Drip: Drips occur as a result of pooling. Allow the paint to dry properly; it shouldn’t take more than a minute. If it’s taking longer, you’re pooling, and drips can ruin your work.
- The Star/Spider: This issue arises when you’re too close to the model after pooling or when your paint mix is too thin. To avoid it, maintain a safe distance from the model, reduce trigger pressure, and avoid starting a new application too close.
Skipping ahead, here’s a completed piece painted using the techniques discussed. From priming to this step took less than 90 minutes. With practice and the right equipment, you can significantly reduce your painting time, especially when working on multiple models simultaneously.
Before I conclude, here’s one more tip: You can further control your airbrush by using materials like Blue-tak, plasticard, and cardboard as masks on your models. These can help prevent overspray and keep your work precise.
Remember, airbrushing isn’t for everyone, but it’s another valuable tool in your miniature painting arsenal. Our goal is to equip you with as many techniques as possible to tackle any painting challenge, and the airbrush is a valuable addition.