Airbrushing for Modelers 101

Today, almost all serious modelers would agree that an airbrush is essential. However, it has not always been that way.  Despite a long history, it seems like only a short time ago when modelers debated the necessity of what, to some, was deemed a luxury. An argument I can well remember having with my father as I took my hard earned money downtown to our local art supply store to purchase my first airbrush.  It was a jewel-like Paasche model F in a velvet lined case.  Some fifty-plus years and countless airbrushes later, there is still a uniquely special thrill with the purchase of a new airbrush.  I have created the following pages from the experience and information that I have collected over many years of air-painting scale models.  During those years, and it still continues today, I have been fortunate enough to be the beneficiary of contact with some of the most knowledgeable airbrush artists, autobody painters, airbrush, spraygun and materials technicians.  This experience has provided a more comprehensive understanding of the air-painting process.  I hope these pages reflect that experience and prove useful to you as well.

History of the Airbrush

1876  - F.E. Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer, patents the  first airbrush. It is never marketed.

1879  - Abner Peeler creates the first oscillating needle airbrush.  He calls it a "paint distributer".

1881  - Liberty & Charles Walkup buy Peelers "paint distributer" airbrush patent.

1884  - Walkup patents an improved version with the "wind-wheel" inside the body. It also introduces "double action".  The Walkups form "The Airbrush Manufacturing Company".

1891  - Charles Burdick invents the internal mix airbrush.  The paint and air are mixed inside the airbrush giving it much better spray characteristics.  Thayer & Chandler begin to manufacture Burdick’s airbrush.  An agreement with Burdick prevents them from marketing to Europe.

1893  - Thayer & Chandler are awarded when they exhibit the new internal mix airbrush at the 1893 Columbian Exposition World's Fair.  Charles Burdick moves to England and forms the Fountain Brush Company in London to manufacture his airbrush under the "Aerograph" name.

1896  - Olaus C. Wold, foreman for Thayer & Chandler, is granted a patent for an improved version of the internal mix airbrush.  However, the patent is assigned to Thayer and Chandler.  It features a simplified trigger and needle mechanism attached to a valve for controlling the air.  The nozzle is made removable and the paint is added to a trough around the trigger. This configuration is the basis for the modern airbrushes we use today.

1899  - Olaus Wold, leaves Thayer & Chandler and founds the Wold Airbrush Company.

1904  - Jens Paasche, a former employee of Wold and Thayer & Chandler, creates the Paasche Airbrush Company.  His first airbrush is a miniaturized version of the paint distributer.  It was the forerunner of the Paasche AB.  More information on the Paasche AB can be found on this page.

254 Shades of Gray

This video takes a look at what the airbrush was originally designed to do and why it is still the best method for rendering gradients.