by: Darren Baker [ ]
Back in January 2013 we ran a review on NEO AIRís compact air compressor. While seen as a quality item, its price and limited run time made it seem a poor choice compared with saving a little extra to purchase a higher spec compressor.
So why would we review a similar compressor from tool suppler EXPO?
The short answer is value: Expo has put together an airbrush kit that offers the budget conscious modeller, or those who donít see airbrushing as their main finishing medium a lot in terms of value. I really do mean a lot. To save you scanning the text, letís get the price out of the way straight away. £69.95. (as at July 2015) Now read on.
Arriving in a cardboard box; that doesnít do the contents justice, inside is revealed a rather nice small black briefcase with two sliver metal locks and a neat carrying handle. Trying not to feel like a hired assassin opening a concealed weapon, I clicked open the case to reveal firmly held in dark grey foam, a small compressor, a direct wall plug transformer, a rolled up braided hose, a plastic pipette, a spanner and a large cup, top fed, twin action airbrush.
For the sake of comparison I shall review the compressor first, directly with the mini compressor reviewed in Jan 13. It would appear that EXPO has looked hard at the NEO Mini compressor and thought, Ďhow can this be improved?í The first and perhaps best new feature is the screw on connection for the hose as this feels far more secure than the NEO Mini push fit. The compressor seems to share some heritage with the NEO offering as it has a small tube for push fitting still moulded but this is redundant now. The compressor is in a white plastic case with silver accents and clear coloured LED bulbs to indicate air pressure. There is a separate onoff button with the lower button (titled Mode) which switches between high, medium and low pressure (approximately 12, 20 and 28 PSI). The Plastic case is simple and lacks the nice feel of the NEO Mini which has a neoprene type cover. It is also marginally louder in operation but not so much as to be uncomfortable. Another gain with the EXPO is the running time, here a full 30 minutes, far more useful than the NEO Miniís 10 minutes. During my test I had to switch the compressor off after over 30 minutes use as it showed no sign of auto shut off and I didnít want to risk damage by sitting and waiting to see if it would auto shut down. The written instructions state that the compressor should be rested after 30 minutes use. One final thing I liked more with the EXPO was the airbrush holder. It was moulded directly into the compressor housing and while simple, seemed very secure.
The transformer feels durable and is as one would find in most modern electric equipment. The braided hose also feels a better quality item than the rubber hose of the NEO MINI. While the metal connections are of stamped construction rather than turned from a solid metal part, the hose functions correctly and the braided sheaf will also provide more protection. The screw attachment to the compressor feels so much better than the push fit NEO.
Now to review the supplied airbrush that comes in the EXPO set. I am always dubious of Ďcheapí airbrushes. It is normally bad economy as many Airbrushes look the same but eventually (and often quickly) start to fail due to soft below grade metals used in their construction. The body of the EXPO feels good, the metal while not seeming to be stainless steel is of good quality and thus far not showing any sign of wear from being screwed apart. The balance is slightly forward due to the rear being made of plastic. This is not an issue but will feel different to an IWATA with its full metal body. The end of the Plastic rear has a nut to set maximum needle opening, quite useful when wanting a consistent thin line. Function is typical, press down for air and this feels smooth, pull back for paint, also smooth. You can easily see the needle passing through the large paint cup, removing the needle allows better access into the cup for cleaning and this area is probably the one area that scores lowest overall. The large cup is fixed so a little more awkward to get right inside when cleaning. The metal cup is large enough to get your finger with a cloth in, but the recess for the needle is harder to reach and will require cotton buds. It has corners that are tight to get into so a cleaning regime that tackles the paint straight away is the best bet here. The cup does have a lid to prevent spills. Needle removal and crown are as with most brushes.
The instructions do not state the width of the line able to be achieved and your own skill will dictate but I have been getting some fine results with the brown rolling stock picture hopefully showing the subtle control available. I was impressed but as I knew Iíd be writing a review thought it best to get a second opinion. The Chieftain pictured was done by a local modelling friend, and the basic bronze green has been applied with the EXPO set up. For this model a smooth consistent finish was the aim, not detail painting. The desired result was achieved, and interestingly the modeller involved went on to purchase an EXPO set himself a week after trying this one. His thoughts are recorded here.
I already own an airbrush and compressor but was more than pleasantly surprised when asked to try this EXPO jobby out. It delivered paint really well, matching the finish of my current and more expensive brush. But the real delight and the reason Iíve purchased one is it is such a compact set up. The briefcase box contains all that is needed and is easy to transport. I model away from home a lot and never dream of airbrushing while away, but with this compact model I am happy to add it to my car load. The price makes this extra purchase appealing too.
My summary dwells on the quality and value too as there is nothing revolutionary about any single part of the EXPO airbrush set, however the neat package is compact and simple to transport and store, can be put out to use then packed away far quicker than the large tank compressor I have so causing less disruption and incurring less wrath from SWMBO. The price is fantastic. It is viable as a second Ďextraí airbrush, a travel airbrush, a starter set or one for the budget modeller who never thought they could afford a decent airbrush set up. It allows novices to gain experience before upgrading in each area of the brush when the feel the time is right.
EXPO produces a wide range of tools. They also distribute electrical components such as switches and LEDs, paints, glues and some model related items and can be found in many Independent model shops. This review Airbrush and Compressor was provided by Salisbury Model Centre a long time EXPO retailer and also an IWATA dealer. Salisbury Model Centre is now stocking this alongside the IWATA brand.