Airbrush vs. Rattlecans

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kevin.mcgee

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I have read about the some of the advantages of airbrushing over spray paint. However there really hasn’t been enough information to satisfy my curiosity. I am not put off by the expense of the equipment, but I am not looking forward to more tools to clean, maintain, and store (I have somewhat limited space.) Can someone that uses an airbrush for his/her rockets tell me what their set up is, what type of paint they use, what to do, or not do, etc. What would you tell someone almost completely ignorant of airbrushes? Thanks.
 

SkyFire

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Airbrushes are great for fine detail but I wouldn't use them for painting a whole rocket; too time consuming. Plus, you will need a compressor, moisture trap, air line, etc. Then you need to get the mix of paint and thinner just right. For painting rockets HVLP guns work well. I have airbrushes, HVLP guns, detail guns etc. but end up using rattle cans for rockets. Less trouble and easy to get a good finish.
For masking, Tamiya tape is the best. It helps to burnish the tape. Also, after putting the masking tape down you can spray a small amount of base coat along the tape lines. If any paint bleeds under the tape it will be the base coat.
 
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David Schwantz

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Granted I would not use an airbrush to do a whole rocket, but I do use them on rockets. Like, I just finished spraying the black on a Saturn V from Estes. Much finer control, can mist over tape lines to help prevent any bleed. Very easy to clean, I use carb cleaner, will cut any paint, pressurized to get in little holes, just spray it off. If you do need to disassemble, there are only 4 parts, on mine anyway, an Iwata, no tools needed. Can spray any kind of paint, from water base to 2 part auto paint. You do not need a compressor, Badger sell air in a can that will hook up to an air brush. Never used it myself, probably spendy if you paint lots. Also they make an adapter for using a tire as your air source. Again never used it. I do have a compressor, air lines routed into my paint booth in the basement. Air goes through a water trap and regulator before it gets to the gun. But you do NOT need all of that to use one.
 

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Koffee

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I use an airbrush and a mini-hvlp gun on my rockets now. The airbrush itself would be fine on smaller rockets, but for larger ones the hvlp is the only way.

The main reason I switched is my location in NC.. during the summer its too hot and humid to really do a good job with rattlecans. In the winter its too cold and humid lol.. Getting a good paint day is just near impossible.

I'll list my advantages.
  • As stated. Weather is no longer a problem and I can paint any time any day I choose.
  • Fumes are non-toxic. The paint is waterbased so no chemicals to breath. This doesn't stop me from always wearing a mask though. The fine particles that float around when painting can enter your lungs and are still not good for you.. A simple fan with an air-filter is all I need and I can paint inside the house if I want.
  • Cost of paint.. Once the equipment is purchased the cost of the actual paint is much smaller. This includes all aspects of the paint.. primer(its sealer in my line but same principle) base coats, clear coats. All are much less the cost of rattlecans with the amount of product you get.
  • Colors... with airbrush paints the sky is the limit.. There is no color I can't reproduce by mixing if I want that hue. Add to that the variety of paints available. I tend to use pearls and candies to add the depth and "punch" of the looks. You can get flakes and metallics in rattlecans, but they really don't come close to the looks you can get with a metallic undercoat covered by a pure candy.
  • TIME... this is by far my favorite part of using airbrush paints.
    IMG_0670.JPEG
  • I took this picture just to have one of all my hpr's but for reference. The left rocket is a wildman Jr with an aluminum flake base and candy marine blue on top. The green rocket is a wildman punisher3 with the same aluminum flake base but emerald green candy. Ignore the other 2 as they have had paint for a bit. So yesterday March 4,2021 at 4pm both wildmans had zero paint on them I was able to prime them both, apply the metallic to both, paint the blue candy, then paint the green candy.. I was completly finished with both rockets by 9pm. Between coats there is no wait time because they dry so fast and can accept the next coat usually right away. All that is left on the 2 wildmans is the candy bleed blocker then clear coat and they will be ready to fly. I will revisit each later and add some real details, but for now they can fly with pride.
  • Airbrushes are great for fine detail but I wouldn't use them for painting a whole rocket
    I could not agree more with this and this is where the hvlp comes in play. My hvlp gun was actually cheaper than my airbrush and with a .8mm tip is perfect for the task.

I'm no expert. I'm no "artist" I just like to make things easy and I like to be able to complete a task on my time, not the weathers lol

YMMV

Koffee
 

Zeus-cat

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Unless you are doing fine details I suggest you stick to rattle cans. If you do get an airbrush find paints that are airbrush ready and do not require mixing. I used to use bottled model paints that had to be thinned for airbrushing. WAY too much work! Thinning ratios and compressor pressures that worked one day wouldn't work the next due to different temps and humidity. AUUGGHHH!

If you do get an airbrush you need to practice, practice, practice... and then practice some more.
 

Budro0

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I'd second everyone's comment, but I still use airbrushes and spray guns. This is mainly because I can get colors and effects unattainable with rattle cans. I love the pearl paints and use them almost exclusively now (Createx Auto-Air). I did already have a compressor before I got into it, so I just fitted an inline moisture trap and the various fittings to get the brushes and guns attached. For real cheap, you can get a Badger 250 mini-gun, a couple paints, and a can of compressed air to give it a try. It does get more expensive if you get a dedicated compressor and all the "right" sealers/primers, topcoats, intercoats, thinning agents, etc. But you can definitely try it out for $50.

As others have said, a true airbrush doesn't push enough paint for a whole rocket, but that mini-gun does (I still use mine for almost every rocket).
 

TSMILLER

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I'd second everyone's comment, but I still use airbrushes and spray guns. This is mainly because I can get colors and effects unattainable with rattle cans. I love the pearl paints and use them almost exclusively now (Createx Auto-Air). I did already have a compressor before I got into it, so I just fitted an inline moisture trap and the various fittings to get the brushes and guns attached. For real cheap, you can get a Badger 250 mini-gun, a couple paints, and a can of compressed air to give it a try. It does get more expensive if you get a dedicated compressor and all the "right" sealers/primers, topcoats, intercoats, thinning agents, etc. But you can definitely try it out for $50.

As others have said, a true airbrush doesn't push enough paint for a whole rocket, but that mini-gun does (I still use mine for almost every rocket).
What kind of compressor are you using? Volume?
Would one of those mini guns work with a 5gal twin tank Craftsman? 155psi max, but I question it being able to keep up with the volume.
 

shockie

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I use rattle cans on my model rockets and one of those slip on paint can holder grips..... but then I've been known to mess up a simple black or white paint job too.....
 

Budro0

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What kind of compressor are you using? Volume?
Would one of those mini guns work with a 5gal twin tank Craftsman? 155psi max, but I question it being able to keep up with the volume.
Honestly I have about the same (4gal/150psi) and it works fine for the mini-gun and airbrushes. It does have an outlet regulator on it, but I've been kicking around the idea of getting a better inline regulator for more accuracy. Sometimes mine runs right at the set psi, sometimes it creeps up or drops. Fine for a finish nailer, less desirable for spraying.
 

caveduck

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I've avoided rattlecans for a long time, mostly because of paint quality and dry time. Tamiya spray cans are probably the only exception for me. For a long time I painted all my LPR models with a Binks Wren airbrush and K&B Super Poxy paints. These days I use an inexpensive (HD level, not HF level) siphon detail gun for most MPR/HPR, and a Paasche VL airbrush for smaller things. It is definitely a lot more work than spray cans, but with spray gun equipment you have the whole universe of paint systems available, including the good ones. I use a lot of Klass Kote epoxy paint now, which is effectively the successor to Super Poxy. The Klass Kote primer is fantastic.

For the air source, get a decent compressor. The propellant cans are expensive, and they lose pressure quickly due to chilling when in use. If you do use them they should be kept in a tub of warm water to limit the pressure loss. Also be sure to get a good regulator+gauge so you know what your pressure is. A moisture trap is also needed in most climates; you can maybe get away without one when using low airbrush pressures in a dry climate. Fortunately they are not super expensive.

One thing about airbrush vs a regular spray system is the much smaller nozzle sizes. In airbrushes it's usually in the 0.15 to 0.6mm range. For regular guns it's usually around 1.3-1.4 mm, with nozzles up to 1.8 mm for thicker paints. This means for airbrush you have to thin the paint down to rather low viscosity in order to go thru the airbrush nozzle. Not all paint systems will tolerate being thinned this much.
 

TSMILLER

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Honestly I have about the same (4gal/150psi) and it works fine for the mini-gun and airbrushes. It does have an outlet regulator on it, but I've been kicking around the idea of getting a better inline regulator for more accuracy. Sometimes mine runs right at the set psi, sometimes it creeps up or drops. Fine for a finish nailer, less desirable for spraying.
Thanks, next trip to Horror Freight that will be on my list. I do understand on the creep, I used mine for roofing, then to keep bicycle and auto tires filled. Seems I may have found a better use now. I hate all the rattle can over spray.
 

Koffee

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What kind of compressor are you using? Volume?
Would one of those mini guns work with a 5gal twin tank Craftsman? 155psi max, but I question it being able to keep up with the volume.
I know you asked Budro0 but I figured I would respond also. I actually just used my airbrush compressor and I have to pause a bunch, but its still very fast. I'll likely get a pancake one soon just to make things even easier.
 

AfterBurners

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Airbrushes are great for fine detail but I wouldn't use them for painting a whole rocket; too time consuming. Plus, you will need a compressor, moisture trap, air line, etc. Then you need to get the mix of paint and thinner just right. For painting rockets HVLP guns work well. I have airbrushes, HVLP guns, detail guns etc. but end up using rattle cans for rockets. Less trouble and easy to get a good finish.
For masking, Tamiya tape is the best. It helps to burnish the tape. Also, after putting the masking tape down you can spray a small amount of base coat along the tape lines. If any paint bleeds under the tape it will be the base coat.
Agreed!
 

Sandy H.

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I use the HVLP gun with water based paint for all my big rockets, unless I want metallic. I could do metallic as well, but my source for paint is a little different than most people. . . I go to Lowes, pick a bunch of paint colors and paint the rockets with the $2 sample cans. I get to have a ton of color variety and the cost is basically 0, as each little sample can can do multiple mid-size rockets. I thin the paint with cheap windshield washer fluid (and that's what I spray through to clean as well) and add a little dab of Floetrol.

I didn't come up with any of this, I found it while researching what to do and I love the method.

Yeah, the paints are 'indoor' latex paints, but I rarely store my rockets underwater (note the 'rarely'. . . doh!!!). The finish is also somewhere between a flat and matte, but I don't mind it. You can put clear over it if you wanted a little more shine.

I also have used an airbrush, but only for more detailed/fade effects and I'm not very good at it, so I rarely do it anymore.

My air compressor is a 5hp - 20 gallon unit, so I have no clue how well a pancake type would keep up. I have a 2 gallon 'nail gun' compressor, but have never tried it.

The extended LOC IV was sprayed with clear, but the extended Minnie-Magg wasn't. The 'fades' on the LOC IV were done with airbrush.

Sandy.
 

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TSMILLER

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I know you asked Budro0 but I figured I would respond also. I actually just used my airbrush compressor and I have to pause a bunch, but its still very fast. I'll likely get a pancake one soon just to make things even easier.
Thanks as well, I figure we all learn from one another. My airbrush compressor might be a little small. Constant supply, it works for small jobs with Paasche, I wouldn't want to tackle more than what my 3 ounce pots could hold.
Not meaning to hijack the OP's question and topic, but still inline with what he may find useful.
 

rharshberger

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Honestly I have about the same (4gal/150psi) and it works fine for the mini-gun and airbrushes. It does have an outlet regulator on it, but I've been kicking around the idea of getting a better inline regulator for more accuracy. Sometimes mine runs right at the set psi, sometimes it creeps up or drops. Fine for a finish nailer, less desirable for spraying.
I used to use a 5 gal pancake compressor and it was necessary with the harbor freight detail guns to occasionally let the compressor recharge or develop a rhythm of when to pause to have the least interruption. Its not an isdue now as I have a 50gal shop compressor.
 

Koffee

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I also have used an airbrush, but only for more detailed/fade effects and I'm not very good at it, so I rarely do it anymore.
LOL that is my problem..I can do some pretty good details on a flat page when practicing.. but on a round tube ... things aren't going well so far. (I'm actually practicing on rolled up paper the size of the tube. You don't want to see these YUK! )
 

David Schwantz

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One of the tricks is to keep the tip the same distance from your work as you go around the rocket. Just takes practice.
 

Budro0

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LOL that is my problem..I can do some pretty good details on a flat page when practicing.. but on a round tube ... things aren't going well so far. (I'm actually practicing on rolled up paper the size of the tube. You don't want to see these YUK! )
I still use stencils/masking when I do finer details. I freehand almost nothing. I found that a Cricut vinyl cutter and stencil vinyl work great to create those details and designs.
 

dr wogz

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There is an art to rattle can usage.. some cans / brands are better than others.. some cover better, than others, some just plain ole suck.. I think we all have our preferences..
 

Blast it Tom!

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Oh you guys! You're so bloody GOOD at everything! Ok, so I have a little Paasche VL double-action airbrush and an old airbrush-size compressor with water trap - no regulator - and not much experience - but I knew that it was not the spray setup for anything but the teensiest of rockets. So I start seeing mentions of HVLP and such and then @caveduck mentions HD vs HF level siphon guns, and @Koffee's talking metal flake and candy and my head begins to spin. I can afford a few things in my old age, it's just figuring out what to buy!

Now is that HD siphon gun an HVLP thing or...? And I suppose HVLP guns come in different sizes, I sure don't want something you'd paint a house with; maybe not even something you'd paint a car with. And thanks for embedded pointers on less toxic paints. Is it a derailment to ask for info on HVLP options? I no doubt would need a bigger compressor, even my tire inflator only has maybe a 3 gal tank, topsm and probably can't keep up with the air flow needed, so paired recommendations welcome!

Also, @Budro0, thanks for the Cricut tip... I'd been wondering if that was a viable way to make masks...
 

NateB

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@Blast it Tom!

Rustoleum and a 10ft finish are just fine with me. I don't build rockets to display and they'll look just fine from the pad and in the sky. I might consider an HVLP setup if I already had a shop/garage in an outbuilding with the need for a large compressor for other uses. Right now, rattle cans cans cardboard boxes fit my budget, needs, and space the best. I do have access to a Cricut. I should really try cutting masks instead of vinyl decals sometime.
 

Bowman

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Oh you guys! You're so bloody GOOD at everything! Ok, so I have a little Paasche VL double-action airbrush and an old airbrush-size compressor with water trap - no regulator - and not much experience - but I knew that it was not the spray setup for anything but the teensiest of rockets. So I start seeing mentions of HVLP and such and then @caveduck mentions HD vs HF level siphon guns, and @Koffee's talking metal flake and candy and my head begins to spin. I can afford a few things in my old age, it's just figuring out what to buy!

Now is that HD siphon gun an HVLP thing or...? And I suppose HVLP guns come in different sizes, I sure don't want something you'd paint a house with; maybe not even something you'd paint a car with. And thanks for embedded pointers on less toxic paints. Is it a derailment to ask for info on HVLP options? I no doubt would need a bigger compressor, even my tire inflator only has maybe a 3 gal tank, topsm and probably can't keep up with the air flow needed, so paired recommendations welcome!

Also, @Budro0, thanks for the Cricut tip... I'd been wondering if that was a viable way to make masks...
Siphon gun and HVLP are mutually exclusive I believe.
HVLP is gravity fed paint thus a reduced need for high velocity air allowing lower pressure.
In my experience, mostly with siphon gun, ANY siphon gun setup is more than adequate for a rocket.
Even the smallest cup I ever used still held 8 oz of paint and had a 4-8" pattern.
A standard contractors compressor for nailgun use would be more than adequate for a airbrush but not enough volume for prolonged spraying with any of the siphon or HVLP guns I have used.
Consider that you can do limited airbrushing with "canned" air which is pretty low flow, but you are not trying to cover a quarter panel with it, usually you are striping or doing artistic work (something I have NO knack for).

That's my experience, your mileage may vary.
 

caveduck

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HD (or Lowes) spray guns are roughly, sometimes actually, Campbell-Hausfeld units, which are OK. Mine have lasted a number of years before getting bashed to death. The Harbor Freight ones are cheeep clones of those, sometimes with errors. I had one and threw it out after it insta-clogged two or three times in a row due to having a strainer mesh way smaller than the prototypes. Siphon vs gravity/HVLP isn't a big deal for what I do. I love my Paasche VL but you can't do anything bigger than a normal plastic model with it or it takes forever, and it's hard to run the epoxy paint thru such a small tip.

Oh yeah, compressors...I downsized to a Hitachi pancake from an old horizontal Sears 2HP, and pretty much regret it. It just keeps up with a detail gun, but it is MUCH louder, struggles with a full-size gun, and I can't run any of my air tools anymore. I once had an old-time small diaphragm airbrush compressor...it barely put out enough for the Binks brush but it finally bought the farm. Better ones are probably available now if you are only going to airbrush.

Gotta go sleep now, Holtville Havoc launch in the morning!
 
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teepot

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Would using an airbrush or HVLP sprayer eliminate orange peel and rough finishes? Sometimes it seems the spray can shoots pigment without solvent and I end up with paint the texture of sandpaper.
 

tlainhart

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  • As stated. Weather is no longer a problem and I can paint any time any day I choose.
  • Fumes are non-toxic. The paint is waterbased so no chemicals to breath. This doesn't stop me from always wearing a mask though. The fine particles that float around when painting can enter your lungs and are still not good for you.. A simple fan with an air-filter is all I need and I can paint inside the house if I want.
@Koffee - what paint are you using? Your rockets look great.
 

David Schwantz

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Would using an airbrush or HVLP sprayer eliminate orange peel and rough finishes? Sometimes it seems the spray can shoots pigment without solvent and I end up with paint the texture of sandpaper.
No it will not. You can still get orange peel with spray guns. Mostly it is caused by paint to thick and technique. can't do much about thick paint in a spray bomb, other than shake it more. But as you are spraying, with either can or gun, try to position your rocket so that the light reflects off the surface you are spraying on. This way you can see the paint that is going down much easier. You want good coverage so there are no gaps between the droplets. If you use a gun and can mix, I like to use lacquer thinner as it promotes paint to level and flow out.
 

Koffee

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Would using an airbrush or HVLP sprayer eliminate orange peel and rough finishes? Sometimes it seems the spray can shoots pigment without solvent and I end up with paint the texture of sandpaper.
In my experience yes. the "orange peel" is a by product of the bottom layer of paint not cured enough and as the gasses try and escape they form bubbles and ridges.

Water based paints dry/cure fast with just some air blowing over them so you can proceed to the next layer very fast. Usually 10-15 mins for me.

Koffee
 
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