Airbursh versus Spray Can


Which do you Prefer?  Can or the Airbrush……..

Well, that is an option every customizer must make for themselves. But, just in case someone has informed you that you must use an airbrush if you want to produce quality customs, there is news for you. 

Spray Cans – Believe it or not there are a few niceties to using spray cans; They’re readily available, the color selection is generally pretty good, they are relatively inexpensive and, perhaps most importantly, fairly easy to use. A novice customizer may want to start out with spray cans just to see whether or not he’s even interested in customizing.  It’s a lot easier to dispose of a couple cans of spray paint than it is to return that expensive airbrush and compressor. Much of your success using spray cans will result from finding the right paints, primer, and clear coats. Trial and error have led to suggestions on several specific canned paints and warnings of of several others. That information can be found in the next section located on this site called Paint Types.

HINT: Spray cans are generally pre mixed with thinner to spray consistently while using the can – the problem is that while the can is sitting on the store shelf the thinner and paint actually separate.  Hence the recommendation that the can should be shaken for a short period before use.  Further it is recommended that the can be tipped upside down (leave the cap on for safety) to promote the flow of settle paint from the bottom of the can.  Even further, heating the can for a 10-15 minute period in warm-to-hot water will break the paint molecules down further and help mix the paint better and promote a smoother spray finish.  

HINT: Since most cans of paint are pre-mixed – thinner is not generally necessary.  A hint to avoid having to thin bottled paint is to buy spray cans and spray them directly into you airbrush reservoir after mixing thoroughly (see previous hint) and then spray the paint through your airbrush.   

Airbrush – Having used both spray cans and the airbrush, the airbrush is truley the superior applicator. Most of the site contributors will agree.  It’s the versatility of the airbrush that makes it such a powerful tool. It allows you to mix your own custom colors. It allows you to spray very fine lines and patterns. And it allows you to use a variety of mediums (enamel, lacquer, acrylics, pearl flakes, metallic flakes, urethanes, etc.). The only real drawbacks to the airbrush are the initial investment and the initial learning curve. An airbrush is slightly more difficult to use than a spray can. But that’s mostly a matter of experience. Once you’ve begun to master the airbrush you’ll likely find yourself kissing the spray can goodbye forever (at least for most uses).

This issue really comes down to finances and degree of interest in customizing. If you plan to turn out many great customs, either for friends, family, or (ahem) eBay, then you’ll probably want to invest in the airbrush. On the other hand, if you have just discovered the diecast customizing arena, are on a tight budget, or just want to dabble with a few cars a year, then spray cans are more likely to satisfy your immediate needs. 


First and foremost you need to understand the types of airbrushes available:

Single-Action – is where the paint and air are mixed internally, inside the airbrush.  The single action allows you to only control the level of air to paint mixture by pulling back on the trigger.  The settings for thin versus thick spray patterns are generally set before spraying. 
Double-Action – is where the amount of paint and the amount of air can both be controlled through the “trigger” mechanism.  Generally it is pushed down for air and pulled back for paint allowing the painter to control all aspects of their paint including thin vs. thick and the like.  

Generally a Single-Action will be sufficient for most hobbyists but those who want detail and more precise painting will want to step up to a double-action unit. 


 There are also two methods of paint “feeds”:

 Gravity Feed – usually refers to a small cup or container mounted on the top or side that contains the paint and allows “gravity” to feed the paint through the bottom or side into the airbrush wand itself.

 Siphon Feed – refers to a traditional jar or container that is attached to the bottom of the wand and contains a small hose or feeding mechanism which “siphons” the paint out of the jar and into the brush.


There are many manufacturers of Airbrushes:  

Testor’s Aztec Line – contains interchangeable tips for different spray width applications.  The tips have tended to crack over time which results in additional costs to replace and have not carried with them a high reputation in the hobby industry.  

Badger – has been a standard in the airbrush community for many years – they have a vast selection of both single and double action units and tend to be extremely durable.  They have a wide price range which makes then accessible to many different hobbyists.  A nice unit can be had with accessories for less then $65.  If cost containment is necessary, you will not be disappointed with these brushes.

Paasche – Like Badger, has also been around the hobby community for a while.  Their quality is extremely high and they also offer a wide range of both single and double action units.  They do tend to be slightly higher priced but in most cases are well worth the extra money.  If money is not an object, go for a Paasche.  

Others – Model Master is a division on Testors and a knock-off of the Aztec line.  Although their canned air and airbrush package – found at Walmart and other is a good value to test your like dislike of the airbrush experience.  Iwata is not as popular but can be a good value for the money – tends to be a “knock-off” of the badger series.  Tamiya also sells a House brand that tends to be very expensive $100+.  This line appears to be good, but there are better values for the money.  


aircompressorAir Pressure Sources

Air Cans or Compressed Air in a Can – Airbrush hose attaches to the can and uses air from the can to operate airbrush.  Simple to attach and use, easy to find, generally inexpensive but can add up over time.  Loss of air pressure as can empties.  

Air Compressor Unit – Air pressure is maintained in a small reservoir and the pump maintains that pressure as it is being used.  Automatic units go on and off as the pressure drops and is broguht back up.  Non-Auto units maintain a consistent pressure while being used.   Automatic units are generally best due to the on/off feature allowing pump to rest.  Non-auto unit will perpetually run while being used causing continual wear and tear on the motor.  Hobby versions of these units can run as much as $300 while generally compressors (usually tool grade) can be had from Walmart and the like for around $100. 

Storage Compressor – A similar unit, to the air compressor, which contains a compressor motor on top or on the side and a large tank which is keep filled to pressure.  The brush is then attached to the tank and draws the pressurized air from that large tank unit.  When done the motor is used to bring the tank back up to full pressure.  

 Air Tanks – Traditionally CO2 styles can be used as well – no pump motor is needed and when empty the tanks can be refilled.  Depending upon the size of the tank these units can last for a while but can be expensive to maintain over time.

Car Tires – Tires be an inexpensive way to get into the hobby – rather awkward to carry around, but they off a cheap source of air and also a good back-up should one of the other fail.

HINT:  The key to keeping and maintaining a good airbrush lies in the cleaning of the unit.  Airbrushes can “cake” with paint very easily and be clogged and rendered useless.  Always spray thinner or cleaner through the brush when finished painting and know how to disassemble and assemble your brush for that fine internal cleaning.

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