Introduce yourself to the world of airbrushing
This tends to be an artform undiscovered by most artists, and you typically hear about it on a larger scale where airbrushing car designs and colors are involved. However, this is a popular art style among some groups and allows the artist to use their mediums in a different and unique way which brushes, fingers, and printers can’t reproduce.
This technique was first used in 1876 and was called the ‘paint distributor’, although back then the paint was sprayed more sporadically and in clumps. Today the paint is often dry sprayed – so your medium won’t be watery and running – and transforms your medium into very tiny droplets sprayed at a high velocity. High-power spraying allows for better paint metering and application to fine surfaces which brushes could never evenly or beautifully apply paint to. Additionally, the effects of airbrush are often smooth and blending, which allows for two or more colors combined seamlessly.
There are many techniques to airbrushing, one example is ‘freehand airbrushing’ which creates images that have a floating quality with soft edges between colors and an impressionistic styled distinction between foreground and background images. This is just one example of many, but it’s an art style which only airbrush art could create.
Types of airbrush compressors
Diaphragm Compressors: These are a type of compressor often considered ‘beginner compressors’. They use a pulsating membrane (which air passes through) to compress the air and run continuously without an air tank. Typically, these run a pressure up to 40 psi.
Piston Compressors: This type of compressor uses one or two pistons to compress air, and they can often compress more significant amounts of air than diaphragm compressors can. With multiple pistons, these compressors can run several airbrushes at once and are usually attached to an air tank because they produce such an excess of air.
Oil-less pistons: Some pistons use oil (though there are none of these featured on our list) and the oil acts as a lubricant to decrease noise from the running pistons. Oil-less, on the other hand, tend to work louder but with less maintenance. Oil-less also means they’re safer for nail and body painting, as well as art decorating food. One of the best body and food friendly airbrush compressors on our list is the AW Pro Twin-Cylinder Airbrush Compressor.
How safe is airbrushing?
Airbrushing is very safe, though avoid pointing the airbrush at people’s eyes. The paint or other medium comes out in a fine spray, which won’t damage skin or pressure backfire and create injury.
All compressors have an automatic stop function for overheating and dangerous pressure levels, and although this can suddenly stop your art, it’s also a safety measure which manufacturers have designed for you and your kids.
The only danger to keep in mind is the danger and risk of harmful chemicals from your own mediums – oils, inks and paints. So you wear a respirator or a mask just in case.
What can you create with an airbrush?
The wide range of airbrush creation is insane, from doing your makeup with it to decorating cakes. Airbrushes are used for portraiture and landscape painting; they’re used to airbrush large cars and living room wall designs, they’re even connected to computers sometimes to airbrush images directly off of your computer (though this requires quite a lot of setup).
Any decoration for any holiday can be made using an airbrush, from airbrush painted pumpkins to airbrush painted ornaments for the tree. The possibilities are limitless, and the airbrushes come in sizes even as fine as the quill of a pen.
Features to consider while choosing an airbrush compressor
These are many of the features you might have seen listed above in the detailed descriptions of each product. It’s our hope these explanations and examples of the following features will help make your shopping process more understandable and much easier.
Size and weight for portability
You’ll want to counter the weight of any airbrush compressor over ten pounds, with the attachment of wheels or a carry handle. Heavier compressors can be frustrating and difficult to move and are best kept in permanent locations such as garages and art studios. One of the most portable and lightweight compressors most ideal for beginners without a permanent studio is the Iwata-Medea IS 800.
The power of all compressors is going to be listed as a fraction and then horsepower. The term horsepower was adopted in the late 18th century, and measures the rate at which work is done. So, for an airbrush, take a guess at how long your project would normally take if you were just using regular brushes, and then times by the fraction of horsepower listed for the specific compressor.
Tank compressor: is it a necessity?
It is if you don’t want to repeatedly start and stop during a large project. For instance, if you were airbrushing a car you’d want a tank compressor with a large tank capacity. Compressors without tanks can’t constantly run compressed air through an airbrush, and so these types of non-tank compressors are best for fine drawing where starting and stopping is a necessity. Painting a car without a tank compressor would take an exceptionally long time because the machine would always shut off your air supply.
How much air is necessary to operate an airbrush?
You can operate an airbrush from anything as small as 1psi – though this won’t get thicker mediums out of the brush as easily. The ideal pressure for any medium is at 10psi and up, because not only will this apply your medium directly and without any breaks, but it will also be the perfect air pressure for fine art and specific lines. For a range of purposes, you should consider a model like the Iwata-Medea IS 800 which has a controllable range of pressures.
What is the best airbrush pressure?
There is no ‘best’ pressure per se because the ideal pressure will depend on the project. Once again, if you were airbrushing a car, you’d probably want an extremely high pressure (80-100psi), first to get the job done quickly and second to get your medium to apply directly and not wash away. For massive projects, you would probably need a Paasche Airbrush DC850R with its impressive tank capacity and a wide pressure range.
Away with the noise
The compressor on our list are safer because they’re oil-free, but they will be slightly louder because they don’t use oil as a lubricant to stifle the noise. The quietest compressors are diaphragm compressors which don’t use pistons, and because of this, the quietest compressor on our list is the Master Airbrush TC-40T. Diaphragm compressors will even be more silent than piston compressor which uses oil, though a rule of thumb tends to be the quieter a compressor, the lower its maximum pressure.
For multipurpose environments such as a personal studio, you should get a hose with a length of at least four feet. Four feet will provide a lot of freedom for adjustments on a canvas or other small to the medium-sized surface. If you’re doing your makeup or decorating food, four feet should also do perfectly. For full range around a vehicle making body touches, you might need a hose as long as 10 feet. Make sure you get a compressor with a hose that best matches the range of the project you’re doing.
Single piston vs dual piston
Single pistons will be quieter machines overall, perfect if you’re painting in one room while your kids are asleep in the other. The Master Airbrush TC-40T has a single piston motor and a diaphragm setting which makes it much quieter than other compressors but will mean that it has a lowered maximum pressure. Dual piston machines, on the other hand, provide a higher maximum pressure with the drawback of more noise and a higher chance of overheating. With a built-in fan, the Grex AC1810-A is easily one of the best choices for a dual piston compressor.
For standard American voltage, 110-120-volt outlets and generators, all the compressors on this list will provide up to their maximum pressure without overheating.
Dual piston compressors tend to pulsate more than any other compressor, but this is usually very quiet and can be mitigated even more by adding rubber feet to your machine. The AW Pro Twin-Cylinder Airbrush Compressor has built-in rubber feet to decrease any pulsing, especially where heavier pulsing compressor can splatter paint or vibrate your airbrush.
Helpful optional features
Some optional features which may tip the scale in some compressors favor are: a built-in fan for cooling the high-powered working engine, a kit option with starter paints and hoses, thermally protected engine components which will decrease the machines overall heat, rubber feet, and a comfortable carry handle.
For buyer’s safety, your best consideration will be for products with at least a year-long warranty. Though the longer, the better. A longer warranty will give you time to test your compressor and ensure that it didn’t come with any unlikely manufacturing errors.