Airbrushing for Model Railroaders

By Lee A. Yeager

Airbrushing? The very sound of that word throws many hobbyists into cardiac arrest. I have heard people say "I could never learn to use an airbrush" or "An airbrush is too expensive, so I just use spray cans." Well, I am here to tell you that anyone can use an airbrush and it is not as expensive as one might think. Airbrushes are extremely useful tools and greatly enhance the finish of models.


As a model railroader and professional model builder, I have used airbrushes for about 25 years, in all kinds of situations. My first set-up was on my open patio. I had to paint in the spring/summertime and could not paint on windy days. I did custom painting for hire with this set-up for five years and obtained very good results. In my present situation, I have a professional paint booth. This is very convenient and allows year-round painting with the airbrushes hooked up at all times.

I have people asking me all the time "What type of airbrush should I buy for model painting?" There are many types and styles of airbrushes and you really want one that you will be comfortable using. There are generally four types of airbrushes as follows:


• External Mix-Single Action
• External Mix-Double Action
• Internal Mix-Single Action
• Internal Mix-Double Action

External Mix - paint and air mixture is performed outside the airbrush body.

Internal Mix - paint and air mixture is performed inside the airbrush body.

Single Action -The airbrush trigger controls only airflow.

Double Action -The airbrush trigger controls both airflow and paint flow.


I personally use both an external mix-single action and an internal mix-single action for the majority of my model painting. These airbrushes allow you to preset the paint flow and then just spray. You will find that if you paint a lot, as I do, the single action does not fatigue your trigger finger as readily as a double action. I also use an internal mix-double action for most of my weathering effects. Once learned, a double action airbrush will give you very fine control to do very realistic weathering effects. Internal mix airbrushes tend to atomize the paint more sufficiently, which I have found gives a little smoother finish. However, once learned, I think that you can get great results from any of the above-mentioned airbrushes. External mix is a little easier to clean than an internal mix.


I have used many different brands of airbrushes, and I am presently using the Iwata Eclipse series. I have a HP-SA Single Action and a HP-CS Gravity Feed-Double Action. The HP-SA I use for general painting and the HP-CS I use for weathering effects. I also like the Paasche H series airbrush for general painting. I have found these to be the most well balanced airbrushes with the paint cup/jar attached. The better balance an airbrush has, the better results you will get. You don't want to be fighting your equipment. I also like the fact that these airbrushes are the easiest to clean. And cleaning your airbrush is extremely important to insure that it last for years.


The Iwata airbrushes have a unique feature, which I really like. The needle does not protrude from the front of the nozzle. So, if you bump the front of the brush or drop the brush as I too frequently do, the needle is protected from damage. It is very important that the needle remains straight and centered in the nozzle of the airbrush.


My intention with this series is to give information on what works for me and to, hopefully, help you avoid some of the pitfalls that I have experienced. I intend to discuss airbrush equipment, paints, mixing, cleaning, weathering and any other items that come to mind that pertain to airbrushing model railroad equipment. The techniques and equipment I use are not exclusive to model railroading, though. If you have specific questions or ideas for something you would like to see in this series, please feel free to drop me a note. I am always happy to discuss this hobby of ours. Until next time!


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