Based on the amount of traffic on the Kitmaker Network, selecting an airbrush to use is one of the most common equipment dilemmas. Most of us surf the internet trying to find the comprehensive review that answers the magical question of what airbrush to buy, but very few of the myriad articles answer the questions we have with specifics. When we turn to our Kitmaker compatriots for advice, many people offer recommendations based on their own experiences and circumstances that are completely unique. While this is useful data, the information and how it was arrived at can and will vary widely.
This is the first in a line of articles where I hope to provide data for the prospective airbrush purchaser that covers key features, evaluates performance using modeling paints and materials, and describes how that performance was measured. I will attempt to use standardized products and methods in order to provide situations that can be duplicated by any individual who chooses to do so. From there they can quantify the information provided. You will undoubtedly disagree with some of my methods and opinions, but at least you will know how I got there.
I have used airbrushes in modeling for about 30 years and I have no affiliation whatsoever with any airbrush, paint or model company. Most of the brushes I evaluate will be brushes that I bought and paid for out of my own pocket. None were received for review or were bought at a discounted rate from a manufacturer for consideration. The ones I don’t personally own, were borrowed from a friend who tolerates my curiosity.
My methods will be to use two readily available modeling paints, using thinners manufactured by the companies who produce and sell the paint. This not an attempt to call into question the suitability of various thinners that others use, and there will undoubtedly be people who can achieve better results with their preferred thinner, but these products provide control factors which provide stable and repeatable methods. The paints used will be Tamiya and Vallejo Model Air. They are readily available via the internet even if they are not in your local hobby shop.
Paints will be applied to sheet styrene using the pressures where best performance for the brush in use is achieved for stated thinning ratios. Lines and spray patterns will be measured using digital callipers. The compressor I use will always have an adjustable and regulated air supply with moisture traps in line between the compressor and the airbrush.
Below are the criteria that I intend to use for all airbrushes I evaluate:
- Objective Criteria:
Brand, action type, feed type, trigger type, nozzle type, nozzle size, air fitting size, cup volume, length, diameter and price
- Special Features & Accessories:
i.e. MAC valve, solvent proof seals, preset handle, lids, wrenches, water traps, etc.
- Subjective Criteria:
Atomization, ergonomics, fit, finish, pattern size, smoothness of action, ease of cleaning, parts availability
Velocity Jet Details and Features
Picture 1: The Badger Velocity Jet airbrush has been out for a few years now and is part of Badger’s popular Renegade series. It is a double action, internal mix, gravity feed design which uses the standard top mounted trigger setup. External surfaces are covered in a dark “gun metal” style finish that is both attractive and tough. I can vouch for this as I have used brushes with this finish for years and found it to be highly resistant to solvents and physical wear. The brush uses the standard Badger airline fitting which will not make users of brushes with the 1/8” air fittings like Iwata, Grex, Tamiya or Harder & Steenbeck brushes happy, but a Badger air fitting to 1/8” adapter usually comes with the brush so there is no need to procure a new hose. The Velocity Jet also features a 1/16th oz. (1.8ml) color cup, an adjustable trigger assembly (though not in the form I’m used to) and a solvent proof needle bearing. The common street price for the brush is from $100-$120 US dollars.
This airbrush utilizes a small self-centering .21mm cone type nozzle that is held in place by a machined hold down ring. This ring incorporates the air holes normally found in the head assembly of a more traditional detail airbrush and allows attachment of a two pronged protective nozzle cap or a nozzle cap assembly with no protective arms. The Velocity Jet is roughly 6.3 inches (160mm) long with a .429 inch (11mm) diameter main body. The size is about 2 thousandths of an inch (0.05mm) smaller in diameter, while being about half an inch (12.7mm) longer, than the Iwata HP-A, HP-B and HP-SB series of brushes.
Here is a picture of the standard breakdown of the brush: Picture 2.
The mechanical fit of all components used in the Velocity Jet was superb. Threaded surfaces are left in the natural brass finish and were so closely fitted that I question whether or not you could chrome plate them and still have them fit together. With that said, the finishing of the exterior parts is not to the same level of some of the major competitors. The solder joint where the cup attaches to the airbrush body is smooth, but it is not finished to the perfect joints you would find on an Iwata or a Harder & Steenbeck airbrush. Taking into account that those brushes sell for $200-250 vs. the $100-$120 for which the Velocity Jet typically sells, one has to ask what is most important to you, form or function.
The balance and weight of this airbrush is very good. The ergonomics of the rear handle is one of the features that help create that great feel. The recessed area creates a natural spot for the side of your hand to fit and helps prevent fatigue in long spraying sessions. Picture 2a. The trigger tension is adjustable via the needle tube shank and is very smooth and responsive. Whether you prefer a stiff pull or a soft, you can easily get to a comfortable setting and move on. The Velocity Jet’s needle stop is also a good feature when you’ve got hours and hours invested in a model and you have some delicate spraying to do. It allows you to preset your spray pattern for maximum width and repeat it continuously for as long as you need to. Unlike the needle stops on some of my higher priced airbrushes, it holds its positon very well. The 1/16th oz. (1.8ml) color cup is totally in keeping with what is needed for a detail airbrush. It holds enough paint to do most functions for modeling, has a plastic cap to prevent spills and doesn’t obscure the sight line when performing delicate work.
The Velocity Jet’s needles and nozzles are small and easily lost but surprisingly rugged. Picture 2b. They are also well machined and very smoothly finished. Replacements are readily available and are not very expensive when compared to some other high performance airbrushes on the market. Should you damage these items both can be replaced for a combined bill of under $20, so no heart attacks or second mortgages are required. I have used the Badger Velocity series brushes with only normal care and cleaning for at least 4 years and have never replaced either. One additional thing you might be interested in if you don’t want to have multiple airbrushes hanging around, is that Badger produces a .33mm needle, nozzle and air cap conversion to increase the brush’s capability for handling thicker fluids, or to provide a wider and denser spray pattern.
The Velocity Jet comes with a one year parts and labor warranty. Once the standard one year warranty is done and you encounter a problem with your brush, Badger replaces any worn or defective parts at cost, and labor for any repairs they perform is free for the life of the brush.
In Use Results
The Velocity Jet is what most people would refer to as a detail airbrush. Its .21mm tip is most useful to users who are pre- or post-shading a model, spraying free hand camouflage at low pressures, or airbrushing highly thinned paints or inks for area washes, weathering or filters. It can certainly be used for applying paint to larger areas, but it will require more coats of paint and it will require much more patience to get solid coverage than a general purpose brush with large tip intended for broad even coverage.
The first paint used to evaluate the brush’s performance was Vallejo Model Air. This paint is packaged in dropper type bottles and is advertised by the company as being “airbrush ready”. The paint was shaken well, put into the color cup and sprayed unthinned onto a piece of clean Evergreen sheet styrene. Picture 3. The Vallejo paint sprayed with a slightly grainy pattern when covering larger areas, and I experimented with variations in pressure to ensure best performance. Best atomization of the unthinned paint through the Velocity Jet was achieved at 35 PSI (2.4bar). At this setting, the brush consistently sprayed patterns of 3/8” (1cm) with minimal overspray. The best lines achieved without thinning were .045 inch (1.1mm) and they were at the same pressure. Picture 4.
The airbrush was cleaned and a new Vallejo Model Air mixture added, thinned 2 parts paint to 1 part Vallejo 71.161 Airbrush Thinner. Picture 4a. With this mixture, the Velocity Jet sprayed best at 20-23 PSI (1.4-1.6bar). The wide spray pattern of 3/8” (1cm) was the same but the amount of overspray and graininess was much less. The fine line work with this mixture was much improved, achieving unbroken lines of .026 inch (0.7mm) without a large amount of tip dry. Clearly, and as expected, the .21mm tip performed better with thinner paint and lower air pressure. Picture 5. I did try thinning the Vallejo and dropping the pressure more, but the paint lost its consistent spray pattern and controllability.
The next paint I used to evaluate the Velocity Jet’s performance was Tamiya’s standard acrylic line. Since Tamiya paint is not “airbrush ready”, I thinned the initial batch 1 part paint to 1 part thinner. This 50/50 ratio is a common mix recommended by Tamiya when spraying using their X-20A thinner so I used it as a starting point with the Tamiya’s yellow top lacquer thinner as well. Picture 6. I use both of these thinners when spraying Tamiya paints since there are times when I want more “bite” than the X-20A will produce, such as when spraying base coats or on bare plastic, and other times when I use X-20A to lay on acrylics over enamels without damaging the base coat. Picture 7. The thinning ratios still work well regardless of which Tamiya thinner is used, so this mix sprayed well with good atomization at 22-25 PSI (1.5-1.7bar), and displayed almost no tip dry. The airbrush produced a consistent 3/8” (1cm) spray pattern which was easy to maintain with only a modest amount of overspray. Fine line work yielded a .035 inch (0.9mm) line that was repeatable, with good color saturation, but when pressure was pushed higher or lower, the results became inconsistent. Picture 8.
Increasing the ratio of thinner to paint to 2 parts thinner to 1 part paint yielded better performance. This mixture is pretty close to the famous “thin to the consistency of skim milk” recommendation that most airbrush users are familiar with. I was still able to produce a repeatable 3/8” (1cm) wide spray pattern, but the atomization was substantially better than with the 50/50 mix. Picture 9. Fading and shading became seamless and fine lines of .025 inch (0.7mm) could very easily be maintained and repeated at pressures between 18-23 PSI (1.2-1.6bar) without tip dry. I made no attempt to thin the paints or to lower air pressure more since smaller lines where not going to show up well enough for you to see in photos. Picture 10. I will say that, I have thinned Tamiya with their X-20A thinner for post shading to a ratio of 2 drops paint to 10 drops thinner, using a standard Velocity airbrush with absolute controllability, but the shading is so faint it’s hard to see the color change on camera.
As indicated before, Badger recommends that the brush be rinsed out, the color cup cleaned, and the appropriate cleaning agent be sprayed through the brush until the output is clear. Once this is done, the needle should be pulled and wiped down with solvent, lubricated with your favorite airbrush lube, and reinserted. That’s it. For the cup cleaning step, I use and old paint brush to get into the recessed area in the bottom of the color cup followed with a lint free paper towel. Badger indicates that only when you are experiencing problems caused by things like letting paint dry in the brush should you do a complete breakdown of the airbrush. If you follow their procedure, cleaning the brush takes less than two minutes and the brush works fine. Personally, the only thing I do above Badger’s recommendations is to run an a solvent soaked interdental brush into the needle bearing to remove any debris that might be pulled back into it when the needle is removed.
Honestly, I was absolutely against cleaning an airbrush the way Badger suggests. I’d always done complete teardowns of the fluid handling parts and cleaned them each time the brush was used. I did a test several years ago, over a two month period, with several of my brushes and found that my way of cleaning caused more problems with airbrush performance than Badger’s. It didn’t matter what brand of airbrush I tried it on, the result was the same. As long as I didn’t let paint dry in the brush, I got better and more consistent performance from the wipe and spray over the teardown method. I also damaged far less parts… I’m not suggesting that you change what works for you, but if you are ordering replacement parts for your brush, 9 out of 10 times it’s not because they are worn out, it’s because you damaged them while cleaning your brush.
If you do tear the Velocity Jet down, take care not to lose the nozzle. A quick soak in lacquer thinner and a sharpened toothpick should clear anything causing problems.
The Badger Velocity Jet is a superior performer. It offers first rate atomization, excellent ergonomics, good parts availability, inexpensive component replacement cost, and a first rate warranty. If you are in the market for a detail airbrush, I would highly recommend you include this airbrush in your consideration. Next up, Iwata HP-B …