The Basics of Airbrush Weathering

By: Eric Siegel

Part 1: Equipment

The key to successful weathering of any item in your train collection is LAYERING. Airbrush weathering is often used as the first step in this layering process. Using an airbrush, you can fade the brand-new look of a model (to duplicate the effects that the sun and the elements has on a prototypical piece of equipment) as well as add some general dirt and grime to the unit. Once you've airbrushed the model, the next steps involve using chalks and powders (as Bill Dischinger has shown all of us), accurate application of rust and peeling paint (when appropriate) and then the model is usually finished off with a color wash. Keep in mind that this layering process does NOT have to be done all at once and that you can add the layers of weathering to your models as your skills improves and you master each weathering technique. In other words, you can airbrush weather your trains and they will look great, and then you can come back later and add more layers to enhance the look of the model. Airbrush weathering is a solid foundation for any weathering you may wish to do, and it doesn't take much practice to become adept at the skill. In this multi-segment article I will be covering to basics of airbrush weathering.

The two main components that are essential for airbrush weathering are an airbrush and an air compressor. When it comes to buying airbrush equipment for weathering your trains, you need to bite the bullet and buy quality gear. Trying to save a little money by buying cheaper equipment can be a disaster for your trains, not to mention the fact that you will only end up spending more money when you decide to trash to cheap stuff and go get the quality equipment you should have bought in the first place. I made this mistake myself, so I know what I'm talking about. Do it right from the start and spend the extra money on high quality airbrushing equipment. While the initial outlay of cash for good airbrushing equipment is a bit steep the good side is that, if properly maintained, your airbrush gear will last many, many years with only minimal maintenance costs.

First, let's talk about the airbrush. Avoid the temptation to go out and buy a $50 all-in-one airbrush starter kit. These kits are designed for more general airbrushing needs and are not capable of producing the finely detailed work needed to weather your trains. Plan to spend between $100-200 on a quality airbrush. There are many great brands on the market, but my personal favorite is Iwata. I bought an Iwata Eclipse CS at Hobbytown and it set me back about $120. It's perfect and I highly recommend it. If you can't find the Eclipse CS, any other models in the Eclipse series are also excellent. Whatever brand you decide to go with, there are few suggestions I have for what to look for. Keep in mind that these suggestions are based on my personal opinions and you may very well get different advice from other people. First, make sure your airbrush is "double-action", and not "single-action". Second, try to get an airbrush that has a "gravity feed" and not one that has a "siphon feed". Lastly, make sure your airbrush has a fine tipped needle around 0.35mm in size. If the terms I just used have you confused, talk with the guy who works in the airbrush section at HobbyTown and will be able to explain what I'm talking about. Alternatively, if you attend one of my airbrush weathering classes I will be dissecting the airbrush and explaining everything.

The second component in airbrush weathering is the air compressor. Some of you may already own a shop compressor. In that case, just make sure that you have a pressure regulator that can keep the pressure at about 35PSI and you should be fine. If you don't own an air compressor, there are many hobby compressors on the market. From my experience, the best brands for hobby compressors are either Iwata or Badger. I personally own an Iwata Silverjet series compressor that I bought at Hobbytown for around $170. I like the the silverjet because it's compact, maintenance free and it also has a pressure regulator and pressure gauge built in. If you want my recommendation, I suggest the Silverjet. Just like the airbrush, spend the extra money on a quality compressor the first time around. One final and very critical point on compressors is that whatever compressor you buy, make sure that you equip yours with a moisture trap. A moisture trap helps to eliminate any water from the compressed air so that you end up with nice dry air coming out of your airbrush. In Georgia, where it's very humid, a moisture trap is a necessity and without one you will almost certainly get water in your line and therefore water coming out of the airbrush along with the paint. This can be a disaster, ruining an otherwise perfect weathering do yourself a favor and make sure you've got a moisture trap attached to your air line.

In the next segment of this how-to, we'll go over the types of paint that can be used in an airbrush. Stay tuned!

Read Part 2 of this article

Back To Selected Writings | Back to Eric Siegel Biography