Wednesday 4 January 2012

Airbrushing FOW Vehicles

I managed to get some airbrushing done yesterday and the day before. The weather improved which helped but I also decided to move indoors from the shed and set up the compressor in the house. This helped to get rid of the streakyness and extremely slow drying times I'd had problems with in the shed. The good news is that I got all of the vehicles I have (10 250/1 halftracks, 5 Panzer IV Hs, 3 Tiger Es and 3 Panther Auf Gs) undercoated in Vallejo's Green Ochre, a close enough approximation of dunkelgelb. I primed them first with GW's Skull White spray (a 7 year vintage which had survived surprisingly well) beforehand and this gave a decent surface for the airbrush to work with. I had some problems getting decent coverage on the Panzer IVs due to the fiddly surfaces (Schurzen are not my friend...) but got there in the end after some perseverance.

The general set-up. 
The basecoated Panzer IVs. 

Everything else. I was quite pleased with how smooth a finish the airbrush allowed me to get. 

However, it all went wrong when I started applying the next two colours of the classic late-war camouflage scheme I was aiming for. I grabbed what I thought was the correct green (turns out I picked up German Camouflage Green, which is much too dark) and happily airbrushed away on the 5 Panzer IVs until I realised it wasn't just the crap light but that I had in fact got the colours wrong. Sigh. I had meant to use Reflective Green, which is a few shades lighter. As it turned out it probably didn't mater that much, I discovered something; I can't really airbrush. To be honest, this shouldn't have been a surprise, this was my 3rd attempt or so and whilst I'd really got the hang of a general undercoat when it came to camouflage patterns I was appalling. I realised that I had the technique wrong (I needed to be much more careful with how much paint I applied on the dual action trigger) and had the pressure too high (perhaps) at around 25-30 psi (if someone could advise me on this that would be great....). I ended up with an inconsistent and often splattery mess. I managed to get it right in patches and when this occurred, asides from being the wrong colour, it looked pretty good. I also think the fact that I mixed my own paint using medium was a factor;  I had no consistent means of making sure I was getting the mix correct (around 1:1 from what I read online).

I'm afraid I didn't snap any pictures of these Frankensteins; I'd run out of time (I was moving back to London that afternoon) and to some degree, enthusiasm. My plan is to come back to these in a couple of months when I'm back home with the airbrush and compressor. I'm also going to buy some of Vallejo's model air line of paints to eliminate paint consistency as another unreliable factor. Originally I was planning to take these with me and keep you posted on their progress throughout - seems like I'll have to settle for some infantry painting instead. Every cloud has a silver lining and in this case that silver lining is zombies. Lots of zombies. Nazi zombies.


  1. The issue with your airbrushing is probably something which will take practice. First and foremost - the air pressure of 30 PSI is right - you can go a bit up or down from there depending on what you are spraying. Which nozzel are you using? If you aren't using an F or Fine nozzel it will give you a much wider spray pattern. Also, does your airbrush have a limiter? On Master and Iwata and some other airbrushes you have a limiter which limits how much paint you can apply by reducing the distance the needle can travel in the airbrush. Remember in a double action airbrush you have two factors going at the same time - airflow and paint. Both will affect the end result. Practice is your friend. Take a small box - roughly a small matchbook and practice painting the surface of the matchbook to practice the desired effect on a tank. If you are practicing lines, practice them on a flat surface until you get the right combination of paint and airflow and you feel confident you can do the same on a figure. It takes several hours of practice to do this, undercoating is easy with the airbrush, everything else is practice, just like brushwork. I've done several batches of tanks with an airbrush and they all have been challenges because of the changing contours of the vehicle and maintaining the same angle of surface to brush for the patterns. They do turn out nice when done, but they took lots of practice. If you have a lead/pewter vehicle - any vehicle with all pewter parts - use it as a practice dummy and paint it several times over with basecoat, then patterns, see how it turns out, then do it again. When done practicing and feeling confident - try it on the other models. Strip the pewter fig and then do it up from scratch one last time. I used the process after I got my first airbrush - a Badger 150, I have 3 others now and they all have their good and bad points. Best of luck!

  2. What are you thinning the Vallejo Model Color with? I've found water is the best bet with that series of paint. I go around 50:50 with pressures similar to what you're currently using. The chemical formula for the VMC is different than the other types of paint out there. As a result DO NOT use alcohol to thin Vallejo Model Color- you will get a goopy mess!

    I also work from a black undercoat and drybrush a lighter shade of the dunkelgelb before spraying on the camo colors. It helps to bring out the details and blend in the colors a bit more.

  3. @ Jovian: Thanks for the detailed reply, I really need some insight on this. I don't think I'm using a fine nozzle, so there's a decent starting point. Also the airbrush is a little too basic to have a limiter I think. When I have some decent spare time at home with the airbrush I'm going to do as you suggest and have a good practice - I rushed it this attempt due to lack of time.

    @Bob Chicka: I'm using Vallejo Acrylic Medium, which should do the trick I think, so long as I can get it a consistent thickness. I'll try out your suggestion of the drybrush over the undercoat next time I do something from the undercoat.

    Thanks guys!

  4. As others above have noted, practice really is the key here: airbrushing for me was (and still is) a very difficult and sometime frustrating experience. With time and a lot of practice, it does become easier.

    FWIW I thin Vallejo Model Colour with Vallejo Airbrush cleaner, about 70/30 paint/thinner. Also, when doing camouflage, removing the end cap on the airbrush (and exposing the needle tip) can help you achieve finer lines, just be careful not to damage the needle of course.

    Chevalier de la Terre

  5. The nozzle you'll want to use for fine details like camouflage lines is the 0.2 or 0.3 nozzles offered, not sure you'll need another needle to fit that.

    Also, apparently the airbrush you use matters for fine detail work. Some of the cheap airbrushes don't have proper coatings on the inside to help paint flow and their paint delivery mechanisms inevitably cause gum ups in the works.

    I know I had nothing but problems with my cheapo airbrush I picked up from ebay.

    Lastly, I recommend using sticky tack (blue tac, orange tac, poster tack, etc) to mask out areas for camouflage instead of doing it freehand, especially if your having trouble with brush control. The strength of using tack instead of tape is that you can stick the tack on so that it's only partially sticking to the surface, with a more rounded edge serving as the paint delineation. What this will do is cause there to be a feathering of the edges for the masked off areas instead of the hard lines.

    I learned this the hard way while painting my polish armored train. I forgot to press down the tack to be flattened against the train model in all areas so instead of coming out with the harder lines of Polish camo, I got the feathered lines of late war German camo.

  6. hmmm thanks for your thought. I'll try out a few of these ideas when I have another go in a few months. I think the internal coating Vertrucio talks about could be an issue; in all his wisdom my father put cellulose thinners through the airbrush when he used it, completely screwing up the internal coating visibly.

  7. I personally set my regulator to ~10psi and thin the paint to the consistency of milk. When using Tamiya paint I thin the paint 50:50 with Tamiya thinner. When I use Vallejo model air, i thin about 50:50 with Vallejo thinner. Most times I use more thinner then paint. Alot of times I use around 70% thinner.

    When I do fine details, I drop the PSI to ~5psi and take the crown off my airbrush.

    Consider adding a drip of windex window cleaner to the paint mix, or reaper flow improver

    My airbrush an Iwata HP-CS with 0.035 needle/nozzle

    My setup:


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