by: Bill Cross [ ]
Airbrushes are like women: every man has a different opinion on what makes for the "perfect" one (I don't mean to be sexist, the same can be said about women and their men). The comparison isnít far-fetched, either, since the features youíre looking for and the ones I want may be quite different. Line, ease-of-use and price are all common attributes modelers dispute and argue about when discussing the better-quality airbrushes.
I have gone through a number of airbrushes over the years, including Badgers and Paasches, though I have not owned an Iwata. The Paasche Talon was the closest I had come to finding the "right" airbrush, but there were numerous features about it I disliked. I was gravitating to an Iwata (because itís supposed to be the best) when I happened to meet a representative from Grex at the recent MosquitoCon model show in NJ. He was demonstrating several products, but the Tritium.TG turned out to be love at first sightó er touch (the Grex rep did not know I am an editor at Armorama).
The TG is a pistol-grip airbrush, and that was important in making the switch. I had become dissatisfied with conventional double-action airbrushes, as well as side-feed color cups. The double-action mechanism on most airbrushes requires two distinct movements: pushing down for more air; pulling back for more color. As my hands have aged, I found coordinating the movements more problematical, to the point where I was concentrating too much on my hands and not on my painting. The Tritium TG is a pistol grip-type airbrush with a trigger that handles both color flow and air pressure. There are other features about the Grex I really liked, but Iím getting ahead of myself.
what you get
Here are the components of the TG when purchased on the open market:
2mL (1/20 fl. oz.) Top Cup w/ Lid
7mL (1/4 fl. oz.) Top Cup w/ Lid
15mL (1/2 fl. oz.) Top Cup w/ Lid
Quick-Fit Standard Needle Cap
Quick-Fit Crown Needle Cap
Plastic Carrying Case
The major reason I purchased the Tritium TG was its pistol grip trigger mechanism. How can one trigger handle both paint and air and not be a single-action airbrush? Good that you asked: Grex has the first half of the triggerís movement control the amount of air, while the second half of the arc controls the flow of paint. The result is a natural application of paint according to your needs, one that doesnít require a lot of attention. Control is enhanced by an adjustment knob at the end restricting the traverse of the needle if you want to make sure you donít accidentally drown your project in too much color.
While other brands offer pistol grip designs, one feature I particularly like about the TG is its small color reservoir for paint within the handle itself, and three different screw-in color cups. The reservoir holds a fingernailís full of paint, allowing for quick applications on small projects (a bit of gun metal on a MG barrel, for example). The three color cups in 2mL, 7mL and 15mL sizes are easily screwed-in or out, and again, allow for convenience and ease in moving from project to project. Just need a little clear acrylic flat? Then the 2mL is the right size; covering a battleship in gray? Then you'll want the big 15mL.
You not only can tailor your paint quantity to the job, you also clean up much easier and faster. Instead of having to swish solvent or water into a gravity feed cup, I can detach that cup and drop it in water, alcohol or solvent (there are small Teflon washers at the base of the cups, so be careful not to leave the assembly soaking in a powerful solvent like lacquer thinner). Focusing then on the small reservoir, I only need to flush out its small space by flooding the compartment with thinner or water. The needle seems to stay cleaner this way, as well as the nozzle.
With other airbrushes like the Talon, clean-up usually required removing the needle and wiping it down with solvent or thinner, especially when using fast-drying liquids like acrylic overcoats or Future, both of which tend to bond the needle to the brush interior. Taking out the needle can result in bending or even breaking the tip; the old airbrush needles I now use for applying CA glue are testament to the dangers of removing your airbrushís needle. The nozzle of the Grex also seems less-prone to fouling than with other airbrushes Iíve owned.
While not included in the basic set, another feature I like about the Grex system is its G-MAC Micro Air Control Quick Coupler Valve. The valve connects to your compressor's air hose, and can be purchased for Grex, Badger or Paasche hoses. The locking ring allows for easy coupling or uncoupling of the airbrush, or even switching between airbrush brands if you have others on-hand. It also means you can use a Grex brush with any of those three major compressor brands (they have adaptors for other compressor hoses, but nothing so neat). The coupler valve has a thumbscrew at the base allowing for easy control of airflow, rather than fiddling with a compressor's moisture trap/pressure regulator.
The TG isnít perfect; the vinyl covering on the trigger mechanism too easily absorbs paint from my fingers (Iím a sloppy painter and often end up holding small parts and inadvertently spraying my fingertips). The result is an occasional sticky sensation I could do without. The other feature Iím not crazy about are the magnetized needle/nozzle caps. The caps come in the "standard" version and a "crown" or open version that lets you hold the airbrush flush against a surface and still have good air flow. The caps don't screw on like most airbrushes; the magnetizing holds them to the metal body of the airbrush tip.
That's fine when they're in-place over the nozzle, except Grex wants you to store the unused one on the rear end of the adjustment knob. I've been down on hands and knees too many times so far searching for the spare tip after knocking it off simply brushing against it, so now the spare one is in the case the whole set comes in.
I was never persuaded by airbrush reviews that show samples of painted lines. The only way to know what a particular brush can do is by trying it on a project. I figure any fine-nozzled airbrush can do pretty much what the others do, so the decision-making factors for me are:
Again, I assume that any $200 airbrush will render a spectacular line; in most cases, an airbrush of that quality is overkill for the average modeler who is applying a single color of paint to a kit, not doing tattoo work or art restoration. The advantages of tiny lines and precision applications are more in smaller scales and in figures.
But to make sure, I asked Grex to provide me with a .2mm nozzle assembly (my airbrush came with the slightly-larger, but still quite fine .3mm nozzle). I was skeptical of the difference, but the smaller aperture and needle allow for an extremely fine line that will be a bonus for figure painters or those working in small scales. It allows painting up close and without the wider spray that means masking everything in sight. But such precision comes at a price: the smaller aperture is more sensitive to clogs, so be sure you keep your paint free from debris and other nasty stuff.
Though this review is not meant to compare one brand with another, when spending over $200 for an airbrush, the logical comparison is to the Iwata. Considered the gold standard in airbrushes, Iwata has a wide range of styles and prices, including two pistol-grip models (the Kustom Hi-Line HP-TH or Kustom Revolution TR). The Grex Tritium is over $50 less than the comparable Iwata Kustom Revolution TR, a solid advantage in my opinion. The Grex also comes with three different nozzle sizes, including the option of the extremely-fine .2mm (.3mm is the smallest size on all Iwatas except the $500 Kustom Custom Micron CM which does not come in the pistol-grip configuration).
And so far as I can tell, none of the Iwatas offers the Grex feature of changing paint cup sizes. In practical usage, I find this feature very helpful and a real advantage over other gravity-fed airbrushes.
Do you need .2mm? Probably not, but it sure is good to know you can go that small if you need to. I would definitely recommend trying out a Grex before making a purchase of this size, but I was so impressed by my turn using it at the show, I ordered one the next day.
A companion review of the Tritium TS will be appearing soon in Aeroscale