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Iwata Eclipse airbrushes and Smart Jet compressor

Manufacturer: Iwata/Medea, Inc., P.O. Box 14397, Portland, OR 97293, 503-253-7308.
Prices: HP-BCS Eclipse (No. ECL 2000), $130; HP-BS Eclipse (No. ECL 2500), $160; Smart Jet compressor (No. IS-850), $299.95.

Iwata, a long-time manufacturer of high-end airbrushes and compressors, is broadening its line to include products aimed at the hobbyist market. The products in this line include the Eclipse series of airbrushes, as well the three compressors in the Studio Series.

I tested the Eclipse BCS, a double-action bottom-feed airbrush with a .5mm needle/nozzle combination, and the Eclipse BS, a double-action gravity-feed brush with a 0.35mm needle and nozzle, using acrylic paints. Overall, I was very impressed with both airbrushes. Despite the fact that my hands are large, I could spray comfortably, and I experienced no clogs or other problems with either airbrush during my testing. Iwata incorporates a cutaway handle into most of its airbrushes that allows the user to move the needle back far more than usual in the event of a clog. (This feature also helps when cleaning the brush, because it dramatically increases paint/cleaner flow). However, the Iwata "Fast Blast" all-plastic bottle/tube assembly didn't seat correctly, so I switched to a bottle with a combination plastic and metal feed tube.

Using the Eclipse BCS, I was able to spray both large areas and small lines with the supplied .5mm needle and nozzle, and the spray pattern was even whether I was spraying a light coat (as when weathering or laying down a dust coat) or a wet coat. When I removed the needle cap (per the Iwata instructions), I could spray lines well under 1mm wide - just for fun, I signed my name in a space approximately 1/4" high. If you plan on doing fine work, consider also purchasing a pre-set adjustable handle which incorporates a screw to limit the needle's travel.

If you plan on doing a lot of fine/detail painting, though, you may want to consider a brush with a smaller needle and nozzle, like the Eclipse BS. The only potential drawback with the Eclipse BS is that its cup holds only 1/16-oz of paint, not enough for a whole armor kit or car body (but enough for plenty of detail work).

Iwata does not recommend disassembling the airbrushes for routine cleaning. To clean the remaining acrylic paint from the airbrushes, I sprayed a detergent/water mix through, followed by a small amount of Testor acrylic cleaner, and then some Windex. I removed the needle to check: after spraying the cleaners through the brush it was completely bare save for a bit of dried paint at the very tip, which came off easily using the Testor cleaner. Last, I wiped the needle with Medea Super Lube, which lubricates the needle and helps prevent paint from drying on the tip.

I tested the Iwata Eclipse airbrushes with two compressors, Iwata's new Studio Series Smart Jet IS-850 and a Kopykake Airmaster Plus (a small diaphragm-type compressor); they performed well with both. The Smart Jet is a single-cylinder compressor with an 1/8-HP electric motor, automatic shutoff, and a combination bleed-type regulator and moisture trap. According to Iwata, it flows .64 cfm at working pressures up to 35 psi, depending upon flow. The Smart Jet is remarkably quiet in operation, at least as quiet as the quiet Airmaster, and it was simple to set up. I found only two drawbacks to the Smart Jet. First, setting the supplied regulator for less than full pressure bleeds enough air that it defeats the auto shut-off. Second, when the regulator was set to deliver less than 15 psi, the regulator knob was backed so far out of its housing that it kept vibrating loose. A wrap or two of Teflon tape around the pressure regulator knob's threads will cure the latter problem.

Overall, I rate the Iwata airbrushes and compressor quite highly. If you're in the market for a double-action airbrush and want one that's an excellent all-around performer, check out the Eclipse series, and as general purpose compressor, the Smart Jet is a fine choice.

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