Ever since I first started painting, I have always wanted to begin airbrushing miniatures. Watching tutorials it was striking for me how smooth blends airbrushes could achieve.
It is true, an airbrush can open up a whole new realm of techniques! But it is also a whole new set of skills that you need to learn.
But which airbrush is the best for learning? What is the best beginner airbrush for painting miniatures?
I will explain what you need to look for in an airbrush and compressor and what I think will give you the most bang for the buck when just starting out.
I will try and explain everything as beginner-friendly as possible. The airbrush market is weird because it is hard to learn what the difference is between the vast amount of options.
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The short version: the Badger Patriot 105 is the best beginner airbrush for miniature painting
The Badger Patriot 105 is an amazing airbrush and I think it is the best beginner airbrush when it comes to painting miniatures. It is durable, cheap, reliable, easy to use and clean for beginners and is truly a workhorse airbrush.
Sure, once you have grown up and have primed, basecoated and played with details for +50 hours you might want an airbrush with a bit more detail control (the needle is a size 0.5, so a bit big).
But until then the Badger Patriot 105 will give you the most bang for the buck when starting out as a noob miniature airbrusher.
To go with your beginner airbrush you should get a compressor that will last you a while and that will not cause you any problems. I suggest some version of the AS186 compressor to go along with you first airbrush. It has a tank, auto on/off, water trap, PSI regulator, is reliable and it is not the noisiest kid on the block.
If you buy a Badger airbrush and not a specific badger compressor, you will need an adaptor for the hose.Check the price on the Badger Patriot 105
What to look for in your first airbrush for painting miniatures
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.
Note that in addition to your airbrush you will need a separate compressor.
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 them separately, but it happens that they come in bundles (but it is rare).
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 (likely 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 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.
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.
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. Not the smallest needle in the world
The common saying is that the smaller the needle is the more control and precision you can achieve when painting miniatures.
It would sound like you would need the smallest needle possible when it comes to painting small miniatures and details? Well, that is not quite the case.
If you are just starting out it can be very hard to control a small needle. It will very easily be blocked by paint, leading to frustration painting sessions where all you do is try to get the paint to come out of your airbrush in a neat and useful way.
Also, the smaller the needle the easier it is to break or bend it. When first starting out, you will fiddle around quite a bit with the equipment. Having a needle that can handle your childish beginner hands is a good thing.
A big needle will also be better for doing large areas of the miniature. This means that a bigger needle is good for priming and basecoating, which are the two things you will use your airbrush for a lot in the beginning stages.
So you need a needle that:
- Is small enough to paint miniatures
- Big enough to not break
- Is great for priming and basecoating, but also capable of going into detail work
3. Dual-action trigger
Some very cheap airbrushes works 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 beginner 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. Cheap, but not crap durability
Why should you not buy a really expensive, super awesome airbrush to start off with?
Well, the different parts of the airbrush are quite delicate. You need to clean the airbrush every time (and while) using it. To do this, you have to take it apart.
While taking it apart it is easy to bend or break something. It can also be damaged if you do not take good enough care of your new tool. Thus, it is best to start learning all of this with a cheaper airbrush.
At some point something will break or get damaged. Better to have that learning experience cost you less money!
With that said, we also do not want the cheapest thing on the market.
A lot of your first 20+ hours with an airbrush will be spent struggling with air pressure, consistency of paint, declogging and just trying to get it to behave as you want.
If the airbrush itself is super cheap, it will add some extra hurdles into the mix. You will fight enough with your beginner airbrush, you do not want it to fight back too much.
So, when looking for the best beginner airbrush you are looking for something cheapish, but not something that is cheap and crap.
6. Easy to use and clean
If possible you should pick features that make your airbrush easy to use.
This means that the process of readying it, painting with it and cleaning it should be as easy as possible.
Some of the very fine detail airbrushes have very, very small bits. Starting out with that can be a nightmare, so smaller is not always better when it comes to the perfect beginner airbrush.
Best Beginner Airbrush: Badger Patriot 105
The Badger Patriot 105 is a very “standard” airbrush, but for beginners that is not a bad thing. It checks all the boxes above for what we are looking for in the best beginner airbrush and it does not cost a fortune!
These are the things I love about the Badger Patriot 105 and why I think it is the best beginner airbrush:
- It checks all the boxes for a miniature airbrush (gravity feed, dual-action and so on) but will not cost you your first born.
- The next tier of airbrushes are quite a lot more expensive and do not add a lot of extra features (at least for beginners).
- The needle is 0.5 making it small enough to do fine work, but big enough to not break or bend it by mistake.
- It is easy to take apart and get back together for cleaning (good screw-on nozzle and quick release of the needle).
Some things that are less amazing about the patriot 105:
- The spray cone is somewhat large, making it less amazing for very fine detail stuff (the things you will want to dabble in later in your airbrush learning journey).
- If you know what you are doing and you are going to be airbrushing for +100 it might be better getting something in the next price range.
- If you are not going with a badger compressor, you will need a small adaptor. A small thing, but can be annoying.
What to look for in your first airbrush compressor
You need a compressor to blow air through the airbrush.
These are the things you need to think about when looking to get a good beginner compressor:
1. Something that will last longer than your first airbrush
While it is quite possible that you want to replace your beginner airbrush after a few years, you can definitely get a tank that will last you longer (and it does not have to cost a fortune).
The compressor is less important than the airbrush, but I recommend not saving here. You can get a fairly cheap one that you can use for at least your first two airbrushes (and you will probably not replace it before it starts to break down).
2. A tank and auto on/off
If the compressor does not have a place to store the air, it will have to make it on demand when you pull the trigger of the brush. This means it will make noise constantly while painting!
Instead, you should get one with a tank and auto on/off feature.
This means that the compressor will fill up the tank in one go and you will be able to spray in silence until almost out of air. The compressor will kick in automatically and fill the tank with air when it is needed.
Unless you really enjoy noise, you probably want a tank.
3. A moisture trap
Over time water will build up in your tank. If you have no way of removing it, the water will suddenly spray out of your airbrush. Not cool man!
So get a compressor with a water trap.
4. A way to regulate air pressure (PSI) and enough air power to airbrush miniatures
Regulating the PSI of the compressor is a must for painting miniatures. You should get one that can go in the 10-40 PSI range.
5. Low volume of noise
This really depends on how much noise is a problem for you, but getting a compressor that does not make as much noise as a jet engine is a good idea for most people.
6. Make sure it fits
Most compressors will fit to most airbrushes, but some airbrush makers feel the need to make a “special” insertion thing for their airbrushes (think Apple).
As an example, you will need an adapter for the badger airbrush if you buy a stock standard compressor.
And of course this is not something you can read on the product page…
Best Beginner Airbrush Compressor: a standard AS186 with a tank
Compressors are just one of those things that are a bit weird. There are a lot of versions, but it is unclear what the difference is (if any).
It also one of the products where different companies stamp their logo on top of of the exact same product and calls it a day.
A lot of brands make a version of the “AS186” (it will not always say it on the product title or description).
These are good for beginners and will last you well into your second airbrush.Check price on a standard AS186 compressor
Other good beginner airbrushes and airbrush kits
A lot of people are looking for an airbrush kit or bundle (compressor + airbrush). While it does happen to be on sale in a bundle, it is quite rare. Quit looking for it (I know I spent too much time hunting for a bundle/kit). The compressor will fit, not worries.
You have a host of options when it comes to other airbrushes that are good for beginners.
Actually, that is one of the problems with getting an airbrush: too many options and not enough information on what the actual difference will be!
This is a list of other airbrushes people recommend for beginners:
These are both fine options, but you will pay a bit more for features you might not need or know how to make use of.
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.
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.
4. Various safety things
While acrylic paint nor the air from the airbrush is toxic, you might need to take some precautions anyway. This is a hot topic with wildly different opinions. How you want to go is up to you.
A mask is not a bad idea. Gloves can be used if you find it annoying to get paint on your hands.
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.
A lot of people just spray near the window or in the garage/shed instead.
Ressources for further research
Below I have gathered some good resources if you want to dive further into airbrushing miniatures for beginners.
Looking for other tool recommendations?
This article is part of a series where I explain what tools and gear I use and why I think they are the best on the market.