Iwata have a formidable reputation for the quality of their airbrushes. My Eclipse HP-BS has given years of reliable service and is still producing great results despite my not always too tender care! I've just purchased a Premi-Air G35 from the Airbrush Company Ltd.
as a low-cost back-up, but when they very kindly offered me the chance to review one of their latest Iwata airbrushes it was obviously an offer I couldn't refuse.
With a perfectly good Eclipse and its brand new back-up sat next to the workbench, there seemed little point in testing an almost identical design of airbrush, as I knew quality would not be an issue - every Iwata I've ever tried has been superb. No, what caught my eye was the radical-looking "pistol-trigger" TR series - a style of airbrush that I had no experience of at all.
My reasoning for this choice was two-fold:
1. Having used a conventional airbrush of one sort or another for about 35 years, I can pretty much assume that I'll master a new one almost straight away - the differences being largely in the details and quality. The TR would throw me in at the deep end with a very unfamiliar feel and action, forcing me to think afresh - so I'd be approaching it much more like a newcomer.
2. Due to recurring RSI and a touch of arthritis, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to use a conventional top-trigger airbrush for any length of time. The pain is such that lengthy spraying sessions are something I'm starting to dread! The TR would offer at least the chance of something different...
The postman always rings twice...
Well, in fact he didn't have to, I was so eager to get my hands on the package! It was a pretty jaw-dropping line-up:
An Iwata TR-0, complete with in-line moisture trap and Superlube
A quick release hose fitting with a built-in external MAC valve
Premi-Air Liquid Reamer cleaner
The TR-0 is quite superbly built. The finish is second to none, and the action is silky smooth. "Precision instrument" is a term often bandied about - well, it almost looks like you could do surgery with this beauty! The needle is exquisitely polished straight from the factory and no additional set-up is required for peak performance. The package includes bi-lingual Japanese/English maintenance instructions and a small sheet with what appears to be a test-spray of this particular airbrush. A nice touch and a sign of what to look forward to. Also included is a warranty document to fill in. This is definitely worth doing, because the Airbrush Company have doubled Iwata's standard warranty to give you cover for 10 years against any manufacturing defects! It's certainly a reflection of their confidence in the product. Note: The warranty does not cover against damage caused by your own negligence, and needles and nozzles are understandably not covered, because they wear over time.
The TR-0 has a .2mm nozzle and is a side feed model - again, a style I haven't used in a long time - and comes supplied with a very generous 7ml paint cup with a snugly fitting lid. If anything, the paint cup is larger than I'd choose for most jobs I undertake, but the design of it means that even just a few drops of paint go straight to the bottom nozzle with no waste - and the extra size means accidental spills are very unlikely even with no lid on.
But what about that "pistol-trigger"? After all, that was the reason for choosing the TR-0. Well, having held an airbrush in the manner of a pen for so many years, I was worried that this contraption - looking much more akin to a spray-gun - would be awkward and less precise. So, I picked it up rather gingerly... and discovered straight away that this isn't the case at all! The TR sits very comfortably in the hand, and I found the natural way for me to hold it was with my index finger resting lightly on the top of the airbrush (where the top trigger would be, if it had one) and my middle finger on the trigger. That way, you hold the body just as you normally would, pen-style - and it feels perfectly natural. But controlling the air and paint flow with the "wrong" finger? Hmm - this was going to be interesting!
Turning to the other items in the package, the moisture trap included as standard is designed to attach directly to the airbrush as a last line of defense against any water droplets in the hose. It's like a miniature version of the glass bulb type often fitted on compressors, complete with a little spring-valve to drain away any water that builds up.
The quick-disconnect plug / external MAC valve seems to be brand new idea, combining two successful Iwata products into one very useful attachment. The quick release does just what you'd expect - pulling down on the sleeve releases the hose instantly, with no clumsy twizzling the airbrush to unscrew it. A MAC valve is something I've wanted to try for ages. It's such a simple idea, you wonder why it's not been done previously - basically, it's a miniature air-pressure regulator fitted to the airbrush rather than the compressor. Having had a chance to use one at last, I found it so convenient I'll definitely want it as a standard fitting from now on.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Going back a step, as I began putting all the parts together, doubts began to creep in. There's no point denying it - the combined assembly of airbrush, plus quick release / MAC valve, plus moisture trap looked impossibly clumsy!
Again, how wrong I was! Despite the size of the attachments, they fit neatly across the palm of the hand and within a moment or two I'd forgotten they were even there. The whole set-up felt natural and comfortable - it was clearly time to fire her up!
With this being somewhat uncharted territory for me, it seemed wise to shoot some test strokes before getting near a model! So I thinned some Xtracolor Tyre Black and did a few tests onto glossy white card. The results were instantly good; any doubts I had about trying to control things with my middle finger proved groundless - the feel was quite instinctive from the word go.
I'd been wondering how the trigger would actually work; obviously it must be different from the conventional "push down to start the air, pull back for the paint" type, and so it proved. Pulling back gently releases the air and further pressure feeds in the paint. The real revelation for me was that this style of trigger actually felt smoother and more controllable than my trusty HP-BS - the lever action makes it more akin to a Harder & Steenbeck Evolution, where you almost seem to "roll in" the paint in a very smooth way. Basically, I love it!
But back to spraying. It was no surprise that the action was beautifully responsive and I was soon spraying lines down to less than 1mm width. Having the air pressure controllable at the airbrush itself is really convenient, but the only slightly strange thing is that there's no scale on the MAC valve - you're doing things by "feel" rather than by eye, but that in itself soon seems perfectly natural.
So, with basic tests safely out of the way, it was time to reach for a willing guinea-pig - a 1:48 Flitzer. Starting off with a base coat of WEM's RLM 79 the coverage was smooth and easy - despite it's ultra-fine .2mm nozzle, the TR-0 could still handle day-to-day aircraft painting tasks perfectly well.
With the base coat dry, it was time for some mottling. It's a fictitious camouflage scheme, but it seemed a good test. I have to say the TR-0 was a delight to use! Not only was it beautifully controllable and able to tackle the mottle finish with the ease that I've come to expect from an Iwata product, but it's without doubt the most comfortable airbrush I've ever used! As I wrote earlier, RSI has made spraying sessions something of a misery lately, but the "pistol-trigger" of the TR-0 completely transformed things! After spraying for an hour, I was ready for more. It's the first time I can honestly say I've enjoyed using an airbrush in several years, and after just a few sessions I can't imagine willingly switching back to a "top-trigger" airbrush, except in emergencies.
Having used a gravity-feed airbrush for so long, clean-up was a novelty. The paint cup had drained nicely and spraying through some thinners showed no obvious paint build-up. Taking off the cup, I gave quick squirt of Liquid Reamer into the innards of the TR-0 and sprayed it through. Finally, I replaced the cup and put in a few more drops of thinners. With my finger over the airbrush nozzle, I made it "backfire" to blow bubble back into the paint cup (another beauty of the big cup is that it avoids splashes). Finally, after spraying through again, I withdrew the needle... it was spotless, and peering into the guts of the TR-0, they they seemed equally clean.
Also available from The Airbrush Company are some rather neat plastic paint cups. They were originally designed for the now out of production Conopois airbrush, but thanks to a little metal adapter they fit Iwata side-feed airbrushes perfectly. There are two sizes available:
- a 1/4 oz (7 ml) with a lid for £1.94
- a small retouch cup (holds just a few drops) for £1.27
- the adapter costs £4.49
They are also available as a set containing the adapter plus 5 x 7 ml cups and 2 x retouch cups for £13.69
The beauty of the cups is that they allow quick changes of paint without cleaning in between, and the retouch cups are perfect for weathering and detail painting where only a drop or two of any colour is needed.
I purposely went into this review setting up a few obstacles in my path; summing them up, a style of airbrush of airbrush as unfamiliar as I could reasonably find. I was left with one incontrovertible conclusion: The Iwata TR-0 is a superb airbrush! Obviously, it's not cheap (although it's only the equivalent price of 10 or so average kits), but it is an investment that will last a lifetime of modelling if it's properly looked after. The style is so unusual that when friends heard I was going to review it and said "You lucky b*gger!", I had to reply that there was always the chance that I wouldn't be able to get on with it at all... Suffice to say, the TR-0 kicked all my existing collection of airbrushes onto the substitutes bench! It is without doubt the most comfortable to use airbrush I've got.
But few people are likely to spend the better part of £200 on somebody else's say so, particularly in times as financially hard for most of us as these. I realise that I'm in a very privileged position in being able to review the TR-0, but what I recommend is that you test one in a shop or at a model show if you possibly get the chance. I think you'll be as impressed as I am. This is especially true for anybody who, like me, has experienced loss of dexterity - the TR is truly a revelation. Unreservedly recommended.
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