For many years I’ve been a great fan of the Iwata HP-C Plus for custom painting crankbaits. It’s been the workhorse of my operation for about 5 years and I currently have 5 HP-C Plus’ in almost daily use. Some have been in use for years and are as good as the day I bought them. I’d absolutely recommend the HP-C Plus to anyone getting into custom lure painting. It’s about as close as you’ll find to the perfect all-round airbrush.
But a few months back Karl Isherwood at Anest Iwata Australia provided me with one of their Neo For Iwata CN models to test and review. Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how I’ve found this particular airbrush for painting crankbaits, let me give you a bit of general background on the Neo range of airbrushes.
One of the challenges faced by the manufacturers of better quality airbrushes is the glut of cheap, no-name knockoffs that have flooded the market in recent years. On eBay and Amazon these inferior airbrushes look every bit as good as the quality ones. But when they arrive on your doorstep it’s a different matter. Even more so when you try and use them!
If you’ve done any amount of custom lure painting you’ll feel the difference the instant you take one out of the packaging. Cheap airbrushes feel well, cheap. They are usually less solid, less smooth and less comfortable to hold than a quality airbrush – which instantly translates to less control over paint.
There are also some not-so-visible shortcomings of the bargain basement airbrushes, too. Thin chrome wears away quickly, causing them to clog more frequently. Soft needles wear out of shape, poor seating of the needle in the nozzle and poor internal baffling all lead to less than perfect atomization of the paint. Poor performance is common after a few weeks, if not the moment they are first used. They usually have a fairly short lifespan and (in many cases) it’s hard to get replacement parts.
But most folks who are just getting into painting crankbaits are not airbrush experts. Most don’t have the opportunity to test a few different brands before settling on just one that will cover all of their needs. And since the cheapies look the same as the better quality models it can be tempting to save a few bucks. Which usually costs a lot more in the long run……
Admittedly, those cheapie airbrushes have made it more accessible for the everyday punter to start painting crankbaits. But sadly, they also cause a lot of guys to get frustrated and give up prematurely.
My advice? Painting crankbaits is addictive, once you start you’re likely to want to keep going. And you don’t want to be limited or frustrated by rubbish equipment. So buy the best you can afford, right from the start. It will save you money in the end!
Painting Crankbaits With The Neo For Iwata CN
In my view, Iwata made a very smart move with the Neo range. They’ve outsourced the manufacturing from their high-end Japanese factory and made a few compromises to help get the cost down. But they haven’t compromised on the important stuff, which means they can still give the full backing and warranty they do with their high end airbrushes. Iwata is making quality airbrushes available to hobbyists without ruining their reputation…… Like I said, very smart!
Still, I have to admit that when I first opened the Neo CN box I drew a deep breath before picking it up. Would it have the inferior feel of the el-cheapo’s? Had they made too many compromises?
Instant relief! This airbrush felt solid, smooth and well made. First test passed!
I immediately pulled the airbrush apart and gave all of the threads a drop of airbrush lube. It’s just something I do with new airbrushes and seems to help keep everything working smoothly for longer.
Using The Neo CN For Base And Mid-Coating
Over the past few months I’ve found laying down base color, pearl and metallic paints to be a breeze with the CN. The 0.35mm nozzle handles flake just fine. Frequent refilling of the color cup is always part and parcel of gravity feed airbrushes. But the larger of the two color cups that come with the CN is big enough that you’re not refilling every few seconds. If you had the luxury of two airbrushes then a siphon feed version would be a good investment for sealing and mid coating batches of lures. But if you’ll only have one airbrush for painting crankbaits you’ll need to be able to paint detail. In that case I’d sticking with a gravity feed. And the Neo For Iwata CN is not a bad option!
I’ve been impressed with the atomization of properly reduced paint at 15psi. The mid coats go on very smoothly, and blending and shading with transparent paints gives a seamless color transition with no sign of spatter. One color just perfectly blends into the next, which is often needed for painting crankbaits.
Detail And Top Coating
The real test of an airbrush to be used for painting crankbaits is the more detailed work. And the CN shapes up pretty well on this front too. Once again with properly thinned paint, I’ve found this airbrush to be almost as good as my beloved HP-C Plus.
The CN doesn’t atomize the paint quite as well as the HP-C at the really low pressures, down around 5psi. But bump the air pressure up just 3-4 psi and I painted some very acceptable gills, craw shells, fins and so on. So if you’ll be painting crankbaits with a lot of really fine, high end detail you might want to consider upgrading to a HP-C Plus. But for 90-95 percent of lure painting the Neo CN will be very acceptable.
An added advantage of the Neo CN is the ability to paint awesome, uniform specking and stippling. Perfect for that rainbow trout pattern! By dropping the pressure down to 5 psi and using slightly thicker paint, I get awesome speckling with fine, uniform sized dots. I think it actually surpasses the HP-C in this one area!
Cleaning & Maintenance Of The Neo CN
This airbrush is fairly straight forward to strip down, clean and reassemble. Not that I’ve had to do it too often in the few months that I’ve been using it. The usual color change process and an extra flush at the end of day seems to be enough to keep it functioning fine without the need to dismantle it.
Color changes take 30-40 seconds, as with most gravity feed airbrushes. The ability to remove the color cup is an advantage because it makes it easier to get in and clean the throat of the airbrush with some qtips or picksters.
I haven’t had the problem of paint getting back into the body of the airbrush around the trigger yet….. it’s something that tends to happen with a lot more wear. But it does look a little more difficult to get at that part of the airbrush than is the case with the HP-C Plus.
Overall: The Final Washup
Well, given this airbrush is made for Iwata and they back it with their warranty, I knew before I started testing that it wouldn’t be total crap! To be honest, if it was rubbish I’d have politely declined to write this post!
But I honestly didn’t expect the Neo CN to perform as well as it did. As a general purpose crankbait painting airbrush, it was right up there! It handles flake, atomizes the paint beautifully and gives me awesome fine-line detail, albeit requiring slightly higher air pressure than I’d like. I’ve had very little trouble with clogging and found it easy to clean and maintain. The ability to easily spray speckle was an unexpected and very welcome bonus.
Of course after only a few months use it remains to be seen whether the Neo will continue to perform to this high standard for as long as the higher end Japanese-made airbrushes. But for now there is very little not to like about it. In fact, I’ve used it almost exclusively to shoot the tutorial videos for the next round of “Mastering Lure Painting”.
Would I switch my HP-C Plus for a CN? No, of course not. They’re built to very different specs. But I will certainly be recommending this airbrush to my students and customers as a good solid, budget airbrush for painting crankbaits and other styles of lure.
Just Getting Started At Painting Crankbaits?