Okay, I've cut my teeth on this one over the years, so I'll pass along "The Scoop."
If you wanna go cheap, go automotive aerosols. They work for the most part and are cheap. Valspar makes some really good paints, and in plenty of colors. They're Crystal Clear also works like a charm for clearcoating stuff. Take note though, the aerosols are enamels, and have propellants. They will smell bad, and produce a lot of dust and fumes when spraying. Buy a OSHA/NIOSH certified respriator for $20 at the home depot, and save your lungs and nasal passages. Blowing your nose after painting and having your boogers be the color you just sprayed, will learn you real quick. Get a respirator! Dont make me say it a third time.
If you wanna go the hardcore route (like I have, and others have as well), its time to spend some money! Figure you'll start out doing solid color jobs. So, head back to the home depot, and pick up an inexpensive general compressor (husky sells a decent variable pressure one for about a hundred) and then get a sprayer. You will be looking for what is commonly called a touch up gun, a cut-in gun, or a small projects sprayer. Regardless, it'll run you at least 60. It'll look like the automotive sprayers they use on TV in the discovery channel shows. You'll think you're going too big and that you're out of your league, but you're not. Trust me. As to gun specifics, Husky makes a decent one that mates perfectly with their compressors. It has nozzles to adjust paint flow, air flow, and spray pattern. All of these factors affect your spray quality. The more you can tweak your spraying, the better you can tune it. This means better results. So, dont skimp on your gun. Likewise. make sure its a gravity fed gun. This is where the paint cup is on top. Gravity guns are gonna flow better, and require less paint in order to get spraying. so, make sure its a gravity gun.
Aurbrushes. You can spend a lot of money on brushes. There are cheap general ones, and some super expensive ones. if you're doing general detail work, a cheaper one will do. If you wanna go hardcore, expect to spend some money. regardless, Iwata makes the best stuff. I swear by em.
Now, lets get to paint. You've bought a sprayer, you've bought a compressor. Now you need something to spray. traditionally, everything has been enamel or urethane based. This is noxious, sticky, sometimes flammable, and it requires hardeners, reducers, and other such stuff. If you wanna head there, go with House of Kolor. They make beautiful paint (http://www.hokpaint.com
) Then, there's water based paint. The industry is moving more towards water based these days. It comes ready to spray (no reducing) its color, and light-fast, permanant, non-toxic, non-flammable, and it cleans up with water. So, if you have to work out of your garage and clean up in your mom/wife's sink, water based is the best. No soap required, just hot water.
Take note, that water based paints have different chemical structures too. Unlike enamels that need to be flashed, water based paints are heat cured to get the moisture to evaporate. So, a heat gun dries them, and you're ready to recoat. the difference is you work in very, let me say that again, VERY light coats and build up a surface. This minimizes the orange peel effect and the possibility of drip and spatter. Also figure that water based paints work well with just about any clearcoat.
If you wanna rock the water based paints, go with the Auto Air paint from Createx. Its the rockin stuff. (http://www.autoaircolors.com
Okay, so, lets talk buying. For guns and compressors, your local hardware mall will work. Home Depot, Lowes, just surf the ads. For aerosols, locate your local auto parts chain stores and hit several local ones and check their stocks. then buy paints and experiment. For airbrishes and colors, look to art supply stores. In the Washington DC area, we have Plaza art, and Pearl Art stores. the folks at these places can get just about anything, if they dont have it in stock.
Plaza for a fact carries iwata airbrushes, and the createx auto air paints. Advance Auto Parts carries the Valspar clearcoats. So, figure out your supply chain, and go from there.
Now for a couple last thoughts. remember, the auto air stuff is a system. Spend $20 and order their chip book. learn what works as a base coat, and what doesnt. Always spray their bas coat sealer before any color in order to get good adhesion. Always work in light coats to build a surface. Remember to sand! Sanding is essential. I stick to 220 grit.
Now, get it together and go out and paint!!!