I've seen a lot of comments about Chinese made airbrushes, everything from "they're great" to "they're junk".
One of the brands I see mentioned a lot is Master, which is apparently only sold by TCP Global in San Diego. I saw a Master G22 on E-Bay, and bid on it. And I got it for $26.50. It's their lowest price gravity fed double action brush and sells on their site for $39. Delivery from TCP was quick. I won the bid on Sunday and got the airbrush on Tuesday.
Here is what was in the nice plastic case. The plastic eyedropper seems kind of silly, but I guess they wanted something to fill up some space. Notice, it comes with a barbed hose adapter.
I've read a lot that the Chinese airbrushes are copies of Iwatas. The term rip off is often used. Well, here is the G22 next to an old style Iwata HP-C. By the way, I borrowed the Iwata. I don't actually own one.
I suppose you could say there is a resemblance. The internal design is almost identical. Apparently, none of it is patent protected. I believe it is actually a Fengda BD 130A, which you can see here, and is probably sold all over the world under different names.
It was good. The finish is very nice, it felt good in the hand, and the trigger felt very smooth. There is a slight catch when you press the trigger, but I noticed that on the Iwata too. This may be because the pin attached to the trigger slides through a rubber O ring, and rubber is not the most slippery material. A drop of needle lube should help.
The shape of the trigger is nice. There are grooves in it that give good traction.
It's heavier than the Iwata, 98 vs. 91 grams, and 14 grams heavier than the Badger Patriot.
The cap requires a firm press. The cup is not quite round. It's .005" narrower side to side than it is front to back. So, putting the cap on actually springs it into shape.
Trigger back tension is adjustable.
The nozzle is spec'd at 0.3mm. I measured it and it is. 0.2 and 0.5mm nozzles and needles are also available. The brush can be used with the needle cap removed, which will fully expose the needle to damage. With the cap on, the needle is recessed about 1/16th of an inch.
Here it is dismantled.
I didn't try to take apart the air valve. It looks like it requires a special tool, and I didn't want to fool with it. Here it is on the right.
Notice the little screw to the right of it. You should never have to touch it. It acts as a pin and fits in a groove in the needle tube to keep it from rotating. I also didn't try to remove the needle seal. I wasn't sure how hard it would be to get back in. It is removable and adjustable with a jeweler's screwdriver.
The little O ring that the arrow points to isn't such a great idea. It's there to seal the nozzle to the body. But, when you tighten the nozzle, it deforms and can cause the tip of the nozzle to be off center in the opening in the head. The threads of the nozzle and head are very sloppy. The Iwata doesn't have this O ring and I guess doesn't need it. I was advised in one of the forums to just remove it and substitute a bit of bees wax, and I may try that. Here is a review by Rato Marczak of a different Chinese brush with the same problem. The case and other parts look familiar, and it may be made by the same company.
Note: I have discovered that it's not a good idea to tighten the nozzle any more than is necessary. Not only will it center better, but it avoids a problem that is mentioned below in the Postscript section. As long as you don't get bubbles in the cup, the nozzle is tight enough.
Here is the needle compared with the Iwata and Patriot needles. The G22 is at the top, then the Iwata, and the Patriot at the bottom. The shaft of the G22 needle is thinner and the taper is longer. But, it doesn't come to as sharp a point as the Iwata. It has a very tiny secondary taper on the end. The finish is very nice.
The manual is just a single sheet, but it's good enough. TCP made their own, and it's very clear and easy to read. On one side is a cut-away view that I wouldn't stake my life on, and a parts diagram.
Here is the parts diagram.
One of the things I don't like about the Chinese airbrushes is that you can never seem to download manuals or diagrams. So, you don't know what you're getting until you buy one.
TCP's approach to spares is interesting. They say they carry all spare parts. But, they sell them as kits. For instance, suppose you need a new needle. You have to order a needle, nozzle and aircap kit. So, you may need to buy parts you don't need. But, the whole kit is only $6.95, so it's not really a big deal. You can order a major repair kit, that even includes a handle for $12.95. I think this makes inventory a lot easier for TCP.
Trying it out
The Master has the same hose threads as the Iwata, and I was going to buy an adapter to fit my Badger hose. But, thanks to the inclusion of the barbed hose adapter, I found that ordinary aquarium tubing works just fine. It pushes on securely to the airbrush and the Badger compressor adapter.
I think I will take the air valve apart and see what I can do. The Iwata spring feels even stiffer.
I did this with the needle cap off. It's not just that I couldn't get close enough, the cap blocked my view. Being shaped like an inverted cone doesn't help.
Conventional wisdom says that low pressure is best for close work. But, I found I could do better with the pressure cranked up to 25 lbs.
The 0.3 mm nozzle is of no real benefit to me. If you've looked at the samples I've done with other brushes, you can see that my skill level peaks out at about 0.5 mm. Also, the 0.3 mm is going to require more careful thinning.
This airbrush is going to be more difficult to keep clean. The tiny nozzle is hard to hold, let alone clean with anything. The rubber O ring is already starting to look frayed from my handling, and I think it may be a good idea to just leave the nozzle in place and try to keep it clean by flushing.
Also, with this design, there is a channel about 1/4 inch deep between the rear of the cup and the needle seal that is difficult to get to. On the Patriot, the seal is flush with the rear of the cup. I made the drawings below to illustrate the difference. On the left is the G22 and on the right is the Badger Patriot. The narrow space around the needle in the G22 will draw paint in through capillary action. And, the same capillary action makes it difficult to remove. My experience is that just flushing and back flushing won't be enough. You could remove the needle and flush, but then you run the risk of getting paint and thinner back into the air valve, which is not a good idea. I believe this is a common feature of airbrushes with an adjustable needle seal. In the Iwata, the channel is just barely big enough for the needle to pass through. Now I can understand why many people have to soak their brushes occasionally.
Lacquer thinner doesn't seem to hurt them, and by bending the tip over, I can get down inside the cup and scrub out both the front and back openings. It seems to work pretty well for the G22.
Well, the G22 is obviously a copy of an Iwata hp-C. But, the Iwata is not much different from the other gravity fed airbrushes on the market. Most of the design has been around a long time, and isn’t patented. The real question is: “How good of an airbrush is it?” My best answer is that it is capable of nice work if you understand it. In Rato's review that I mention above, he says the choice of materials is not the best and, in his words, "it won't last long". I've also seen comments that the chrome doesn't hold up. Could be, I don't know. But if you consider the price, that may not matter to you.
The poor machining of the front end components and the use of the O-ring under the nozzle are things that I consider serious shortcomings. This is the most critical area of an airbrush as far as performance is concerned. If they had done a better job here I would much happier with it.
To me, it feels clunky compared to my Patriot. It weighs more and is a bit nose heavy. The Patriot costs a little more, but you get something that is easier to clean, more rugged, with good parts availability, and first class support. And, the Patriot’s .5mm tip makes it a better general-purpose airbrush. It will give better coverage, be more forgiving of thinning, and still be capable of pretty fine detail work.
So, I wouldn’t recommend the G22 for a first airbrush. If you are an experienced airbrusher, it might be something you’d want to try, especially if you get a deal like I did.
I was playing around doodling with some ink, and I noticed bubbles in the cup, not when I pressed the trigger, but only when I pulled back on it. Bubbles in the cup when you press but not pull back usually means an air leak between the nozzle and the body of the airbrush. But, I had never seen the case where it didn't bubble until pulling back. Somehow, there was pressure instead of a vacuum at the tip of the nozzle. A tiny split in the nozzle can do this. But, I checked with a magnifier and there was no split. Then I noticed that the tip of the nozzle was slightly recessed in the head. On all my other airbrushes, the nozzle sticks out a little. I checked the base of the nozzle and found that the little O ring had been squeezed almost flat and was pretty much falling apart. This would make the nozzle a bit shorter than normal.
The fix was pretty easy. The head also has an O ring between it and the body of the brush. It's part 4 in the parts diagram above. I just removed it, and this was enough to cause the nozzle to extend a little past the front of the head. The difference in performance was really something. Flow control and fine lines were much easier, and no bubbles.
Here are photos of what I am talking about. On the left is the head with the O ring installed behind it. Notice the nozzle is slightly recessed. On the right is the head with the O ring removed. Notice that the nozzle protrudes just a little. It's just a slight change, but it makes a world of difference in the way the airbrush sprays. One of the complaints I've seen of the Chinese airbrushes, is that they work well at first, but after a while their performance deteriorates. I suspect the O ring could be the cause. I've also read that the O-rings deteriorate after a while when exposed to solvents. I don't think I will use this brush enough to find out.
Here is another sample of ink on paper towel done after this change.
The missing O ring will mean that there is a small air leak between the head and the body. But I don't believe it's enough to matter. And if it does, a little bees wax will fix it. The lesson here is: Don't over tighten the nozzle. I was trying to get the nozzle to center better, and I overdid it. I found that it actually centers better if you leave it a little loose. As long as you don't see bubbles in the cup when you press the trigger, the nozzle to body seal is OK.
I think this shows what I mean about this not being a good airbrush for beginners. Someone with some experience could figure these things out. But a beginner would be lost. He or she wouldn't know if it was the airbrush or something they were doing wrong.
I e-mailed TCP Global and asked about replacing the nozzle O-ring, and I got an answer the next day. It turns out the O-ring comes as part of the nozzle, and the nozzle is part of the nozzle/needle kit. So to get the O-ring, I would have to buy the kit for $6.95. Shipping would be another $5.95. This brings the price of replacement to about $13. But, they did say I could use bees wax instead. Right now, the old O-ring still does its job. When it doesn't, I think I'll try the bees wax.
A word of caution
Apparently, there are a number of manufacturers in China that make airbrushes that look alike, and not all of them have the same quality standards. I received an e-mail from a fellow who bought a brush that looked like a G22 direct from a dealer in Hong Kong. When he tried it out, the spray pattern was distorted. The nozzle was so far off center that it touched the side of the spray regulator, and the opening for air was shaped like a crescent moon. So, if you buy a Chinese made airbrush, you might want to make sure it's from a dealer who will stand behind it in case there is a problem.
A substitute nozzle O-ring
A fellow named Vladimir on the Airbrushforum.com forum came up with a substitute for the tiny O-ring. He cuts them out of plastic wire insulation. You can read about it in this thread. But, you may have to experiment a bit with thickness to get the best from the airbrush. The nozzle should protrude just a tiny bit from the head. Teflon would be best, but I expect vinyl would hold up pretty well. Centering is still a problem.
Thank you Vladimir.
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