The Best Airbrush for Painting Miniatures and Models

I love painting miniatures. If you’re into the hobby of painting miniatures, models, terrain, and the like, you’ll probably get to the same point I did and wonder….”What about Airbrushes?” 

You’ll see someone on YouTube using one or see them used in a tutorial. Maybe it’s someone on Instagram using it.  

If you’re a bit overwhelmed by choices… I have some good news.

I’ve cut through all of the extra things you DON’T need to worry about. 

For Miniature and Model Painting, you want:

Airbrush: a good quality, Gravity Feed, Dual Action Airbrush.

Compressor:  one with the Auto On/Off feature and a tank on it (not tankless).

Everything else comes down to price vs quality/features and what exactly you’ll use it for.

The Set-Up I Personally Use and Recommend

When I was first getting started with miniatures, like you, I had a lot of questions.

While you can read my airbrushing articles to learn what you need to know, I depended on personal research and trial and error to figure everything out.

I really researched airbrushes and compressors for my personal set up and I ended up with the Badger Air-Brush Co. 105 Patriot Fine Gravity... and the Zeny 1/5 HP Compressor. Super happy with both!

I’ve done a lot of priming, base coating and general painting with this and I have never had a problem with either the brush or compressor.

This is exactly what I bought:

The Zeny comes with a hose. The adapter is needed to screw into the airbrush so it fits the hose. So with those 3 components, you’re fully ready to go! 

Only other things needed are paint/primer and a miniature or model to airbrush.

Here is a picture of my set up:
My Airbrush and Compressor Setup

Why This Airbrush and Compressor?

Let me start with the Compressor.

The Zeny Compressor is a variation of a baseline compressor called the AS-186. 

It’s got all the features you want if you’re using this to paint miniatures and models. It’s got the tank which gives you constant pressure.

ZENY Pro 1/5 HP Airbrush Air Compressor...

It’s relatively quiet at 65-70 decibels. It’s got an auto-stop/start feature which keeps the pressure at whatever you set it to.

This compressor is rebranded by multiple companies. So if you look on Amazon, you’ll see a lot of compressors that look alike. The Zeny compressor, some Master Airbrush compressors, F2C, etc.

It’s all variations of the AS-186 compressors rebranded. So basically look for the most economic version of it.

The Zeny came with a hose and the thread tape which you wrap around the connector to help prevent air leaks. All for around 65 bucks. Perfect. Done and Done!

Now the Airbrush:

For an Airbrush, you want gravity feed, dual action, and good quality. 

After researching this, a handful of airbrushes kept on coming up. Badger, Iwata and Harder & Steenbeck.

My finalists were:

Badger Patriot 105:

Badger Air-Brush Co. 105 Patriot Fine Gravity...

Iwata Eclipse HP-CS:

Iwata Eclipse Hp-Cs Value Set with Hose Cleaner...

Badger 105 is about $75.00. Iwata as I’m looking now is $169.00 bucks.

So yeah, I went with the Badger on price! My reasoning is that I’m mostly using it for priming and base coats.

I know a lot of other painters use and recommend it. Badger is well known and has a rep for being good quality. For me this was enough to give it a try, and I’m very happy with it.

What Other Options Are Available for Airbrushes and Compressors?

Now if you’re still wondering about more choices I’ll give you what I’ve found in my search. 

Below are three excellent Airbrush options that are widely used by people in the miniature painter community.

They are suitable for beginners, capable of advanced techniques for when you’re ready, and aren’t too expensive.

The Next Best Airbrushes for Painting Miniatures and Models

The Badger – Patriot 105
Best Overall
The Iwata – Eclipse HP-CS
The Badger SOTAR
Badger Air-Brush Co. 105 Patriot Fine Gravity...
Iwata-Medea Eclipse HP CS Dual Action Airbrush Gun...
Badger Air-Brush Co. Sotar 2020-2F Large Gravity...
$89.00
$159.00
$139.95
Made in the USA, a great value, and perfect for beginners.
A highly regarded Japanese brand.  Perfect for everyday use and a wonderful all around airbrush for painting miniatures, models and terrain.
Very accurate and can do a fine point right out of the box.
The Badger – Patriot 105
Badger Air-Brush Co. 105 Patriot Fine Gravity...
$89.00
Made in the USA, a great value, and perfect for beginners.
Best Overall
The Iwata – Eclipse HP-CS
Iwata-Medea Eclipse HP CS Dual Action Airbrush Gun...
$159.00
A highly regarded Japanese brand.  Perfect for everyday use and a wonderful all around airbrush for painting miniatures, models and terrain.
The Badger SOTAR
Badger Air-Brush Co. Sotar 2020-2F Large Gravity...
$139.95
Very accurate and can do a fine point right out of the box.

All three of these are excellent starter options. 

I’ll get into why below, but for now just understand that a lot of people use these to prime, base coat, and generally paint their miniatures, models, and terrain for D&D, Warhammer, and other tabletop games.  

They’re all high quality, they can all do a great job of priming or base coating a miniature or piece of terrain. 

They’re all dual-action, siphon-feed brushes, which are the best for miniature painting as I’ll detail below.

So it’s a matter of best all around, best for the money, or the best accuracy right out of the box without playing around with different nozzles.

Now, this is just the Airbrush. 

You’ll also need a compressor for it, and for me, no article about Airbrushes would be complete without talking about compressors. 

I’ve narrowed them down to three popular and effective options for miniature painting. 

The Next Best Compressors For Your Airbrush

Master Airbrush TC-40T
Personal Favorite
F2C 1/5HP Pro Air Compressor
Iwata-Medea Studio Series Smart Jet Pro Single Piston Air Compressor
Master Airbrush Model TC-40T - Cool Runner...
F2C TC-20T 1/5HP Pro Air Compressor Airbrush Kits...
Iwata-Medea Studio Series Smart Jet Pro Single...
$149.96
$76.99
$355.00
Master Airbrush TC-40T
Master Airbrush Model TC-40T - Cool Runner...
$149.96
Personal Favorite
F2C 1/5HP Pro Air Compressor
F2C TC-20T 1/5HP Pro Air Compressor Airbrush Kits...
$76.99
Iwata-Medea Studio Series Smart Jet Pro Single Piston Air Compressor
Iwata-Medea Studio Series Smart Jet Pro Single...
$355.00

For the compressors, you can’t go wrong with any of the three here. Among these, the only choices are how loud it is, and how smooth, reliable and durable. 

None of these are particularly loud, and none are cheap quality that will break on you quickly. As for the noise level, if you’re using it in the garage, noise might not be a big deal.  

In this article, you’ll find details about other compressor components and features, such as single vs. dual piston, the regulator, air intake filter, and moisture filter.

Pairings I recommend – Best Airbrush / Compressor Bundles

So we’ve narrowed it down to 3 Airbrush and 3 Compressor options! But which of each do you pick now?

You can confidently pick any brush here to go with any converter listed, but to help you further I’ve put together 4 bundles of how we’d spec it out depending on our needs. 

If you still need help deciding, I’ve done a Pros and Cons section below to help you even more.

Each of these setups includes everything you need to get started except a paint set (I show you the best paint sets here) and miniature to paint (more info on finding miniatures here). 

You’ll have an Airbrush suitable for painting miniatures and terrain, a compressor to feed it air, and any hoses or attachments needed if they’re not included.

Value Picks 

These are the two I’d pair together if you’re looking for the best value. 

This set gets the job done, can handle any beginner painter tasks, and is still high quality. Less bells and whistles, but completely capable of painting and priming.

Best for the Money

This is the “Step Up” set to go for. I rate the Iwata as the best all around Airbrush in this line up. 

It’s paired with the Badger compressor which is a fantastic compressor for the price. You’ll be very very happy with both.

Silent and High Quality

This is the set for people who want things QUIET and trouble free. It will do everything you need with easy, plenty of room for growth in your abilities, and it will last you a long time. 

This set is good for beginners, but it’s also for people who are serious about getting into Airbrushing their minis and models.

Precision out of the Box (Badger SOTAR & Badger Compressor)

The SOTAR is widely known for its great precision for a lower cost Airbrush. It gets a special set in this round-up. 

If you’re going to be doing fine lines on miniatures, models, or terrain, you’d do really well to grab a Badger SOTAR. 

Pair it with the Badger compressor for smooth, high-quality airflow. An excellent setup!

Comparing Airbrush Models

  Pros Cons
The Badger – Patriot 105 Excellent beginner Airbrush. Made in the USA. Widely used Airbrush by miniature painters. There are airbrushes that are generally better available, but they are also more expensive.
The Iwata – Eclipse HP-CS The Best All-Around Airbrush in the roundup. An excellent “daily use” brush for any miniature painter. A bit more expensive than other Airbrushes. Might be overkill if you are only using it for priming.
The Badger SOTAR Highly precise Airbrush right out of the box. No upgrading required to do crisp lines if needed Better all-around brushes available. If you need more than precision lines you might consider other options.

Comparing Compressor Models

  Pros Cons
Badger TC910 Compressor Best quality for the money. This is the step above option without breaking the bank. You’re getting very high quality here, and it’s a great beginner compressor that will last a long time. If you’re just looking for something basic, there are less expensive options that do essentially the same thing, just not quite as well.
Master Airbrush Quiet Tank Great value option. Widely used, does the job, and should last you. There are smoother, quieter, more high options available for you.
Iwata-Medea Studio Series Smart Jet Pro Single Piston Air Compressor This is the compressor to get if you’re looking for a very quiet, very high quality compressor. No compromises here, the only thing you’d need above this is multiple hose ports if you’re looking to have 2 brushes going for multiple colors. It’s a bit costly and more than you’d need if you don’t mind something slightly louder, a bit less smooth, and maybe not as high quality. If it’s just going to sit in the garage you can make due with a less expensive option.

With those options laid out, here’s a primer on Airbrushes and Compressors so you can understand the choices. Let’s start with a video on how to use the darn thing:

What Do Miniature Painters Use Airbrushes For?  

Oh, so many things. They’re so fun to use!!

But generally speaking, you use them for priming miniatures and models; applying base coats; painting larger figures, models, or terrain; doing highlighting; and very smooth transitions in your painting. 

The ones listed in our reviews can do it all.  

So let’s talk about some of the features.

Buying a Single-Action vs. Dual-Action Airbrush

Dual Action Airbrushes are the best for Miniature Painting.

There are a few major differences between single-action and dual-action airbrushes, and hobbyists should be aware of these pros and cons when choosing the right airbrush for painting miniatures.

Single-action airbrushes let the user control the airflow while a dial on the brush predetermines the paint flow.

This type of airbrush does not allow for variances and the painter must stop and adjust the paint flow as they are working.

While this works, it is inconvenient when you have to stop and adjust your airbrush every time you start painting a different area of the miniature. 

On the other hand, dual-action airbrushes allow the user to control both air and paint flow while they are working on a project.

The dual-action paintbrush has two buttons that can be pressed during painting, giving the painter the ability to adjust the paint flow to better suit the part of the miniature that is being painted at the time.

This type of airbrush is preferred because of the quality of the finished product this brush gives the finished product.

Do I Need a Gravity or a Siphon Feed Airbrush?

If you’re painting miniatures, you want gravity feed.  

With a gravity airbrush, the paint is put into a reservoir on the top of the brush, and then gravity pulls it down into the paint nozzle.

This brush is beneficial because it has a lower PSI, perfect for airbrushing fine details that miniatures require. 

Conversely, the siphon-feed airbrushes have a higher PSI that is better suited for work that requires less details.

This type of airbrush works by the air compressor creating pressure that then siphons out the paint through the airbrush.

While both types of airbrushes are options for hobbyists, the gravity feed airbrush has distinct benefits suited for this type of detailed work.

What is the Difference Between Internal and External Mix Airbrushes?

Internal Mix Airbrushes are the best for Miniature Painters.

The next thing to consider when you are buying airbrushing supplies is the type of airbrush. The two main types are internal and external mix.

If you are covering an entire area with one color, an external mix airbrush is a good choice as it creates a coarse pattern.

An external mix airbrush mixes paint outside the airbrush, which leads to a larger paint dot pattern. 

If you are doing detailed work on miniatures, an internal mix airbrush is your preferred choice.

This airbrush mixes the paint and air inside the airbrush, leading to a finer dot pattern. This type of airbrush is great for details and shading of paint colors.

Airbrush Needles and Nozzles

In general, smaller airbrush needles are best suited for detailed work, such as facial details.

The needle should also be matched with the size of the airbrush nozzle so the machine will work properly.

The last thing you want to do is have contrasting nozzle and needle sizes as the paint will not flow out properly, and the quality of your miniature painting work will be compromised.

The three types of airbrush nozzles are fine, medium, and heavy. When choosing an airbrush nozzle, be sure to determine what you are using it for to decide what size you’ll need. 

  • Fine nozzle — is best when you need to spray thinner paints or watercolors.
  • Medium nozzle — is the most popular one for airbrushing because it does a great job of spraying any type of properly thinned paints.
  • Heavy nozzle  is better suited for heavier paints like latex and glazes.

If possible, you may want to purchase a few different airbrush nozzles and matching needles for when you are working on different types and styles of miniatures.

Airbrush Compressors

When you begin painting miniatures, you will need to invest in an air compressor to run your airbrush.

A standard air compressor from a hardware store will do the job, but this type of air compressor is very noisy, which can distract you from your work. 

Purchasing a specific airbrush compressor might cost a bit more, but the benefits of the quieter machine will help improve your concentration and have a steadier pressure than standard air compressors.

All the compressors we recommend have auto-off functions and a tank. 

Auto-off is something on most compressors now, other than the very cheap ones. 

Tanks are what you’ll want if you are using this for miniature painting. Tanks provide dry air, a steady flow, and less “on” time for the motor so it’s not as noisy and much more consistent.

What Is Auto-off Function

Air compressors for painting miniatures may have an auto-off function.

Having an auto-off function is a good choice when choosing a compressor, as the air compressor is quieter to use and it automatically turns off when not in use.

This may help improve your concentration and enjoy your painting session more.

This is especially helpful when your painting area is in a room that is utilized by others in your house, such as a bedroom or living room.

(If this is you, be sure you’re using a spray booth! Learn to make a simple one yourself and explore buying options in this article.)

Compressors with auto-off do cost a bit more, but this feature is desirable to have for this hobby craft.

Tank vs. Tankless Air Compressor – Which Should You Get?

You’ll ideally want an airbrush compressor with a tank for miniature painting.

Once you decide if you want to have auto-off function on your compressors, you also need to decide if you want your compressor to have a tank or be a tankless model. 

Air compressors with tanks are more expensive but will help eliminate air pulsation.

This means that the flow of paint from the airbrush is more consistent and your finished product will be of better quality.

The tanks on the air compressors are small but definitely are helpful in painting miniatures. 

Tankless airbrush air compressors are cheaper but have a higher chance of giving you errors on the paint of the miniatures.

What Other Supplies Do I Need for Airbrushing?

Paint

For paint, you have special Airbrush paints and you can also just thin the ones you have. Read “How and Why to Thin Acrylic Paints for Miniatures” for my suggestions.

Uncle Atom explains here:

Here’s what I recommend in addition to thinning what you have:

Workspace

  • Airbrush Spray Booth: If you’re working indoors and want to vent out any fumes, while also providing good lighting.
  • Painting Desk: You’ll want to have a nice space to call your own and keep your supplies. This article has some of the best painting desks for miniature painting.
  • Respirator: This is good for fumes, especially if you don’t have good ventilation. You can use the cheap masks too, I just got this one to be extra safe. Learn more about airbrush safety here.

After you get the supplies you need for airbrushing miniatures, you will need to figure out where you are going to work on this craft.

Developing an area where you can keep supplies and work on ongoing projects is important and should be done with consideration.

In fact, I have an entire article dedicated to work stations for miniatures.

If you have a basement or spare room, you could consider using that for your space.

If your home is smaller, you can still carve out a corner of a bedroom or open space to claim as your airbrushing area.

Just be sure that you’re following all recommended safety guidelines when working indoors!

After you have your space, you can create a DIY painting station or purchase something specifically made for airbrushing miniatures.

Make sure the area has enough space for supplies, organizational spots for paints (see my favorite paint rack organizers here), and has great lighting.

There are many choices for purchasing a painting station on the Internet if you would like a store-bought workstation, or you can customize your station according to your needs.

Lastly, after you have the supplies and the area designated to paint in, it is time to purchase your paints and miniatures.

Using paints you have already is a great way to save money, but you may need to buy new paints if you are low on colors.

Get a good stock of miniatures to paint (lots of tips here) as well as a lighting source (see what works for me here) if your painting area does not have a good amount of natural lighting.

I hope this has helped you start your airbrushing journey!

Be sure to check out all of my articles on airbrushing, and you’ll be a seasoned pro before you know it.

Last update on 2020-10-22 at 00:48 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API