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The ABC of airbrush handling and cleaning

by Christian Jakl, photos taken by Wolfram Bradac

The ABC of airbrush handling and cleaning The airbrush has evolved into the probably most important tool in the past few years. Reasons for this are probably the reduction in price and fact that many modelers want to present their work with a perfect paint job. The paint brush increasingly takes on a secondary role as even small parts are painted with the airbrush. Therefore it is important to learn a little more about handling and cleaning.

In this article we shall discuss the cleaning and various useful practices in handling the airbrush. We have chosen two systems that we use: The Evolution EVO TWO IN ONE and the AZTEK 470. The EVO represents almost all metal airbrushes that are similar in handling and design. For the AZTEK 470, there are no comparable products and falls outside the standard airbrush systems. Cleaning materials are the same for both systems.


We have chosen Tamiya red for our color tone. First because it provides a better contrast for photography and second because Tamiya colors are one of the most popular lines for aircraft and military modeling. We thin the color right in the color cup. We add the color and then the thinner (Isopropyl alcohol). Then we close off the nozzle with the help of a Q- tip and carefully press the trigger. The air cannot escape through the nozzle and finds its way into color cup. You will notice the bubbles in the color cup. Careful! Press the trigger lightly and don't pull it back. With the AZTEK you can put your finger right on the nozzle since there are no air outlet slots near the nozzle.
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  Aztek & Evolution - We thin the color right in the color cup ...  
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Image 1:
EVOLUTION (above) and
AZTEK (below)
Image 2:
Close the EVOLUTION - nozzle
with a Q-tip.
Image 3:
With the AZTEK, the finger suffices.
Tips: Do not thin the colors below 1:3 (1 part color to 3 parts thinner). The air brushed surface will be smoother the more thinner one uses. If you do not thin the enough the surface will be rough. Furthermore color transitions will not be as neat and lines harder. I recommend to practicing on a white piece of paper to see how well the color was thinned. With LIFECOLOR paints you should not thin right in the color cup since it has a tendency to foam up.
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The quick clean:

It is not advisable to make a complete cleaning of the airbrush after every color because of the time factor, it is therefore recommended to quick clean the airbrush before the color change. When one color application is complete the extra color left in the color cup should be poured back into manufacturer's bottle. The remaining color should be sprayed unto a cloth until no color leaves the airbrush.

When this is complete the differences in the two systems become apparent. The AZTEK 470 is well designed for the quick color change because the color cup can be quickly removed and replaced by another one in the set. Meanwhile the original color cup can be placed into a container with Nitro thinner. Fear not! AZTEK parts are not attacked by Nitro thinner. Before a new color cup is attached the airbrush should be cleaned with Nitro thinner.

The two glass containers provided with the AZTEK always contain Nitro thinner on my work table and are used only to clean the airbrush. You won't get away with such a quick cleaning approach with the EVOLUTION 2. You have to fill the color cup with Nitro thinner and blow it through the airbrush. Stubborn remnants of color can be wiped off with a cloth or a clean Q-tip. This also applies to the AZTEK.
  The quick clean ...  
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Image 4:
Fill Nitro thinner directly into the
color cup.
Image 5:
To clean spray into a cloth.
Image 6:
Clean color remnants in the color cup with a cloth.
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Image 7:
Clean the nozzle with a Q-tip.
Image 8:
With the AZTEK spray out all excess color remnants
Image 9:
The color cup can be placed into a container with Nitro thinner.
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Tips: As you can see in the picture, the Nitro thinner has been used quite a lot. It will clean parts for months without having to be replaced. Think of the environment when dealing with such cleaning agents. Neat and clean work does not require clean thinners. This also goes for the cloth used in this article. Since the Nitro thinner is also a degreasing agent it will dry out the skin very quickly. A hand crème is recommended after the work session.

LIFECOLOR and VALLEJO colors cannot be cleaned with Nitro thinner. Ammonia (window cleaner) can be used for that.

The cleaning station:

If the smell of Nitro thinner or Ammonia bothers you, then you can buy the Cleaning Station made by AZTEK. There is also an extension available in order to use more than one airbrush. The construction is simple: a screw on retaining ring, a filter and a jar. During use no smell or liquid can escape. You simply stick the nozzle into the upper elbow and the thinner is sprayed through the filter into the jar. The price is rather steep at 40 Euros and one has to regularly replace the filters. The reward is practical and a user friendly operation.
The cleaning of the EVOLUTION TWO IN ONE:

If one believes that the airbrush is clean even after the spraying of various thinners and the airbrush appears to be "optically" clean, think again. Only after one takes the airbrush apart, does one become aware of color remnants within. After intensive use,a complete clean up is necessary. The EVOLUTION has a removable needle. That means color can spread from the nozzle to the adjustment screw. The first move is to re move the needle. Careful with the point of the needle, if bent it is very hard to fix.

Then the nozzle can be screwed off. The EVOLUTION nozzle is made up of two parts, the housing and the nozzle head. There you will also find the Teflon seal. Handle the seal with care and do not place it for long periods of time in Nitro thinner. When all parts have been disassembled they can be easily cleaned. Wipe the needle with a cloth from the back to the front. Cotton wool drenched in thinner can be used to clean tubes and crevices. There are various cleaning sets on the market.
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  The cleaning of the EVOLUTION ...  
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Image 10:
Remove needle carefully.
Image 11:
Wipe needle from back to front.
Image 12:
The nozzle is removed.
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Image 13:
The nozzle is disassembled
into two parts.
Image 14:
All orifices are cleaned with thinner drenched cotton wool.
Image 15:
Take care with the nozzle, clean only with soft material.
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Tips: Important! The needle needs to be removed first during disassembly. During assembly push the needle through after the nozzle has been installed. This is one way to avoid damaging the needle. If the EVO is not in use for long time it is better to remove the needle and inserted just before use. It has happened that after less than thorough cleaning the needle has gotten stuck in the housing and upon forceful removal has been damaged. Never use pliers or other hard surfaced tools to remove a needle!

The cleaning of the AZTEK 470:

The 470 consists mostly of hard plastic and it does not have to be handled as carefully nor is it as complex. The needle attached to a spring sits firmly in the nozzle, the matter what nozzle one chooses to use. When the nozzle head is removed so is the needle. The needle is made of very hard material and is not easily damaged. The nozzle is removed with a tool that is supplied and one immediately notices that the color does not have to travel very far.

This means the color stays in the front of the airbrush and with normal use does not spread to other parts. The nozzle can be left in the Nitro thinner overnight. If there is a problem and one has the feeling that it is clogged one can disassemble the nozzle. The needle assembly can be removed from the housing with slight turn, as can be the needle and spring from the assembly. Now they can be cleaned. On the AZTEK 470 the color in and out channel can be cleaned with a bristle brush.
  The cleaning of the AZTEK ...  
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Image 16:
Disassembly with the AZTEK tool.
Image 17:
A slight turn and the needle assembly can be taken out.
Image 18:
The spring can be taken out too.
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Image 19:
push the needle through the cloth in order to clean better.
Image 20:
Orifices of the AZTEK ...
Image 21:
... can be cleaned with a bristle brush.
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Tips: The needle is fastened to the spring. Should the impression arise that the fine point nozzle does not do fine work any more then it is possible to pull the spring apart and therefore bring it into a better extended position. That means the spring pushes the needle a little harder to the opening and the trigger can be adjusted accordingly. When attaching the nozzle to the airbrush listen to the noise. A squeaking noise means that the nozzle is tightly attached. Never put oil or grease on the threading.

General Tips :

General tips: In various forums on can read about common problems encountered while airbrushing. The airbrush spits or no color comes out. Mostly there are minor causes for major problems. Spitting can happen when various parts of the airbrush are not screwed together properly. So look at the assembly carefully and tighten whatever seems loose. If the problem persists it is possible that a seal is defective. With the EVOLUTION it could be the seal inside the nozzle.

With the AZTEK the whole nozzle. If no color appears then there are two possibilities. First the needle is stuck or somewhere in the nozzle there is too much dried paint. Be careful when working with Future. Never leave the airbrush without immediately cleaning out the Future. It will clog up the whole airbrush. The same is true when using thinned out white glue.

General mechanics of the AZTEK airbrush:

AZTEK 470 has a lifetime guarantee. If you open the body of the airbrush the guarantee is void. All dealers are not as efficient and what is supposed to take two weeks for repair may last two months. If one takes the chance and opens the AZTEK nevertheless because something is not working right this is what one can expect.

The AZTEK 470 is not glued nor screwed together. In order to take it apart one has to pull out the rear part. Careful! The parts are placed or stuck in place. Upon opening those parts might fall out.
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  General mechanics of the AZTEK airbrush ...  
(1) The trigger. It has happened quite often that the trigger wobbles back and forth loosely. The reason is simple it slid out of its plug type connector (2). The problem can be fixed quite easily. The color distribution roller (3) is a robust part of this airbrush and will present few problems. The air valve (4) will also work without problems. The front air hose attachment (5) is also stuck into place and will present no problems. Make sure the blue hose is firmly in place. Only the mechanics of the metal pin that regulates the needle (6) may present problems when taken apart. The insertion of this part requires some dexterity. The AZTEK 470 is held together in three areas. With the metal ring in front and two plug connectors in the housing. (7)
  meet the author      

Christian Jakl

  I was born in Vienna in 1971 and now I live in the middle of the mountains in the Tyrol district. I am in marketing and my specialty is graphic design and layout. Ships, planes and automobiles is how it started and now I have taken up aircraft models only. I concentrate on the German and Soviet air force. My favorite mode of display are dioramas in 1/48 scale. Here I can let my imagination run wild and can produce many of parts. Experimentation and the use of new techniques are foremost on my mind. I also combine stock kits with other add onís and try out new tools. There is always a lot to learn.

It is not all that important to me if a detail is no exactly in the right spot; the final product has to look right. If somebody stands in front of my model and is enthused then I did my job right. The only problem I have is the time factor and in this I probably not alone. I wish everybody a lot of fun with this page and hope that critiques and comments are forthcoming.
  Christian Jakl  
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was last modified on: Oct 28, 2004
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