Airbrush compressors what a maze of confusion there is when looking for a good reliable air source for airbrushing, kustom painting. The main object of of this tutorial will hopefully offer some clarity to the many options you have to choose from when purchasing a airbrush compressor.
To start off lets go over some common terms and definitions relating to airbrush compressors.
Air compressor a compressor that takes in air at atmospheric pressure and delivers it at a higher pressure
Reciprocating air compressors are those in which each compressing element consists of a piston moving back and forth in a cylinder.
Moisture separators are devices for collecting and removing moisture from the air.
db: Decibel A term to describe the relative loudness of a sound. Typically, heat pumps and air conditioners are between the sound of a human voice (70db) and a blender (88db).
Displacement: The volume of air displaced by a full stroke of the first stage piston, multiplied by the rated RPM of the compressor. This is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM)
Filtration: The purification of air by passing it through a porous material for the removal of solid particles and liquid droplets. Filtration is an essential step in the process of air purification
Air Pressure Regulator A component of an air compressor that allows the user to adjust the air pressure in the air line
Maximum Pressure Ratin The highest-pressure level recommended for a compressor.
Diaphragm compressors achieve compression with the use of a flexing diaphragm that moves back and forth in a closed chamber; the design is an alteration of the reciprocating piston concept. The motion of the connecting rod under the diaphragm causes the flexing and only a short stroke is needed to generate similar pressure effects as those of a reciprocating piston compressor.
CFM Cubic feet per minute Compressors are rated by CFM. It is very important that you know what the delivered CFM is at a specific pressure when comparing compressors. Some dealers may advertise CFM displacement which is always higher than CFM delivered. Another key is the pressure given. A CFM rating at 40 PSI will always be a higher value than at 100 PSI or 175 PSI. The main thing to remember is Delivered CFM at the same Pressures when comparing performance.
Gauges pressure gauges to monitor tank and regulator pressures.
Horse Power: The power rating of an electrical motor. Unfortunately , this is a very vague and confusing term due to the fact that the “Value” of Horse Power (HP) is not a constant among the various types and sizes of motors. When selecting a compressor you should look for the CFM delivered at a specific pressure.
Oil less Compressor: Any compressor that is not lubricated by oil.
Pressure Switches: An Electrical device that is designed to monitor and control the tank storage pressure and to shut off the motor by means of opening a control circuit. In smaller units, the Pressure Switch may be wired directly to the motor. However, in larger units the pressure switch is wired to a control circuit.
PSI: Pounds Per Square Inch. “Pressure”. Used to describe the storage pressure, operating pressure, regulated pressure, air tool pressure requirement etc… Used in conjunction with CFM which is an expression of volume. When comparing Pressures and CFM between units, be sure to use both CFM and PSI at the same compared values. Example; 17 CFM @ 175 PSI. or 6 CFM @ 90 PSI.
Regulator: An inline device designed to reduce downstream air pressure to a specific adjustable setting.
Air pressure regulators, moisture traps / filtershould be used on any type compressor used for airbrushing. An air pressure regulator controls the air pressure at which the paint is sprayed. Moisture trap / filter captures the moisture created by the flow of the hot air cooling in the air storage tank or airbrush hose.** For oil lubricated compressors a oil filter should be used to capture any oil from the compressor before it gets into your airbrush. .
COMPRESSED CO2 TANKS Perfect for airbrushing in many cases if the size of your projects are not huge. No need for a moisture trap or oil filter are needed for CO2, just a regulator. For a regulator you should use a welding type regulator which screws on top of the tank.
Now that we have a basic understanding of some of the terms we will be coming a crossed when researching airbrush compressors lets move on to some of the things you should take into consideration before you purchase a airbrush compressor.
First and foremost is to determine what exactly you will be airbrushing, custom painting and the type paint you will be using. Paint is propelled through and out the airbrush tip in a controlled manner by compressed air. The higher the viscosity of the paint (the thicker the paint) the higher PSI will be required to get the job done. An illustration type airbrush paint like Doc PH Martins or Golden Airbrush Colors both of which we would call low viscosity paints would require 10 to 30 PSI with a 0.18 to 0.35 nozzle / needle to give you good results. Where as Createx (a textile paint) being a higher viscosity paint would require 40 to 60 PSI to give you good results.
This translates in simple terms to if you are airbrushing illustrations, fine art you might well get away with a smaller compressor than if you where airbrushing T Shirts.
Other considerations: Is a noisy compressor acceptable to use in your case, would the noise created hinder your ability to airbrush in other words. If you have a studio in your home or apartment a noisy compressor might not be the way to go. If you have a shop or studio outside your home, apartment a noisy compressor might work out well for you.
How much money do you have to spend is always part of the mix when purchasing art supplies, equipment. That’s why it’s so important to do your home work now before you make a buying decision, spend your money wisely.
Pictured above is a Paasche D500 airbrush compressor. This is an oil-less diaphragm type compressor and would work well for very light duty airbrushing with a gravity feed airbrush and a low viscosity paint.
Pictured above is an oil less piston type airbrush compressor which is great for use with thin (low viscosity) type paints such as Comart, Golden Airbrush Colors and a fixed nozzle, gravity feed airbrush or a siphon feed airbrush with low viscosity paint. This set up will not work well with say an airbrush like the Paasche VL and textile colors unless you thin or reduce the airbrush textile colors.
Here we have an oil less piston type airbrush compressor within a metal case, a suite case style airbrush compressor. These are great for in home or apt. studios to be used with thin paints (low viscosity). If you require a quite running compressor you might want to give these style compressors a look. Again it will not work well for high viscosity paints such as textile colors with a floating nozzle unless you thin or reduce the paint.
Here we have a half horse power compressor that runs very quite made by Silent Air for the airbrushing market. This size compressor will do limited T Shirt production, provides the PSI required using textile colors and syphon feed airbrushes. Also would be good for use with Auto Art, motorcycle murals. It will not provide enough air for base coating or clear coating large surfaces but would work great to the art work. Silent Air makes larger models which will provide enough air for doing such and I’m sure you can find them listed on that company’s web site.
Pictured above is the Great White airbrush compressor which I personally used for years in my Mall T Shirt shop. It will run two to three airbrushes at the same time using textile colors with very little problem. These type compressors use a refrigerator type compressor and are very quite.
Finally we have the type of compressor you buy at Home Depot, Lowes or Sears. These will work fine as long as you have a regulator and filter attached. The draw back is they are noisy and before you purchase one ask to hear it run so you know just how nosiy they are. One good point is with a big air storage tank as pictured the compressor should not run often when using it for most airbrush applications.If you plan on custom painting bikes, auto art this might be the way for you to go as you can run other air tools off it also like a DA, spray gun,etc.
Finally the airbrush or spray gun you have should have recommended pressure and volume requirements for air please be sure the compressor you buy meets or excedes those requirements. It is always a good idea to buy a compressor bigger than your present needs so you have room to grow and so you don’t over work your compressor.
I hope you found this helpful If you have any questions please feel free to register and post a comment below. Thanks Don Johnson