Airbrushing Warhammer: Starting the Journey

Airbrushing is a quick way to elevate your painting to the next level. Perfect, right? Unfortunately it’s a pretty big investment to get into it, and there are a lot of things to wrap your head around. It can be a lot, starting out.

I’m a relative newcomer to the world of airbrushing Warhammer, so I thought it might be good to discuss airbrushing from the perspective of someone who’s recently gone through the process, and made a good few mistakes along the way. This article is intended as a bit of a guide to all the things I’ve learned so far. Hopefully to help out anyone else considering airbrushing Warhammer.

Why airbrushing?

As with a lot of people who enjoy the painting side of the hobby, I’ve always enjoyed checking out the cool schemes and techniques of people far better than myself. You’ll find some great inspiration online. Instagram is my preferred platform.

One thing that a lot of higher level painters have in common is that airbrushing is often a part of the process. When using an airbrush you can colour from a single direction, control the opacity well and make transitions between colours, all far easier than if you were to use a brush.

Now obviously having better tools doesn’t make you a better painter, but having a tool that makes things easier can let you get far more creative. That was part of the appeal for me.

Cheaper isn’t always best

You’ll quite often hear that buying a more expensive airbrush is better. And there’s a good reason for that. That doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy a shiny Cult of Paint Infinity, but rather to understand the level of quality directly affects your experience.

When I started airbrushing, I decided I wanted to start with a dirt cheap airbrush and a handheld compressor. The whole lot cost me under £40, which isn’t bad. The thinking was that if I ‘ruined’ my first airbrush, or didn’t like it, then it wouldn’t be a huge waste of money.

It was a solid plan… In theory.

Right out of the gate I had issues with my airbrush. It turned out that the small compressor just couldn’t put out enough pressure to spray the acrylic paints effectively, which lead to a number of other issues. With no other experience though, I had no idea what the issue was, so what followed was a series of miserable sessions where I tried and failed to get my airbrush to work in the way it should.

Element games banner image displaying their 15-25% discount on warhammer and other mini painting products

I later then had an accident when cleaning that ended up breaking the nozzle. In theory that should have been an easy part to replace. The problem was that due to the airbrush being non-branded, it was pretty hard to track down the correct part. There was zero support for my model online.

As a beginner, it’s tempting to go with the un-branded budget option, but you’ll thank yourself later if you choose a more trusted branded product.

I’ve since been using the Sparmax Max 3 upon a friend’s recommendation and have had a much smoother experience in all areas.

My Sparmax Max 3
My Sparmax Max 3

You need more than just the airbrush itself

Having an actual airbrush isn’t the only important thing to buy. There are a few things that you might not realise you need until you get started. Here’s a quick list of some of the things I’ve found that you’ll want to pick up:

If you plan in advance, you can pick a few of these bits up together in bundles, such as airbrush and compressor bundles or cleaning kit bundles.

Paints and thinning

You might see that dedicated airbrush paints, or ‘Air’ paints are a thing. But don’t panic, you’re not going to have to buy a whole new range of paints in order to use your airbrush.

If you use acrylic paints designed for miniatures, then these can all be used through your airbrush, although you will need to thin them down with some thinner. The ‘Air’ ranges are simply pre-thinned, to make airbrushing a little easier, but in my experience you’ll still probably want to thin them a tiny bit more.

I’m not going to go in depth with finding the right consistency with thinning your paints. It’s something I’m still getting to grips with myself. There’s not one universal rule as it depends on a whole load of factors; The paint colour, it’s consistency, the pressure you’re using, and more. A good tip you’ll see shared online however is to aim for the consistency of milk.

As a quick side tip, Citadel’s Contrast Paints, and similar ranges like the Army Painter Speed Paints work really well through an airbrush, and are already thin enough that they shouldn’t require any thinning.

Take care of your airbrush

The biggest thing I want to stress right now is that an airbrush is a delicate thing. But that doesn’t mean you should be scared to understand how it works. In fact, I would suggest that one of the few things you do when you first get your airbrush is to carefully take it apart to see how it’s built. It’s really helped me to understand how it works and what parts are likely to need cleaning most. There are plenty of videos out there that guide you through the process. If you have a well-known model, then you should be able to find one that specifically mentions it.

As well as cleaning the paint out in between colours, you’ll want to give it a more thorough clean fairly frequently using the airbrush cleaning tools I mentioned above. Doing so helps reduce the chance of blockages and will keep your airbrushing experience smooth. To avoid damaging any parts, just take care with the needle and nozzle. It’s also safest to do this step on a table so that the parts don’t drop on to the floor.

Element games banner image displaying their 15-25% discount on warhammer and other mini painting products

Perfect projects to start with

There are so many cool techniques and methods of airbrushing warhammer. But what’s the best project to start you off while you work on your trigger control and get used to the brush?

An airbrushed Soulblight Gravelords Dire Wolf
An airbrushed Soulblight Gravelords Dire Wolf

Practice on paper

It sounds silly, but it’s a really helpful step. Just play around with making some lines and basic shapes on a piece of paper to get used to just using the airbrush. The first time you ever use your airbrush you’ll probably make a mess anyway. At least paper is cheap.

Priming/basecoating miniatures

By far the best place to start for your first project is just by covering a whole model. You don’t need to worry about overspray or being neat. You can just focus on getting the right paint consistency, and understanding how the distance and pressure affect the flow of paint.

Zenithal base coat

Zenithal base coats are a pretty cool technique. Instead of just a solid base colour to work from, a zenithal achieves a two tone base layer, by covering the entire model with a dark colour, and then layer spraying a lighter colour only from above. It’s a real easy way to get some shadow and definition onto your model before you even start painting.

Painting with semi-transparent paints such as Citadel Contrast Paint or Army Painter Speed Paints are a great way to make the most out of a zenithal.

Painting up beasts or animals

By far the most enjoyable thing I’ve found to do with the airbrush while improving your skills is to pick some monsters or beasts to paint. There are plenty of good choices. The key is to find a model where it doesn’t matter if the colours blend together slightly.

Something with different tones of fur or colourful scales is probably ideal. That way you can work on getting neater and more precise with your colours, but at the same time know that your mistakes just add to the natural variety of the model.

If you want to put your airbrush to good use then check out my guides for painting colourful Necromuda bases or ravenous Soulblight Dire Wolves.

Did you enjoy this article? You could always tip the author with a coffee (or something stronger). If you want to pick up an airbrush of your own then check out Element Games. They have great deals on a wide range of airbrushes, accessories and mini’s to paint with them. Finally, make sure you’re following us on Instagram to stay up to date and get involved in our community!

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