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What Is a Compact Compressor?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 17, 2024
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Compact compressors are devices that supply compressed air, which are typically smaller than the average hobby workshop or industrial type. The compact compressor is commonly meant to be used for inflating balls, airbrushing, or low-pressure spray painting, or as an automotive accessory for inflating tires. They are usually small enough to be comfortably carried by hand, making them mobile and easy-to-store. Although most of these compressors are direct delivery types and don't have a tank or reservoir, some larger examples do. In general, these devices are of a diaphragm design, although some of the larger models have piston heads and are driven by alternating or direct-current electric motors.

The air compressor is an indispensable piece of equipment in many home and industrial workshops. There they are used for inflation of tires, spray painting, or sand blasting, amongst a host of other day-to-day uses. The compact compressor is a light duty member of this family which is used for low-pressure spray painting, airbrush detailing, and inflating balls or toys. These devices are typically small enough to pick up and store in the back of a closet or put into a recreational vehicle to deal with the dreaded off-road flat tire. Compact compressors usually feature operating pressures ranging from 80 to 150 PSI (5.5 - 10 bar) and motor sizes of 1/8 to 2 horsepower (94 watt – 1.5 kilowatt).

Large compressors have a storage tank into which the compressor head pumps air for later use, while the compact compressor supplies its compressed air directly. A few of the larger types do feature a small tank, though, with the average volume being around 5 gallons (19 liters). The average small compressor will be supplied with a regulator, a compressor filter, and a hose. Depending on its intended use, a range of inflation needles or tire inflation gauges and fittings may also be included. Some compact compressor models even include basic airbrush or low-pressure spray gun starter kits.

Most compact compressor models feature diaphragm-type compressor heads. This type of compressor mechanism is reliable, effective, and quiet, making them ideal for use in the home or in a studio. Larger versions may have conventional piston type heads suitable for higher output ratings. Models intended for use around the home or workshop will typically be driven by alternating current, (AC) mains voltage electric motors. Those designed to be used as automotive accessories are generally driven by 12-volt direct current (DC) supplies and are often fitted with cigar lighter-type plugs.

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