Today I’m going to improve one of my earliest article about choosing the best airbrush with price ranges and describing them a bit more into detail. I’m also going to mention Chinese tools and maybe I will swear for some time but that’s how I feel.
So, let’s look at it a bit closer.
Our general criteria when choosing the best airbrush are budget, purpose and comfort.
For me the budget is the last one to look at. I’m not a millionaire, I’m kind of unemployed right now. But fact is the fact – the cheaper the equipment the bigger is its exploitation. And second of all I want to save some money and some nerves in a long run.
I would not buy in any black river even if it’s twice or three times cheaper and also many times I’ve been asking my brother one question – “Why Iwata?” I’ll tell you later what he thinks about it.
When I think about the purpose, it’s obvious. It depends what you’re going to paint and regardless of if it’s a small gadget, some fence or a huge wall it is much easier to spray than spend a “hundred” years to brush it. Today we see airbrush not like something that replaced spray cans but like an independent and proper painting tool. With good airbrush you can fit in any purpose you need.
The interesting thing is that many times a future artist doesn’t take comfort as a key factor in decision process which I think is a mistake. In that matter you may hear questions about differences between Japanese and German quality. Actually it is easy to explain. Japanese and German airbrushes have very different bodies and as a matter of fact a very different balance. We all have different hands. That’s why some feel comfort while working with “Japanese” and some with “German” airbrushes.
When choosing between these two I would recommend to get to hold both of them in your hand before you buy. Buy the one that feels more comfortable in your hand, no matter what country or the brand it is.
I think that I should define couple of price ranges and I can guarantee that inside of each price range the quality and possibility of airbrushes are practically identical.
Even though that the “classic schema” of double action internal mix airbrush was patented in the beginning of 20th century, it has still been worked on and it is still being improved. Maybe not that much but in small details such as size of the nozzle threads or materials used etc.
The practical tendency is making needles and nozzles shinier, more durable. For example if we look at H&S the nozzle has no thread fitting. Almost all the seals are made of Teflon, except for old school manufacturers (Olympos, EFBE use rubber – this is due to the fact that their tools are for water colors only) or many Chinese stuff.
Starting price range ($10 – $25)
I would not call tools in this price range airbrushes, they are just spray guns. To be honest there is almost nothing to look at. All of them are similar. The quality of spray is the same and you can’t do a quality art with them. Finished, done, there’s nothing more to say.
Low price range ($25 – $100)
This is the price range where besides of starting models from Iwata, Badger, Paasche and others brands lives all possible Chinese shit. Yes, every big brand of airbrushing industry has some starting models that cost less than $90. (Iwata Revolution, depending on modification cost from $88 to $96, Badger 200 is a bit cheaper). They are not really working horses yet, like Iwata High Performance, Harder & Steenbeck Evolution or Richpen Apollo, but they are good learning tools because it’s not that easy to kill them.
What Chinese can give us in this category? Copies only. You can even find a copy of Iwata Custom Micron for $45 where original Micron costs over $400. Here we have to understand one simple thing: low cost labor plays only very small role because all the manufacturing process, even in China, is automated. It means that the price doesn’t reflect that much of cheap work as much as cheap materials and the quality of surfacing.
Here they have needles that bent when you throw a suspicious look at them! Nozzles made of a 0.3 or even 0.2 mm brass sheet, loose threads, cheap rubber O-rings and scratches left after surfacing in the factory. It all reflects into final price. My Master airbrush is a nice example.
That’s why there is so many posts on airbrush forums like “I wanted to clean my airbrush and while unscrewing the nozzle it broke, the piece of that left inside the gun, what to do?” hmm, c’mon man, this question has nothing to do with airbrushing, and you should ask some mechanic how to get it out! You know why did it brake!
Or another example – “I paint with enamel paint, half a year everything was fine but now paint got into body and into air channel, please help!” Well it is a miracle that rubber sealing in your brush has last for that long when you always work with enamel ;).
I mean it is the same Iwata but much, much cheaper. Just a copy. Even if it’s a good copy it doesn’t have to be fully functional. I would compare it to airplane model (full size model), nice but does not fly.
When buying any of Chinese airbrushes you should be aware of that. Besides a gun, you’d usually get unpredictable set of funny surprises and magic presents from Tianxia (under heaven). When buying Iwata Revolution, Ultra from H&S or any of Badgers you are getting a solid learning machine without magic bubbles.
Mid price range ($100 – $230)
Probably the largest category out there in matter of produced airbrushes and number of users. Practically all equipment in this price range is similar in quality and possibilities. Something is a bit more precise, something a bit more solid, something with a bit better control but just a bit and until you won’t try the other one at least for a couple of weeks you wouldn’t be able to say what that bit is.
The working horses of airbrushist, that’s all I can say. I think there isn’t really point to compare a solid Japanese nozzle with self-centering German one or anything else, all this is just technical crap that doesn’t really matter. Yes, some of this mechanisms are easier to work with or maintain and because of different technology they have different balance – for example H&S heavier front (some people don’t like it). All that matters in this segment is your personal comfort and also availability of spare parts on the market.
High price range ($230 – $500)
In my opinion this segment has not been created just to suck some more money from reach people. Not everyone needs Micron, Phoenix or Infinity. As I said once before, my brother has Iwata Micron and he honestly believes that it is one of the best airbrush tools on the market and he doesn’t regret any cent he paid for it. But when he tried Talon he couldn’t stop working with it because it suits the purpose. Iwata went into a box and probably won’t be touched for a long time. “For better times” as he says ;)
Some artists will argue that without a hole in 0.15mm and price in $400 they will not paint that good art pieces. Who knows?
If it’s possible for you to walk into a shop and see the tools or even take them into your hands before you buy then it’s a plus for you.
Generally if you are buying Iwata, H&S, Badger or Richpen you can just pay without opening a box but when you’re going to buy something from Tianxia then first of all you should check the whole set and compare it with the list (usually it should be in the box). Then you should take the gun out and check it for any rills on surface. If the surface is uneven and not polished properly, would you know what to expect inside of it? Try trigger, does it move smoothly? It shouldn’t be loose, stuck or make any screeching noises?
Check the nozzle, it should not have any tracks of mechanical surfacing, cracks, or anything like that, take the loop and don’t be afraid to use it. Check if the needle is properly centered with nozzle. Take the needle out and check how shiny it is, if you see scratches it’s a bad needle. Try to rotate the needle holding the tip between fingers, if you feel any scrabble then this needle is bent.
If you find any of the above then it is a bad airbrush, not worth even giving it a try nor paying money for it. Put it all back together and when leaving don’t forget to tell the seller a few nice words about that airbrush manufacturer and that he should stay away from selling this kind of crap because it will reflect on his reputation.
Otherwise, if the airbrush looks fine and if seller will allow you to try that airbrush to connect to any air source and put a bit of water in it then try it too. If you don’t see any bubbles inside the cup, you can happily pack everything and pay for it.
What do you think? Am I right or not?
Please comment or share. Cheers.