How to Airbrush Metallics for Miniatures: Legendary Metallic Shines!

How To Airbrush Metallics

How to Airbrush Metallics for Miniatures: The Complete Guide

As a miniature painter with over 20 years of experience, I love bringing out metallic effects on my models. Whether it’s painting futuristic robots, battle-worn vehicles, or armor with a mirror finish, airbrushing metallics adds a whole new dimension to any army. After years of experimentation, I’ve discovered techniques that make painting metallics easier and more fun than ever.

In this complete guide, I’ll share everything I’ve learned about airbrushing metals, from choosing paints and airbrushes to step-by-step tutorials. My goal is to equip you with the skills to create stunning metallic finishes on your own miniatures, no matter their scale or material. So grab your airbrush and let’s get started!

Looking for and Airbrushes to get started? Read here for the Best Airbrushes for Painting Miniatures

How to Airbrush Metallics for Miniatures: Metallic Airbrush Paints

The foundation of any good metallic paint job starts with quality paint. When shopping for metallic airbrush paints, here are some things to consider:

  1. Pigment Size – Finer ground pigments spray better through airbrushes. They clog less and give smoother coverage.
  2. Airbrush Ready – Some paint brands now offer lines of airbrush-ready paints. These are pre-thinned and ready to spray right out of the bottle with minimal preparation. This saves time and headaches!
  3. Color Range – Aim for a wide spectrum of metallic colors. You’ll want silver, steel, aluminum, gold, copper and more. A dozen or more metallics gives you lots of shades to work with.

Based on these criteria, my all-time favourite metallic paint line is Scale75’s Metal ‘n Alchemy range. The super-fine metallic pigments spray like a dream. With 16+ colors currently available, I have all the tones I need to create complex NMM or custom mixes.

Not sure what paints to get? Read our article for The Best Paint Sets for Miniatures

If you prefer a ready-to-spray acrylic option, then Vallejo’s Model Air metallics are top-notch. Their color selection is more limited but the paints spray easily with no thinning required.

Airbrush Factor 2

Choosing an Airbrush for Metallics

You don’t need an expensive airbrush to start painting metallics. In fact, less expensive gravity-feed dual action airbrushes like the Iwata-Medea Neo CN or Badger Patriot 105 are perfect starters. They have .5mm or larger nozzles that resist frequent metallic clogs while still capable of detail work. I used a Patriot 105 for years before upgrading.

With a good starter brush, proper thinning, and low psi between 15-25, you can paint smooth metallic basecoats and highlights. Later on, if you want finer control for blending and sketch style effects, you can upgrade to a high-end brush like an Iwata HP-CS or Harder & Steenbeck Infinity. But don’t feel like you need to break the bank early on.

 

How to Airbrush Metallics for Miniatures:  Step by-step

Now let’s jump into a step-by-step tutorial for airbrushing metallics on a 28mm miniature. I’ll demonstrate on a Warhammer 40k Imperial Knight, but you can follow along on any model with large armor plates.

Looking to do something a bit different? Read a guide here for How To Airbrush Weathering Effects on Miniatures

Supplies Needed:

  • Airbrush
  • Metallic paints – black, dark steel, silver, aluminium
  • Miniature primer
  • Thinner medium
  • Paper towels
  • Gloves & mask (not optional)

Step 1Prime the Model

Always start by priming your miniature first. This gives the metallic paint an adhesive base and helps later washes flow smoothly into recesses. I prefer to use Badger’s Stynylrez primer for its durability and surface texture. Spray the model black or grey depending on whether you want darker or lighter metallics.

Step 2Apply Black Basecoat

Using your airbrush, spray an even coat of black metallic paint as a base. I like using Scale75’s Black Metal. Work with light passes starting farther away and getting closer as it covers. Target shadows and recesses first before wider coats.

 

Step 3Airbrush Midtone Layer

Mix your black metallic paint with a small amount of silver metallic, about 4:1 ratio, to create a dark steel midtone. Apply this as a layer leaving more black base in the deeper shadows. This establishes contrast for later highlights.

Step 4Highlight Upper Surfaces

As a final layer, spray untinted silver metallic focused on the raised and outward facing surfaces. This creates a zenithal highlight, simulating how light reflects brightest on these upward areas.

And that’s it for the foundations! With practice you’ll learn additional steps like targeted filters for tinting and custom mixing your own metallic swatches. But these core steps will take you 90% of way to smooth, pro-looking metal finishes.

Advanced Airbrushes for Next-Level Control

While starter airbrushes work great, you may eventually want more finesse for advanced NMM, sketch style, and fine line control.

Here are two high-end airbrushes I recommend when you’re ready to upgrade:

Iwata Air brush

Iwata HP-CS

  • Japanese precision engineered
  • .2mm detail nozzle
  • Widely considered the best detail airbrushInfinity air brush

Harder & Steenbeck Infinity

  • Dual feed – gravity AND siphon
  • .15mm nozzle capable
  • Fully modular parts

Either of these pro-grade brushes will give you the enhanced flow control and fine atomization needed for pushing your metallic skills past what most people can achieve. Just be prepared for more cleanup and maintenance at this level.

 

Advanced Technique: Painting Non-Metallic Metals

Once comfortable with basic metallic airbrushing, try pushing your skills further by painting non-metallic metals (NMM). This uses only non-metallic paints to simulate the look and feel of real polished metal.

Pulling this off requires understanding how light interacts with curved surfaces. So observe reference photos or real life objects. Notice how light gradually transitions from bright highlights to darker shadows. Try recreating this on miniatures with careful layering of gradients.

Confused on how to mix paints? A full overview can be found here for How To Mix Colors for Airbrushing Miniatures

While advanced, NMM can create incredibly realistic metallic finishes impossible to achieve otherwise. The results will wow any observer once you’ve practiced a bit!

 

How to Airbrush Metallics for Miniatures: Troubleshooting

Looking for more tips? Read up here on Airbrushing Miniatures for Beginners

No matter how careful you are, sometimes things go wrong when airbrushing metallics. Here are some common issues and how to fix them:

Clogging – Metallic paints are thicker so clogs happen. First check paint thinning and try higher psi. Clean with brush restorer solvent. If needed, soak nozzle in ultrasonic jewelry cleaner to clear passageways.

Grainy Finish – This happens when paint dries partially on the way to the model. Increase airflow and thin paints more. Make sure room temps are at least 70 degrees F. Add airbrush thinner or flow improver.

Tip Dry – Paint drying on the needle tip causing splatter. Lubricate parts more frequently. Clean with brush restorer and remove needle to clean tip opening.

Speckling – Uneven spray pattern with droplets hitting model. The paint is too thick. Confirm thinner ratio is correct and strain paint. Make sure airflow path is clear of debris.

 

How To Airbrush Metallics

Adding Realistic Battle Damage

Once you’ve nailed down smooth metallic finishes, the next step is simulating realistic battle damage and weathering:

Chips – Use a small brush or toothpick to scrape paint chips off edges and protrusions. Apply basecoat color underneath for contrast. Add rust tones near chips for added realism.

Scratches – Drag a hobby knife lightly through paint at an angle to reveal underlying layers. Apply wash into scratches to accentuate.

Dents – Use small round objects like molded putty or ball bearings to indent armor plates before painting. Airbrush over dents for highlighted edges.

Oil Stains – Apply gloss varnish, let it dry, then add dots of enamel paints. Let it set for an hour before gently dabbing a cotton swab to “pull” the stain downwards.

These techniques combined with your airbrushed metallic finishes will make your miniatures look like they just rolled off the battlefield!

 

Custom Mixing Your Own Metallic Tones

Another way to stand out is mixing custom metallic tones. For example, mix a copper paint into silver to create a rose gold metallic. Or mix yellow into gold for a rich antique brass.

Endless metallic variations are possible when blending airbrush-ready paints together. Attempt your own signature metallic tones – it’s very rewarding!

 

Caring for Your Airbrush When Painting Metallics

A full guide can be found here for How To Clean your Airbrush

Since metallic paints have coarser particles, proper airbrush care prevents clogs and sputters during your session:

  1. Use nozzle sizes 0.35mm or larger – Metallic particles can choke smaller details nozzles more easily.
  2. Clean frequently – Do a quick clean every hour by spraying cleaner, dumping paint, spray more cleaner.
  3. Thin properly – Add thinner sparingly until paint flows like milk. Metallics need higher psi (25+) to push thicker paint.
  4. Lubricate parts – Use airbrush lube on the needle and inner pieces. I swear by using Regdab oil before sessions.

Conclusion

I hope this guide has inspired you to try airbrushing metallic finishes on your next miniatures project. Experiment and have fun seeing how realistic metal effects you can create using these tips and techniques!

To take your skills even further, check out my YouTube channel and website (WarhammerUniverse.com) where I share more tutorials, product reviews and hobby advice updated weekly. Feel free to reach out with any airbrushing questions you have along your journey.

Now grab some metallics and get airbrushing! I can’t wait to see what you create.

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