How to Prime Your Miniatures with an Airbrush – Quick and Easy Set up!

painted miniatures

Maybe you’re just starting to consider getting an Airbrush for your miniatures. You see people use them and you think… “yeah, I want to do that.” 

I was there a few months ago and I still remember being overwhelmed by the decision.

I actually wrote a whole article on which airbrush to get. So make sure you check that out.

But the one function I really wanted to accomplish was being able to prime my miniatures with an airbrush.

I’m here to tell you… it’s way easier than I thought and totally beats priming them with a paint can or brush.

That said, I realize that advancing from painting them with a regular brush to using an airbrush is a big milestone. It’s a whole new medium for painting.

If you think you can paint ultra smooth coats of paint on your miniature figures on the very first try…. it’s possible! 

Well maybe not the VERY first try but with a very tiny bit of practice, yes!

So let’s put you in my shoes here as I’m about to prime a miniature.

You’ve got your latest project, for me it’s a bunch of Dwarves from the Greywater Fastness Start Collecting Set (which is awesome by the way…).

I need them all primed. It’s raining outside. Spray cans would be possible, but not ideal.  Fortunately, I have an airbrush station!

With so many products and techniques out there – paints, inks, washes, airbrushes, dry brushing, layering, blending, things can be pretty confusing, especially if you’re a beginner.

Save yourself time and frustration. I put all my years of experience into one place – The Miniature Painting Level Up Guide.

You’ll learn about the essential gear (and what you don’t need), how to get started, advanced tools and techniques, and so much more – all in one easy-to-read book.

Here’s how I prime a miniature with an Airbrush:

  1. Sit at my spray booth. Switch on my air compressor, which I have set to about 25 psi.
  2. Place the latest model on a paint handle of some kind; use whatever you have.
  3. Pour in about 10-15 drops of Stynylrez primer.
  4. Put on my respirator (which I honestly enjoy wearing while doing this).
  5. Do one quick test spray on a paper towel to make sure the primer is flowing well.
  6. Start priming by simply pressing down on the trigger of your airbrush and pulling a little bit back to release the primer.

That’s literally it.  Thinking about it now, it’s funny to remember how apprehensive I was about this!  Once you’re set up, you can be priming in under 2 minutes.

My airbrush setup including the airbrush, spray booth, and miniatures
My airbrush painting setup

I’m writing down all the information, tips, and tricks I’ve gathered for you. Hopefully, after reading this post, you’ll be able to get started and save plenty of money.

First, let me tell you what you can do with an airbrush in addition to priming once you’re ready:

  • Indoor priming
  • Base coating
  • Pre-shading
  • Color blending
  • Fast varnishing
  • Object-source lighting
  • Painting thin coats using minimal paints

The bottom line is that airbrushing makes the painting process easier and so much fun! Moreover, it allows the paint to dry nearly instantly, making you a quicker painter!

Find answers to questions, discover time-saving tips, and view my top recommended equipment and products, all in one place.

Click here to access all my airbrushing articles.

Priming Your Miniature Figures – Airbrush Set Up

Priming your miniature figures (here’s where to find them) before painting them is a crucial step that will really impact your results.

This simple step makes sure that the paint you apply on your models sticks properly to the surface. It also covers the gray plastic and offers a nice base coat for painting.

(It’s important that you’re using all the right tools when painting minis. Have a look at all the equipment I personally use and recommend here to be sure you’re off to a great start.)

Priming with an airbrush is simple. All you need is a primer and a well-ventilated room.

Set up is quick and painless. I’m going to keep it very simple for you and give you a starting point.

This assumes you already have a quality airbrush and compressor, you’ve assembled it (not too hard), and it functions.

  1. Dial-in PSI — Check your PSI on the compressor. I set mine to between 20 and 25 psi.  Usually, you just pull up on the knob and turn it to raise or lower the pressure, then push it back down to lock it in.
  2. Check Flow — For each session, I start with a few drops of AirBrush Flow Improver.  This is really just to get the brush ready to go. Shoot the flow improver through the airbrush.  For this, I use a little cleaning pot but you can use anything… some Tupperware, paper towel, or I’ve seen people shoot it right into a garbage can. I like the cleaning pot because it’s cheap, I use it all the time, and it’s got a little handle to hold my airbrush.
  3. After you’ve sent the flow improver through the airbrush, add your primer. Right now I use Stynylrez primer. It’s fantastic and no thinning needed. Just pour in 10 or so drops, and start priming. I originally used Vallejo surface primer. That totally works and you can use it. My formula for it was 2 drops of Airbrush Paint Thinner – 10-15 drops Vallejo Primer – 1 Drop Flow Improver. Mix it up. Prime.

Pro tip: If you’re painting metal miniature figures, make sure you spray several coats of primer on the models to make sure the paint doesn’t chip.

Clean-Up: How to keep your Airbrush Clean

Everyone has their own process for this, but here’s mine!

After each Airbrush paint session I’ll do the following:

  1. Add water to the cup of the airbrush and flush it out to get the majority of paint from the cup.
  2. Wipe with a paper towel, again to get as much as I can out.
  3. I have a bucket full of soapy water. Just a few drops of dishwasher liquid soap. I dunk the airbrush in, press the spray down and shoot soapy water through it.
  4. After that, it’s honestly pretty clean. But just as a good measure, I’ll take some Airbrush Cleaner and pour it into the cup, then spray it out into my cleaning pot.
  5. Once every 5 or 6 sessions, I’ll take my airbrush apart and really give it a good cleaning. This is a step I only do as needed so don’t feel obligated to do it every time. The cleaning pot I linked to has tools that come with it to help clean the brush. Awesome.

How Much Does It Cost?

I knew this question was going to pop up in your mind!

Well, honestly, the cost of an airbrush is higher than regular brushes. But considering the work it does, it’s only fair and reasonable.

My set up was $80.46 for a Badger Patriot 105 and another $97.99 for the Zeny Compressor

I also sprung for a nice Spray Booth because I wanted to vent the fumes out and have a dedicated spot. 

You can totally use a DIY build here to start. I share a DIY cardboard box option as well as the best pre-made options, in this article here

You’ll also want to check this article out for my full review of airbrush/compressor set-ups.

You can surely invest in a top-quality airbrush, a quiet compressor, and additional equipment when you’ve become a pro at airbrushing miniatures.

But as of now, you don’t necessarily need to do so. As a beginner, you’ll probably take quite some time to figure things out and learn to use the airbrush along with its techniques.

(Don’t miss out on any of my airbrush articles for tips to help you become an airbrushing whiz. You’ll find them all right here.)

Getting Started

When you’re starting out, I’d suggest you get your hands on a dual-action, gravity feed airbrush that preferably has a small needle and a narrow nozzle. 

Again, I go through all that in this article, but that’s the basics.

Please note that you don’t necessarily have to buy special thinners and paints for airbrushing miniatures, though there are some great ones out there, like this 50-color set.

You can simply use the paints you already have and thin them with plain water.

To thin with water, follow these tips:

  • Put the colors in the color cup and use an old brush to mix them.
  • Use paper towels and ammonia-based cleaning solution for cleaning.
  • Wear unpowdered nitrile gloves to prevent the paint from getting on your fingers.

Of course, there are several other ways to thin out acrylics for airbrushing, such as using a flow improver (Liquitex Flow Aid gets the job done nicely), an airbrush thinner, or some other medium, but for beginners, water will be fine.

What about the Compressor Noise?

Generally, there are two main types of compressors: ones with a tank and tankless.

Compressors with a tank are usually more convenient, in my opinion.

The tank fills up with air when the trigger is pulled and refills when needed for the airbrush. This means you always have a smooth supply and constant flow of pressure.

On the other hand, a pulse of air continuously comes out of the hose with a tankless compressor.

As I’ve already made clear, I’d recommend you get a compressor with a tank. It may cost a bit more than the tankless products but if your budget allows it, go for it.

You’ll find my top recommendations for tank compressors here.

How Much Space Does a Compressor Need?

Typically, a compressor with the cord wrapped up is the size of two shoeboxes stacked on top of one another.

The airbrushes, on the other hand, take as little space as a few ballpoint pens.

You may want to invest in a spray booth as well to avoid getting paint on your walls and to prevent the paint from ruining your belongings.

Obviously, you can’t rely on a fan and an open window to direct the harmful fumes outside forever.

(Read this article to be sure you’re airbrushing safely!)

A spray booth ensures a healthy environment for you to airbrush your miniatures by simply sucking the paint particles and fumes into a filter or hose that opens outside the window.

Keeping this in mind, find a place near a window to vent fumes and a power cord for the compressor. 

You’ll also want good lighting. My spray booth has built-in LEDs, but even that might not be enough if your room is dark.

If you’re like me, you’ll want an additional source (or two) of bright, quality light.

I’ve tried quite a few options and show you what works best in this article – “The Best Lighting for Hobbies and Miniature Painting.”

Airbrushing Your Miniatures – Tips for Painting

1. The proper paint consistency

First and foremost, you need to make sure that you mix your paints to the right consistency. Ideally, you should push a little paint from the bottom of the airbrush cup up to the edges.

The ideal consistency is when the paint is able to run down the wall of the cup without leaving a trace. It simply means that your paint is thin enough to begin airbrushing.

If you see that your paint is still thick and it can’t run down, sticks to the wall of the cup, moves very slowly, or leaves a trace behind, it’s a sign that you need to thin your paint.

Simply add some water or airbrush thinner to achieve the ideal consistency.

2. Adjust the air pressure

The next step is to adjust the pressure of the airbrush. For pre-thinned paint, you should be looking to achieve a pressure of 12-18 PSI to begin painting your miniatures.

Generally, the thicker the paint is, the more pressure it will require.

Once you have applied the primer on your miniature figures, leave it for some time to dry. Once it’s completely dry, pick the paint of your choice and begin painting!

3. Ideal painting distance

It is important to note that you should maintain an ideal distance from your model while painting.

There is no hard and fast rule for this – you’ll be able to determine it yourself by the way the paint behaves when it lands on the surface of the models.

If you notice that the paint is splashing or spreading, it’s a sign that you are too close. On the contrary, if it atomizes upon landing, it means that you need to step closer to the model.

Need more help? Hoping for more miniature painting tips? No worries! I have a ton of articles about painting miniatures. You can find them all here.

I hope you find this post helpful. Happy priming and airbrushing, fellow hobbyists!

In case you have any questions or tips to share, please comment below!

And don’t forget to grab your copy of The Miniature Painting Level Up Guide today!

Last update on 2024-05-28 at 03:58 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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I'm a hobby enthusiast with a real love for painting miniatures. I also happen to run this site and write the majority of its content!