Airbrushing Miniatures for Beginners: Revolutionize Your Warhammer 40k Painting with Expert Techniques

Airbrushing Miniatures Tips for Beginners 

Airbrushing Miniatures for Beginners

As a Warhammer 40k hobbyist with over 20 years of experience painting miniatures, I’m often asked how to get started with airbrushing. Like any new skill, airbrushing has a learning curve, but with some guidance, practice, and the right gear, it can greatly enhance your miniatures and terrain painting.

Looking for what Airbrush to buy? Read here for the Best Airbrushes for Painting Miniatures

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know as a beginner looking to add airbrushing to your hobby toolkit for painting Warhammer 40k models.


Why Airbrush Warhammer 40k Models?

Before jumping into gear and techniques, let’s look at some of the key benefits airbrushing offers for miniature painting:

  • Smooth Basecoats and Primers: Airbrushing lays down smooth, even coats of primer, base paints, and varnishes much faster than brush painting. This saves time prepping models.
  • Blending and Smooth Transitions: Soft, seamless blends and color gradients can be achieved with ease using an airbrush. These effects are very difficult to accomplish with traditional brushwork.
  • Precision Control: Modern dual-action airbrushes allow for precise control over the flow of paint once you develop some skill. This allows detailed freehand work.
  • Speed Painting: You can rapidly basecoat models and apply effects like highlights, shading, glazing, and weathering with an airbrush. This enables fast batch painting.
  • Creative Freedom: There’s virtually no limit to the creative finishes and textures you can develop using airbrushing techniques. The versatility is far beyond standard brush capabilities.

Looking for more information on Airbrushing? A guide for Airbrushing Miniatures for Beginners

For these reasons and more, adding airbrushing to your hobby skillset allows you to save time while also greatly improving the visual quality of your miniatures.

Space Marine Warhammer 40k

Airbrushing Miniatures for Beginners: Choosing Your First Airbrush

The most important piece of gear for getting started is selecting a proper airbrush. For painting miniatures, you’ll want to look for these key features:

  • Gravity Feed: Gravity feed airbrushes have the paint cup on top, allowing paint to flow down into the airbrush smoothly. Gravity feeding allows for finer control.
  • Dual-Action: Dual-action airbrushes let you control airflow and paint flow independently via the trigger mechanism. This level of control is essential.
  • 0.3mm Needle/Nozzle: For precision work, you’ll want a nozzle size in the 0.2mm – 0.4mm range. 0.3mm is a good starting point for painting miniatures before going smaller.
  • Interchangeable Parts: Look for an airbrush that allows parts like needles and nozzles to be swapped out. This enables easy cleaning and parts replacement.

In terms of brands, Harder & Steenbeck and Iwata are the most popular for miniature painting. The Iwata Neo CN is a great starter airbrush that won’t break the bank. Alternatively, the Harder & Steenbeck Evolution is a versatile mid-range option.

I’ve used my Harder & Steenbeck Evolution for years without needing to upgrade. Invest in a quality airbrush, avoid the cheap options.


Airbrushing Miniatures for Beginners: Airbrush Accessories

Apart from the airbrush itself, you’ll need:

  • Compressor: Provides consistent clean airflow in the 1.5 – 3 bar range. Look for adjustable pressure, quick refill time, and low noise/vibration. A tank provides more steady airflow. Brands like Iwata or Sparmax offer decent starters.
  • Airbrushing Thinner: Essential for properly diluting paints to prevent clogging. Vallejo makes a widely available thinner.
  • Cleaning Pot: Holds cleaner fluid and excess paint when spraying into it. Also functions as an airbrush stand.
  • Cleaning Brushes: Small pipe cleaners help dislodge dried paint in tight spots when cleaning. Soft bristle brushes also help.
  • Nozzle Cleaning Needles: Small metal needles fit inside the nozzle to clean out blockages.
  • Cleaning fluids: Airbrush cleaner solution helps dissolve dried acrylic paint inside the airbrush mechanism. Useful for deep cleaning dried paint buildup. I recommend Medea Airbrush Cleaner which is formulated to clean acrylic paints effectively without damaging the airbrush.
  • Paints: Look for airbrush-ready miniature paints from brands like Vallejo, Badger, Scale75, Citadel and others. No need to thin these paints in most cases.
  • Breathing Mask: Optional but useful, protects you from accidentally inhaling paint mist.

Proper cleaning and maintenance accessories help keep your airbrush in good working order for years. Don’t neglect cleaning!


Airbrushing Miniatures for Beginners: Learning to Handle an Airbrush

Before attempting any serious painting, you need to understand how your airbrush works and how to control airflow and paint. Follow these tips when getting started:

  • Understand the anatomy of your airbrush and how the major components (nozzle, needle, trigger, paint flow, air flow) function together to produce a spray of paint. Refer to your airbrush manual.
  • Practice operating the trigger mechanism to control airflow independently of paint flow, and vice versa. This is the key skill for a dual-action airbrush.
  • Test the spray pattern with just water or airbrush cleaner, no paint. Get a feel for how the distance, angle, airflow, and paint flow settings affect the spray cone shape.
  • Experiment with paint dilution ratios. Generally a 50/50 mix of paint to airbrush thinner is typical for 0.3mm nozzles. But this varies by paint thickness and technique. Adjust as needed to prevent splattering or cobwebbing.
  • Always spray a test pattern on paper or cardboard before spraying your model. Check that the paint dilution and flow settings are correct.

It takes repetition and practice to develop the muscle memory and handling skills to reliably control your airbrush. Be patient, gain competency before attempting complex paintjobs.

Beginner Equipment Set for Airbrushing


Airbrushing Miniatures for Beginners: Cleaning and Maintaining Your Airbrush

Want more information on cleaning? Read here for How To Clean your Airbrush

Cleaning is crucial for keeping your airbrush in good working condition. But don’t overdo it either. Follow these basic principles:

  • Clean when switching between incompatible colors or mediums to prevent clumps and clogs.
  • Clean if paint doesn’t flow properly. Try blowing out obstructions with bursts of high pressure first before deeper cleaning.
  • For quick cleanings between similar colors, just wipe the needle tip carefully with your fingers to remove buildup.
  • Always strain paints first through a mesh filter to catch chunks that could clog the nozzle.
  • Clean with brush soap and water first before using harsher cleaners like alcohol or airbrush cleaner fluid.
  • For deeper cleanings, refer to the full disassembly and cleaning guide in your airbrush manual. Pipe cleaners and nozzle brushes help greatly.

Avoid over-cleaning your airbrush excessively. Clean only when needed to keep parts from wearing out prematurely. Proper handling and storage when not in use also prevents damage and extends airbrush lifespan.


Airbrushing Miniatures for Beginners: Priming and Basecoating

Priming your Miniatures is important, read our full article here on How to Prep Models for Airbrushing

Airbrushes excel at quickly and evenly priming and basecoating miniatures. Priming gives paint an adhering layer while basecoating sets up the overall tone:

  • Prime models before basecoating for best results. Common choices include black, grey, and white primer depending on planned color scheme. Vallejo primers perform very well.
  • Multiple thin coats of primer are better than one thick coat. Fully cure each layer before adding another.
  • Match basecoat colors to planned midtone shades for later highlighting/shading stages. Airbrush thinner helps improve flow.
  • Always strain paints before pouring them into the paint cup. Any chunks or solids can clog the airbrush.
  • Spray basecoats lightly in multiple layers. Start off model surface, sweep smoothly across entire model. Let layers dry in between coats.

Well-primed and basecoated models give you a perfect foundation to start bringing out details with shading, washing, highlights, and other finishes.


Blending and Glazing

Two powerful airbrushing techniques to master are blending and glazing. Both allow smooth, subtle color transitions for effects like color gradients.

If you are seeking more information for blending, Read here for How to Airbrush Blend Miniatures

Blending involves carefully layering midtone colors to create soft edges between hue shifts. Follow these blending tips:

  • Plan transitions in advance. Neighboring areas should have sufficient contrast so blends don’t completely bleed into each other.
  • Make very gradual color value shifts between layers. Drastic leaps in tone or saturation will produce harsh steps instead of smooth gradients.
  • Use more opaque colors blended closer to surface and more translucent glazes as base layers. This creates depth and glow effects.
  • Apply multiple thin layers of each transitional tone, allowing proper drying time between layers to build up the blend.

Glazing relies on applying numerous thin, translucent layers of paint to subtly tint the underlying surface:

  • Heavily thin paint with airbrush thinner medium to make glazes almost entirely transparent with only slight tinting ability.
  • Apply a pure white or black basecoat first. The strong light/dark contrast helps glaze colors really pop and stand out.
  • Spray layers lightly from varying angles to produce subtle variations in tone and hue across the surface.
  • Use lighter glaze colors on midtone and shadow areas first, then accent with deeper glazes on highlight regions.

More information for glazing Miniatures can be found here: How to Airbrush Glaze Miniatures

Both blending and glazing produce incredible effects unattainable through standard brush techniques alone. But they require great paint dilution mastery and color theory understanding. Be patient learning them.

How To Airbrush Metallics


Clear Coating and Varnishing

A final indispensable airbrushing skill is applying protective clear coats and varnishes. These sealants prevent paint chipping and protect against handling:

  • Apply clear coats first on miniatures before gloss varnishes for tabletop play. This preserves weathering while allowing a smooth glossy finish.
  • Gloss varnishes intensify metallic paints. They also provide the smoothest possible surface for applying decals and transfers.
  • Matte varnish cuts down reflectivity and glare. Use as a final step to unify different finish types across a model.
  • Avoid flooding the surface when clear coating. Apply multiple thin passes for an evenly smooth, bubble-free coat. Allow each layer to fully cure before adding another.

So there you have it – a guide to getting started with airbrushing your Warhammer 40k miniatures and terrain. From choosing the right gear, learning basic handling skills, key techniques like blending and glazing, all the way to final clear coats and varnishes.

Airbrushing requires an investment of time and effort to learn properly. But the creative freedom and time savings will bring your miniature painting to a whole new level once mastered.

Now get out there, practice some test models, familiarize yourself with that airbrush, and start showing off some pro-quality miniatures on the battlefield! Good luck and happy airbrushing!

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