Airbrushing Tips and Tricks – Volume 1: The Basics

Model Painting and Airbrushing Tips and Tricks

If you’ve been using an airbrush for a while and have some experience with the instrument you may want to skip this little ditty. If however, you’re new to airbrushing and/or want to review some basic handling tips, please read on. Also, note that all of the handling suggestions covered are applicable to most airbrushes regardless of their make, creed, or political affiliation.


It’s an obvious fact but it needs to be stated: The Needle Is Easily Bent.  Yes, It is. Even the slightest bump will damage it requiring repair or replacement. Remember, it’s a matter of when not if you bend a needle. Everybody does sooner or later. Whenever possible, place a cover or guard over the tip of the brush and try to be mindful of where the brush is pointed at all times. Many modelers remove the guard while spraying to get a better view of their work area. I wouldn’t suggest trying this until you have experience with the brush. You should also get a feel for the mechanicals of your airbrush. With an expanded view or parts lay-out in front of you, take a few moments to assess how the back end of the brush comes off, how the needle is retained in the brush (usually by a small nut), and how the nose piece or air cap can be removed to replace or clean the nozzle. Get to know the brush. It will make you less anxious about handling it and make changing that inevitable dinged needle or nozzle much easier. One handy tool I highly recommend is an airbrush holder. They come in many varieties (clamp-on, free standing) and are invaluable for holding the brush while filling or cleaning.

1 mm Wide Lines And Primers–All With One Brush: the Infinity

For Tips on Fine-Line Airbrushing and Configuring the Harder-Steenbeck Infinity for Super Fine-Line Work and for Spraying Primers and Clear Coats, Check This Out⇒

What do I do if when I bend the needle?

You’ve run your airbrush into XYZ on your bench and the needle is visibly bent. After you let out the required #@%(*!$^#@*&^ – Resist the temptation to remove the needle without first straightening it as much as possible. If a badly bent needle is removed it will likely damage the very delicate nozzle as it passes through. Not good. Now both the needle and nozzle will need replacement. To straighten a needle, it’s best to have some form of optical assistance (read magnifying glass and/or spectacles), good light, and a stiff pair of tweezers. Simply grab the needle and straighten it as mush as possible then remove the offending needle and check that the nozzle orifice is perfectly round and undamaged. A bent needle can be re-worked with sand paper and/or a wet stone and a lot of patience but I can’t recommend it. To get the best performance from your brush, it’s best to replace the needle and chalk the whole thing up to experience. Res ipsa loquitur



Don’t Run It Dry

Let’s assume that you’re shooting paint through your brush and save a discussion on strategies for diluting/mixing paint for another time. Before spraying any paint, it’s best to shoot a little thinner through the brush. By doing so the internal components (needle/nozzle) become wet with thinner before they are exposed to paint. Much like a bristle brush that’s best cared for by first dipping it into thinner before paint, wetting the internals of your airbrush decreases the amount of paint that sticks to these components making clean up easier. Likewise, while spraying try to keep the internal components of the airbrush wet by never running the airbrush dry. Try and resist the temptation to empty that last ¼ cup of paint into the trash can till nothing but the hiss of air can be heard passing through the brush. At that point, paint has partially dried onto the internals of your brush and will require additional effort get it out. Try to leave a small amount of paint in the bottom of the cup or in other words, don’t run it dry. 

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Clean Up—Three Soaks:

When you’re done spraying, pour the remaining paint out and then wipe the inside of the cup with a clean tissue or paper towel. Add thinner to the paint cup and loosen any dry paint with a micro brush. If there are particles of dried paint in the cup, it is best to pour them out and not force them through the nozzle by spraying it through the brush. After a quick wipe with a towel, add thinner to the cup, vigorously move the airbrush action (trigger, lever, or button) back and forth multiple times to work thinner down the needle into the nozzle. Spray a bit till you see mostly thinner (not paint) coming out of the brush. If need be, stop and add thinner so you don’t run the brush dry. With thinner in the cup, place the brush in a holder and allow it to soak for 15 minutes (Soak#1). I usually plan other work like decaling, detailing, etc during this time. This is also a good time to carefully clean the exposed portions of the needle and nozzle with a micro brush soaked in thinner. Spray the first soak through the brush, add more thinner to the paint cup, work the action, and set aside for another 15-minutes (Soak #2). Repeat this process until the brush is clean: usually 3-4 cycles. If the paint I’ve sprayed has a specific cleaning solution as does Vallejo and LifeColor, I will switch to this after I go through 1-2 cycles with the appropriate thinner. The main aspect of this technique is the soaks. While you’re decaling, detailing, or weathering your masterpiece, the thinner/cleaner is dissolving dried paint from the internals of your airbrush. This takes time. I find it’s better to allow the brush to sit in 1-2ml of thinner for 15 minutes than to shoot 15ml of thinner through the brush in 1 minute. If followed, the guidelines will allow you to use your brush many times before it requires disassembly and cleaning. As a last step, I spray a little Tamiya Airbrush Cleaner (#87089) through the brush and call it done. This stuff is hard to find and its lacquer based (read stinky) but I’ve not found anything better to prepare a brush for long-term storage.




Well, I hope you found something helpful there. I’ve shared the ”Don’t Run it Dry” and  “Three Soak” methods with a lot of guys that have attended airbrushing classes I’ve taught. Everyone that’s tried both agrees: their brushes clean up quicker and easier with less work. Most importantly, their brushes aren’t seized up when they go to shoot that gloss coat on their most recent masterpiece!

If you have any questions or want additional information just drop me a line at [email protected]

Now go paint something!