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As soon as you start airbrushing, the question of which compressor is most suitable inevitably arises. There are several important characteristics that make the choice not so straightforward. We will help you to choose the right model – with our in-depth Airbrush Compressor Guide.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is an Airbrush Compressor?
- 2 Best Airbrush Compressor Overview
- 2.1 Recommendation for professional Airbrushers: Iwata-Medea Studio Series Power Jet Pro
- 2.2 Recommendation for advanced Airbrushers: Revell Airbrush Compressor Master Class
- 2.3 Recommendation for advanced Airbrushers: Iwata Media Smart Jet Air Compressor
- 2.4 Recommendation for intermediate Airbrushers: Grex AC1810-A
- 3 Which Airbrush Compressor Types are Available?
- 4 Important Terms and Explanations
- 5 This should be noted when buying an Airbrush Compressor
- 6 Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
- 6.1 Airbrush Compressor – how much Pressure?
- 6.2 What is the best way to clean your airbrush compressor?
- 6.3 What is the minimal amount of air an airbrush uses?
- 6.4 What is used to connect the Airbrush Hose to the Compressor?
- 6.5 How to resolve problems with moisture?
- 6.6 How to add more volume to an Airbrush Compressor’s output?
- 6.7 Why are silent airbrush compressors expensive?
What is an Airbrush Compressor?
In general, gas is compressed in a compressor, to which mechanical work can then be added. Compressing reduces the volume of the gas. Commercially available compressors are divided into countless different designs, for example, piston compressors, screw compressors, ionic compressors, or turbo compressors.
In airbrushing, the compressor functions as a compressed air system. This means that the air in the compressor is compressed in order to spray the airbrush paint contained in the gun onto the painting ground. A compressor for airbrushing usually works in the range between 1.5 and 2.2 bar. The pressure that has to be worked with is also one of the reasons why a conventional compressor is not suitable for airbrushing. If you want to use such a compressor for airbrushing, you must first convert it. For example, it should have a pressure regulator that allows you to adjust the pressure lower.
However, many normal compressors are not recommended for airbrushing because they are too large and heavy and can cause strong vibrations. Industrial compressors that are lubricated with oil can also be messy: there may be oil residues in the expelled air that could contaminate your art project or impair the paint’s adhesive properties. Therefore we advise you to buy a special airbrush compressor.
A good airbrush compressor should:
- Produce clean air and do not carry dirt or liquids with the paint to be sprayed on, as otherwise the resulting work of art could become dirty or damaged
- Not be too loud, because an artist needs quiet for his work and, apart from that, certainly does not want to use ear protection
- Maintenance-free operation, so that unpleasant regular work is eliminated
- Have a pressure reducer so that the pressure does not become too high
- Be affordable
- Do not cause excessive vibration
- Have suitable threads; these are usually 1/8 inch when airbrushing
- May be handy and easy to transport if you want to work on the road
- Be easy to use, because not everyone is technically versed
An alternative to a compressor would be compressed air bottles, because an airbrush gun can also be operated with these. However, these have the disadvantage of emptying relatively quickly. During a long airbrush session, three to four used compressed air bottles can easily be accumulated. By purchasing an airbrush compressor you will not only work cheaper, but also more sustainable. In addition, a good airbrush compressor saves you a lot of nerves, because you don’t have to constantly bother with the buying of compressed air bottles.
Best Airbrush Compressor Overview
Finding the perfect airbrush compressor is no easy task. That’s why we have tested different compressors and present you the best model here:
Recommendation for professional Airbrushers: Iwata-Medea Studio Series Power Jet Pro
If you are looking for something Herculean in its approach that also strives for perfection, then this is the right choice for you. Extremely easy to adjust; it has two regulators to aid with the same. The feature which makes it different from the other options is the presence of Smart technology, which is also its USP. This enables the Compressor to switch off when it is not being used and also cuts down on your electricity bill.
Another great feature is that any kind of airbrush can be used with its air hose and adapter. It is easy to use and control, and other than that also is trustworthy. What’s more? It also has dual brush capacity.
- 1/6 hp 1-70 PSI maximum pressure, 2 litre (1/2 gallon) air storage tank
- Twin air regulators for precise air-pressure adjustment with quick disconnects
- Built-in airbrush holders
- Mounted twin pressure gauges with moisture filters
Recommendation for advanced Airbrushers: Revell Airbrush Compressor Master Class
The airbrush compressor from Revell is called Master Class for a reason. Not only does it work oil-free, it also has a water separator, a pressure regulator and two pressure gauges. Thus it offers everything an artist’s heart desires, and more.
Recommendation for advanced Airbrushers: Iwata Media Smart Jet Air Compressor
This is an oil-less piston-type airbrush compressor that is known to be used with rarefied paints such as Comart because of its gravity feed or siphon feed airbrush that is suitable for the same. It cannot be used with textile colors due to their viscosity and also with other airbrushes due to the fixed nozzle tip.
- 1/8 hp1-35 PSI maximum operating pressure
- Mounted fully adjustable air-pressure gauge, mMoisture filter prevents pulsation
- Bleed valve airflow adjustment to lower air pressure
- Compressor shuts itself off automatically when not in use
Recommendation for intermediate Airbrushers: Grex AC1810-A
This model is so versatile that it can fit in anywhere. It is known for its operating qualities with its pressure ranging between 20 PSI to 60 PSI and also enables the features of constant painting at low pressure, and gives breaks at high pressure. This makes it one of the best air compressors available. If the pressure increases even above this or starts overheating, though it has a cooling fan to prevent it, it shuts off on its own. It can also decrease its volume at 55 dB, making hardly any noise. Any nozzle can be fitted to its connector. It is extremely easy to store and is great at managing pressure.
Also easy to move around and manage due to its light weight, it can easily be transported from place to place. Its design helps it to be used in a consistent workflow. It can be used by beginners and professionals alike.
- Oil-less piston design for low maintenance operation
- Retractable handle stows away when not needed
- Automatic shut-off turns compressor off when not in use to save power
- Quiet operation allows allows use of the compressor in any setting
Which Airbrush Compressor Types are Available?
There are several types of airbrush compressors available on the market, which all have advantages and disadvantages. For example, they can be operated with or without oil. In the following section, we will explain the differences and what you should look out for when buying an airbrush.
Inside a compressor, there are pistons that either operate oil-free or are lubricated with an oil film. A machine in operation will always experience wear. In compressors, this is often manifested by damage to the internal pistons. Therefore the wear must be minimized as much as possible. In oil-free compressors, this is not done by a lubricant, but by various plastic components and cylinder running surfaces. The latter consists of stainless steel, brass, or aluminum.
An oil-free compressor actually only offers the user advantages:
- High performance with relatively low wear
- The service life can be up to 20,000 working hours, depending on the intended use
- There is no risk of contamination of the airbrush paint by escaping oil
- Due to the absence of dirt, the oil-free version is easier to clean and requires less maintenance
- An oil-free compressor is more sustainable, as the use of environmentally harmful oil is no longer necessary
- As a rule, a good airbrush compressor, which works without oil, is cheaper
The only thing against an oil-free compressor is the fact that it becomes hotter than the oil-lubricated version at high outputs. However, this is hardly of importance for an airbrush compressor; this disadvantage rather refers to the industrial version. An airbrush compressor does not have to be so powerful that it overheats quickly; if this is the case, the automatic switch-off function usually kicks in.
Oil Piston Compressor
In the oil-piston compressor, the internal pistons are permanently coated with an oil film which reduces friction and thus the heat generated. This also minimizes wear. Do-it-yourselfers may know this type of wear reduction, which is the same as in a car engine. Also, the industry works with different lubricants to give machines a longer life and to protect them from overheating.
- An oil-lubricated compressor does not get as hot as the oil-free version. The oil also dissipates the heat generated in the cylinder and thus prevents overheating
- Longer service life and low noise level compared to other compressors
- Higher delivery volume and thus a larger air tank volume
- Usually, an oil-lubricated compressor is equipped with a compressed air treatment to keep the contamination by the oil as low as possible. Nevertheless, there is always a minimum amount of oil in the air and this can have consequences for your work of art. It is possible that the oil may cause different colors not to adhere properly or that bubbles may form underneath after some time when your work of art is finished.
- The compressor becomes minimally but constantly contaminated with oil with every use and must be cleaned after some time; the oil collects in seals, valve gears or even directly in the air hose and can clog these over time
An oil-lubricated compressor is often more expensive than an oil-free compressor
For the commercial operation of a compressor, the use of oil is a good idea, but this does not usually apply to airbrushing. Whether you want to buy an airbrush compressor with oil or an airbrush compressor without oil depends on the duration and intensity of use and the purpose for which you need it. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which airbrush compressor is most suitable for you. We would highly advise you to choose the oil-free version, especially for fine, detailed work.
In a diaphragm compressor, a diaphragm made of plastic is moved up and down by a motor. There is also an outlet and an inlet valve through which the air is sucked in and discharged. These compressors usually work without an air tank, i.e. in continuous operation, which easily leads to overheating. The engine is then automatically switched off until the unit has cooled down. A longer working time is made possible by an integrated fan. This is also driven by the motor and provides cooling during the working phase.
- Very favorable purchase price
- Oil-free, maintenance-free
- Very compact and handy as there is no air tank
- The service life of the diaphragm is quite short
- There is a danger of overheating
- No air tank, therefore no consistent airflow ensured
- Slightly louder than piston compressors
- The motor works continuously during operation
Important Terms and Explanations
- Reciprocating air compressors are known to suck in an enormous amount of air into a chamber, and the piston gradually moves to reduce the size of the chamber into the cylinder to release the compressed air.
- Diaphragm compressors are slightly different from reciprocating air compressors as they consist of a flexing diaphragm that thrusts within a chamber with the help of a rod that is connected to it.
- PSI is the unit of pressure, and it is vital to understand due to the varying forms of pressure.
- It is important to know the unit of cubic feet per minute (CFM) to understand the working of this equipment, as all of them have a specific operating pressure that can be understood with this unit. It helps you in understanding the amount of displacement and pressure. While comparing, you will have to compare the CFM at the same PSI so that the volume is accurately understood.
- The horsepower of the electric motor does not make much of a difference, and therefore, while selecting the compressor for yourself, do not compare these based on horsepower.
- Oil-less compressors are also available.
- Air compressors have moisture separators that manage the amount of moisture in the air.
- The noise of air compressors is typically between 40dB to 90 dB, which is typically lower than the sound of the human voice but varies from product to product.
- There is a displacement of air inside the device with the stroke of the piston according to the RPM in cubic feet per minute.
- Some air compressors also contain filters that purify the air, by passing it through a material that catches solids and liquids for purification and filtration of the air.
- Apart from this, they also have air pressure regulators to help adjust the pressure with which the air comes out.
- The air compressors with a high-pressure ratio are generally the best.
- The storage pressure can be controlled using pressure switches that can be either wired to the motor or the control circuit if the machine is huge.
This should be noted when buying an Airbrush Compressor
Before you get annoyed because you bought the wrong compressor for your purposes, you should get some comprehensive information about airbrush compressors. In the following, we will give you the most important criteria to help you find the optimal airbrush compressor. You can also buy an airbrush kit, with everything included for Airbrushing.
First of all, the running time of the compressor should be mentioned here. This determines how long you can work. The longer a session lasts, the greater the amount of air the compressor has to compress. This is of course accompanied by a certain amount of heat. Especially large works of art or those with many details, which you work on for a long time, can lead to a high heat emission of the compressor. Therefore, when buying an airbrush compressor, you must pay attention to the running time.
Another important point is that it should be maintenance-free. You don’t want to spend your time constantly maintaining your compressor when you could better invest it in your artwork. A maintenance-free airbrush compressor means you don’t have to change air filters or refill oil.
These are the components that a good airbrush compressor should have, or you should pay attention to these criteria:
Pressure Displays / Manometer
A manometer ensures that you can always check the pressure required for airbrushing and adjust it to the optimum level. Then you can work in peace and don’t have to worry so much about whether the pressure is sufficient or too high. A quick glance at the display is enough.
If the compressor is switched on, water condensation will form over time. This water may be ejected by the gun in droplets. This will mix with the paint and cause highly unsightly speckles or streaks on your artwork. The brilliance of the color suffers and the finished project may contain errors, which would be very annoying.
You can avoid this by making sure that your compressor has a built-in water separator. Your compressor should be oil-free anyway; if it is not, you can also upgrade it with an oil separator.
A compressor for the airbrush is loud and an artist needs peace and quiet for his or her work. These two facts naturally intersect and are actually mutually exclusive. So that you can still work in tranquility, it’s worth buying an air tank. This tank is filled with air by the compressor at the start of the work. Then the compressor switches off and you can benefit from the air contained in the tank for a certain time until it has to be filled again. During this time there is heavenly peace. For this reason, we would definitely advise you to buy an air tank. However, it must be cleaned of any water condensation after each use, otherwise it will rust in a relatively short time.
A compressor works by compressing air or even another gas. It does this by building up pressure with the help of a pump. The resulting pressure can be of varying levels. For the operation of an airbrush gun, a permanent working pressure of 1.5 to 2.2 bar is required, in rare cases also 2.5 bar, depending on the paint and nozzle size used.
Most compressors achieve a higher pressure. This should be adjustable by means of a pressure regulator. The pressure must always be constant, which means that it must not fluctuate or collapse during your work. In the worst case, such a situation would ruin your work of art, as the airbrush paint would spread unevenly or leave speckles. The best result is usually achieved when you work with an air tank in which the compressed air can be temporarily stored.
Imagine you are working, concentrating hard on a work of art on which you have already been sitting for several hours. All your heart and soul is in it. You are completely in the flow; you do not notice much of your surroundings anymore. Now comes this one incredibly difficult spot on your painting ground where you have to draw this extremely fine line. Under no circumstances must it be blurred. You take a deep breath, point the airbrush gun at it, and at this moment the compressor starts with a loud click. Or it makes a particularly loud humming sound.
Apart from the right portion of inspiration, an artist needs one thing above all: peace and quiet. Why should you work with an airbrush compressor that does not let you work optimally? So make sure you pay attention to the volume of sound of your compressor. This should be one of the most important selection criteria, especially if you are a noise-sensitive person. We recommend compressors that work at a maximum volume of 60db. This corresponds to the volume of a normal conversation and does not overload our hearing or nerves.
Besides the equipment with a whisper compressor, you could treat yourself to an air tank that only needs to be refilled by the compressor from time to time. Another alternative is a longer hose and thus the option to place the compressor a little further away from your workplace.
Many airbrush compressors have a very high price. How much you want to spend depends largely on your goals as an artist. Of course, you are allowed to spoil yourself – but does it make sense to buy the most expensive compressor right away, even though you have just started airbrushing? Maybe after a few sessions, you’ll find out that you’d rather try a different art form. So you better start with an airbrush compressor that is not quite as expensive, but still of high quality. A good airbrush compressor up to about 250 Euro is quite sufficient for a start.
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
Airbrush Compressor – how much Pressure?
The optimum working pressure for an airbrush gun is between 1.5 and 2.2 bar. An airbrush compressor should build up to this pressure, but many commercial compressors work with more pressure. You can avoid this problem by either choosing a high-quality airbrush compressor or by making sure that a pressure regulator is installed.
You can see that even the choice of the right compressor has its pitfalls. You have the choice of buying an airbrush compressor separately, or opting for an airbrush set with the compressor already included. We hope we could make your purchase decision a little easier with our Airbrush Compressor Guide.
What is the best way to clean your airbrush compressor?
You have to clean the Compressor thoroughly as the paint can make it rusty and worn out quicker than expected. For the same reason, the hose and all the attachments should be cleaned regularly and properly. So clean them as soon as you are done with your task. Use a toothpick to clean the brushes better and take out the excess solids that might collect in it.
What is the minimal amount of air an airbrush uses?
With low pressure, the airbrush will only be able to sprout thinner viscosity paints but can function at as low as 1 psi. Ideally, the pressure should be at least ten psi or above, which can help you with the consistency of work without stopping, and it is also the best way to do fine work. The best model to control the pressure of the airbrush compressor is Iwata-Medea IS 800.
What is used to connect the Airbrush Hose to the Compressor?
An adapter might be required in this case. Some compressors come with the adapters that suit them, but with time they have to be replaced depending on the use of the brushes. They are available in many stores, including stationery and hardware stores. But you would have to make sure of the type of adapter for the fitting, as the pressure can be affected if not taken care of, or the wrong fitting is used.
How to resolve problems with moisture?
When the paint mixes with moisture, it might get difficult for you to continue with your work, and it might spoil. You will know this when the paint starts bubbling. To make sure this gets resolved, the water and paint have to be stopped from mixing, and it is best in this case that the work is not done in a humid environment.
Introducing a moisture trap can be an ideal solution to this. The best airbrush compressors have it in-built, but if you do not have one like this, then you can add it yourself. You would have to remove it from time to time and drain it by taking it out of the device or letting it out from the cavity that is used if the trap is built-in.
How to add more volume to an Airbrush Compressor’s output?
This can be done by adding a tank that would add volume and power. It depends largely on the model and can be easily done. This is also more cost-effective than buying new gear. For the task, you will need certain equipment like adhesive, brass couplers, and also an additional hose.
Make sure the Compressor is drained and cleaned. Once all the air, water, moisture is released, the tank can be installed. A valve will be required to attach it. We would recommend that you stay patient and follow every step carefully.
Why are silent airbrush compressors expensive?
It is difficult to make airbrush compressors that don’t make noise. Even though the pressures are on point and that the pumping of air is considerable, they are bound to make a lot of noise while doing so. Even silent compressors make a sound of 50-55 dB at four times the price.