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Book Review
Airbrushing for Scale Modelers
Airbrushing for Scale Modelers
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by: Bill Cross [ BILL_C ]

Originally published on:
KitMaker Network


While it might seem redundant to bring out a book about airbrushing because of all the "free" videos and tutorials available on the web, nothing quite beats having a step-by-step, how-to book you can hold in your hands, prop up on your workbench, or otherwise leaf through at your own pace. And while it would seem that "everyone" is using an airbrush, I constantly talk with modelers, many of them veterans in the hobby, who either don't use an airbrush or are scared to death about using theirs for more than basic applications of paint. Part of the reason for this unease has been trhe explosion of cool and trendy techniques, with new ideas in painting and finishing coming along with each new wave of innovative products: metalized paints, powders, washes, chipping.

The rise of "pre-shading," the "hairspray technique" and "salt" methods, along with other new takes on painting your models in the past few years, have made it more-daunting, rather than less to be a modeler. So it's reassuring to have a way to learn more about the basics and even some advanced ideas.

Aaron Skinner, senior editor at FineScale Modeler, has added to his list of other modeling publications with a book that covers most of the ground on today's airbrushing techniques. The only notable omission from the long list of current airbrushing dogma seems to be the hairspray method, but that's pretty advanced for most modelers, and not everyone either likes or can master it easily. All the methods mentioned in the book seem as though they are within the skill set of the average modeler.


The 127-page glossy paper book is in full-color, and is divided into five basic chapters and then 14 "projects," each one designed to impart of technique or cover an aspect of painting models. The information is equally applicable to most aspects of model building except for figures and buildings, though much of the material can be easily-adapted to other uses.

the review

Overall, the book is copiously illustrated, making it easy to grasp the techniques discussed in the text. The author even puts the numbers of corresponding illustrations at the end of the appropriate paragraphs for those who want to compare description to results.

The first quarter of the book consists of five basic chapters:

Choosing an airbrush
The proliferation of airbrush manufacturers has made choosing the right brush much more difficult. Brushes range from basic tools all the way up to immensely-expensive ones intended for artists and retouchers. Skinner breaks them down into their components: single-action vs. double-action; gravity-, siphon- or side-feed; top button vs. pistol grip, and what size nozzle and needle makes the most sense. Skinner also touches briefly on compressors, but that's really going far afield.

Understanding the basics
This section is devoted to thinning paints for use in an airbrush, the "right" air pressure, as well as how to balance the distance between the brush and object, as well as how air pressure effects the paint flow. The explanations are neither so basic as to be useless, nor so arcane that you'll need an engineer to explain them.

Mastering the tool
I recall the first time I hooked up a Paasche red-handled airbrush to a can of compressed air and sprayed my first paint. I was amazed at how much better the results were than hand-brushing, but I really had no concept of how subtle and effective proper technique can improve any build. Skinner does a nice job of setting out the basics of using an airbrush: how to "pass" along a surface so as to insure even coverage; the proper distance to avoid producing a leathery finish and even how to hold the pieces being painted.

Masking is where the rubber meets the road in airbrushing. Very few airplanes, vehicles, figures or buildings is totally mono-chromatic, so the modeler needs to understand how to keep colors separated. In the case of camouflage, this is even truer. This section covers soft- and hard-edged masking, as well as some tips that can promote the "chipped" looked on models.

Maintenance and Troubleshooting
No matter how careful you are, an airbrush will need cleaning, and sometimes servicing. The easiest way to do both is to learn how to do-it-yourself. Skinner covers things like removing old paint build-up with ammonia window cleaner, or getting rid of bends in the airbrush needle. He also addresses common problems like moisture buildup in the hose or unclean model surfaces that prevent paint from sticking.

Following these five chapters are 14 "projects" that can be undertaken or used as organizing principles around techniques for various planes, tanks and even ships.

1. Armor painting basics
Each of the projects uses a base kit, and the first armor model is an M4A1 Sherman. Skinner covers painting basics like primer coats, sanding between coats, gloss for decal adhesion, etc. For anyone who has never used an airbrush before, this is an excellent first time template.

2. Airbrushing single-color aircraft
One of the common mistakes novice modelers make is thinking that a single color on a plane is just that. The color is actually variable, depending on the underlying structure, the angle of light, fading, staining, etc. This leads us into pre-shading, which Skinner doesn't tackle until Project Four. This chapter is devoted to the basics of one color, including sanding off rough areas with ultra-fine grade sandpaper and scoring canopy masks so as not to pull the frame paint away.

3. Post-shading for a dramatic result
While much emphasis is given to pre-shading (painting over a darker base coat or one applied to joints), a related technique is post-shading: spraying successively lighter coats over the areas where sunlight has faded the paint. This technique also helps to add depth to small models that don't have the variations in color found on 1:1 vehicles & aircraft.

4. Pre-shading monochromatic finishes
Taking the techniques used so far to their next application, Skinner introduces pre-shading: applying a single color over a patchwork of darker areas intended to highlight joints, frames, doors & hatches, as well as areas shaded by the uneven falling of sunlight.

5. Masking straight lines with tape
Because masking is so crucial to airbrushing, Skinner circles back to it with a Stuka that uses straight-edged camouflage. One of the big problems with taping is uneven edges that cause paint to build up and leave a "ridge." Skinner shows modelers how to avoid this with a simple technique called "mitering" the edges.

6. Painting small-scale ships
One of the strengths of the book is its usefulness to a wire range of modelers, not just armor and airplanes. While Skinner could give himself a break with a 1/350th scale ship, he goes half as big into 1/700.

7. Achieving perfect gloss for cars
Another popular class that can learn from this book are car modelers. The Holy Grail of painting is replicating the high-gloss look for new car finishes. Skinner both undercoats (in white), and shows you how to decant colors that are only available in rattle cans so that you can control them better with an airbrush.

8. Cutting tape masks
Having mastered the art of straight masks in Project Five, Skinner brings us to masks requiring curved edges such as on RAF aircraft. The techniques include tracing curved patterns onto masking tape, a really valuable trick if you want to craft actual camouflage patterns like RAF A and B.

9. Create soft edges with raised masks
Next comes camo with soft edges, and Skinner shows the reader a simple technique for rolling out tape to do this when the masked portions are straight. In the following section, 10. Silly putty produces sharp camo, he graduates the reader to Silly Putty. This product not only allows for a practically infinite number of shapes and outlines, but can also be re-used after painting.

11. Poster putty leaves soft edges
Poster putty, sold under various brands such as Blu Tak, is the next method. Soft-edged camo is prominent in everything from NATO vehicles to most modern aircraft schemes.

12. Freehanding camouflage on armor
A Marder III self-propelled gun gets the full tritonal camo treatment in the next project. The many variants of German camouflage have been well-documented, and Skinner shows an increasingly-confident reader how to begin some freehand painting now. German AFVs were issued from 1943 onward in a base dark yellow and then supplied with green and reddish brown that could be applied over the base coat according to local preferences and inclination, so it's time in the waning projects to begin freehand painting that takes into account all that has been learned.

13. Mottling a Luftwaffe fighter
Another camouflage scheme popular with modelers is the variable patterns used by the German Luftwaffe. Again, this is a carefully laid-out progression from techniques learned with the earlier projects: straight masking plus freehand painting.

14. Airbrushing big-scale figures
Never let it be said that Skinner's techniques don't apply to other modeling genres. The final project is a fun one involving Frankenstein and his Bride. While many of us use airbrushes for figure painting in 1/35th scale, this truly "Plus Size" couple in 1/6 scale make for both a good way to transition to figures and a fun project in itself.


This is an excellent overview of airbrushes and their use, and will impart knowledge to all but the most-experienced modelers. The approach is detailed without being overdone, and neither talks down to readers nor assumes a base of knowledge. Whether you have been afraid of using an airbrush, or just want to solidify your grasp of the various techniques, this book is well worth its price.

Thanks to Kalmbach Publishing for this review sample. Be sure to mention you saw the book reviewed on Kitmaker Network when you order yours.
Highs: Straightforward, down-to-earth talk about how to acquire, use and improve your techniques with an airbrush. Lots of useful information and expansive photos with examples of the topics.
Lows: While expansive, there is nothing about the popular "hairspray" method.
Verdict: A very good, all-around overview that will impart knowledge and useful techniques to all but the most-advanced modelers.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN 978-0-89024-957-4
  Suggested Retail: $22.99
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Mar 18, 2016

Our Thanks to Kalmbach Publishing Co.!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.
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About Bill Cross (bill_c)

Self-proclaimed rivet counter who gleefully builds tanks, planes and has three subs in the stash.

Copyright 2018 text by Bill Cross [ BILL_C ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of ModelGeek. All rights reserved.

Reader Reviews
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Thanks. Darren, for getting this one published.
MAR 18, 2016 - 05:02 AM
Good review! Thanks for the heads up on what this book covers.
MAR 18, 2016 - 05:09 AM
Excellent comprehensive book! Kalmbach does a great job of illustrating their work.
MAR 18, 2016 - 09:56 AM
Great review! How detailed is the basics part please? Thinning, issues, etc? Is there anything on different paint types, brands? Thanks!
MAR 19, 2016 - 10:39 PM
I got a copy of the book, and when it comes to different paint types, brands, and their thinning issues, that is the major omission, that in fact the author actually makes a general recommendation for a certain airbrush paint thinner that is known to cause major problems with one of the paints he mentions.
DEC 13, 2017 - 03:40 AM
We broke our quick reply box. Working on it. Until fixed go to topic to reply.

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