The aim of this airbrush compressor buying guide is to help you understand what you need to know before buying an airbrush compressor.
If you are reading this post it means that you’ve already chosen the compressor as your air source.
You can find a compressor with tank, without tanks, some of them silent other rather noisy. Low-pressure air compressors (150 psi or less), Medium-pressure air compressors (151 psi to 1000 psi) or even high-pressure air compressors (more than 1000 psi). Airbrush compressor would fit in the “low-pressure air compressor “category.
So if you are going to use your compressor with an airbrush, I will assume that you will want to stay away from the “general purpose” medium-pressure air compressor that you can find at your local hardware. They are very noisy, can deliver generally more pressure that you would need with an airbrush and also can take a good bit of space. Saying that, those compressors are all equipped with an air regulator, and you could adjust the air pressure down be able to work with an airbrush.
Like the choice for an airbrush, the choice the compressor will depend really on the type of work you are going to do with it. Different artists would have different needs.
This guide will have 3 parts:
Things you need to know about compressors
Questions to ask yourself before buying a compressor
- What application?
- What about the noise?
- How long are you going to spray continuously for your project?
- Type of airbrush compressors
- Diaphragm compressors
- Piston Compressors
1-What you need to know about Airbrush compressors
Before I start with this guide I wanted to mention few things that you need to consider before buying a compressor:
-What power? :
The number of watts consumed, generally about 150 or200 w
The airflow, or the quantity of air that the compressor can deliver, is be measured in CFM (cubic feet per minute) or lpm (litre per minute). Most of them would have an air flow capacity between 20 and 50 lpm (0.70 to 1.76 CFM).
-Maximum working pressure:
It will indicate air pressure the compressor can reach; usually measured in PSI (pound per inch) or bar. Make sure the compressor you are interested in buying will provide enough air pressure for the application. Spraying on T-shirt will require more pressure than spraying on nail or body.
-The capacity of the tank:
Although some small compressors have no tank, when they do have one, most of them have a capacity between 0,4 l – 1 l – 4 l – 6 l – 9 l – 12 l – 15 l when used with an airbrush but can go up to 25l for heavy duty compressors. I would recommend buying a compressor with a tank if you have the budget for it.(see “Questions to ask yourself before buying a compressor”)
– Output Thread or outlet:
For tank-based compressors, the output thread is generally 1/4 “. For small dry piston compressors, it is more often 1/8 “.
– Auto-stop function:
this will allow you to set up the compressor to stop functioning when a specific air pressure is reached and to start again when the air pressure go down under specific pressure value. Very nice feature that will reduce the running time of the compressor and therefore also the motor wear.
2- Questions to ask you before buying a compressor
They are few questions you should ask yourself before buying a compressor:
Do you need to paint large area? Then you will probably be better with a compressor with a tank. Small area? Paint on body? (You are going to need a compressor with air regulator to deliver very low air pressure) Nails? Spray cars? Or even spray food coloring?
The choice of your compressor will depend on of what you are going to do with it.
If you are into illustrating, fine art, or if you need to paint a large area, I would recommend a compressor with a tank. You will able to paint continuously for a longer time with a consistent airflow. When the tank is full, the motor turns itself off, allowing it to rest.
Same thing, you won’t be able to use a small tank-less compressor along with a 0,6 mm nozzle. It won’t be able to deliver that crucial constant a regular airflow that you need.
If you are a make-up artist, painting body art, or you are into cake decorating, a compressor with a tank is not necessary. You will need something portable that can deliver low air pressure. Compressor such as Iwata Studio Series Ninja Jet would be suited for those applications.
If you are planning to spray on textile T-shirts, you will need a compressor that delivers at least 40 psi and equipped with a tank. A model such as the Iwata Studio Series Power Jet Pro compressor would be suited for this.
-What about the noise?
Are you planning to spray on plastic models in the evening time when your kids are in the room next to you trying to go asleep? Is your wife watching TV in the next room? In that case, believe me, you should consider buying a silent compressor.
Compressors that you can find in your local hardware shop can be very noisy. They can reach 85 or 90 decibels (dB), or more. It can be harmful to your hearing if you are exposed to that amount of noise for a long period of time.
Thankfully, compressors for airbrush artists have the advantage to be much quieter than you average hardware shop compressor and some of them are even considered silent. Of course, such an advantage has also a drawback which is in that case, you have guessed right: the price! The can be quite expensive to buy.
But if you have the means to do it, let me tell you won’t regret it.
Silent airbrush compressors would be the pistons compressor describe below
-How long are you going to spray continuously for your project?
Are you going to spray for 20 minutes or more? In that case, a compressor with a large tank will be required. Or are you only going to spray for a minute or 2? You may want to consider those three elements:
Unless you are working on basic projects, or as mention before. unless you are into nail art, or if you are a makeup artist, I would always recommend a compressor with a tank. The bigger the tank, the more autonomy you will have.
You will need to look at the air flow capacity and the duty cycle of the compressor.
If you are a Hobbit artist or art illustrator, I wouldn’t choose a compressor with less than 20 lpm (0.70 CFM). Those type of compressors would be more suited for application such as nail or body art, or makeup artists. For large jobs that require long continuous work, I would recommend a compressor with more than 30 lpm (1 CFM).
This is the amount of time the compressor is able to run continuously before having to stop to rest the motor.This will also avoid any damage done on the compressor and prolonged their life.The duty cycle is usually expressed in a percentage. A compressor with a duty cycle of 50% will run 30 minutes and then will need to rest 30 minutes to cool down.
9% Duty Cycle 5 Minutes On / 55 Cool-Down time
10% Duty Cycle 6 Minutes On / 54 Coo-Down time
15% Duty Cycle 9 Minutes On / 51 Cool-Down time
20% Duty Cycle 12 Minutes On / 48 Cool-Down time
3- Types of Airbrush Compressors
There are two types of airbrush compressors
They are often considered as beginner compressors and could be a good choice for you if you are just starting airbrushing. On those model of compressors, it is a pulsating membrane that compresses the air. The air pressure delivered by those compressors can generally reach a maximum of 40 psi. So they are suitable if you connect to them a single airbrush and would be fine if you are spraying on small plastic models for instance.
Diaphragm compressors don’t have an air tank and run continuously when in use, so they can be noisy. Also, you should refrain using them continuously for too long, as they will overheat and can, therefore, be damaged.
In those compressors, it is one or two pistons that compress the air. A two pistons compressor will compress a larger amount of air than a single piston compressor would.
It is probably the type of compressor I would personally recommend you to use if you are planning to use it along with airbrush.
Piston compressors are much more powerful than the diaphragm compressors. You could easily attach several airbrushes to a single compressor or run the compressor continuously longer than you would with a diaphragm compressor.
An air regulator should be attached to the compressor in order to be able to control\restrict the air pressure before it reaches the air hose. Those air regulators are generally equipped also with a moisture trap that will help to filter fluids and particles from the compressed air line.
There is two types of piston compressors:
For me, they are the Royce of the silent compressor. Very quiet compressors as the oil is acting as a lubricant. So they are particularly well suited if noise is an issue for you. Ideal for illustrating or fine art, they will allow you to work and stay concentrated. You can compare the noise they do to the noise of a fridge. An oil filter must also be attached between the air regulator\filter and the air hose. This will prevent any oil to go through your airbrush and mix with the paint (you definitely don’t want that!). Oil-filled piston needs a bit of maintenance as you need to check or sometimes replace the oil like in a car.
Although a little bit less quiet than the oil-filled piston compressors, those are still very quiet if you compare them to diaphragm compressors. The main advantage though is that they are low maintenance (no oil check\change). Ideal for nail painting, body art or cake decorating as you can be sure no oil will mix with the air.
I hope you will find those pieces of information useful for and that with them you will find easier to find out what type of compressor you need.
Now it is time to choose the right airbrush!