Airbrushing your miniatures and models is a bit of an advanced skill. You’ll need new tools and techniques to master the craft. One of the more important parts of your airbrush kit is your compressor.
You can’t airbrush without air, right?
What is the best airbrush compressor for miniatures and models? I’ve selected my three favorites for the level of fine detail required for your miniature and model work:
An airbrush compressor produces compressed air that propels paint through an air hose to the airbrush.
As you might imagine, compressors intended for miniatures will apply much lower air pressure than those intended for larger projects.
Any air compressor can work – but only if the pressure can be regulated to the level you need. Some models are superior, and some just aren’t ideal for use with an airbrush. I’ll sort it all out for you in the following.
- The Best Airbrush Compressors For Miniatures And Models
- Air Compressor Features
- Getting Started In Airbrushing Miniatures And Models
- Does an Airbrush Compressor Need a Tank?
- Is A Pressure Gauge Important On My Airbrush?
- What Is Auto-Off Function On An Airbrush Compressor?
- Air Compressors Can Be Very Loud
- Getting Started with Airbrushing Miniatures and Models
- Cleaning and Maintaining Airbrush Equipment
- Get the Right One for You
The Best Airbrush Compressors For Miniatures And Models
Everyone will have their preference as far as what works better for them and why. This is especially true when it comes to creative arts and hobbies.
There are definitely products on the market that are of a greater quality and deserve a shout-out. Let’s look at a few of them.
The Zeny Pro offers an automatic on/shutoff feature that takes effect once the machine has achieved a pressure of 57 psi and will start again when the pressure drops to 43 psi.
It is capable of producing 95 psi maximum air pressure with ⅕ horsepower delivery, which is enough for approximately 23 liters per minute of constant airflow.
Regardless of its ability, the unit can be customized to suit your preference for pressure and airflow.
The reservoir tank offers a large capacity (3 l), so a consistent flow of compressed air won’t be a problem. Thermal protection is an added safety feature.
- On/off shutoff feature.
- 23-liters-per-minute, zero-pulsating air.
- Lightweight in comparison to other units.
- Offers two-year warranty.
- Reliable air given on demand.
- Adjustable air controls.
- Equipped with moisture trap filter and pressure gauge.
- Fitted with no-maintenance, oil-free piston motor.
The Master Cool Runner single-piston boasts the ability to run for a longer duration without the possibility of overheating thanks to cooling fans.
Consistent pressure with zero pulsation is made possible due to the ‘air-on-demand’ feature as well as the 3-liter storage tank.
There is the capability of operating two brushes because of the 23-liters-a-minute airflow, high air volume, and 1/6 horsepower.
When the air tank pressure reaches 57 psi, the unit will turn off, and it will resume when the pressure goes back to 43.
It offers a max pressure of 86 psi, at which point the Auto Safety Release Valve will release excessive pressure.
The unit is thermally protected for safety if it becomes overheated.
- Single piston compressor.
- 3-liter air storage tank
- Air pressure regulator with moisture trap filter and gauge.
- Braided 6-foot air hose.
- 1/6 horsepower.
- 23 liters of airflow per minute allowing for two brush operation.
- Built-in cooling fans and air-on-demand.
- Full five-year warranty.
The Badger compressor touts of being a quiet unit that requires no maintenance or lubrication. It offers ⅕ horsepower with a 1-gallon air storage tank.
The system is portable and provides automatic shutoff. There is an adjustable air regulator fitted with a pressure gauge as well as a moisture trap filter.
The overall max pressure comes in at 57 psi. The unit is lightweight and easy to handle.
- Lightweight and quiet.
- Shuts off automatically.
- Adjustable air regulator with gauge and built-in moisture trap filter.
- Diaphragm compressor.
- Built-in one gallon tank.
- Airbrush holders.
- ⅕ horsepower.
- 57 psi maximum pressure.
- Thermal protection for potential overheating.
- One-year warranty.
These are compressors that have been recommended by those who are experienced in the business and recognize quality (and by me).
If you’re a novice and don’t know where to begin in your endeavor, this gives you an ideal place to start.
Air Compressor Features
When using an airbrush and compressor for painting miniatures and models, you should educate yourself on all of the associated features.
Understanding the equipment will assist you in learning the appropriate techniques and aid you in developing your skills.
Here are some specific features and terms that you should be familiar with:
This is a small compressor responsible for putting out low air or low CFM (cubic feet per meter). It generally is used for projects requiring slight air pressure, such as miniature work.
The next compressor level up has a bit more power than its counterpart producing a range of outputs or CFM. It offers a regulator as it will create more air than is typically needed to propel the paint.
This gives the user control over the level of output by allowing you to preset it to your preference. The better compressors come fitted with a regulator along with a moisture filter, which allows for the heavier user.
Adjusting the Psi
This is done with the air regulator. The air regulator will come with a gauge that gives a reading in psi (pounds per square inch).
The determination of the perfect psi goes by the airbrush user’s preference or viscosity of spraying material and, in some instances, the manner of application.
Air Intake Filter
Many compressor models come with an air intake filter.
These have the misfortune of developing clogs periodically, requiring sporadic replacement as a means to retain the lifespan of the compressor.
When painting in any scenario, high temperatures and humidity bring the issue of moisture-related problems, making it necessary to have something to remove the water from the air.
Some air compressors will offer a moisture filter to take care of the problem.
Getting Started In Airbrushing Miniatures And Models
Airbrushing has many uses when it comes to painting miniatures, particularly with accomplishing a smooth base coat simply and rapidly.
It also offers you the ability to produce shadows and gradients in color, as well as highlights and special effects.
In achieving these results, there are several pieces of equipment for the enthusiast to have on hand. Let’s check out what you’ll need to engage in airbrushing.
A vital component in this hobby is the airbrush itself, which is where you’ll put a majority of consideration. This piece should be of good quality, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be the most expensive.
There is a multitude of varieties, such as side-fed, gravity-fed, siphon-fed, dual-action, single-action, pistol-trigger, and so many more.
Tip: When you see the word ‘feed,’ this specifies the manner that the paint comes through the airbrush. With a dual-action, there is the ability to pull the trigger back to get color and push it down to get the air.
The Needle and Nozzle
The line thickness that you accomplish achieves its definition through the size of the needle and nozzle.
It’s not that different than if you were painting with brushes and were required to choose from a variety of sizes. However, needles and nozzles come in decimals of a millimeter as opposed to the arbitrary number sizing of paintbrushes.
For miniatures, you may think that tiny is best, but you’ll be limiting yourself to this medium.
At some point, you may have the desire to branch out into other areas. In this instance, you want to allow more flexibility. Needles/nozzles can be purchased separately, allowing for more application ranges.
There is a multitude of options for compressor brands with a full spectrum of price points on the market. The same is true with these as with airbrushes. There is no need to spend a fortune to get good quality.
Among the relevant features to look for is the storage tank. The compressor will automatically shut off once the tank has topped off.
In this way, you have silent use for a majority of the application, which is beneficial as a compressor that runs continuously can be an annoyance.
The novice is generally unaware of the pressure needed for airbrushing miniatures. Typically, 20 psi is the basic rule for the type of paint and the level of thinness required for airbrushing.
The only time this may have deviations is with paint splatter instances, as is the case with light, pale, or white varieties of paints. In these cases, the pressure may need to rise to 25 – 30 psi for more exceptional atomization.
Does an Airbrush Compressor Need a Tank?
This is among some of the most frequently asked questions when working with airbrushes and compressors, as you’ll see versions with a tank and those considered tankless. So, which is best?
If you want the compressor to offer longevity, purchase one fitted with a tank.
A tank is going to give the compressor the ability to take breaks while the tank is refilling. It prevents the motor from having to run for the entire airbrush session, allowing for less wear and tear on the unit.
Be aware that compressors that come without an air storage tank have problems with pulsing.
Pulsing is compressed air that comes through the airline and out the top of the brush sporadically as opposed to smooth airflow.
It is due to the manner that the compressor accumulates the air pressure, usually through the use of a piston.
With each stroke of the piston, an individual pulse will result at the nozzle, causing an inconsistent spray and potentially ruining your detailed work.
If there is a storage tank, pulsing stops when the air is in the tank and is at a pressure higher than what you’re using.
Pulsing can stop because there is a build-up of stored air to draw from rather than taking from the motor as it does with a tankless compressor.
A compressor that has a tank is undoubtedly going to outlast a tankless version as it puts forth half the effort of that of a tankless machine.
A tankless compressor has to work throughout the entire brushing cycle.
However, a system with a tank only puts out effort when the supply of air in the tank falls under a certain level.
Having a tank will virtually eliminate instances of overheating and will dramatically increase the lifespan of the system.
Is A Pressure Gauge Important On My Airbrush?
For those just beginning with airbrushing in miniatures and models, you need to know that having a pressure gauge for your airbrush is a necessity.
Those who are seasoned enthusiasts in the hobby may have the ability to judge the amount of pressure through the variants in the color that the airbrush is producing, but a novice won’t yet have the skill to guess the pressure by sight.
A gauge allows you to know precisely how much pressure you have and will let you know that the compressor is functioning in the right way.
If you are new in the game, all compressors, even portable varieties, should come with pressure gauges. If you don’t have this, you can’t paint to your fullest potential.
The regulator assists in regulating the pressure that goes to the airbrush. For any work that you need to have a specific level of adjustment, having control over the level of pressure will give you optimal results.
What Is Auto-Off Function On An Airbrush Compressor?
The automatic-off offered on airbrush compressors is a safety feature in which the maximum air pressure is preset and once reached, will cause the unit to shut down.
After the system levels back down to a minimum preset level of psi, it will cycle back up. Some compressors will shut down when the unit is sitting idle for a certain period also. This feature allows for a less noisy working environment.
Air Compressors Can Be Very Loud
The level of noise produced by air compressors can range from 40 to as many as 90 decibels. Working in this type of environment for an extended period can be damaging to your hearing.
The closer the unit is to you, the more sound you’ll be exposed to. When purchasing your compressor, it’s vital that the sound level be a top consideration.
It’s essential when participating in this hobby to invest in hearing protection for safety.
Getting Started with Airbrushing Miniatures and Models
When you decide to go from painting miniatures to airbrushing them, know that it requires a whole other skill-set and there will likely be a learning curve as you master the technique.
The various parts and features of the airbrush will allow you to manipulate the paint to spray at the level you want and with the pressure set to your preference.
It’s just a matter of learning your technique and how to maneuver each individual piece. For miniatures, you want to spray thin lines, and those are going to require small needles.
The needle is the ‘brush’ that will project the paint and air combination onto your project.
The larger the needle diameter, the bigger the spray spread will be. For minis, the suggested size would be a 0.2 – 0.5 diameter based on the size of the object you are painting.
The smallest needles will take the most skill. It may be best to wait until you’ve gained some experience before trying the smallest ones.
It’s crucial to select an airbrush with versatility so you can try various needles until you find one that suits your particular needs and level of ability.
Cleaning and Maintaining Airbrush Equipment
Airbrushing, as a hobby, is an investment in time, effort, equipment, and money. You’ll want to take good care of your tools by maintaining them regularly.
Neglecting the routine cleaning and servicing could result in clogs, damages, or malfunctioning.
Although most airbrush compressors require very little maintenance, you’ll, of course, want to keep both the airbrush and compressor in a clean environment and covered to protect from dust when not in use.
Ideally, you should use only airbrush paints as they won’t clog nearly as much as traditional paint, and cleaning will be easier.
After each use, you’ll want to flush out the unit with an airbrush cleaner (I use Vallejo’s a lot) or 99% rubbing alcohol.
To deep clean your airbrush, carefully disassemble and allow the parts to soak in the cleaning solution until every bit of paint can be easily wiped or scrubbed off.
I find that an airbrush cleaning kit really makes this job faster and easier.
Get the Right One for You
Know your niche and then research what equipment will help you accomplish your goals. Once you understand what you need and what’s out there, you’ll find your ideal system.
This initial work will save you effort and time, allowing for more enjoyment in the overall process.
If you need some guidance purchasing a new airbrush, be sure to explore my recommendations and tips.
Oh, and don’t forget to pick up a spray booth (<<< I show you the best in that article) to keep your surroundings nice and clean.