Finding an airbrush and compressor you're happy with is one of the most subjective - and potentially one of the most expensive - investments many modellers make at some stage. I was recently faced with something of a dilemma; how to set up a second workshop for occasional use on a limited budget so I could work on reviews etc. while away from my London base. I couldn't justify the expense of duplicating my Iwata / Evolution set-up but, without a car, I couldn't take it with me either. Without much hope of success I did a Google search for cheap alternatives.
My first thought when browsing Airbrush Pro's website was that there must be a mistake; surely there was a digit missing in the prices? A .3mm dual-action airbrush for less than £20 just seemed impossible. Similarly, a compressor complete with an air tank, regulator and moisture trap for around half what I'd have expected to pay... it had to be worth investigating.
An enormous box arrived at my family's home two days after I placed the order. Once I arrived I wasted no time opening it and found the contents were individually boxed and well protected by a generous filling of expanded foam chips. Airbrush Pro offer several ready-bundled packages, or you can put together your own setup from their extensive range. I did the latter and chose:
AS-186 compressor - £69.33
BD-130 airbrush - £19.92
BD-24 air hose - £5.82
BD-777 airbrush stand / cleaning pot - £11.69
Both the compressor and airbrush are quite anonymous - beyond the model numbers on the packets, there's no manufacturer's name or anything to indicate where they're made. On the product pictures on the company website, you can just make out the name "Fengda" - which appears to be a Chinese manufacturer which produces a wide range of hobby and craft products. This would certainly help explain the low price of the items.
The AS-186 seems well constructed and arrives ready fitted with a 3-pin mains plug. The compressor features a pressure cut-off, so it chuggs away reasonably quietly until it registers 55 psi on the regulator and then the motor cuts out. Pressing the trigger on the airbrush releases a smooth flow of air without the slight pulsing noticeable from compressors lacking an air tank. As the pressure drops, the motor kicks in again to top-up the tank. Very neat. The regulator / moisture trap is supplied separately within the package and a roll of sealing tape is provided to ensure an airtight fit. The instructions are basic but adequate and the build quality seems fine and at a fraction of the price of my Iwata Smart Jet Pro (which doesn't have an air tank), it seems a real bargain.
If the compressor was a nice surprise, the airbrush was quite amazing. I'd half feared it would be something of a turkey, but not a bit of it...the BD-130 is nicely designed and finished, is well balanced and performs way beyond what you'd expect from its price tag. It might not have quite the finesse of an Iwata or an Evolution, but then it's only about 1/5 of the price! In action I found it was easy to spray lines down to approximately 1mm width, while the large gravity feed cup also allows large areas to be sprayed with a single filling. This model features a screw-lock to pre-set the amount of paint released when the trigger is pressed, but this is easily disengaged for maximum flexibility.
The airbrush features a detachable nose-cap; this can be removed to facilitate very fine close-up work, but be careful - this does leave the tip of the needle very exposed and vulnerable. Again the instructions provided are pretty basic, but they do the job (although I have been using various airbrushes for 30 or so years, so I was able to easily fill in any blanks).
Airbrush Holder / Cleaning station
The airbrush holder consists of a large, heavy glass jar with a plastic lid fitted with nozzles, and it certainly seems stable enough to avoid accidental spills. For it to function as a cleaner, you partly fill the jar with water and spray the airbrush into the inlet nozzle. The outlet is fitted with a filter but, judging by the cloud of fumes that poured out from it, I do wonder how effective it is. True, the filter did show some discolouration from the paint and there was a dirty film on the surface of the water in the jar, but I'd still recommend using the cleaning station with plenty of ventilation.
Making the leap up to using a compressor and airbrush is something of a milestone for any modeller and the cost traditionally involved can make it rather a daunting decision. Anything that helps make the benefits of airbrushing more widely available must be welcomed and that's where Airbrush Pro's imports really score. With a range that includes spray guns for around £5 and simple compressors for £40, the low prices encourage you to experiment without the fear that it's the end of the world if it doesn't work out first time.
In fact, with prices like these, it's tempting to think of having several different airbrushes dedicated to different tasks - i.e. one for enamels, one for acrylics etc. I must admit I came to the products half-hoping to find problems, if only to justify my much more expensive existing set-up. Suffice to say I haven't been able to fault either the compressor or airbrush and am seriously tempted to try a few more airbrushes from the range. On the basis of the results so far, I can recommend it as a good value entré system for intermediate modellers looking for the next step up from a simple spray gun, while modellers who already have a full set-up may well find it useful as a low-cost back that's still capable of producing fine results. Recommended.
Highs: The price - or rather the lack of it! Both the compressor and airbrush represent excellent value for money.Lows: I'm not convinced by the cleaning pot - well I had to think of something...Verdict: Surprisingly good performance from such relatively low priced products.
About Rowan Baylis (Merlin) FROM: NO REGIONAL SELECTED, UNITED KINGDOM
I've been modelling for about 40 years, on and off. While I'm happy to build anything, my interests lie primarily in 1/48 scale aircraft. I mostly concentrate on WW2 subjects, although I'm also interested in WW1, Golden Age aviation and the early Jet Age - and have even been known to build the occas...