Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Adventures in Airbrushing Episode IV: Where do I buy this stuff?

Apparently airbrushes are not high on Google's priorities.

Hey everybody, Chaosheade here with a quick addition another episode of Adventures in Airbrushing with commentary by M4XVLTG3.  I wanted to go over different airbrush retailers and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each one.  There is a very brief list in AiA Episode III on compressors but I want something much more comprehensive.  The subject didn't really seem to fit in any of the other sections that are being worked on or are planned and it's something I wanted to discuss.  This was originally supposed to be a quick and dirty guide but it ended up growing too long to be considered a small addition so it grew up to be a full episode.  That seems to happen a lot when I get carried away with my research.  More after the jump.
There are many different places where you can buy airbrush supplies both locally and online and each has their advantages and disadvantages.

Bet you can't guess the source of this pic.

Buying Locally
Brick and mortar stores usually cannot afford to offer the huge discounts that you can find at online retailers but there are still some significant advantages.  One of the biggest advantages of buying from a brick and mortar store is that you can talk to someone and get advice and other useful information face to face.  (If you prefer non face to face interaction, you're already in the right place.)  Another advantage is that if something is wrong with your airbrush or it's giving you trouble you can just go back to the store rather than having to ship it back to wherever you got it from.  It's also much faster to run to the store to buy your setup or to get more supplies, replacement parts, or more personal assistance than ordering online.  Another advantage that should not be overlooked is the ability to actually see in person what you are buying, or even take it out for a test drive in some places.  This eliminates the possibility of receiving your airbrush and finding out that it will not work for you, whether it doesn't fit your hand, you don't like the feel of it, or any other reason that I couldn't come up with. I know this is a big factor for me. I'm one of those people who have to feel the action of the brush before throwing cash on a setup. Also its kinda nice to see how loud that compressor is going to be before hand. Oh, you also don't have to pay shipping which can get expensive for big heavy compressors.  So while you cannot rely on the steep discounts of online retailers there are definitely some advantages to buying in person and if you do it right you can still get a great deal.

  • Hobby Stores - Around here we have Michael's and Hobby Lobby.  They have a limited selection and prices are high, but they regularly have coupons for 40-50% off one item that you can find in the newspaper, other ads, or online.  If they happen to stock the models that you are looking for and you use the coupons, this could be a nice balance between price and convenience.
  • Stores Specializing in Airbrush Supplies - While you will most likely pay full retail price or close to it, these places will likely have a much wider selection available and a much more knowledgeable staff.  They should be able to give you great advice and answer any questions you might have.  If you are not on a tight budget and want the full service experience, then look for a store near you.  If you have trouble finding one try asking your local paint shop or just do a search for "auto body shop supply" or something similar.
  • Hardware Stores - If you decide to buy a tool compressor this is probably where you will get it unless you order online from Habor Freight, Northern Tool + Equipment, or another online store.  They may have some supplies but don't expect to find any good quality airbrushes suitable for our needs.
To make the picture more realistic, add another hand reaching out of the computer screen and jacking the woman's credit card.

Buying Online
The advantages of buying online are pretty obvious.  You can find huge discounts, you might save on sales tax, you don't have to burn time and fuel to drive somewhere, and you can shop in your underwear.  It's easier to look at specific examples of online stores because hey, it's on the internet where anybody can access it while local stores are only good if you are near them.  I am going to put all the websites into 3 different categories: airbrush supply retailers, art supply retailers, and general/auction sites.

Airbrush Supplies: Airbrush supply stores will likely have very competitive pricing and an excellent selection including not only airbrushes and compressors but also accessories, paints, and just about any other supplies related to airbrushing that you could dream of.  The two online stores that are used most in this series are Chicago Airbrush Supply and Airbrush Depot (A.K.A. TCP Global) so I have more details on them than other stores but I will list a number of other retailers as well, I just won't have much info on them.  After doing some more research I found that most online airbrush retailers do not carry a wide range of different brands with some only carrying 1 or 2.  Chicago Airbrush Supply and Airbrush Depot seem to be the exceptions since they have a huge number of different brands available compared to other online stores.  If you know of any that I missed, please don't hesitate to share and I'll also keep looking for other retailers to add to the list.
  • Chicago Airbrush Supply - This site comes highly recommended by several different sources.  They have a great selection, very competitive prices, and sometimes offer free shipping deals.  I have also heard that they have excellent customer service.  Chicago Airbrush Supply seems like an excellent retailer and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
  • Airbrush Depot - (My personal Favorite) The biggest advantage that Airbrush Depot has over Chicago Airbrush Supply is that they carry the cheap knock-off brand airbrushes and compressors.  Airbrush prices are very similar to Chicago's but compressors are generally a bit more expensive but not a huge difference in most cases.  Their website is also a lot less user friendly but they do have a good selection.  I wouldn't hesitate to buy from Airbrush Depot but I think Chicago Airbrush Supply is generally better unless you want a knock-off brand airbrush/compressor which by many accounts are just as good as name brand products for a fraction of the price.
  • Coast Airbrush
  • TC Graphics and Paint
  • SM Designs - UK based website.
  • Airbrushes.com - also a UK based website.
  • Everything Airbrush - another UK based site.
  • Airbrushes Online - and one more UK based site.
  • AirbrushShop.com.au - this one is an Australian site for our friends down under.
  • Airbrush Manufacturer's Websites: You can buy direct from the manufacturer, usually at a higher price than the other online retailers.  You are likely to get great customer service but I can't guarantee that for every airbrush company. I'm not going to list them all, a simple search should bring up whichever one you are looking for.  

Airbrush art at it's finest.  Here at Maximum Heresy we provide complimentary sarcasm with no hidden fees.

Online Art Supplies: These sites deal in all kinds of art supplies rather than specializing in airbrush supplies.  They usually have fairly competitive prices but cannot match the selection of the airbrshing dedicated sites.  This could be an option if you also need some other supplies and want to make one large order rather than multiple smaller ones from different sources.
  • Dick Blick -  A site that I use often for art supplies that I can't find in local shops like high quality paint brushes, the brand of artist's inks that I use, and other things when I don't feel like buying them one at a time with coupons at the local hobby store.  They don't have a huge range of airbrush related stuff like the airbrush supply stores but they have a decent selection and pretty good prices.
  • Art Supply Stores Review - While I was surfing the net I stumbled upon this set of reviews by Top Ten Reviews which goes to 11, rating 11 different online art supply stores including Utrecht, Dick Blick Art Materials (listed above), Misterart, Cheap Joe's Art Stuff, Art Supplies Online, Rex Art, Pearl, Daniel Smith, Jerry's Artarama, Plaid, and finally on the second page is In2art.  I do not have personal experience with any of the stores except Dick Blick so I think these reviews should help you find the right place better than I could.  I did a quick search on each site to make sure there were no clunkers in there and every one except Plaid had a decent selection of airbrush supplies.  I don't think any of them can match the variety of the dedicated airbrush stores, but that is to be expected.
  • Hobby Lobby - Pretty much the same as the retail store, but you can buy online and might find things they don't keep stocked in stores.  Not a great selection but you can usually use the coupons.
  • Michael's - See Hobby Lobby above.

General/Auction/Other:  Lots of stores also store or sell their wares online through their own websites or other websites to increase their customer base and create an online presence or just increase the size of their current online presence.  You can also find individuals selling their equipment that can range from brand new to junk.  If you decide to buy used equipment, make sure you read the Buying Used section below.
  • eBay - You can find just about anything on eBay and airbrushes are no exception.  It's possible that you can find amazing deals but you could also get stuck with rubbish.  Just make sure you shop around to make sure you are getting a good price and follow the usual rules for buying on eBay to make sure you don't get shafted and you should do fine.
  • Amazon -  Another common sense website that you can find a lot of things on.
  • Hardware/tool supply online websites - Same as the brick and mortar stores but you can shop online and might be able to find things online that they don't have stocked in the store.  Beware shipping costs for big tool compressors unless they do free shipping to your local store or have a free shipping special deal going on.
OMG it's the ultra-rare alternate cover art drawn by the lead developer's 2 year old child!  I hope nobody beats me to it.

Buying Used
Unless you want something cheap to play with or experiment with things that you don't want in your good airbrush, buying a used airbrush is a gamble.  Unless the seller lets you take apart and inspect the airbrush (unlikely) and you know what it is supposed to look like ahead of time (only if you really do your homework first), you don't really know what condition the equipment will be in, especially when buying on eBay or other online source.  You might be able to find a really great deal but if you end up with a clunker then you will really be kicking yourself for wasting money that could have gone towards a better brand new setup.  Of course, if you just want a junker to scavenge spare parts from then this might be a good option.  It's a lot like cars in that if you know how to fix that $500 beater more power to you.  If you don't know or care how your car works go ahead and buy off the lot with a warranty.

Well, that's all I've got to say about that, we hope this information is useful.  M4XVLTG3 and I will be back with another episode of Adventures in Airbrushing coming soon(tm)!  Chaosheade signing out.  Catch you on the flip side.

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