Model Rail issue 259 contains the latest instalment of our new Skills Station feature, which expands on the subject of airbrushing by looking at compressors. While the magazine article explains how compressors work - and details the essential features to look out for - here is a list of compressors that I’ve used over the years and happily recommend. Indeed, I still use a few of them on an almost-daily basis and none have yet let me down.
Great for beginners and occasional airbrush users, the ARISM VIZ is a compact, low maintenance oil-less piston compressor. The integral airbrush holder doubles as an on-off switch, activating the motor when the airbrush is lifted and the air pressure can be governed by operating a valve integral to the in-line moisture filter. A gauge on the compressor reveals the operating pressure.

Small, quiet and lightweight, it’s ultra-portable and capable of working constantly for up to 40minutes at a time. At a 2019 price of £180, its fantastic value. A slightly cheaper version, the ARISM, is also available, with a couple of fewer features.

This is a bit of a novelty in some respects, as it’s so tiny. Powered by a small 12v motor, this diaphragm compressor is ideal for portable use or for short bursts of painting activity. The motor requires regular rests, with an automatic shut off fitted (that kicks-in every 10mins or so) to prevent overheating. Supremely quiet, the on/off switch also acts as a pressure switch, with three pre-set values available (between 1-15psi). An automatic bleed valve is installed, preventing a build-up of air in the hose when the airbrush is at rest.

There’s a distinct ‘pulsing’ of the air, so it’s not suited to prestige work, but it’s perfect for more menial tasks. The best use by far is for painting and weathering track and scenery, as the compressor will happily sit atop a layout baseboard and all of the vibration is absorbed by the rubber feet.
RRP: £117.50
Stylish and rugged, this compact and portable oil-less piston compressor is ideal for small-scale work. The pressure gauge and control dial are a bonus at this price point and the noise and vibration are admirably low. A coiled vinyl hose and in-line moisture filter is provided, as is an automatic bleed valve and integral airbrush holder.

Perfect for beginners on a budget, it may not be up to powering big painting projects on a regular basis, but it’s ideal for weathering work or other tasks where the motor isn’t running for long periods.
RRP: £169.00
This oil-free piston compressor supplies a virtually pulse-free airflow, despite the lack of a reservoir tank. Performance is optimum up to around 25psi, which is more than adequate for scale model work. Rubber feet keep the machine firmly rooted to the spot and an outboard moisture filter and pressure regulator are supplied. A powerful 1/8HP motor gives up to 40minutes of continuous use, while an integral airbrush holder and automatic bleed valve are provided, along with vinyl hoses. Rather ungainly in appearance, the valve and filter assembly are open to damage, so keeping it on top of the workbench is recommended rather than the floor.

RRP: £219.00. An upgraded version is also available – the Smart Jet - with auto-switching (the motor kicks-in when the airbrush trigger is depressed), for around £20 extra.
This oil-less, twin piston compressor packs plenty of punch, with the potential to power up to four airbrushes concurrently (with a multi-outlet manifold available separately). The tubular handle also serves as a 480cc air tank while the auto switching function sees the motor running only when needed. A sprung drain valve is fitted to the handle tank and pressure adjustment is simple, with a valve and gauge provided. It’s a little noisy, but the motor only requires a few seconds to recharge the tank. A braided hose is supplied.

A machine well-suited to the busy hobbyist or professional, it’s certainly built to last. I used this unit daily for a good few years before switching to the Sparmax unit below...
RRP: £399.00 A single piston version is also available, for around £50 less.

This oil-less piston compressor compressor offers unbeatable value, with everything you’re ever likely to need in one package. The motor ticks over quietly, switching itself on and off, as required, keeping the 2.5litre tank charged between 40-60psi. The pressure valve and gauge assembly also incorporate a generous glass moisture trap with a protective steel cover, along with a purge valve. Setting the pressure is simple, with a locking knob to prevent accidental changes, with adjustment possible all the way down to 0psi.

Encased in a steel cover with carrying handle, the unit will withstand use in a busy workshop while retaining an easily portable nature. Sitting on a set of rubber feet, vibration is minimal and the air tank also includes a sprung drain valve, allowing rapid discharge at the end of each session. Suitable for regular use (this has been my workshop’s number one compressor for the past 5 or 6 years), this compressor is useful for anyone from beginners to professionals. The only criticism is that the power switch is rather tricky to reach, especially if you have big hands like me!
RRP: £169.99

While the aforementioned Sparmax TC-610H sees the most use in the Dent Workshop, I also have an Iwata Smart Jet Pro on hand when working elsewhere, thanks to its greater portability and ‘bulletproof’ build quality. In particular, it sees plenty of use when working on layouts or dioramas out in the garage.

Encased in a tough steel frame, the powerful 1/8HP motor drives an oil-less piston compressor and the ‘Smart’ technology sees the motor switch on and off as the airbrush is operated. There’s no air tank on this model, but the air flow is supremely smooth and reliable, with a pressure valve, gauge and moisture filter provided. It’s quiet and is capable of running for up to an hour continuously and has been ultra-reliable for the five years in which I’ve been using it.
RRP: £299

If I ever win the lottery, I’m tempted to upgrade to an Iwata Power Jet Pro (RRP: £449), which looks similar to the Smart Jet, but features a 2litre air tank and twin airbrush outputs, each with its own pressure regulating valve. This is the compressor that I use when I run my courses at The Airbrush Company and it certainly packs a good bit of ‘welly!’

Click HERE to read about my recommended airbrushes.
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