It’s a little late, but here’s a little story. Before I bought my airbrush, I wanted to make sure that airbrushing ‘fit’ with my method of painting. While I already had an airbrush (thanks for a friend who stopped his Gundam habit), I was still out a compressor, which is what you definitely need in the airbrush world. And when an investment is anywhere from 500-1000 bucks (I think all in I paid about $700), you better make sure that it’s something you’ll be using, and OFTEN. So I did a little bit of hands-on-research.
One of the ways I made sure was by getting a one-shot can of compressed air to use with the airbrush. If I remember correctly, some of the Ramos starter was painted that way. And the other way I checked was by making sure that I couldn’t do the same things with just spray paint. And that’s where these trolls came in.
What I did was pick three colours (a dark grey, light grey and really light grey) to paint the troll skin. First the darkest colour to make sure all of the trolls were painted, then subsequently spraying the 1st and 2nd highlights from a specific position (in this case top down) to establish transitions and highlights. Like with the airbrush, I manually finish the rest of the miniature.
As you can see, they look great. And I guess that’s to be expected. After all, when you boil it down to its absolute BASIC, airbrushing is fundamentally similar to using spray paints: aerosolizing paint to cover as much areas as possible in a short time and cut down time taken in painting, and for those more adventurous types, laying down basic highlights or shadings via directional spraying/airbrushing. The problem is that the devil’s in the details. And Airbrush-compressor setup is going to REALLY set you back (you could probably get a 40k army at that price, or two Warmachine armies), the noise might be an issue if you have a family to worry about, and a permanent place to set up is also a problem for those space-starved people.
On the other hand, spray painting has its own set of hoops to jump through. Even though there are quite a few spray paint brands out there that have a wide range of colours, like Tamiya or Montana, finding that exact shade or highlight is going to be a lot harder than mixing up your own on demand. I had to kind of design my colour scheme around the colours I could get, which is not what I’m used to. And while spray cans don’t take up huge amounts of permanent space, you have to constantly set up and tear down in a well ventilated area (more so than an airbrush I feel), and be at the mercy of the weather.
All in all, the inconvenience of building your models around a limited palette, as well as the problem of harmful fumes, means that I’d rather shell out the (admittedly hefty) sum to get an airbrush and compressor than continue with spray paints. The only time I’d probably recommend spray paints? If there’s a colour that’s perfect for your army, and you’re going to be doing a whole lot at one go. Ay other time and the airbrush has my vote. And if you want to save money, you can probably do what you need to do with the tried and true method of paint and brush. After all, nothing is really ESSENTIAL in the hobby, just fun tools to have.