Airbrushing miniatures is super fun, can produce top quality and is in some cases the most efficient way of achieving great results. Once you have learned your ropes with an airbrush, you are probably ready to upgrade your gear and get something better.
In this article, I will show you what I think is the best airbrush, if you are looking for your second airbrush or an upgraded airbrush.
If you are looking for your first airbrush, I suggest looking at my article about the best beginner airbrush here.
If you want to upgrade from a beginner airbrush or just jump in at the deep end of the pool, I suggest you go with the Infinity airbrush. It was produced in a collab between Harder & Steenbeck (super good airbrushes) and Cult of paint (super good painters) and had a successful Kickstarter. It is a redesign of the normal Harder & Steenbeck Infinity airbrush but made specifically for miniature painting (but booth are super good).
If you do not already own a compressor, you will of course need one. I have a short article on what to look for when getting a compressor.
You can read more down below why the Infinity Cult of paint airbrush is my pick for the best miniature airbrush right now.
Other Alternatives for “best airbrush”
The redesigned Infinity is easy to get your hands on, as Element Games provide worldwide shipping (and they are the only place to get it). But as always, you can run into various tax issues depending on your country. So here are some other options that might be easier for you to get your hands on or that might even be better options for you depending on your use case.
Harder & Steenbeck Infinity 2-1
Instead of getting the Cult of Paint redesign of the H&B Infinity, you could also get the “normal” Infinity version. It comes in several different bundles and setups, but if I where to buy it I would go for the “2 in 1 Infinity” version as it gives you 2 different sized nozzles (4mm and 2mm) and two different cups. Full disclosure: I do not know the exact difference between the redesigned and the normal version, as I have not had the change to touch the non-redesigned one. The redesign might all be Kickstarter-hype-boloney for all I know.
Cult of Paint Evolution
If you think the price tag Infinity is just ludicrous, but you still want that “made for painters” feel, look no further than the Infinity Cult of Paint version. The savings are big, but there are also some key differences. The evolution is more of a workhorse and a better fit if this is your first airbrush. This is probably also better for you if you are just looking to paint armies all day.
Super nice airbrush, the price tag is not insane, easy to clean and that luxury feel.
If you do not buy into the Cult of Paint hype, you can also get the non-redesigned 2-1 Evolution version.
What I look for in a “best airbrush” for miniature painting
There are different types of airbrushes, but when it comes to miniature painting there is a clear consensus on what type of airbrush you will need.
Almost all miniature painters use a “dual-action, gravity feed airbrush”. What that is and why that is will be explained below.
The airbrush is the tool you hold in your hands and spray paint out of. Down on the floor, you need a compressor that provides the air to blow the paint out of the airbrush with the correct pressure.
Most of the times you need to buy compressors separately, but it happens that they come in bundles (but it is rare, for some odd reason).
1. “Gravity feed” (you need a cup on top)
It is a clear consensus that a “gravity feed cup on top airbrush” is the way to go for miniature painting.
You simply pour the (thinned) paint down into the cup on top of the airbrush. When you blow air and paint out of the airbrush, the paint will fall downwards and is thus “feed” into the brush by gravity.
The other version is “siphon feed”, where the compressor sucks the air out of a small cup (usually below the airbrush) and sprays it out. The siphon feed can be useful for other hobbies, but for painting single miniatures it is not really that good.
The siphon feed is bad because it requires your compressor to be set to a very high strength (called PSI). For delicate miniature work, it is important that you have full control of how much air it is blowing and for a lot of work, a high PSI is not going to give you good results. It can also be easy to accidentally waste a lot of paint when using side feed airbrushes.
With the cup on top, it is easy to change colour along the way (going up in colour tones) and gravity will do the work you otherwise need your compressor to do. If you change colour a lot, it can also be helpful to be able to change the cup on top – instead of cleaning the cup every time you need to spray a new colour.
The big cups can blog the view of the mini you are working on, so bigger is not always better in this regard.
So you simply want to look for a cup on the top of the airbrush to make sure it is “gravity feed” type and therefore suitable for miniature painting.
2. Fine precision needle
If this is not your first rodeo in airbrushing, changes are you want something with a finer needle this time around. For a beginner airbrush a 5mm is super good. It will not clog as easy but you will get okay detail. But for more precision you need to get down to 4mm. If you want absolute super fine control 2mm is also an option, but just be careful not to break it!
For me, different options are good – so getting 2 – 1 sets is always nice.
3. Dual-action trigger
Some very cheap airbrushes work in a way where the air and paint will be released at the same time with the same pull of the trigger. This is not good for working with miniatures.
When working with an airbrush with a dual-action trigger (sometimes called a two-stage trigger) you first turn on the air and afterwards the paint.
This will give you much better control over the paint. It also means you can make sure to empty the needle of paint, so it does not clog up while you are faffing about with mixing the next paint to put in your cup.
So a dual-action trigger is a must for your miniature airbrush.
4. Internal air and paint mixing
Some types of airbrushes mixes the air and the paint outside of the airbrush, in the actual spray. This is useless for painting minautres, as it will give you a very wide spray cone.
This is why you need an airbrush where the air and the paint mix inside of it. It will give you a smaller spray cone and thus more control and detail.
5. Good durability
When looking at paying 200+ USD for an airbrush, you need that thing to last! Now even though you buy an expensive airbrush and it is of “good quality”, the small parts of it are still fiddly and very delicate. But the thing about the super cheap ones is that the delicate parts break more easily. So quality of parts really do matter when getting and airbrush.
6. Easy to use and clean
It is when you clean the airbrush you are most likely to break the small parts. So getting an airbrush where it is easy to take apart and clean is absolutely essential. The airbrush should be able to be taken apart easily, without force or any tools. It also needs to be able to go back together smoothly.
Why I picked the Cult of Paint Infinity as my “Best Airbrush
The Cult of Paint Infinity is the first airbrush designed for painting miniatures. It is a luxury, lightweight super piece of hardware. It checks all of the boxes in what you need in a good airbrush.
These are the things I love about the Cult of Paint Infinity and why I think it is the best airbrush:
- It checks all the boxes for a miniature airbrush (gravity feed, dual-action, sturdy, easy to clean)
- It is super lightweight and I think it makes it much more comfortable to use for longer periods of time (some want something more sturdy, but it is up to personal preference).
- The trigger is a joy to use!
- The nozzle is amazing for fine detail and bigger batch work.
- The extra super small cup is a cool design feature when you just need a little bit of paint for a highlight.
Some things that are less amazing about the Cult of Paint Infinity:
- It is somewhat expensive and you might be paying extra for “the brand”
- You might have to pay some form of tax to get it into your country
- It might be too delicate for painting armies all the time
Alternatives for “best beginner airbrush” if the Badger Patriot 105 is not in stock or you live outside the US
One of the reasons why I think the Patriot 105 is the best beginner airbrush is a combination of price, durability and ease of use. But because Badger is a US-based company, they can be hard to get your hands on if you are not from the US. And then suddenly they are NOT cheap to import.
So if we need to find another solution for you, we basically have 2 other companies to pick from: Iwata (Japan) and Harder & Steenbeck (German). If you get from smaller companies that that, it can be hard to get replacement parts. Sadly, both solutions will be more expensive (but might also be better for you in the long run). There is another company, Paasche, but it is also American so might not be relevant.
Iwata is known for delicate, more pricey airbrushes. A budget option comparable to the Patriot 105 in price and features is the Iwata Revolution. It also has some easy to assemble features and comes with the same 0.5 needle.
Harder & Steenbeck have not entered the budget airbrush game, but if you are looking to invest some more they have some great options. If you go up from the budget price range, I suggest you get something that has two different needle sizes.
For a bigger upgrade, The Harder & Steenbeck Evolution 2 in 1 is the one for you. It comes with two different needles (a 0.4 and 0.2) and two different cup sizes (5 ml and 2 ml). So if you are doing something rough and big, you need the big cup and big nozzle for loads of paint. But you can use the same airbrush for detail work with the 0.2, and use the small cup for quick things. The removable cups also make it a bit easier to clean.
Looking for a good Airbrush Kit or Bundle?
A lot of people are looking for an airbrush kit or bundle (compressor + airbrush). While getting a bundle is possible, I do not really recommend it. Most of the time either the compressor or the airbrush will be of poor quality. Quit looking for it (I know I spent too much time hunting for a bundle/kit).
Various airbrushing equipment you will need or that you might need
Contrary to what you might think, you do not actually need to go out and buy some fancy new paint specifically for airbrushing. You can use the paint from the ranges you already love.
That said, it will be much easier for you if you get something in a dropper bottle. So if you have that, just use that! I recommend the Vallejo paints and use those besides the Citadel stuff.
But, you will need some thinner or flow improver.
2. Paint thinner
You probably have a lot of paints already, so just buying some thinner or flow improver will make sure that you can just use that paint. It is a bit more of a hassle since you are using paints that are not designed to go directly into the cup.
It is generally easier to use paints in dropper bottles when airbrushing.
Some people make their own thinner. You can do that, but it depends on what is worth more to you: your money or your time.
2. Airbrush cleaner
You got a lot of delicate part inside of that airbrush and everything needs to be cleaned after each paint session.
Some people make up a recipe of water and alcohol to clean it, but I if you do not know what you are doing you can damage the rubber inside the various part.
3. Something to patch leaks in the compressor
Most compressors will come with some tape to fix small leaks in the airbrush. But over time you might need some tape to patch it up some more.
4. Cleaning stuff
Cleaning your new airbrush is very important and a few tools while come in handy. You can buy an airbrush cleaning set for very little and I highly recommend that to make the process easier on you.
While not strictly necessary, a lot of people swear by an ultrasonic cleaner. You simply disassemble your airbrush and dump it in the tank. The sonic cleaner takes care of the rest!
5. Various safety things
While acrylic paint is not toxic, nor is the air from the airbrush, you need to take some precautions anyway. This is a hot topic with wildly different opinions. How you want to go is up to you. I know people that have sprayed indoors with only an open window with no problem. But I have also friends that have experienced serious lung issues from doing the some thing.
So for me, getting things in the lungs are a no go, so I take this very seriously.
First of all, wear a mask – preferably with a filter. Gloves can be used if you find it annoying to get paint on your hands, but the paint is not really toxic to your skin.
Some people use a small spray booth to not get small particles of paint down into the lungs. These can go from small filters too expensive and elaborate suction-based setups.
At any case, take care my friend. Find a way to avoid getting small (invisible) particles into your lungs.
Ressources for further research
Below I have gathered some good resources if you want to dive further into airbrushing miniatures for beginners.