SOTAR review


Needle-chuck Ninja
Just got one of these. I'm a noob. I've been practicing with my HP-CS for a few months, but even though I have two needle/tip sizes for it, I wanted to have two separate brushes, one for big/medium, and one for fine. Knew from reading the boards here that Amazon had been doing a yearly promo sale on the SOTAR around the holidays, so I started saving a few months ago in anticipation. Got one chambered in the .2 "fine" needle/tip for about $100 USD.

OOB impressions:

Ergonomics are great. Feels extremely light, the barrel is much thinner than the HP-CS's, and the trigger/grip is closer to the tip. This gives it a very casual, pen-like feel in the hand. The balance point (unloaded) is a little under 1cm behind the trigger/valve stem (on the HP-CS it is right at the front edge of the valve stem). When holding the SOTAR, the weight ends up distributed 50/50 between the fingertips and the handle's contact point at/near the "crotch" of the thumb & forefinger, whereas the HP-CS feels very tip heavy with most of the weight resting on the tip of the middle finger. The main difference this makes, I find, is that the SOTAR encourages you to move the brush with your arm more than your fingers or hand. That's the way one should move a brush (or a pen) anyway, so that's kinda cool IMO.

The trigger button, though of a very similar design to that of the CS, is much more grippy due to the patina'd rather than chrome finish. I had to make a trigger pad for the CS to make it comfortable and non-slippery, but the SOTAR's trigger button feels perfectly fine as-is. The needle spring has a much, much better tension adjustment range than the CS. It can be either very very stiff, or so light you can move it literally just by touching it.

On the flip side, mine did not exhibit the smooth trigger action I'd often seen cited as a strength of Badger brushes (this is my first Badger brush). OOB there was a distinct metal-on-metal scraping sensation while pulling the trigger back. At first I thought the rocker was the culprit: on the CS and other brushes I've seen, the contact point between the rocker and the trigger is on the smooth recurved face of the rocker's "tongue", but on the SOTAR, the contact point appears to be the sharp die-cut edge of the rocker top. Troubling, as it made me think the much touted anti-friction coating would get scraped off by the rocker almost immediately, rendering it pointless. However this would've been a design flaw, not a manufacturing defect, and I hadn't heard anything about this in other reviews, so I kept an open mind and looked deeper.

On disassembling the brush, I found a burred edge on the inner lip of the spring tube housing, where it could scrape the side of the needle collet as the collet moves back and forth within the housing. With some additional testing, I believe that is the culprit. It would be easy-peasy to polish the burrs off with a couple strokes of a needle file, but I'm not sure if I should go ahead and do that, or contact Badger first.

I agree with other reviewers that the protruding needle at the back of the handle is a liability. It would not take much of a bump to destructively mash the needle into the nozzle. I briefly considered making some kind of slip-on pronged protector that would protect the needle and preserve the original design... but ultimately the original purpose of the exposed needle (to allow the needle stop to work in two different ways) just wasn't important enough to justify that. I was not planning on using the needle stop regardless, and I didn't like how the plastic bulb on the end of the needle forces you to take out the needle in order to remove the handle, nor how removing/replacing the needle requires you to thread the tip through extra layers of stuff before it's safely in the collet. So I just took the advice of other members here in a previous review, and chopped enough off the back of the needle for it to remain fully protected within the handle at all times (about 15mm or so from the tip of the plastic bulb).

The brush overall doesn't feel as sturdy as my HP-CS, but the HP-CS is sorta built like a tank, so that's not really saying much. Most of the threaded parts turn with a gritty feel, like the machining of the threads is imprecise or rough. The whole needle spring assembly is coated in machine oil of some sort. I assume that's lubed for a reason, so I think I'll replace the oil with graphite to avoid any possibility of needle contamination.

Painting first impressions:

Holy crocodiles! This thing paints really, REALLY nice! Doesn't spray as much paint volume as the CS, but that's expectable with a smaller needle/nozzle, so I can't say if that's relevant to the SOTAR specifically or not. Atomization, however, is visibly both superior to and more consistent than that of the CS, and I can push the pressure much lower (CS bottoms out around 10psi, but I can get the SOTAR below 5). I can pull lines just as fine with the CS as with the SOTAR, but with the SOTAR it's easier and the lines are cleaner looking.

It takes half as much solvent to flush clean the SOTAR as it does the CS. I think the needle packing is the difference: The SOTAR's needle packing is pressure fitted from the front instead of screw fitted from the back, so there's less space and crevices in the needle channel for pigment to linger in.

The coolest thing is the trigger's response curve. Practicing dagger strokes with the CS felt a bit like learning to operate the clutch on a manual transmission car for the first time: there's an element of sliding-scale timing that you have to learn and train into muscle memory through extensive practice. From the way it's talked about, this is appears to be fairly normal for many brush makes/models. With the SOTAR, the response curve is so perfect it's like you don't even have to learn at all. Control is almost completely intuitive right from the start. It's brilliant.


General vibe is that of a Kalashnikov rifle: precise only where it needs to be, dirty wherever it can afford to be. That bit of precision appears to be very well engineered though. It's the only detail brush I've ever owned, and like I say: I'm a noob, so I can't say how it stacks against other high-end models. However I feel very confident in saying a great brush in its own right.

I don't think it earns its high MSRP. For $400 I'd expect more consistent build quality all around. My HP-CS is a more precisely machined and durable tool, and it only MSRPs at around $140. Performance wise however the SOTAR is clearly much superior to the HP-CS, so I'd guess it's maybe worth something in the 200-250 range? Buy it at full price and you might be a dissapointed, but at a deep-cut price like the annual Amazon promo, it's like finding a Krugerrand under the couch cushions.

I'm glad I had the HP-CS first. Although the SOTAR outperforms the CS at detail, I think the CS is still a much better starter brush due to its forgiving build quality and wider versatility. As a "step up" second brush, though, particularly at the sale price, I'm loving the SOTAR so far.
Last edited:
Thanks for the review nessus, it's always good to hear peoples opinions about different brushes. And the added bonus for me in the comparison with the HP-CS which is what I have.
@Nessus Great review mate!! Loads of detail which is written in a clear and concice way. I also have both airbrushes and I totally agree with you on everything except my Sotar has an extremely smooth action so no problems as you describe. In fact I think the Sotar has one of the smoothest trigger actions I've ever felt and is better than the Iwata and Olympos Microns. You obviously got unlucky with that and you could send it back to be looked at if you are unhappy with it. Mr Badger is a great guy and his team will be more than happy to fix any problem you have. Get in touch and I'm sure they will do their best to help you.

I have to admit that I bought an Olympos Micron after I bought my Sotar and it does out perform the Sotar but at 3 to 4 times the price the difference in performance is small. If you are on a budget the Sotar at the price is a great detail airbrush but it is not and I repeat not a beginners airbrush, it's too paint reduction sensitive. Also the parts can be hard to find and expensive but mine came with a spare needle so I think that's standard with the Amazon deal. Anyway I agree with you Nessus, at the Amazon price, it's a really great detail airbrush.

After using the SOTOR on/off for a while, I have to add a couple more notes to this review.

I found the plastic grip piece actually impaired the ergonomics of holding the brush rather than improving them. It's easy to remove using the provided hex wrench, but the metal screw that secures it leaves a little ring-shaped scar in the coating of the valve stem. That's just cosmetic, but at the same time, it seems symptomatic of Badger not really grokking/believing that anyone would actually want to remove that, even though they cite it as an option in the manual, and I've noticed plenty of other SOTAR and Krome users choose to remove it as well. This obviously depends of how you like to hold your brushes, of course.

I ended up buying an extra O-ring to go between the body and the handle. The reason being so I can adjust the rotation of the handle to put the side cutouts where I want them. By default the handle is machined to place the cutouts symetrically. This is visually attractive, but not IMO desirable from a practical use standpoint. With both my brushes I like the cutouts diagonal, so that the spans are at the 11:30 and 4:30 positions (for right handed holding). This way the brush's rear contact point with my hand rests on the span, instead of partly or fully inside the cutout where it could accidentally loosen or interfere with the needle chuck. Most brushes have an o-ring here anyway, but Badger seems to have omitted it on the SOTAR. It's been suggested that this is to ensure consistent increments w/ the preset knob, but since the hash marking ring is adjustable anyway, this extra measure is only necessary for newbies who are completely lost at sea with using the brush anyway, who are not or should not be this brush's target demographic.

The better cleaning action I cited w/ the needle bearing is eclipsed by another factor: the seam of the cup-to-body join. Inside the cup where the cup is soldered to the body there is a deep "shelf" with an undercut where paint can lodge. In addition, the soldering appears to be spot-soldering, so there are areas where the seam is open and forms a deep recessed channel which is VERY difficult to get paint out of, and if said paint is still wet, it WILL contaminate other colors when you do a color change. You have to irrigate and scrub these fissures before loading a new color. This IMO is a MAJOR design flaw, and one which has killed a chunk of my enthusiasm for the brush. Enough to where I'm not sure if I can still recommend this brush at all.

I am still considering getting a model 100 to do a side-feed conversion, only now I'm not just considering it for the side feed and shorter front end aspects. I'm actually hoping to "fix" st least two major flaws (the naff cup joinery, and the scrapey trigger which still persists) by replacing the body of this expensive (at list price) high-end brush with parts from a cheap bottom-end one. There's a red flag in that, IMO.
Great review. I have the Sotar and the HP-C+. Of the two, I use the Sotar more. I had to modify the valve spring to make it more comfortable to depress. I felt the stiff spring affecting my accuracy. My Sotar has the smoothest action of any of the four brushes I own (the other 2 are Badgers 105 and 150). Since the mod, the HP is a great brush, with a solid feel and action. I just tend to use the Sotar more often.
Thanks! Yeah, the valve spring is definably a lot stiffer than the HP-CS's spring. How did you mod yours? Just cut off a couple loops?
The HP was stiffer. Yeah, I cut about 3 or 4mm off. The spring kept the trigger up, but allowed a soft down push. The Sotar was wonderful out of the box.