Airbrush Compressor Guide

Compressor Guide
Whether you're just getting into airbrushing or looking to upgrade your current equipment, it can be tricky to figure out exactly what you need from a compressor without going overboard. The following guide was written to help answer some questions you might have and alert you to some issues you may not have thought of before investing in a new compressor.

By now you've probably figured out that for an airbrush to function it needs an air source. Providing a good air source is one of the key elements to operating an airbrush with success. There are three types of air sources available to the common consumer:

Air Propellant Cans, CO2 Tanks and Compressors...

Air Propellant Cans are disposable cans of air that look like spray paint cans. No electricity is needed to generate airflow from the can. In order to connect an airbrush to a propellant can a valve is attached to the top of the can and a hose is connected from the airbrush to the valve. This will provide good clean air to the airbrush but only for a very temporary period of time. If the airbrush is to be used often this will become a less then cost effective source of air. We only recommend propellant cans to people who are planning to use an airbrush very seldom and with just small applications of paint.

CO2 Tanks are refillable tanks of compressed CO2. These tanks hold far more air then the small propellant cans and can operated at higher pressures. The tank needs to be brought to a filling station once the CO2 runs low and can no longer produce the desired air pressure. CO2 tanks produce good quality air and are a great option for people working events where electricity is not provided such as outdoor fairs. Among those who are working at home or in at the studio this is not a popular choice due to the cost and inconvenience of taking the tank to a CO2 provider for filling.

Airbrush Compressors are the most common air source for airbrush users. If you plan to continue using your airbrush most likely you will want to invest in an airbrush compressor.

The compressors sold here are specifically engineered for airbrushing and have advantages over compressors found at your hardware or sporting goods store. One key advantage is that while common diaphragm compressors create pulsation (which consequently causes pulsation in the airbrush's spray,) airbrush compressors are designed to minimize pulsation; providing a more steady and continuous air flow. Another advantage to airbrush compressors is that they are better designed to keep moisture out of the airline. Heat emitted from a compressor creates condensation and builds moisture in the airline. Moisture may not be as interfering when operating other pneumatic tools but for airbrush artists it is of huge concern. Lastly is the noise factor. Compressors designed for airbrushing range in decibel ratings from 30-60 db which is quiet enough to run in your home or studio without being bothersome.

Key Questions

When you're ready to invest in a new compressor there are some key questions you should ask your self:

How much CFM and PSI do I need my compressor to produce?

PSI (pounds per square inch) is a measurement of air pressure. CFM (cubic feet per minute) is a measurement of air flow velocity. The necessary PSI and CFM needed will depend on the tool your using, the application and the type of paint being used. Applying paint to small figures may only require 20psi. T-shirt paint typically requires 40-60 PSI. If you want to use your compressor with a mini spray gun as well as an airbrush your going to want something with at least 1.0 CFM. Asking an expert and referring to the label on your paint are good ways to figure air pressure and flow requirements.

How portable do I need my compressor to be?

Many airbrush artists need to travel with their airbrush equipment. For applications requiring low PSI such as makeup there are many small and compact compressors that will be sufficient including the Iwata Silver Jet and Grex Aeris I. Other users, for example muralists and T-shirt artists, need their compressor to be portable but require much more PSI. These users will need something more powerful then the aforementioned compressors. Thankfully for just such users there are compressors like the Iwata Power Jet Pro which is compact and easy to carry yet still able to produce the necessary PSI and CFM. If portability is a concern you will obviously want to know the size and weight of a compressor before purchasing it.

Do I need a regulator and gauge?

More then likely you will want to be able to regulate your airflow. Therefore we suggest a compressor with at least a regulator. The gauge is also helpful but not always completely necessary. Most compressors are equipped with a regulator and gauge. In place of or in addition to a regulator, a MAC valve or Micro Air Control valve allows you to adjust your airflow directly form your airbrush. A very handy device!

Is moisture a concern?

By and large this will be a concern at least to some degree. Moisture building up in your airline can derive from your natural climate; if you are operating in a warm humid climate you will have more moisture issues. Moisture is also caused by the heat of the compressor itself. The size of a compressor and how long it is running for will factor in how much heat it is emitting.

One feature that drastically helps reduce moisture build up is the moisture trap. With the exception of very small compressors (such as the Iwata Neo or the Temptu Air) we always recommend using some sort of moisture trap. Many airbrush compressors have a trap built onto the compressor itself. These will be very helpful to you but you must remember to drain the trap when it starts to fill up with water. If your compressor does not have a trap (or if you continue having moisture issues with just one trap) you can purchase and easily install an additional moisture trap. There are also In-Line Moisture Traps that are installed by cutting your hose in half and plugging in the trap.

Other features that will cut down on moisture are tanks and automatic shut-off. After air is pumped into a tank it has a chance to cool off before flowing into the air hose. Cooler air means less moisture. Automatic shut-off stops the motor when the pressure needed is reached. This helps with moisture because the compressor is running less often and therefore generating less heat.

Is noise a concern?

A normal conversation is about 70 decibels. Most airbrush compressors are under 60 decibels (average is about 50 decibels) as people prefer them to be. Some people prefer a quieter compressor. In general smaller compressors are quieter then larger ones so you can cut down on noise by not over doing it on the compressor size.

Automatic shut-off is a feature to look for if you are bothered by noise. With this feature the compressor is pretty much only running (making noise) while the airbrush is spraying.

An encased compressor such as the Iwata Smart Pro will also be slightly quieter then a bare one like the regular Smart Jet. Some artist get crafty with their compressors and build their own cases and compartments to reduce noise which can can have varying degrees of success.

For some people quiet isn't enough. They want something "silent" like the Super Silent series from Silentaire Technology. At 30 db these are barely audible and actually quieter then a refrigerator. The Supersilent series however, is in a higher price bracket and does require maintenance (oil refills.) So if you prefer not to spend the extra money or bother with maintenance you can instead invest in something that is a bit noisier but has a better cost to performance ratio.

Airbrush Compressor Recommendations

Every artist's needs are different. We carry a large variety of compressor models in our best effort to suit all needs. These are just a few examples of what you could use based on specifications and feedback from other customers.

Illustration: Illustrations are typically small in size and use inks or finely pigmented paints. Therefore they will only require about 15-30 psi. Air control is key so be sure the compressor has a good regulator and or consider using a MAC valve. Recommended models include:
Iwata Smart Jet Pro, Harder Steenbeck Euro-Tec 10A, Grex AC1810-A, Paasche D500SR.

Fine Art: Fine artists may deal with larger surfaces and thicker paints then illustrators. In this case a more powerful (perhaps 1/6 HP) compressor may be appropriate for better coverage without over heating. Recommended models include:
Iwata IS-925 Power Jet Lite, Paasche DA400R, Grex AC1609, California Air Tools TL5.

Hobbies: Again here we're typically talking about small scale projects and lower PSI so a small compressor will be sufficient. Some hobbyists are very concerned with the quality of their airflow and look for compressor models with tanks and good moisture traps. Recommended models include:
Badger TC908, Paasche D3000R, Iwata IS-850 Smart Jet, Iwata IS-30 Ninja Jet.

Make-Up: Airbrush make-up requires very little in PSI. In fact you will most likely want to use low pressure considering that you will be blowing this directly into peoples faces. Make-up artist also like to be mobile with their compressor and prefer something light and portable. Recommended models include:
Temptu S-One, Temptu Air, Grex Aeries I, Iwata Silver Jet, Iwata Neo Air, SPARMAX DC-25

Food Coloring: Another low pressure application. Go easy on the PSI or you'll blow the frosting right off the cake! Recommended models include: Grex Aeries I, Badger 80-8N X-Air, Badger 80-3N Breeze

Tanning: This application involves a thin solution and large coverage. We recommend a compressor with at least 1 CFM. Recommended models include:
Paasche DA400R, Iwata IS-900 Power Jet Pro, Badger TC910, CAT 6310

Body Painting: Body painting is similar to make-up but on a larger scale. You can use a smaller compressor for doing one or two bodies. If you are doing multiple bodies or want to use a mini spray gun we recommend a compressor with 1 CFM or above. Recommended models include:
Iwata IS-975 Power Jet Pro, SPARMAX TC-2000, Paasche DA400R

Custom Auto: This will depend on the size of your project. Moisture and air pressure control are paramount here considering these are permanent application on valuable objects. Recommended models include:
Iwata IS-900 Power Jet, SPARMAX TC-620, Paasche DC600R

Murals: Your painting big here so go with something with at least 1/6 HP. This compressor will also need to be portable so consider what size and weight you are comfortable transporting. And don't forget you're going to need a long hose! Recommended models include:
Iwata IS-900 Power Jet Pro, Paasche DC600R, Iwata MAXX JET

T-Shirts: The compressor requirements for painting T-shirts will depend on production volume. If you are just looking to paint a few T-Shirts per week a 1/6HP compressor like the Paasche DC600R or Iwata Power Jet will work great or even a 1/8HP will be sufficient. If you plan on running a commercial T-Shirt operation your going to need a larger compressor such as the or the Iwata Great White Shark. If your looking for something to just help you get started or plan a just paint a shirt here and there look for something that produces at least 1 CFM like the SPARMAX TC-620 or the Paasche DA400R.

Airbrush Compressor Specs

Here we have specification charts for the compressors we carry. We realize that there are specifications and features not on the chart that are also important but this should give you a good starting point.

Iwata Compressor Specifications:

MODEL Horsepower Air Pressure Flow Tank Size Weight Auto Shut-Off
IS-30 Neo Air 1/16HP 1-15 psi .37 cfm N/A .95 lbs No
IS-35 Ninja Jet 1/12HP 1-18 psi .30 cfm N/A 5.9 lbs No
IS-35 Silver Jet 1/10HP 1-18 psi .33 cfm N/A 6.3 lbs No
IS-800 Sprint Jet 1/8HP 1-35 psi 0.64 cfm N/A 8 lbs No
IS-850 Smart Jet 1/8HP 1-35 psi 0.64 cfm N/A 8 lbs Yes
IS-875 Smart Jet Pro 1/8HP 1-35 psi 0.64 cfm N/A 14 lbs Yes
IS-925 Power Jet Lite 1/6HP 1-60 psi 1.2 cfm N/A 17.5 lbs Yes
IS-875HT Smart Jet Plus 1/6HP 1-60 psi 1.4 cfm .45 liter 13 lbs Yes
IS-925HT Power Jet Plus 1/4HP 1-60 psi 1.4 cfm .5 liter 17 lbs Yes
IS-975 Power Jet Pro 1/6HP 1-60 psi 1.2 cfm 2 liter 26.5 lbs Yes
IS-900 Power Jet 1/6HP 1-60 psi 1.2 cfm 3.5 liter 28 lbs Yes
IS-1000 Max Jet 1/6HP 1-60 psi 1.40 cfm 2.5 liter 33 lbs Yes
Hammerhead Shark 1/2HP 84-114 psi 2.15 cfm 1.5 gallon 55 lbs Yes
Great White Shark 5/8HP 84-114 psi 2.25 cfm 4 gallon 76 lbs Yes

Harder Steenbeck Compressor Specifications:

MODEL Horsepower Air Pressure Flow Tank Size Noise Level Automatic Shut-Off
Euro-Tec 10A 1/8HP 1-36 psi .7 cfm N/A 38 dbs Yes

Grex Compressor Specifications:

MODEL Horsepower Air Pressure Flow Tank Size Wieght Automatic Shut-Off
Grex AC1810 1/8HP 1-35 psi .7 cfm N/A 5.9 lbs Yes
Grex AC1609 1/6HP 1-50 psi 1.1 cfm 0.7 Gallon 17 lbs Yes
Aeris I 1/10HP 1-13 psi .37 cfm N/A 2.9 lbs No

TEMPTU Compressor Specifications:

Small light weight compressors designed with make-up artists in mind.
MODEL Horsepower Air Pressure Weight Battery
S-ONE 1/12HP 1-18 psi 5 lbs No
AIR 1/16HP 1-15 psi 1.7 lbs Yes

Paasche Compressor Specifications:

MODEL Horsepower Air Pressure Flow Tank Size Noise Level Auto Shut-Off
D500 1/8HP 1-30 psi .5 cfm N/A 47 dbs Yes
D500SR 1/8HP 1-30 psi .5 cfm N/A 47 dbs Yes
D220R 1/6HP 1-50 psi 1.2 cfm N/A 55 dbs
D3000R 1/8HP 1-30 psi 0.5 cfm 1 Gallon 47 dbs Yes
DA400R 1/6HP 1-50 psi 1.2 cfm N/A 50 dbs Yes
DC600R 1/6HP 1-55 psi 1.2 cfm 1 Gallon 50 dbs Yes
DA300R 1/8HP 1-35 psi .5 cfm N/A 55 dbs Yes

Badger Compressor Specifications:

MODEL Horsepower Air Pressure Flow Tank Size Weight Auto Shut-Off
TC908 Aspire 1/6HP 1-40 psi 0.81 cfm N/A 8 lbs Yes
TC909 Aspire Elite 1/6HP 1-40 psi 0.81 cfm N/A 11 lbs Yes
TC910 Aspire Pro 1/6HP 1-40 psi 0.81 cfm 1 Gallon 18 lbs Yes
180-15 Airstorm 1/6HP 1-40 psi 0.81 cfm N/A 8 lbs Yes
80-8N X-Air 1-30 psi 0.37 cfm N/A 4 lbs Yes
80-3N Breeze 1-20 psi 0.37 cfm N/A 2.1 lbs Yes

Sparmax Compressor Specifications:

MODEL Horsepower Air Pressure Flow Tank Size Weight Auto Shut-Off
AC-27 1/8HP 1-30 psi .45 cfm N/A 6.4 lbs No
AC-101 1/8HP 1-40 psi .56 cfm N/A 7 lbs Yes
AC-501 1/8HP 1-40 psi .56 cfm N/A 7.7 lbs
TC-620 1/6HP 1-45 psi 0.875 cfm 3.5 liters 26.5 lbs Yes
TC2000 1/6HP 1-45 psi 0.875 cfm N/A 10.6 lbs Yes
DC-25 - 1-15 psi .25 cfm N/A 0.9 lbs No

We will continue adding to this guide periodically. Meanwhile if you need further information or recommendations please feel free to contact us at 1-800-937-4278 or info@chicagoairbrushsupply.

We are happy to help!


Questions? Give us a call: 773-292-2990 or E-mail us: