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Below are techniques for painting features with true, feathered edges - even when very tight/fine-scale, as above - without the need of an airbrush, and in fact able to cope with some patterns too tight/complex for even expert airbrushing to tackle.
In the first ("Extracted Bead") method presented, results of several tests are described, for the insights/experience they provide. Anyone(s) wanting to skip these details and just "cut to the chase", can simply read the beginning of the first one, sufficient to gain a general understanding, and then skip to the end of the second, for a detailed listing of the steps and materials used for a successful application.
If you know or have developed any more such methods beyond what you see posted here, let us know!