Airbrushes are one of the most effective tools in the miniature painter’s arsenal. They can be used for a variety of purposes, from simply applying base coats to miniatures, to ensuring perfectly even paint-jobs over large surface areas, to specific effects, like color blending, masking, and even fine detail highlights. This guide will tell you the best airbrush for miniatures, whatever you want to use it for.
Many people assume that airbrushing is only for people who’ve already mastered painting miniatures with a paintbrush. That’s not the case. While using an airbrush is a different skill set, it’s not considerably more complicated. You can even use the same paints for miniatures that you already own, provided you thin them appropriately. But getting quality kit is really important – unsuitable airbrushes are deeply frustrating.
These are the best airbrushes for miniatures:
- Rechargeable airbrush gun – the best kit to test miniature airbrushing
- Iwata Neo 4500 – the best budget airbrush for miniature painters
- Badger Patriot 105 – the workhorse airbrush for miniature painters
- Iwata Eclipse CS – a high-detail, highly durable airbrush
- What makes a good airbrush for miniature painting?
1. Rechargeable airbrush gun
The best kit to test miniature airbrushing
If you want to get it into airbrushing, you should do it properly, which means spending a lot of money on a kit that will work well and last a long time. But what if you’re not sure about it? Ideally, you should spend some time using a friend’s airbrush, or at a workshop. Failing that, get something cheap, like a rechargeable airbrush gun.
This is a brandless Chinese product consisting of a single-action airbrush with an integrated electric compressor charged via USB-C cable. This airbrush is here for a good time, not a long time: the build quality isn’t amazing, and being a single-action airbrush means it can’t be used for more nuanced techniques. It will also lose pressure as the battery runs down.
2. Iwata Neo 4500
The best budget airbrush for miniature painters
When you decide you’re ready to get into airbrushing, you’ll need to get quite a lot of kit: a compressor, a respirator, airbrush paints and/or airbrush thinner, airbrush cleaner (and a cleaning kit), and ideally a portable spray booth to keep your painting area clean and minimize the risk of inhaling paint. If that stretches your budget, the Iwata Neo 4500 is a budget choice that compromises on convenience rather than quality.
The Neo was specifically designed as an entry-level airbrush for miniature painters by Japanese airbrush maker Iwata. It’s well-made and has all the critical features needed for more complicated effects, like color transitions and spot highlights. It sprays just as well as much more expensive airbrushes. Where’s the catch?
What you save in cash, you will pay for with inconvenience. The Neo’s nozzle – the part of the brush that the tip protrudes from – is screwed into position. This makes operations like swapping the nozzle so you can use a thicker or thinner needle (and get wider or narrower sprays) a pain, and cleaning out clogs a real nightmare. The nozzle is also tiny, which makes it all too easy to lose.
3. Badger Patriot 105
The workhorse airbrush for miniature painters
The Badger Patriot 105 is dependable and versatile. The Patriot 105 can be reconfigured with different needles and nozzles to take either 0.3mm, 0.5mm, or 0.7mm brushes: the narrower the needle, the finer the spray, so the Patriot 105 can be used for everything from base coating to fine-detail effects.
The Patriot 105 also contains a “floating nozzle” inside the tip assembly. Whereas cheaper airbrushes have a metal tube nozzle screwed or welded into place, a floating nozzle is a small, pear-shaped part that can easily be removed. We can’t overstate how much easier this is to clean than a fixed or screwed-in nozzle. My long-suffering, paint-caked Patriot 105 features in the header image for this article.
4. Iwata Eclipse CS
A highly durable high-detail airbrush
The Iwata Eclipse CS tends to cost a little more in Europe and America than the Badger Patriot 105, and most of that comes from import costs: they have very similar specifications, including the ability to take multiple different nozzles, a floating nozzle, and extremely high manufacturing standards.
It’s those high manufacturing standards that are the draw for the Eclipse. This is a brush with a long lifespan, and the ability to produce extremely fine detail sprays consistently for decades. The tip of the needle is exposed rather than hidden within a cap, which – although it will make the needle vulnerable to damage – reduces the risk of clogs.
What makes a good airbrush for miniature painting?
Airbrushes exist for all kinds of jobs, from nail art to auto-body painting, and they’re not all suitable for painting miniatures. So what are you looking for?
Most of the airbrushes in this guide are “double action” airbrushes. Double-action means that the airbrush’s trigger controls both the flow of air through the brush and the flow of paint out of the reservoir. Control over both elements allows you to vary the intensity of your brush strokes.
The airbrushes in this guide are all “gravity-fed”. This means that they store paint on top of the airbrush, and it feeds into the paint-and-air mixing chamber under the force of gravity. It’s much easier to use small volumes of paint and to change paints in a gravity-fed airbrush than a siphon-fed airbrush with a screw-on bottle.
All the airbrushes in this guide feature internal paint mixing – that is, the paint and air supply mix inside the brush before they leave, rather than outside after they leave. Provided the paint consistency is appropriately thin, an internal mixing chamber can spray with extremely low air pressure, allowing for very fine detail spraying. It also ensures the paint is thoroughly and consistently aerosolized.
Airbrushes are extremely finely machined mechanical tools, made of multiple tiny parts, that you will flood with paint. Cleaning an airbrush regularly is essential to its proper functioning. As such, this guide prioritizes airbrushes that are easy to clean and highlights the reasons we’ve included brushes that aren’t – it’s a question of budget.
None of the brushes in this guide can take a needle finer than 0.3mm. The width of a needle dictates how fine a line the airbrush can produce. However, beyond a certain point, this isn’t valuable; the Harder and Steenbeck Infinity can produce needle-fine lines, but so can a size 00 miniature paintbrush, and you have greater tactile control over a physical brush.
Just ordered your new airbrush and want some ideas about things to test it on? Check out our guide to the best horror miniatures, which has plenty of unearthly entities for you to test out lighting effects and color transitions. If you want to push yourself with really fine detail work, DnD miniatures are extra small. Or read up on Warhammer Titans, the biggest canvas a miniature painter could ever ask for.