There are so many airbrush models out there knowing which ones are best for scale model building and detailing miniatures can be difficult. With the flood of copycat models, it makes it especially hard. That is why we created this guide to inform you on what scale model builders look for as well as listing the best airbrushes for models and miniatures from top manufacturers Iwata, Badger, and more.
After building scale models for years, including cars, warships, and fighter planes, nothing has improved the visual quality and realism of my models as an airbrush setup. I first became interested in getting an airbrush for the plastic models and miniatures I create after seeing a battle scene a friend created. It was so incredibly real looking and he attributed it mostly to airbrushing the models and landscape features.
I immediately started looking for the best airbrush for models I could find. I quickly realized there was a lot to learn before I made a purchase. After weeks of research, I had a good idea of what I needed in the various airbrush systems available. This knowledge was invaluable and wanted I needed to know as much about the techniques and styles used in model airbrushing as I did the actual airbrush units.
One thing you should know is that the art of airbrushing models or miniatures takes a lot of time and practice. That shouldn’t discourage anyone as this is an extremely enjoyable and gratifying activity. It is also a ton of fun learning to airbrush and once you get the hang of it will elevate your model building hobby to the next level.
When searching for the best airbrush kit for your model building take into account what type of models you mostly work with, whether they are plastic, wood, or other material. Landscaping and terrain airbrushing may have slightly different requirements than those of vehicles and miniatures. That said, check out the guide below to learn all about airbrush systems which should make choosing a little easier.
How to Choose: A Guide to Airbrushes for Modeling
There are several types of airbrush systems as well as different features and attributes of an airbrush. Not all airbrushes are made with the same capabilities, for instance, an illustrator’s airbrush may not be capable of handling paint as it is better for ink. It is important that you get the proper airbrush system that modelers can use with acrylic and enamel paints.
The other aspect you undoubtedly will take in to consideration is price. The good news is modeler airbrushes are among the most affordable. You will certainly get what you pay for but you can purchase a very good and capable system for under $200. The three most popular brands to get familiar with are Iwata, Badger, Paasche, with Harder & Steenbeck and Grex also being popular.
Finally, if you aren’t purchasing an airbrush kit which includes several accessories, you will need an airbrush compressor to power your airbrush system. This is arguably one of the most important pieces of equipment which I will be writing a guide for in the near future.
There are several different aspects to how an airbrush may handle. This includes how the airbrush is controlled, how paint feeds into the nozzle and out, as well as how the paint is atomized or mixed with air before landing on its intended medium.
An airbrush unit will be manufactured in a combination of the different styles of control, paint feed, and atomizing methods. I will detail differences of each and what airbrush may be best for scale model builders but ultimately it should be the preference of the artist.
Single-Action vs Dual-Action Airbrush
The action of an airbrush simply describes how the paint and air flow are released by the lever or button. This, in part, determines how much control you might have while painting your models or miniature figures.
- SINGLE-ACTION AIRBRUSH: This type of airbrush only allows the user to control the airflow by pressing a trigger or button. It does not allow real-time adjustment of the paint flow which is instead done by adjusting the needle depth in the nozzle. Users must stop any painting to make adjustments, this can be cumbersome. The benefits are that it’s better for beginners as it easier to learn with and maintain. I do notice modelers usually end up upgrading to Dual-Action pretty quickly.
- DUAL-ACTION AIRBRUSH: This type of airbrush allows users to control both air and paint flow with the trigger/button. The first action of pressing the trigger down allows air to flow through the airbrush. The second action of sliding the trigger back will allow paint to flow through. The further you push down or back the increased paint or airflow. This allows for continual adjustment but requires much more practice to perfect this method which is more versatile.
Consider how much on-the-fly or fixed paint and air flow you will need when choosing between the two. This is what will most be impacted by the two methods.
Gravity vs Siphon Feed Airbrush
The other major factor in choosing an airbrush is how the paint is delivered. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages so choose the method that works best for your needs and use.
- GRAVITY FEED AIRBRUSH: This method of paint delivery places the paint cup at the top of the airbrush. Gravity alone pulls the paint into the airbrush atomizing chamber. Gravity fed chambers allow for a lower working air pressure which can be an advantage when painting fine lines and details on miniature figures while avoiding over-spray.
One possible drawback to the gravity fed style is the smaller cup size for storing paint. The smaller cup size, depending on your project, may require you to refill your paint supply often when painting larger scale models.
- SIPHON FEED AIRBRUSH: Siphon fed airbrushes have the paint bottle attached below the unit which feeds a tube into the paint container connecting the supply to the mixing chamber. When air passes across the tube in the mixing chamber it siphons the paint in.
The siphon fed airbrushes usually allow for a larger amount of paint storage. This could be advantageous to painting something like a larger battleship. Siphon fed units seem to use slightly more paint and require slightly more clean up time.
The amount of your paint supply as well as how much working air pressure is used allowing for fine lines or covering large spray areas quickly is what you should consider. Cup sizes will range for around 0.9 ml up to 15 ml with siphon feed.
Internal vs External Mix Airbrush
This refers to where the paint mixes with the air or where it is atomized. Where it is mixed will have some effect on the finish of the paint. Aside from affecting the finish, internally mixed also requires an extra cleanup step although this is minimal.
- INTERNAL MIX AIRBRUSH: When paint enters the chamber of an airbrush and mixes with air, this is what is referred to as internal mix. This internal paint atomizing usually produces a smoother and finer finish which is preferable to model builders.
- EXTERNAL MIX AIRBRUSH: Externally mixed paint does not enter the airbrush. Instead, paint flows along the outside of the nozzle and is then atomized with the air as soon as the air stream exits the nozzle.
The externally mixed airbrushes usually produce a flatter finish that isn’t as smooth. This can be remedied somewhat by experiment with your paint mix until you get it just right.
Airbrush Parts and Accessories
An airbrush is only as good as the parts and accessories that accompany it or are used on the inside which affect performance.
Parts do wear out as well and can be interchangeable to produce different performance in the airbrush so it is wise to choose a reputable brand that you will have easy access to replacement parts.
Airbrush needles are going to determine how fine are broad your airbrush lines will be. The smaller the needle the finer the lines you will be able to achieve but this is only to an extent as the effect will diminish the smaller you go.
Fine needles also are more prone to clogging with thicker paint mixes like acrylic paints and some enamel paints. The finest needles are usually best left to illustrators using inks. Typically the best size airbrush needle for modelers to start with is going to be around .5mm as this will produce a great all-around spray.
Note that the needle and nozzle combination will determine the final effect. After a bit of practice and familiarity you will determine what ultimately works best for you. A good rule is larger needles (0.5mm and greater) for less detailed work and smaller needles (less than 0.5mm ) for more detail though skill can sometimes overcome these limitations.
The nozzle is another component that will affect the spray effect pattern. Short nozzles will usually deliver a wider pattern that can cover more area. The longer narrow nozzles will produce much narrower spray lines used when you need to spray precision lines. Most nozzles are sold in kits with a compatible needle but if you are purchasing the nozzle alone, ensure compatibility.
There are different sources one can use as a compressed air source whether it is a large bottle of compressed air or disposable can. The most reliable and convenient source is usually going to be an airbrush compressor. This is arguably one of the most important pieces of equipment aside from the airbrush itself.
The airbrush compressor needs to provide a steady air supply while maintaining consistent air pressure and air flow. This is important in spraying the smoothest and most precise paint lines. Any fluctuation, whether in pressure drops or pulses, will cause issues.
Aside from providing consistent pressure and supply, look for a quiet compressor. Nothing can be more distracting while painting than having to deal with a loud compressor kicking on and off as it supplies you with air.
Essential Airbrush Accessories
Below is a general list of items you will need in addition to your airbrush unit to ensure you are able to maintain your unit and keep it operating for years to come. Cleaning your airbrush thoroughly is one of the most important things you can do to ensure a long working life.
Keeping moisture out of the unit via a moisture trap is another important thing to do. This will minimize any corrosion inside the airbrush and the working parts.
- Airbrush Cleaner
- Airbrush Cleaning Brushes
- Moisture Trap
- Fittings and Connectors
- Miscellaneous Spare Repair Parts
Aside from keeping the unit clean and having the parts above to be able to operate your airbrush having a spare kit for airbrushes will ensure minimal downtime should any issues arise. These kits usually have various gaskets, bushings, and springs that make up the internal parts of an airbrush. Highly advisable to have one on hand. Final tip is to buy an inexpensive ultrasonic cleaner to clean the airbrush after every paint session.
Airbrush Tips for Scale Models
The tips in the video should get you on the right path to successful airbrushing of scale models and miniatures.
Now you should be ready to make a choice as to what airbrush model and various features will suit you best for all your scale model painting and miniature painting.
The 7 Best Airbrushes for Models and Miniatures
These are the best airbrushes on the market suited to panting scale models and miniatures. Keep in mind price can be a good guide but you won’t always get twice the performance for twice the money. Balance the price with your important needs which most or all should met with the best model airbrush under $200.
Whatever model you choose, as long as it has the features you desire or are comfortable using you should find success airbrushing planes, boats, cars, or any other thing you can spray a layer of paint on.
Iwata’s Revolution line of airbrushes can best be described as the perfect balance of quality, performance, and value. At a price point under $100, the Iwata Revolution is probably one of the best all-around airbrushes for modelers.
Although this is a dual-action airbrush, users at all levels including beginners intent on getting the hang of the dual-action trigger will excel with this model. The large nozzle and 0.5mm needle combination make this a great all-purpose setup capable of tackling a variety of lines using thicker paints. You can also switch between solvent and water-based paint with no issue since it is equipped with a solvent-proof PTFE packing that is also replaceable.
If you want an airbrush and you only ever want to purchase just one, one that will last nearly a lifetime, this is definitely the airbrush to get. Pair this with a second needle and nozzle set for extremely fine lines and you will tackle any painting need you can imagine. If you are interested in the Revolution but want a bottom feed check out the Iwata Revolution BCR .
Badger Co Airbrushes are the Chevy and Ford of airbrushes and their models are durable, long lasting and easy to maintain, and made in America. The Badger 100 LG model is equipped with a larger paint cup and available in both a fine, medium, and heavy configurations denoted by an F, M, and H and the parts are usually interchangeable between other models as well.
The great thing about Badger is both the affordability, availability of parts, and the ability to service them easily. This model in a medium configuration can do everything a scale model builder or miniature painter can need it to do. This is a longstanding choice for artists of all kinds.
As I said above, if you own other Badger models are intent on getting multiple models Badger is a good choice as a lot of the parts are interchangeable. A great choice for someone will multipurpose needs in an airbrush.
Manufactured by Iwata, the NEO CN is the cheapest airbrush choice on the list. Anyone not sure about their investment into the world of model airbrushing can buy this unit at a very affordable price and ensure they are receiving a quality product from a reputable manufacturer and not a knock off.
This is a versatile unit with great value that any beginner can pick up and start learning. The nozzle and needle are capable of spraying fine to medium lines which are perfect for a modeler’s needs. It also has the capability swapping paint cups from smaller to larger capacities.
Finally, the NEO is extremely easy to clean up and maintain so beginners shouldn’t be intimidated by maintaining this airbrush. Grab this extremely affordable NEO unit as your first entry into the airbrush world if money is any concern.
The Badger 200-20 airbrush is a single action unit set up to spray fine detail. This makes it the best airbrush for miniatures or those spraying plastic models that require extremely fine detail with a steady hand. You can ensure smooth consistent paint flow while only needing to control the air flow.
Pair this model with the Badger 100 equipped for medium detail and you will be equipped to handle every single artistic detail you can imagine. Best of all you can swap parts between the two and be able to spray fine details with dual-action and medium details with sing-action.
The Badger 200-20 is also a bottom fed unit as well so you will be capable of spraying large areas without needing to refill your paint. Just as any Badger, this is easy to maintain and only slightly more cumbersome to clean since it is siphon fed. If simplicity is what you require this is one of the best.
The Paasche TG is a great airbrush for spraying detailed fine lines. Another American made brand of airbrush, the smooth trigger is noted by users of Paasche as well as the finish and build quality. The TG2L is a dual-action airbrush but it has a needle stop feature that will assist with consistent paint release.
It has no trouble spraying with enamel based paints or other thicker paint mixes despite being set up for finer lines which is good news for modelers. If you take great care of this model it will last for as long as you own it and you will likely never need to replace any of the parts.
For those already aware of Paasche airbrushes, you probably don’t need convincing. For those that haven’t, if you choose to go with a Paasche, it won’t let you down and will perform just as you would expect.
If you are the type of person that wants the best and money is no option this is your airbrush. The Iwata High Performance Plus C is the absolutely best airbrush a modeler can buy. This is probably more airbrush than most modelers need but if you require absolute precision, this is where the High Performance Plus C excels.
The need for detail and precision is usually desired in painting miniatures which also makes it the best airbrush for miniatures. Every design aspect of this model is built for precision and comfort which allows for extended use without fatigue.
This is a professional grade model so you can expect the highest build quality and durability and surpasses every other model on the list in all regards. Most folks that have previously sprayed on lesser models then move to this one are able to notice the difference in the spray immediately. Again, this is a model that may not be for most but if you are a professional or prefer the best this is it.
The Iwata Eclipse HP makes our list for its special “High Paint-flow” designed ability to spray thicker & heavier paints like acrylic. This makes it great for model train builders and others who spray terrain or other media require thick paint. The ability to spray these thicker paints allow you to achieve textured appearances if desired which can improve the realism on projects like terrain.
These thicker paints like Medea Textile colors which are made for fabric are great for miniatures as well if they utilize any real fabric as a part of their design. The ability to spray fine lines with thicker paint is very desirable for some and this brush excels at it. A truly versatile unit with the quality and durability behind the Iwata name.
If you need the versatility of spraying all different paint types and can’t afford something like the High Performance line, the Eclipse is one of the best options at this price point. The all-around capabilities of it make it a true workhorse of airbrushes.
I know I have said this many times already but it is important to evaluate your needs and choose a model that fits both your budget and the projects you plan on painting. From there, you should be happy with the choice you make.
Finally, these systems are very durable and as long as you take care of them and keep them clean, they should last forever. Be sure and let us know if you pick one up and how you like it in the comments, we love hearing everyone’s own experience.