Monday, June 13, 2011

Adventures in Airbrushing Episode III: The Compressor Quandary

Or, which compressor should I buy?  Similar to Adventures in Airbrushing Episode I, in Episode III I will be listing some guidelines on which compressor to buy as well as some examples.  If you haven't read it already, be sure to check out Episode II for an in-depth guide to many of the benefits and features available to be sure you know what you are looking for. So get ready, sit back and let me, 

Where to Buy - General List
 I just want to add that there are large savings that can be made when you perform market research from the  very beginning. Ten dollars here and there can add up. That's funding for your next big model!  Yep, that's one of the reasons for creating this series.

    The Quandry: Which compressor to buy?

    Now it's time to get to the meat and potatoes of the article.  First we will look at the non-hobby compressors and compare a few of them.  After that, we will look at the many varieties of hobby compressors and give you a nice range of compressors to choose from or compare with any other compressor you might have your eyes on.

    Non-Hobby compressors:

    As you probably know by now I'm a cheapskate very frugal when it comes to buying my gaming and hobby supplies.  Ok, that applies to pretty much everything else too but that's beside the point.  I figured I would probably get the best bang for my buck by buying a non-hobby compressor, especially if I could find an inexpensive one.  For airbrush use there really isn't a whole lot of difference between non-hobby compressors aside from quality and size.  Here's a few examples of what you can get in various price ranges.

    At first this seemed like a pretty good buy.  It's nice and cheap, it's got an air tank, and did I mention it's cheap.  I would need to buy a filter/moisture trap but I could get one for about $8 and the only other thing I would need to worry about is the right size hoses and adapters if necessary.  My inner cheapskate liked it, but I didn't know how loud it would be.  A little more research led me to Walmart's website where I found some reviews.  3.3 stars out of 5 didn't look great but I dug deeper and after reading some reviews I quickly lost interest in this compressor. Lots of complaints about the compressor being extremely loud, even louder than most other non-hobby compressors and more than a few people complaining that it crapped out on them after about a year 

    The Verdict:  Don't even think about it unless you're reeeeeealy desperate for the cheapest compressor you can possibly find.  It will probably do the job but the prospect of having to replace it after using it for a year defeats the whole purpose of saving money on a cheap compressor.  It's like buying el cheapo paint brushes versus buying good quality brushes and taking good care of them.  You save money initially by buying the cheap brushes but you have to keep replacing them and they end up costing you more money in the long run.  I decided to stay away from the Campbell Hausfeld brand compressors.

    Similar to the previous compressor but with a larger air tank.  With shipping it is a little more expensive than the Campbell Hausfeld and also requires the moisture trap, air hose and possibly adapters.  The reviews on this one are much more positive and most of the negative reviews are due to someone trying to use a cheap entry level compressor for more pressure-intensive air tools that it simply is not designed to work with.  It's like buying a BB gun and going bear hunting with it and then complaining that it didn't work.  Of course it's not going to work on a bear, it's a damn BB gun! LOLZ

    The Verdict: Seems like a fairly solid compressor that offers good value for the amount of money you are spending on it.  With shipping, moisture trap, air hose, and everything included you can get a decent setup for under $100. All in all this seems like a decent deal.

    The big boy.  If you like fast cars, big trucks, greasy burgers, and want a compressor that will jack you in the jaw and say "thanks for comin' out" then take a look at something like this.  This type of compressor is definitely more than you really need for airbrushing but its huge tank and powerful compressor does have some advantages.  No hobby compressor will ever be able to offer this much power and air tank capacity, especially not for the same price.  A compressor like this one will let you fill the tank during the day when you won't wake everyone up and the 10 gallon tank should give you several hours or more of continuous airbrushing without any compressor noise at all.  Periodically you might find a similar compressor on sale at your local home improvement store for about $100.

    The Verdict: If the word "overkill" is not in your vocabulary or if you want a huge air tank that will let you keep working for hours without running the compressor at all you might want to look into something like this.  Make sure you have the space for something like this because it's not small.  No, no, no. I'm torn! I think this compressor reflects the manliness that is inherent in my manliness, but I could use the space that I would save with a smaller compressor for a shelf for drying my models...

    There are literally hundreds if not thousands of tool air compressors out there.  Just find the one that will get the job done for the right price.

    Not quite, but close.  Also, very interesting.  I might have to check this one out.
    Um, Sir? This is a excellent movie. It it available on Netflix as of last month. 
    Its a subbed movie but if that does not scare you your in for a great and entertaining movie.
    You know subbed movies don't scare me.  Hell, I watch most Engligh language movies with subtitles since my hearing is screwed up from sticking my head in running helicopter engines.
    Hobby Compressors:

    There is much more variation between different hobby compressors than the non-hobby compressors.  Hobby compressors come with a much wider variety of styles, features, and just about everything else.  For this section, I'll go for the cliche'd The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly ratings.  The Good will give you the best bang for your buck.  The Bad will not necessarily be "bad" per se, but they will not be as cost efficient or have some other minor flaw.  Compressors that fall into The Ugly category should be avoided at all costs.  If you even think about purchasing one of these, you should punch yourself in the genitals or wherever it would hurt the most until you decide to buy one of The Good compressors instead.  For this section is it more important to know what the extra features do and which ones you do or do not want.  Here is the link again so you don't have to scroll up to the top of the page: Adventures in Airbrushing Episode II.

    That's good, right?  Better yet, don't watch the American version with  half the action cut out and terrible voice acting where half the characters change voices 2-3 times throughout the series.  The original Japanese version is completely different.  Subs, not dubs!  /rant off

    Basic Models: Single piston compressors with few or no extra features past a hose and regulator/moisture trap.  Definitely not the best you can get but if you're on a tight budget these will push enough air to get you going.

    Good: Airbrush-Depot Model TC-20 and TC-06 - $109.98
    Basic off-brand compressor.  The TC-20 comes with an 1/8" air hose connection while the TC-60 is slightly more powerful and has a 1/4" air hose connection.  Both compressors are much more powerful than any other compressor at this price range and should handle anything you want to use them for.  The only concern is that it is an off-brand but it does come with a full 2-year warranty so you should be able to get it fixed/replaced if something goes bad.

    Good: Badger 180-10 Whirlwind - $154.95
    This one is really starting to push the envelope between The Good and The Bad.  It has an on/off switch, suction cup feet and claims to run 30 PSI for most airbrushes.  A little more expensive but a solid choice for a basic compressor.

    Bad: Paasche D500SR - $104.95
    The cheapest name brand basic compressor.  If you don't trust the no-name brand but don't want to pay for the "big names" the Paasche offers a nice happy medium.  Will push 20-25 PSI depending on your airbrush.  This may be a little lower than you need if you want to prime/base coat your whole army at 30+ PSI but for most other uses it will do fine.  This would be in the Good category if it were not for the Paasche D300R in the mid-range section that offers more power and features for only $10 more.

    Bad: Airbrush-Depot Model TC-09 - $149.95
    Similar tot he TC-06 but more powerful.  Also has the 1/4" connection.  This is simply way more power than you need and you can save money by buying the TC-06.

    Bad: Iwata Sprint Jet IS-800 - $189.95
    Working pressure up to 35 PSI.  Very similar to the basic compressors of other brands but you pay a premium because it says "Iwata" on it.  I'm sure it's a good compressor, but I'm equally sure that the Badger, Paasche, or even the Airbrush-Depot compressors will work just as well for much less.  If you're in love with Iwata then go for it, but I can't rate it with The Good since one of the points of this series is to save money.

    Ugly: Airbrush-Depot TC-60 "Salon Air", TC-18 "Salon II", and TC-16 "Elephant Shaped Mini Compressor"
    You should probably avoid anything with "Salon" in the title.  These are much weaker than The Good compressors in this category and will cost just as much or more when you add in the cost of the moisture trap and anything else you will need to make this work with your air brush.  The "Salon Air" is particularly bad since it costs $20 more than the more powerful and more functional TC-20 or TC-06.

    Ugly: Iwata Ninja Jet IS-30 - $129.95
    Iwata should be ashamed of this piece of garbage.  There is simply no excuse for a compressor with a retail price of $250 for a 1/12 HP compressor that only has a working pressure of 5-18 PSI, especially from the company that is generally considered the Cadillac of the airbrushing world.  This thing is weaker than the salon and novelty elephant shaped compressors.  Don't let the brand name fool you.  All this compressor will be is a very expensive, albeit stealthy, paperweight.

    Ugly: Iwata Silver Jet IS-50 - $142.95
    Similar to the "Salon" compressors.  At least it's more powerful than the Ninja Jet PoS...

    The bad touch... not really that bad.

    Mid-Range: More features than the basic models but do not come with all the bells and whistles like an air tank.  A compromise between price and function.

    Good: Paasche DA300R - $114.95
    A step up from the D500 compressors that comes with an auto shut-off and pushes 20-35 PSI depending on the airbrush.  About $10 for an auto shut-off and a little more power seems like a good deal and will probably save money in the long run due to less wear and tear on the compressor.  I would definitely recommend the DA300R over the D500.

    Good: SilentAire Scorpion I - $148.85
    A brand that, as you can tell by the name, prides itself on quiet operation with sound levels "barely above a whisper."  Comes with an on/off switch, auto shut-off feature, and operates up to 30 PSI.  It does come with a plastic coiled air hose (meh) and the picture shows an airbrush holder but I can't confirm that the holder comes with the compressor.

    Good: Paasche DA400 - $159.95
    Probably the only dual piston compressor that will be in the Good category.  It offers significantly more power than the other Paasche compressors, pushing 35-50 PSI depending on airbrush so you won't have to worry about having enough power and is still fairly reasonably priced.  Comes with an auto shut-off.

    Another model that is very similar to it's little brother, the Badger 180-10, but adds an auto shut-off feature.  Same advantages/disadvantages but is really pushing the price envelope between the Good and the Bad.  It should probably call Kenny Loggins because it's in the danger zone.  You know, from Top Gun.

    I have to draw the line between the Good and the Bad somewhere and the Badger Cyclone was already really pushing it for the price.  The Euro-Tec has the auto shut-off like all the Mid-Range compressors and has a working pressure up to 36 PSI with a .2mm needle but only 21 PSI with a .6mm needle which puts it on the weak end of the power spectrum, especially for the price.  This lack of power puts this compressor firmly into the Bad category.  It will handle detail work but not base coating at high pressures and at $200 a compressor really should be able to handle base coating.

    Bad: SilentAire Scorpion II - $213.20
    A more powerful dual-piston version of the Scorpion I (up to 55 PSI instead of 30) with lots of extra features including 2 air hoses and a table top airbrush holder.  This one also falls into the "more power than you need" category.  It's got plenty of power and extra features but nothing that you really need or that would justify spending over $200 on a compressor for painting miniatures.

    Bad: Iwata Smart Jet IS-850 - $234.95
    Basically the same as the Sprint Jet with an auto shut-off and built in airbrush holder.  It seems very functional and is an Iwata so it should be a solid product but of course it also has the inevitable Iwata price premium.

    Bad: Whisper Aire 1000 - $255.00
    Falls into the same "more power than you need" category as the Scorpion II.  It has enough power to push ~40 PSI which is more than we need, and it comes with the auto shut-off and a coiled air hose.  I'm sure it's a nice compressor if you need the power but again it's hard to justify spending over $250 for a compressor to paint miniatures without a lot more features/extras.

    Ugly: Iwata Smart Jet Pro IS-875 - $298.95
    You may notice here that the specs are exactly the same as the standard Smart Jet.  That's because this one is just a Smart Jet with a fancy looking case around it.  That's it.  An extra $65 for a case.  I don't think anything else needs to be said about this one.

    A dual piston version of the Smart Jet Pro.  More power for a slightly larger price tag.  It might be a slightly better value than the Smart Jet Pro considering the power you get out of it, but you don't need that extra power unless you are running 2 airbrushes at the same time and if you're doing that, you will probably want an air tank which, at over $300, the Power Jet Lite does not have.

    Unlike the Ugly Duckling that grows up to be a beautiful swan, the Ugly compressors in this article will never grow up to overcome their weakness and become cost-efficient like their Good competitors.  They just stay ugly.
    Full-featured: These compressors have just about everything you could want and some of them are surprisingly affordable.  In this category you will find the compressors with the highly recommended air tanks.  There are not very many compressors in this category that are within our target price range.  

    Good: Paasche D3000R - $139.95
    Now we're talking.  The Paasche D3000R comes with an air tank, auto on/off, and quiet operation but with slightly less power.  Like most Paasche compressors it is a bit on the weaker side at only 1/8 hp but it should be adequate for just about anything you want to do and comes with the peace of mind that you're not buying some knock-off brand but still getting a good price.

    Good: Airbrush-Depot TC-20T - $149.98
    With plenty of power and air flow, a 1L air tank, auto on/off, and quiet operation it's got all the features you could ask for at only $150.  Like the other Airbrush-Depot compressors this one comes with a full 2-year warranty in case you are worried about the reliability of an off-brand compressor.  Very likely this is a knock-off of the Paasche D3000R but with some extra power.

    Bad: Airbrush-Depot TC-196 - $169.95
    Also similar to the TC-20T but with even more power with a dual piston compressor.  Same features as the 20T but way more power than you need unless you plan on running multiple airbrushes at the same time.  The 20T or the Paasche D3000R are probably a better buy.

    Ugly: SilentAire Scorpion II-TT - $341.25
    It's a Scorpion II attached to an air tank for only $130 more.  If you want to go this route, just pick up the standard Scorpion II and add an air tank and some adaptors from your hardware store and save about $75.  You will have the same amount of power and features but with a much larger tank for a much smaller price tag.

    If you want an Iwata with an air tank, be prepared to shell out over $400.  Yep, that's the cheapest Iwata compressor with an air tank and completely blows the average shopper's budget all by itself.  Comes with a 2L air tank, a case, and standard setup for running 2 airbrushes at once.  If you're not seriously into airbrushing and don't have deep pockets, don't even consider this one.  This is designed for professionals who need multiple setups, not for hobbyists that just want to throw a little bit of paint at some miniatures.  Higher end models go up to almost $500 and past that into the thousands.  Definitely out of the scope of this series.

    And on the 42nd day I rested, having computed the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything compressor related.

    • Paasche compressors are definitely the cheapest ones out there but tend to be low on power.  The exception to this rule is the DA400 which boasts some fairly impressive power for around $160.
    • Airbrush-Depot is a cheap off-brand that gives you a lot more power and all the same features for less money than most other makers.
    • Badger only makes a couple different compressors that seem to be very efficient but are on the borderline between a good deal and too expensive for what they do.
    • Iwata Compressors are ungodly expensive.  I'm sure they are great compressors but I just can't get past the price.
    • The Basic SilentAire Scorpion I is a surprisingly good deal but the higher end models tend to be on the pricey side.
    • There are a couple others like the H&S Euro-Tec and Whisper Aire 1000 that are good compressors but not as cost efficient as competing models.

    So there you have it.  It might not have every single compressor on there but it's got 95% of the ones that are relevant to our interests.  You have everything from the basic bare bones compressor to the really nice ones that come with an air tank and lots of fancy features and all the information you need to get the right compressor for you at the right price range.  Also, don't forget that the Bad compressors are not necessarily bad, they are just not as cost efficient.  If you have your heart set on a compressor that I categorized as Bad and you don't mind spending a little extra and getting less value then I'm not going to stop you.  Just promise me that you won't get one of the Ugly compressors.  Seriously, I just can't recommend them at all.  And that's all I got to say about compressors.

    Thanks for tuning in, we hope you enjoyed the show.  As always, please don't hesitate to leave a comment or suggestion, or let us know if you think I got something wrong.  This is the internet, after all.  I think it's written somewhere in the by-laws of the internet that everyone has a quota of telling other people that they are wrong so feel free to fulfill your obligation here.  In the next installment of Adventures in Airbrushing we will cover general accessories, tools, cleaning supplies, and anything else you might want/need for your airbrush.  Until next time this is Chaosheade and M4XVLTG3 signing out.  Catch you on the flip side.

    YO JOE!

    1 comment:

    1. Thanks, that is so nice to have direct comparisons. Still edgy about taking the leap and getting kitted out but this has really helped.


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