by: Keith Forsyth [ ]
When starting in this hobby and reading web sites and magazines it soon becomes obvious that those modellers you see in them are using more than just paint and brushes to achieve the results they do, further examination will point that the majority are using an airbrush of some sort. What most do fail to point out is that the airbrush is, in fact, only half the picture (not taking into account skill or natural ability) as the airbrush requires some form of propellant for it to work, and for better results it needs a constant flow of regulated air.
Like most modelers, my first airbrush was a cheap badger set which came in a set with all the bottle attachments and a can of compressed air. I still remember my excitement the first day I took it home followed by the frustration that followed as I could not get it to work correctly, which in part was down to my lack of knowledge but also the fact that the can of air would rapidly cool and lose pressure so the airbrush would stop as well. Another trip back to the shop and I had my first compressor (remembering I didn't have the internet back then so I relied on the guy who owned the local model shop for advice), a simple oil less reciprocating compressor, no tank and it lasted me many years. Yes, it did have a habit of trying to move across the floor when running, but was the beginning of my painting experience. This was later upgraded to a Ripmax compressor with a large storage tank (as the tank allows for more consistent air pressure so a more stable painting platform) and has been in pretty much constant use for the last few years, and I could not see any reason to change itÖ well until recently when I had the chance to try the new Iwata Studio Jet.
The new Studio Jet is the latest in the series of medium budget compressors designed for the modeler, or those in other hobbies, that require a powerful, compact and quiet compressor. Iwata have also managed to add a 4800cc tank by incorporating it into the handle used to carry the compressor, so no great huge tank and a more consistent air pressure. This one is the Power Jet plus so it can handle up to four Iwata (or similar) airbrushes at the same time, or if need be a small spray gun.
* Low maintenance, oil-less single piston air compressor
* 1/4 HP induction motor
* 480 cc air tank inside the handle
* Air flow at 0 psi: 1.4 CFM (40 lpm)
* Working pressure from 0 psi to 60 psi.
* Smart Technology automatic switching reduces running time and motor wear (40 psi on / 60 psi off)
* Moisture filter
* Pressure gauge
* Air regulator for precise air pressure adjustment
* Comes with a 3 metre (10') braided hose
* One 1/4 BSP outlet
* Built in spray gun holder
* On/off switch
* Size: 28 x 16.5 x 33 cm
* Weight: 7.3 kg
* Voltage: 220-240V 50Hz
* Noise level: 56 - 58 decibels
* Duty cycle: 60 minutes use. Please allow the motor to rest for at least 20 minutes after each cycle of use.
So what do you get for your money? Well, the compressor comes well packed in a cardboard box, sufficiently surrounded in polystyrene for it to survive the most ardent of postal services. Included are a moisture trap that doubles as the pressure control and a braided hose (with Iwata fittings although others are available). The compressor and motor itself is mounted onto the U shaped handle that doubles as the tank. The on/off switch sits on the back of the electric motor behind the compressor with a UK three pin plug on a reasonable length of cord allowing for good positioning away from any electric socket. The handle also contains the over pressure release valve and the air drain plug that allows for the air in the tank to be released when finished. The compressor feeds into the either side of the tank/handle just above the release valves. The moisture trap also connects at this point by a screw on connector with a seal inside. An airbrush holder is also supplied that fits to the side allowing a safe location for your brush when not in use.
The moisture trap also acts as the pressure control switch by the use of a locking black rotary valve on the top of the moisture trap, a pressure gauge on the side allows for a visual control of the output pressure. On the front of the moisture trap is the threaded connector for the braided hose that again seals neatly onto the trap and the bottom of any Iwata airbrush. The compressor is, in fact, surprisingly small when compared against my Ripmax, but how do they match up against each other when in use.
There are many factors when looking at buying a compressor: price, size, noise and operation being a few, and in my mind some of the more important ones.
With only my Ripmax to compare it against I was able to down load a simple app to my iphone to test the noise levels when running between the two compressors. Starting with the Ripmax it showed a level of around 78db, but with this compressor that is constant noise whilst the compressor is running, the Iwata showed a level around 60db whilst running but also due to its ability to stop once a desired level had been reached this was not a constant noise, with the compressor dropping in and out so that it maintained the pressure in its tank. The winner here being the Iwata, not only was it quieter overall but it wasn't a constant noise which is ideal for those living in apartments or with other family members in close attendance.
Well you can see from the pictures that the Iwata is without a doubt smaller, and the idea of putting a tank within its handle is a smart move. Ok, itís not really going to fit on the desk, but then neither is the Ripmax, but overall the foot print is smaller.
One of the reasons I first bought the Ripmax was I wanted a better, more consistent air source for my airbrush so I searched for one with a good sized a tank to allow for a better, smoother and more consistent airflow and it did achieve that. It was, however, noticeable that once the trigger was pulled on the airbrush the gauge did drop showing a small drop in pressure, so I generally over compensated by starting with a slightly higher pressure to begin with. Now this is not a great problem until you start to use various brands of paint that require slightly different pressures to use them efficiently and get good flow characteristics. Resetting every time was a bit of a pain, not so on the Iwata using the same airbrush and setting the same pressures the gauge hardly moved. Yes, it moved slightly, but that is to be expected once you have air flowing through it, but it was minimal compared to the Ripmax, and that had a 3500cc tank on it compared to the 480cc on the Iwata. In turn this meant that when actually running paint through the airbrush I was able to get a better, more consistent flow making painting a breeze. And once finished it was easy to empty the tank on the Iwata due to its small size.
In all honesty this one will come down to your own personal situation, and like any tool will come down to how much you will use it. The Ripmax is nearly half the cost of the Iwata, but on the other hand the Iwata is a better compressor with more features and better flow and air characteristics. Looking back, the Ripmax was nearly twice the cost of my first reciprocating compressor with again better airflow etc., so I guess it really comes down to what you can afford at the time. Personally, given the choice, I would save a little extra and buy the Iwata (or even the Smart Jet plus handle tank compressor which is a little cheaper again).
The purchase of a compressor is possibly a major turning point in your hobby. Itís the point when you decide that you are going to take it a little more seriously, you are going to try and achieve better results with your work and try and push your creative juices as far as you can. And like any tool, sometimes it is better to purchase one slightly better than you intended, and this is the case for the Iwata Jet plus Handle Compressor. Others will do the job adequately, but this one will allow for you to progress over a period of time without the need for another costly purchase in the future, it is a superb compressor that should give a lifetime of use and will supply your airbrush with the constant air flow it requires to get the most from it. Add in the small foot print and nearly silent operation and I can only really recommend it for those looking to upgrade or even purchase their first compressor. Highly recommended.
editors note: I plan over the next few months to give this compressor a good work out on various projects and with more paint brands, so I will add to this as I go with my findings.