At least once a day someone asks me about airbrush equipment. They already understand that there are many options out there, but they are willing to spend a little extra money to get the best, or something that will really last. After more than a decade in advising people on how to spray makeup I've decided to finally write some of it down.
If you don't want to read this entire article, and just want the bottom line, just go HERE. We love the Badger equipment and we've brought together several great packages that will be great for you.
In the meantime, if you want to be more educated, please read the following article.
BASIC STRATEGY -- Part I -- The Paint
As of this writing there are over 34 companies who make or repackage airbrush ready makeup. In most respects this is just glorified (water downed) liquid body paint. In fact you can use grocery store liquid makeup as long as you dilute it with something safe.
We have been selling body paint for many, many years and it really works well, especially for body painting and fantasy colors. Flesh tones are more of a challenge, but self-fashioned body paint works just fine as a straight or glamour sprayed makeup.
If you are doing glamour or bridal makeup, premade airbrush makeup is probably best simply because the colors are more consistent. Be prepared, however, this paint is rather expensive. We carry Kryolan Airstream, but have recently been getting requests for Kett. We'll pick up that line if you continue to insist.
If you are doing body paint, fantasy or any thing else that requires a lot of makeup, save yourself a ton of money simply by using body paint. Kryolan, Mehron and Ben Nye are all good brands. If the color isn't critical then get generic to save money.
If you are doing body paint for a passion play or theater then you should consider a flesh tone body paint. Think of it this way, if you have a bunch of fair skinned high-school kids from Wisconsin that you need to turn into Polynesians for the musical South Pacific, then get body paint (we sell it by the gallon) and spray it in a paint sprayer.
BASIC STRATEGY Part II -- The Equipment
Live Simply, just get a package.
Spraying makeup basically occurs in three levels. The airbrush, the touch-up gun and the spray gun. That's right, I'm talking about the spray guns you get at Home Depot (R). Don't forget we are comparing strategies here, so pay attention;
Save your airbrush for fine work such as bridal and glamour. You'll learn more when you do more research on the equipment, but for now think one-on-one, your best work, detail, etc.. An airbrush is small and gives you great control, but you would never paint your house with a toothbrush.
The next level is the touch up gun. This is one of those smaller spray guns you get at Home Depot for about $30. It has a small 8 ounce gravity feed cup on the top. You'll normally use this to paint a motorcycle or bicycle, but never your car. In the world of makeup this is the gun you would use to paint the members of your choir, the dancers or extras in a movie. The quality is good, you can still easily change paint colors but you are not constantly refilling the cup. If you were painting your house this would be the paintbrush that you would use to do your cutting in, your doors and windows.
Finally you have the spray gun. That's right the normal, quart, automotive sprayer you also get from Home Depot for about $30. This is what you would spray your entire car with. It delivers a lot of paint in a hurry. In this situation think of painting a large crowd -- quickly. This is Burning Man, the crowd in your passion play or the "Cast of Hundreds" for the school play. Basically it's zip, zip, zip and your actor's done. One color, no details, no fuss.
EVEN MORE DETAIL -- BECOME AS SMART AS STEVE
What is Sprayable?
Most water-based liquid body paints can be sprayed. All kinds of paint can be sprayed. Airbrush ready makeup can be sprayed straight out of the bottle. So can Badger airbrush paint. Generally, you have two issues to deal with when spraying anything. First, is the particle size of the pigment. Second is the dilution.
The particle size of the pigment is determined by the mill that produced the pigment. Pigments are different than dyes. Dyes are dissolved into the solution, where pigments are suspended in the solution. This is the difference between house paint and wood stain. Dyes are easy to spray because the solution is so thin. Pigments on the other hand can become problematic. Some people buy expensive airbrushes thinking that they will spray better because they are more expensive. In reality, they may be expensive because the parts are so finely machined. A fine, tight airbrush may not be able to spray pigments at all unless they have been specifically milled for use in an airbrush. For makeup either get a brush that we recommend or test your brush to see if it will spray a pattern at least 1" in dia.. Usually a craft size airbrush will be fine for makeup. If you want to get the best brush for your situation please read my lengthy product descriptions given below.
The other issue is dilution. This can be tricky in some ways and not so tricky in others. If you have the right airbrush you have a lot of latitude in what you can spray. If you accidentally over dilute the material you can simply spray the material with more air. In theory you can spray the material with so much air that it will be dry before it hits the skin. Generally you can dilute body paint, or regular paint so that it will spray without clogging. Always use the right dilution for the paint. Don't use water for oil based paint, or tap water for makeup. I usually start at a dilution rate of 75% paint and 25% dilution. Get it just right and then add a little more dilution. Experienced artists dilute by sight and feel and often right in the cup. The best dilution will delivery wet paint to the surface with the least amount of air pressure. This is one reason why we love the Badger equipment, it is the only brush to spray airbrush makeup at 6 to 8 p.s.i., which is safe for the skin.
More About airbrush equipment:
With the proliferation of Chinese goods there are now countless airbrush options available. Prices range from $4.99 to $220.00. Higher cost doesn't mean higher quality. A cheap airbrush may spray just as well an expensive piece, but it depends a lot on what you are trying to do. In my experience a cheap airbrush will spray dyes fairly well. Suspended pigments is another story. On the other hand an expensive airbrush doesn't mean that it will spray any better. Here's another way of looking at it;
Go cheap if you don't care about the equipment. Think disposable. If it will cost you more to clean the equipment than it costs, simply throw it away. Never go cheap if you haven't used the equipment before, you must know how it will work for your situation. You will look very silly if you show up on a movie set with a cheap airbrush that doesn't work. Also, don't think repair either, replacement parts are just not available for the cheap guys. If I were in charge of a big project that required a lot of guns in the hands of a lot of artists I would go cheap. I'd keep the nice stuff for my best people and let all the grunts use up, break and steal the inexpensive guns.
Go nice if you need dependability and versatility. A good set will last for many, many years. A well designed set is easy to clean, easy to repair, and easy to buy parts for. You may spend a $125 for a brush of this quality, but it will last for thirty years. A good airbrush is a business tool. It is an investment because it will make you money.
WHY GO BADGER?
I get a lot of feedback from my customers, especially my airbrush artists and propmakers. Most of these folks have several brushes including some cheap ones. My customers are some of the top airbrush makeup artists in world. Some of them buy all the new models and give them a try, just to stay on top. I depend on their opinions, and most of the time they come back to Badger.
My people really know their stuff and it has become clear to me over the years that Badger has many advantages over other makers for several reasons;
1. American made. Yep, these guys are engineered and made here in the USA. That's close to the action, close to customer feedback.
2. They custom make airbrushes for specific applications. They just don't make a few airbrushes and force you to adapt to the airbrush -- the brushes they make are for you and for the job -- just make sure you buy the right brush.
3. They back up their products. 1 year guarantee. They really take a lot of pride in their work so if there's a problem they'll fix it.
4. They take their design work very seriously. This means they go beyond the obvious basics. They match the cone shape and size with the needle and the need. This means you can spray thicker liquids at lower volumes.
5. They've been around the block. Much can be said for experience. The Thayler and Chandler division is over a hundred years old. This gives a company time to super-fine-tune its products, earn a few patents and develop a sophisticated research lab. This is to say nothing about their excellent, knowledgeable staff.
6. Spraying is all they do. Focus means they have to get creative when there is a slump in the art market. Badger is at the top of the game, that's why I decided to carry their line.
7. They listen. This is reflected in their extensive product offerings. I can only stock a few items that I know are best for my customers, but Badger really has a large and diverse product line including specialized paints and colors for very specific needs.
All of this makes Badger very competitive. They have what I want to meet specific needs. If they don't they can build up a custom unit for me, but most of the time, they do have a stock configuration that will work great for my specific application.
Although Badger has hundreds of configurations, I've chosen three different sets to serve my customers. Each has its own advantages.
Many years ago, when airbrush makeup entered the mainstream, Badger developed a series of airbrushes to meet the needs of the professional makeup artist. It took a few rounds of trials, a few experiments with some different combinations of parts, and a lot of feedback from people in the know. Eventually the perfect brush evolved. This brush is easy to maintain, well balanced and a proven work horse. The gravity feed cup permanently mounted on the top means that you can spray heavy material with less air pressure. This is a must for application to human skin. The cone shape allows it to be sprayed close into the skin. Because the cup is small and attached to the brush it is easy to handle, easy to clean and easy to change colors. This configuration is best suited for glamour or small fantasy makeup.
Now let's say you want to spray larger qualities of paint. The Badger Anthem is one full size larger than the 100-g. This is a siphon cup brush which means it draws the liquid UP into the brush. This takes more air pressure. The anthem has great feature that I really like -- you can access the needle adjustment without taking apart the brush.
If you want to larger range of capabilities go with the Vega 2000. You can spray makeup as well as paint for your props and other 3-D projects. The set comes with three tips that give you a large capacity. It is like getting three airbrushes in one set. Consider this set a more robust, or industrial unit.
When you buy an airbrush you also need three other items to go make it work. These are:
B. Air flow control of some nature
Any clean source of compressed gas will work. Air is best, but propellant cans are fine if you can take the stink. You can use a home shop compressor, but be prepared to put up with the noise. Salons that have multiple airbrush stations will often hide a large compressor in a back room and run air line to the front.
There are many compressor specifically designed for use with the airbrush. Typically they are portable, quiet and have tiny fittings. Historically they have been small units that weigh up to 25 lbs. and sit on the floor. Most of these are dependable workhorses that cost $160 and up. I call these guys "floor models" although they can sit on a counter.
Recently smaller compressors have emerged that are about the size of a aquarium compressor. They are very quiet. They often weigh less than 4 lbs.. I call these guys "Desk Top" compressors. Dependable ones start at about $150 and go up from there. I've seen cheap Chinese compressors on sale for less than $50, but I would never depend on one. It doesn't hurt to have a backup compressor and extra airbrush or two. Not all compressors have the capacity to power two airbrushes at once.
Right now the trend is going towards the little desktop compressors. You can fit everything you need into a large purse. There are many other options, but the ones I've described are a good start for anybody.
Air control, flow control, or air regulation is the most confusing part of this processes. It stumps most people simply because there are so many options and the parts don't always fit together. You might buy all the right things, but will spend a day going to various hardware stores in order to find the fittings needed to fit them all together.
In theory all you need to do is control the airflow to the airbrush. The controls on the brush itself will control the paint and air ratios. All you need to do is get a reasonable air pressure to the brush.
For example, suppose you are using a shop compressor with an output of 150 p.s.i.. This is a great air pressure if you are yanking the lug nuts off your S.U.V., but in the world of airbrushing you only need 6 to 25 p.s.i.. You knock the air pressure down with a air-regulator that you install close to the business end of the hose. You might mount the regulator on the bench at your workstation.
You may have a regulator on your airbrush compressor. This is just fine unless the hose is longer than 8 feet. You get more control the closer your regulator is to the brush, so it doesn't do you any good to have a regulator at the compressor and you are working a hundred feet away at the end of a long hose.
HOSE (And Much Ado about Connecting)
I've mentioned the hose last because it sometimes becomes the most complicated. It problem isn't the hose itself, it's the connectors. In the world of airbrushes each manufacturer has come up with their own fittings. You can't attach a Paasche airbrush to a badger hose. The makers of the equipment want you to buy their accessories. To me it's a lot of bickering over a $10 item. I'm not going to stay loyal to a brand simply because of the hose. Most kits have a hose anyway. Regardless of the poor logic, you are still stuck with making things fit.
Basically the goal is to connect your airbrush to the compressor, and have a regulator somewhere in the line. You can go crazy trying to fit things together especially when all the fittings are slightly different. You'll be OK if you do the following; Choose the airbrush, choose the compressor, then choose a hose that is compatible with both. If you need to add a regulator first figure out where it will go, then make sure you have the fittings so that it will work.
The easiest way is to get things to work is to simply get a compressor with an on-board regulator and then get the right hose that will connect to the brush. Stay within your brand and you will be OK.
Another easy way is to pay us the $10 per brush fee for "assembly and testing." We simply put everything together for you and if you need another part we will get it and charge you for it. No need to spend all day hunting around hardware stores for fittings you won't find anyway.
Here in the USA, there is something else you need to know. Most airbrushes do have a hose that is fitted with something called 1/4" Female Pipe Thread. Most compressors have a fitting called 1/4" Male Pipe Thread. Yes, these fit to each other, and you can get a "Home Depot" regulator, or regulator/filter/gauge combination. But we have reasonable priced Badger brand combos if you want one.